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Getaway day: A "bittersweet" day as offseason begins

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Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrates with fans after the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – NFL reality was all around.

As Jaguars players cleaned out their lockers a day after the 2019 regular-season finale, veteran nickel cornerback D.J. Hayden succinctly described the scene.

"Bittersweet," he said.

That's the annual mood around the NFL on "getaway day," and "bittersweet" summed up the Jaguars' locker room Monday – a day after a 38-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 regular-season finale at TIAA Bank Field.

Yes, there was anticipation over offseason downtime – with Hayden summing up the thoughts of many players when he said he was "fixing to go chill" during the next several weeks.

"I'm going to sit down, lay down and just do nothing for like a week – and then get on the golf course," he said with a smile.

At the same time, there is the very real knowledge that Sunday for some players marked not just the end of a season but the end of their time with the Jaguars. And for some, it marked the end of their football careers.

"It's kind of a sad day because you know this team is not going to be the same team next year," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "The only guarantee in this business is change. So, you try to appreciate the journey. It didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it definitely ended on a high note, which is nice.

"We really developed a brotherhood. It's a family here. The hard part is knowing this team will never be together again. You say your goodbyes, and your appreciation for one another."

Said Hayden, "That's the nature of the business. You either play with them next year or maybe somewhere else, then you wish them the best."

Campbell, a Pro Bowl selection in each of his three seasons with the team, is among several Jaguars players facing uncertain futures because of salary-cap and other issues. Veteran defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback A.J. Bouye face similar situations, and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season.

Campbell, a 12-year veteran, said he plans to play next season.

"The great Larry Fitzgerald told me, 'Take it year-by-year,''' Campbell said, referring to his former teammate with the Arizona Cardinals. "Obviously, I feel like I have some good football left in me. I don't know how many years I'm going to play; I have no idea. I know I want to play another one; that's for sure.

"It used to be my goal was 15 [seasons]. I definitely feel like I have one more year of playing at a high level. Hopefully, I might have a few more, but I definitely have one more."

Uncertainty is a theme at the end of every season for every NFL team. That's particularly true around the Jaguars this season, with owner Shad Khan not yet announcing the organizational futures of General Manager David Caldwell or Head Coach Doug Marrone.

Players interviewed after the game Sunday and again Monday offered support for Marrone, with rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II saying "You see every day how much he cares, how much he's invested into us."

"I think anytime you see something like that, you definitely want to play for it," Minshew said. "You want to play for a guy that puts your interests in front. He's done that. I have a lot of respect for him."

As some players discussed Marrone and the future with the media Monday, others stuffed belongings into plastic bags or into trash cans. Others sat near their lockers – or elsewhere in the locker room – talking.

 "The biggest thing is just being around your teammates," rookie linebacker Quincy Williams said. "You don't know if they're going to be here. You don't know if you're going to see them again. They might be on a different team.

"The biggest thing is fellowship with your teammates, laughing and cracking jokes about the times we had here, just being around each other. That's the biggest thing. No one's just coming in and going home. You're just spending time with each other for the last couple of hours."

For those that do return, the offseason program will begin in April. The on-field portion of the offseason begins a few weeks later. The NFL isn't technically a year-round sport, but it's not far off. The coming eight-to-10 weeks represent by far the longest off time in the players' calendar.

"I think everybody needs a break at this point," Minshew said. "Obviously, we wish we were playing a few more games for sure. But it's going to be good to give your body a break, give your mind a break, so when it's time to show back up here we're going to be fired up and ready to go. I'm excited for the work we're all going to put in this offseason."

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