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Gotta have 'jars on the shelf'

Join Senior Writer Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Lucas Hernandez from San Antonio, TX:
If the cap number is $67.4 million per team, how is a team able to go above that?

Vic: The Jaguars pushed money onto future caps, which, in effect, allowed them in past years to play with a roster that was worth considerably more than the cap limit allowed. Of course, that catches up with you one day, which it has this year and probably will for a couple of years after that. How does a team push money onto future caps? One little trick is to convert salary into bonus money, which can be amortized evenly over the remaining years of the contract. Salary must be declared on the cap in full in the year it is paid. I think you can figure out the rest.

Robert Bartles from Baxley, GA:
I understand the need for a cap, but why doesn't the NFL set the cap total only for current free agents and rookies a team may sign, and not include those players still under contract? That way excessive spending would not occur for unproven college players and those free-agent veterans selling out to the highest bidder. If money was allowed to be spent on players still under contract, it would give the team a chance to keep players they want and promote more loyalty to the teams, but teams needing better players could still go shopping if their current roster is not up to par.

Vic: A limit is set for each team's draft class, but setting a limit for free agents would severely restrict player movement in free agency, therefore, it would be unacceptable to the players union. You must remember that salary cap figures are not arbitrary amounts. They are the result of a defined percentage of the league's gross revenues, as provided by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The cap is working. There are definite signs that it is regulating the NFL in a responsible and positive way. Now is not the time to find ways to defeat it. The cap is our friend. Take care of the cap and it will take care you.

Scott Walden from Columbus, OH:
With age and injuries being a factor, what can we realistically expect from Hardy Nickerson and Carnell Lake? Any Pro-Bowl seasons left in these warriors?


Vic: I don't think it's realistic to expect Nickerson or Lake to be Pro-Bowl candidates in 2001. Once a veteran player has a down season, or a season lost to injury, it's next to impossible for him to reclaim public perception. Immediately, media and fans begin looking for the next Hardy Nickerson or the next Carnell Lake. It is realistic to expect Nickerson and Lake to be contributors in 2001; veteran leaders who still have enough left in the tank to justify their presence in the lineup. Of course, all of that hinges on their ability to recover from their injuries. Can they do that? We won't know until training camp.

Bret Lanston from Jacksonville:
I am in full agreement with a salary cap. My question is: Since there is a league minimum for each player, why not structure a league maximum? For instance, quarterbacks get no more than $8 million a year, running backs $7.5 million a year, etc. Most other jobs have a top-out salary for their employees. Why not structure a cap that way?

Vic: You can't honestly think the players would accept that. Remember, the salary cap is a product of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

J.R. Comer from Orange Park, FL:
Due to injuries, we had to play quite a few inexperienced or young players last season. Who improved the most? What effect does that have on our 2001 draft philosophy? Isn't it true the NFL salary cap situation demands that coaches must now be better developers of raw talent? It seems to me the better teams in the future will be the ones who can find talent in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Make them solid NFL starters fairly quickly, and therefore get maximum return for money spent prior to free agency. To me, that is what has truly hurt the Jaguars over the past four years. Perhaps this is the only way to "beat" the salary cap. Comments?

Vic: The greatest improvement last season was realized on the offensive line. That's why the Jaguars want to re-sign Todd Fordham and Jeff Smith, which would leave the Jaguars in a less desperate situation on their offensive line in the draft. Fordham is a perfect example of player development, which I believe to be the only way to win long-term in this salary cap era. You better have "jars on the shelf," if you're going to overcome the inevitable losses in free agency. And you're right, the middle and late rounds are very important, because that's where you find players you may commit to development. I think it's obvious the Jaguars spent too much money in free agency, and didn't develop enough of their late-round picks into long-term contributors.

Eric Chan from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
What do you think about drafting guys like Dominic Raiola or Carlos Polk?

Vic: Raiola is a special talent at center and is one of the few players at his position in recent years who warrants a first-round draft selection. Polk is a top-rated inside linebacker who is being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early in the second round. Both players would be nice fits for the Jaguars, especially Polk, but the 13th pick overall may be a little high for either player, and they'll probably be gone be the time the Jags pick in the second round.

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