Coach Tom Coughlin turned his attention toward the future and a day when the Jaguars might return to the aggressive posture that made them the most successful franchise in expansion history.
"It doesn't mean we're out from under our problem. It means we're headed in the right direction," Coughlin told reporters late this afternoon, following a Houston Texans expansion draft that saw the Jaguars lose three star players.
Tony Boselli, Gary Walker and Seth Payne are Texans today, and what the Jaguars lost from their roster they recovered in the form of nearly $17 million of 2002 salary cap savings. Most importantly, the Jaguars extinguished $12.5 million in remaining amortization, which almost guarantees full salary cap health in 2003.
Recovery has begun. It began officially today shortly after 3 p.m., when the Texans made Boselli the first choice of the 2002 NFL access draft. The Jaguars' salary cap recovery got another major shot in the arm when the Texans made Walker the fourth selection of today's draft. Then came Payne with the eighth pick of the expansion draft.
The selection of Boselli immediately pared $8.9 million from the Jaguars' 2002 salary cap, which began the day about $27 million over the limit. The Jaguars also saved Boselli's $7.2-million amortization. According to the rules of the Texans expansion draft, the Houston club must assume the '02 cap hit and remaining amortization of the players they selected.
Having Walker selected by the Texans saves the Jaguars an additional $5.2 million on the '02 cap and $4.2 million in amortization, and Payne represents savings of $3.2 million and $1.1 million.
"I am extremely excited to be here in Houston. It's a great sports city and it's going to be a great place to play football," Boselli told ESPN's Chris Mortensen immediately following the Texans' selection.
Boselli said he was "definitely shocked" when he was made available by the Jaguars. "As it became more and more reality, we became very excited," Boselli said of himself and his wife, Angi.
The first-ever college draft choice by the Jaguars, Boselli underwent surgery on both shoulders last October. He missed the final 12 games of the season.
"I feel better than I have in a long time. I'll be able to crank it up full speed in June," Boselli said of his recovery.
Walker told ESPN "it's great to come back" to Houston, where Walker was a draft choice of the Oilers in 1995. Asked where the Jaguars are headed after having lost two star players, Walker said: "I can't predict where they're headed."
"I'm real excited about this situation," Payne said.
Wide receiver Keenan McCardell and guard/tackle Zach Wiegert were also made available in the expansion draft but were not selected by the Texans, who were handed a league-wide list that offered several high-priced star players. This expansion draft had become a dumping ground for teams who had abused their salary caps and now find themselves in stern periods of repair.
The rules were such that a team was permitted to withdraw a name from its list after one of its players was selected. When a second player was selected, the remaining two names could be withdrawn. The Jaguars made no withdrawals.
"We knew the attractiveness of the players would create some interest and help us solve our problems," Coughlin said of having offered a list of star-quality players who also represented major cap hits. Boselli's remaining amortization was the Jaguars' third-highest.
"When you look at the players we put in, it's indicative of the seriousness of the problem," Coughlin said, referring to the Jaguars' salary cap, which began the day as the league's worst, but finished the day behind six other NFL teams.
What was a $27 million excess is now about a $10 million bulge, and the Jaguars will nearly reach ground zero when Kevin Hardy's contract expires on Feb. 27.
"We will make the tough decisions. We will do the things necessary for the future of our franchise," Coughlin told reporters, seizing the opportunity to deliver a message of hope and faith to Jaguars fans.
"Remember that this business today is cyclical. It became obvious to us halfway through last season that (contract) re-structuring was not going to be the solution. Change can be good. That's the way we have to look at this. We have to see strength and support from our community as we go through this process. There will continue to be changes in the make-up of our football team. It is a positive day in the alleviation of the number one problem we face. That's the message we have to look at today," Coughlin said in a long-winded address to reporters.
If it hadn't been made obvious to Jaguars fans the team had already committed to a salary-cap repair and roster reconstruction project, it became crystal clear when the Jaguars allowed three of their most productive players to join the roster of an AFC South foe.
"We have a plan. It's not just throwing darts at a board," Coughlin said.
"This is a terrible situation we got ourselves into. You're talking about taking a business position instead of an emotional position, and the business side wins out. I think there were some lessons learned," the coach added.
When asked if the team might be able to become a player in free agency as early as 2004, Coughlin said, "I think so. We have created an opportunity for us to be aggressive in a very short time."
Another question concerned the future of quarterback Mark Brunell. "He very much wants to be a part of it," Coughlin said of the Jaguars' rebuilding project. "And I want him to do that."
As for Fred Taylor's future? "Fred Taylor's got to come back and have a great year. That's what my position is," Coughlin said.
NFL teams may begin cutting players this Thursday, Feb. 21, which will signal the start of a "spring" period that is certain to see more veteran players cut from the roster. Even though the expiration of Hardy's and Renaldo Wynn's contracts guarantee the Jaguars will be under the salary cap by the 4 p.m., Feb. 28 deadline, the Jaguars are also expected to have the fewest players under contract in the league.
At least they have a start toward solving their problems. They have the Houston Texans to thank.