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His words ring true


Forget about who's going to play right defensive end. Don't bother yourself with such trivial matters. Focus on the real news from this morning's press conference: The Jaguars have a coach with the courage and conviction to do what's best for his football team.

We learned that this morning when Jack Del Rio announced that he had whacked Hugh Douglas. The news was stunning, not because we believed Douglas was playing well and shouldn't be cut, but because we believed the money the Jaguars paid Douglas protected Douglas from such action. We were stunned because we didn't believe this team, or maybe even this coach, had the Wilsons to do it.

Why should we have believed otherwise? It's the salary cap era. Teams throughout the league are being held hostage by the cap and their players' amortizations. The Jaguars certainly have.

Maybe all of that ended last Monday when they finally cut ties with Tony Brackens. Maybe this column is a week late.

What Del Rio told us this morning is that he will, in fact, swallow hard and do the tough thing. He's not above admitting to Wayne Weaver that money has been wasted. Del Rio proved to us that he doesn't play the CYA game.

More importantly, in cutting Douglas, and Brackens a week earlier, Del Rio sent this very clear message to his players: You must compete and you must win the competition to be worthy of a black helmet.

Today, there isn't a player in the Jaguars locker room, maybe not even Byron Leftwich, who doesn't believe that message to be the absolute truth, because nothing gets that point across better than a rolling head.

Do you get the feeling there might be another?

This is a young man's game; a game for young men who can run. The Jaguars chose to overlook those facts when they signed Douglas a year ago. They thought they could squeeze another couple of years out of his career. They were wrong.

Signing Douglas was a gamble and they knew it was, so his contract was structured in such a way that would allow the team an escape. They would've preferred to exercise that escape after this season, and we all expected that would be the case, but that won't happen because Del Rio really is the dynamic coach Weaver predicted.

Cutting Douglas wasn't about the salary cap. His release provides a $3.345 million savings on this year's salary cap, but it's a savings the Jaguars really didn't need.

There is a major negative to cutting Douglas, however, and that downside will be realized in 2005 when Douglas' remaining amortization will eat up $3.6 million of valuable cap room. Ouch!

What does it say that Del Rio was willing to saddle his salary cap with $3.6 million of "dead money" in the critical third year of his contract? It, again, says he's not about CYA.

He's about doing what's right, and his acts of the last two Mondays may be the most impressive performances in his 19-months-plus as head coach of this team. As the head coach of a team perceived to be desperate at defensive end, he's cut his two most recognizable names.

Why? Because he judged them not to be good enough. Isn't that how this works?

To have come to any other decision would've only served to soil the whole training camp process. You don't fool the players. They know who the best guys are. Don't tell them the best will win and expect them to believe that if the best guy doesn't win. You'll never sell them on the competition thing again. Keep somebody not worthy of keeping and you'll lose them forever. Let somebody hold you hostage and they'll all try it.

What Del Rio did today is what winning coaches do.

If you doubt that, ask yourself: What would Bill Belichick have done?

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