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First the cap, then trade

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Kelvin from Atlanta, GA:
Is there a limit on the number of undrafted free agents a team can sign once the draft is over? Also, who from last year's undrafted free agent class is still on the Jaguars roster?

Vic: A team can sign as many undrafted free agents as it wishes, as long as it complies with the roster limit. David Richardson, Rich Alexis, Joe Tate and Brian Jones are holdovers who were undrafted free agents in 2004.

Jim from San Diego, CA:
When may the team with the first draft pick make its pick? I was telling a friend that they could pick now if they wanted to, but he said they had to wait until draft day. Who's right?

Vic: You don't have to wait until draft day. As of the first day of the league calendar year, March 2, the 49ers are "on the clock," but they don't have to announce their choice, just sign the player. At that point, the second team in the order is "on the clock," and so forth and so on.

Bryan from Milwaukee, WI:
I totally agree with your "protect the cap" philosophy of building a team in most situations, but I think the Colts are exempt from this because of Peyton Manning. A Hall of Fame caliber quarterback is very rare and I think they are right to capitalize on the fact that they have one by stretching their cap to surrounding him with as much talent as possible in an attempt to win a couple of Super Bowls. What's wrong with that?

Vic: The salary cap doesn't grant exemptions. If you want to protect it, you have to protect your star players' contracts. New England has done that with Tom Brady, taking care to extend him and make sure they don't get pinned against a free agency deadline, as the Colts did with Manning. The Colts did not protect Manning's contract. They let it get out of control with escalators, then did nothing until he was days away from becoming a free agent.

Newt from Jacksonville:
When did announcing salaries become the big deal that it seems to be today and why?

Vic: The salary cap made it absolutely necessary that fans know the amount of money in a contract. Without that information, it's impossible to know where a team stands with its salary cap. Almost everything about the NFL changed when the salary cap came into existence in 1993. It is the single-most important issue governing your team. If you want to know pro football, you start by knowing the cap. If you don't know the cap, you know nothing.

James from Hernando, MS:
Why did the Titans just release Rolle, Mason and Carter? Don't you think they should have tried to work out a trade to get something out of it?

Vic: Trading is not permitted to begin until the first day of the league calendar year, which is this Wednesday. That is also the day teams must be under the salary cap. The Titans couldn't trade those players because they couldn't get under the cap with them on their roster.

Brian from Quincy, FL:
I was watching FOX and they were rating the top 10 quarterbacks of the 1990's and Mark Brunell was number nine. Do you agree? I sure do.

Vic: Let's see, off the top of my head, who would be the top quarterbacks of the '90's? Montana, Aikman, Elway, Marino, Favre, Young, Kelly; that's seven easy ones. Then there are guys like Moon, Bledsoe and Brunell. Yeah, Brunell belongs in the top 10.

Joe from Jacksonville:
I've been reading a lot about Maurice Clarett. What's your view of him? Where do you think he might be drafted and do you think the Jags could be interested in him? He's a big, powerful, fast back, but is the extra baggage worth the risk of drafting him?

Vic: I don't think Maurice Clarett is going to represent much risk. Indications are he'll be a second-day pick. There's not much risk with a second-day pick. No one can know where the kid's head and life are, but he's talented and that means every team has to be interested in him. Based on what I saw of him in his one season at Ohio State, he's a power runner. I don't see him as a wiggle guy or a speed guy. He's a pounder; that's it. He's a big, strong running back who can move the pile, and there's nothing wrong with that. If he was still available, I would start to become interested in him in the fourth round, but not before that. He's only a risk if you use a first-day pick on him.

Richard from Woonsocket, RI:
Down there in Jacksonville, there's a problem getting seats filled. Up here in New England, there's a waiting list 50,000 long. Now they want to give season ticket holders the chance to pass their tickets down to family members for a small fee: $2,000-$5000 per ticket! Sounds to me like "let's get the money before the bottom falls out." Your thoughts?

Vic: I think it's more a case of "let's strike while the iron is hot." The Patriots are hot, for the obvious reasons. I can remember, however, when filling the old stadium was very difficult. Boston is a baseball town. That's where the loyalties run deepest. Football interest in New England will rise and fall with the Patriots' fortunes. Interest in baseball and the Red Sox, however, never wavers.

Paul from Jacksonville:
I've always read and heard the Jaguars have three major holes to fill: DE, CB, OT. With their cap room, is it possible to find adequate starters to fill all those needs, so they can focus on using their best player available draft policy in this year's draft?

