It is the first decision of the new regime in the new era of Jaguars football. So, what does it mean?
The Jaguars are expected to announce later this morning that they have put the "franchise" designation on strong safety Donovin Darius. And while most fans might look only at the obvious meaning of that move, that the Jaguars have committed $3 million of their 2003 salary cap to retain one of their more accomplished players, there's a much more telling perspective that accompanies this decision.
Start with this: Apparently, the new regime will begin this new era with many of the same old players.
There's little doubt now that Mark Brunell will remain the Jaguars' quarterback. You don't commit millions to a safety and not keep your quarterback. Obviously, it's Weaver's and the new regime's belief this team can win with the core players left-over from the Tom Coughlin era. Why else would you stand pat with your roster?
Other teams with new regimes beginning new eras have taken a more aggressive route. Two years ago, the new regime in Buffalo swallowed $21 million of "dead money," then another $17 million this past season, all in an attempt to clear its cap and reconstruct its roster as quickly as possible. The Bills accepted losing and the harsh criticism that goes with it, and they were 3-13 in 2001, then rose to 8-8 last year. Now, they are considerably under the cap and appearing to need only a couple of players on defense to turn the team into a playoff contender.
But it wasn't an easy decision for Bills owner Ralph Wilson to permit his new broom to sweep clean. Buffalo is a small-market town with a stadium even larger than Alltel Stadium, and attendance dipped in 2001. It was a bold decision by Wilson to commit to rebuilding and accept its repercussions.
Those lucky franchises with smaller stadiums and season-ticket waiting lists don't have to worry about such decisions. Those lucky franchises are unaffected by what they decide is best for the long-term future of their teams. Their decisions are based solely on what's best for their roster and their salary cap. Ticket sales need not be considered because all of the tickets have been sold.
Weaver doesn't have that luxury in Jacksonville. He has been staring at large expanses of empty seats the past two years and it cuts him deeply. Ticket sales are a distinct consideration in the Jaguars' decision-making, and allowing Darius to escape in free agency wouldn't boost ticket sales.
So, what does it mean that the Jaguars have decided to retain Darius, instead of letting him test the waters in unrestricted free agency? The answer is simple: This team is unwilling to surrender to the notion of rebuilding and its obvious repercussions. It still clings to the hope of winning, now.