He has been their starting quarterback since the fifth game of their inaugural season. Now, Jaguars fans are left to ask: Is the Mark Brunell era over?
Head coach Jack Del Rio's response to a question at the end of the first day of the NFL Draft would suggest the answer is yes. Del Rio was asked if the Jaguars will continue negotiations with Brunell on a re-structured contract.
"That's a good question. We'll have to talk about it. I honestly can't give you the answer to that question. We'll have to discuss that and see if that's in the best interests of this organization," Del Rio said.
Earlier in the day, after the Jaguars had selected Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich with the seventh pick of the draft, Del Rio suggested to reporters and fans assembled at an on-the-field press conference that Brunell would be retained. "We feel like we have three great quarterbacks," Del Rio said.
But, clearly, Del Rio's day-ending remarks about Brunell would suggest Brunell's future with the team is in doubt. Brunell's salary cap situation is such that he would represent $4.75 million in cap savings if he was traded or released by June 1; an even greater cap savings in 2003 if he was released after June 1.
It's a decision that will be the hot topic of the spring. For now, the Jaguars are basking in the glow of a best-available-player draft that saw the team select the exact three players they had targeted before the day began.
"We're identifying people we think will come in with the right mentality," Del Rio said. "You can't do it all at once. You just can't. It may not be exciting to hear, but you do what you can, when you can and move on."
The Jaguars will attempt to address their need at wide receiver in day two of the draft, but personnel director James "Shack" Harris cautioned: "If it doesn't fit, we're not going to make it fit."
Harris is committed to drafting the best player available, regardless of position. The Jaguars were not considered to have pressing needs at quarterback and safety, but drafted Leftwich and Bethune-Cookman safety Rashean Mathis with the team's first two picks. In the third round, best available met need when the team selected Hawaii guard Vince Manuwai.
"'Shack' is a treat to work with. He has a wealth of knowledge and he's fun to be around. I slept like a baby last night knowing we were prepared to deal with whatever came up. 'Shack' has done a great job preparing for all of the things that have come up," Del Rio said.
The day marked the first draft effort of the decision-by-committee philosophy owner Wayne Weaver put in place in January, when Del Rio and Harris were hired in a "many voices" approach to decision-making. Of course, previous head coach Tom Coughlin maintained total control of all football operations.
What decisions will this new era in Jaguars football make on day two of the draft? The team will have two selections in the fourth round and one each in rounds five and six.