Tom Donahoe knows about salary cap problems. He knows about seasons sacrificed to the concept of salary cap repair, and about weathering the storm of criticism that accompanies self-imposed losing, and about somehow remaining firm and committed and hopeful of what a couple seasons of sacrifice will mean to the long-term health of the franchise.
Donahoe, who was tabbed by Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson as the man who would fix everything that was wrong with the Bills, looks at the Jaguars and sees his own team of a year ago.
"It's not much fun. You stare at the 'dead-money' figure and think of where you could be if you could add a few players. That first year was hard, but our strategy was to take the hit and wipe out as much as we could. Our roster wasn't very good," Donahoe said.
As the Bills' new president, Donahoe ordered personnel moves that resulted in $23 million in salary cap "dead money" in 2001, and another $18 million of waste on this year's cap. It doesn't require much in the way of football genius to understand what the result has been.
"There's no way it can be (as good as other teams')," he said of a cap-troubled team's roster. "That's why coaching is more important than it has ever been, because of situations like this. There's a greater emphasis on preparation," he said.
"When I look at Jacksonville, what impresses me is that they went through wholesale changes and are still a competitive team. We weren't a competitive team (in '01). Based on what they did last winter, they have a leg up on solving their (cap) problem. They've done a better job than we did," Donahoe added.
Then he turned to the person he believes to be at the root of the Jaguars' competitiveness this season.
"They're doing it with less than a full roster, and that's a credit to the coach," Donahoe said of Tom Coughlin.
"He's done a fabulous job. He hasn't done a good job, he's done a fabulous job. It may be among his better coaching jobs," Donahoe added. "The fans don't want to hear about it. The fans get sick of hearing about the cap, but it's the reality of football. When you looked at (the Jaguars roster) last summer, you said they'd probably win three games."
That's how many games the Bills won in '01. But there's more: They lost games by 35, 27, 18, 17 and 16 (twice) points. Seven times they suffered double-digit defeats. Even worse, they were 1-7 at home, where 80,000-seat Rich Stadium took on the feeling of a tomb.
In contrast, the Jaguars have lost five games by a total of 10 points, and none by more than nine points. Whereas the Bills' "suicide" season was as bad as expected, the Jaguars' once reached 3-1 and bordered on playoff hope.
"When you look at Jacksonville and Baltimore, I'm amazed they've done as well as they have. The reason is the coach," Donahoe said, praising Coughlin and Ravens coach Brian Billick. "Any time we've played Jacksonville, we've known we were going to get a team that would be prepared and would play for 60 minutes as hard as they could play."
These days, Donahoe is buoyed by the belief his team is in steep ascent. The Bills' 6-7 record may not show it, but Donahoe believes his team is a year away.
"This year we've been very competitive. We're still trying to get over the hump. Next year, we think we can be a playoff-competitive team," he said, referring to the addition of a third draft class and a salary cap that will be reduced to about $6 million in "dead money."
"Mr. Wilson told us how bad it had gotten and how long it would take to get out of it, and he feels we've probably gotten out of it a little faster than he expected. We think we have a bright future and we have a cap that's manageable," Donahoe said.
(Editor's note--There won't be "10 things" the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bengals because I couldn't think of 10.)