This Sunday is expected to be the farewell game for several veteran Jaguars players, who will attempt to push the team's winning streak to four games in the regular-season home finale.
Who will go this winter? Who will stay? Those are the questions on every Jaguars fan's lips.
"I can't worry about it. I've got business at hand. I want to finish strong. I want two victories so we won't go out a loser," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said, who wants to cap this season with a five-game winning streak that would leave the Jaguars at 8-8.
McCardell's name is one of the first of the Jaguars' "core players" to come to mind when the subject of winter personnel decisions is mentioned. He is scheduled to be a $5.3 million hit on the Jaguars' 2002 salary cap, but his remaining amortization when this season is complete will be about $4 million. He is one of those players whose release would help ease the Jaguars' salary-cap burden, which is staggering.
Will McCardell be in his Jacksonville farewell game this Sunday, much as Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter said goodbye in Minnesota last Sunday?
"It would be a shame to lose one of those two guys," quarterback Mark Brunell said of McCardell and Jimmy Smith, with whom Brunell has teamed since 1996 to produce one of professional football's best-ever passing game trios. "I would hate to see them gone."
Brunell is realistic. He knows the salary cap will demand the release of several high-priced players. Brunell isn't expected to be one of those cap casualties, but he will almost certainly be asked to re-structure the contract he negotiated last spring.
"I think I could offer some good input," he said when asked if he expects to be consulted on personnel decisions this winter. "Who I have confidence in in the heat of battle," Brunell said of what he could offer in the way of information.
"I'm going to keep my ears on because that affects me. It's unnerving," he said of the upcoming cap decisions.
McCardell is also realistic. He knows the team has a cap problem it must address boldly. Last winter, that problem was pushed out another year as the Jaguars re-structured every contract on its roster for the purpose of keeping the team's "core players" together. Of course, McCardell remains one of those "core players."
"It's a business. You have to go out and play," he said when asked if he'll take time Sunday to "look around" at Alltel Stadium, where McCardell's career has flourished since joining the Jaguars in '96.
"There won't be any emotional feelings for me, other than being hyped and being ready to go out and do my job. It may not even be my last home game. You guys said that last year. You don't know anything until the day you have to sit down and negotiate," McCardell added.
"Given the opportunity, I could play for five more years, and be competitive, and at a high level. What am I, 31? That's easy," McCardell said.
"It's the last home football game. I'd like to play well and win for our fans. The rest of that hasn't been decided. There's nothing concrete," coach Tom Coughlin said.
"You try not to think about that. A lot of us thought we were going to be out of here after last year," said defensive tackle Seth Payne, who is enjoying the most productive year of his career but is also a candidate to be a cap casualty.
There's no denying it. It's a business.