Vic: Free agency seldom provides those many fixes in one year. When teams try to satisfy those many needs in one free-agency period, they usually end up wasting a lot of money. I'm not a big believer in free agency. I still believe it's a trap for fools. Target a guy you believe can help you and, if he's affordable, go get him. But what you'll usually find is that the players on your own roster are as good as what's available in free agency. Target a guy here, patch a little there, but rely mostly on drafting and developing players for the long-term future of the franchise. That's where patience enters. The teams that are most patient end up with the best rosters, the healthiest salary caps and the longest runs at the top. That's why sold-out teams with waiting lists have such a major advantage over teams who still have tickets to sell. The sold-out teams can make decisions based only on what's best for the team. The teams with tickets for sale often factor those ticket sales into their decisions, and that's a mistake.

Andrew from Melbourne, Australia:
What do you think of the Bears signing Muhsin Muhammad to a six-year contract with a $12 million signing bonus. After three very average years, he posted a huge year last year, but, at 32, do you think he's worth that type of money?

Vic: When I see a deal like that, all I can do is scratch my head and wonder why some teams don't get it. You're gonna have to spend top dollar at the premium positions, but you shouldn't at wide receiver; not unless the guy is a truly special wide receiver. Even at that, I wouldn't do it. You should be able to find wide receivers in bargain ways. Terrell Owens and Hines Ward were third-round picks. Keenan McCardell was an 11th-round pick. Jimmy Smith came to the Jaguars as a street free agent. Just look at the list of first-round wide receivers who turned out to be busts. I like what the Jaguars got out of Ernest Wilford in the fourth round, and I think Cortez Hankton has real ability and he came to the Jags as undrafted free agent.

Eric from Jacksonville:
I find it difficult and frustrating to understand how coaches can coach a team for 10 years and then leave to go to another team. How can coaches or staff do that? Emotionally, your life is set on that team. How are you expected to switch and all of a sudden work with your rivals. I know this is how the NFL works but I don't see how any human can work with a team for years and then switch teams or get fired. Why can't every coach just stay with one team forever to make it easy?

Vic: You're living in a dream world. Vince Lombardi didn't even stay with the Packers.

Keith from Jacksonville:
Which defense do you prefer, a 3-4 or a 4-3?

Vic: Right now, I prefer the 3-4 because most teams play the 4-3. In many cases, 3-4 teams are looking for distinctly different defensive linemen and linebackers than 4-3 teams want. Short, squat defensive tackles who get passed over by 4-3 teams are perfect nose tackles for 3-4 teams. Defensive ends don't have to be big pass-rushers in a 3-4 scheme, so 3-4 teams tend to get the pick of the litter of the leftover defensive linemen who aren't strong pass-rushers. They also get the pick of the "tweeners," the ends who aren't big enough to be 4-3 ends but could be major impact players as 3-4 linebackers. I think David Pollack could fall into that category. Because most of the teams in the league are playing a 4-3, the pool of players who are attractive to 3-4 teams is relatively larger and deeper. If most teams are playing the 3-4, then the same is true for those teams playing the 4-3. Here's one other consideration I currently believe favors 3-4 teams: Because most teams play the 4-3, that's the base defense their offense mostly practices against. That means fewer reps against the 3-4. With all of that having been said, don't think you can switch from one to the other every year. You are what you are and you have to make it work.

Eric from Richmond, VA:
Is the money for the top draft pick set? If San Francisco can't trade down and picks a QB first, are they obligated to pay a figure comparable to Rivers and Manning last year?

Vic: That's pretty much how it works, with a slight increase, of course.

Michael from Rock Hill, NY:
I was just wondering if there is a deadline for a college player to enroll in the draft. Is it too late for Matt Leinart to come out? I know he has committed to coming back for his senior year at USC, but I'm sure his decision may not have been so easy had he known that he would be losing both his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Is there a certain date that college players must make their decision by?

Vic: Yes, and that date was Jan. 22. He can't come out now.

Ashley from Jacksonville:
Reggie Hayward is an unrestricted free agent who is young and has produced over the past few years. What do you think about him and the possibility of him coming to the Jags?

Vic: He's a target player. It's a matter of money because he is the premium player at a very premium position. Reggie Hayward is going to break the bank.

Kelly from Santa Rosa, CA:
What are your thoughts on Jerome Bettis? He's got other investments that are netting him far more than his contract with the Steelers, and now he's making salary sacrifices to stay with the team. That's a rarity among players in the salary cap age. Do you think he'll have a chance to gain enough yardage next season to climb into fourth or third all-time?

Vic: It is what every team wants to achieve with every star player. We're talking about an identity between player, team and town that is unbreakable. The player is so loved in the town in which he plays that going somewhere else is not an option. When it reaches that point, the fans are paying the player's salary, and it doesn't count on the team's cap. I don't know how much Jerome Bettis has left in the tank, but it sure is worth it for the Steelers to find out. The contract re-structuring to which Bettis agreed over the weekend will save the Steelers nearly $3 million in cap room.

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