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How new is new?

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It has become an annual event with a theme. This winter is no different.

Two years ago, the theme was "keep the core together," and the Jaguars' efforts were dedicated to re-structuring contracts that would allow the Jags to get under the salary cap. Remember the March 1 deadline tension?

Last winter, the theme was "dump the amortization," of which $17 million of prorated bonus money was dumped on the unsuspecting Houston Texans. It was an expansion draft that may have cut the Jaguars' recovery time in half.

This year, in the midst of the laying the foundation to a "new era," the theme of the offseason decisions the Jaguars have to make might be: "How new is new?"

That's the question Wayne Weaver, Jack Del Rio and company have to answer before next summer, when this team officially embarks on this new era in Jaguars football. And it's a major decision involving solid arguments on each side of the issue.

Serve the present, or provide for the future? That's the question. What the Jaguars do with four players on their roster will provide the answer.

Those four players are: Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Tony Brackens and Kyle Brady. They are players with big salary cap numbers; accomplished players whose best years are now, not later.

Brunell, Smith, Brackens and Brady represent $28 million of the Jaguars' 2003 salary cap. Wow! That's a lot of hit for four players on a team coming off its third consecutive losing season. Critics clearly make a valid point when they say a 6-10 team shouldn't have players making that kind of money. Or some might say that with players of that value, the team shouldn't be 6-10.

Let's just say this: High-paid players and 6-10 are odd bedfellows.

So, what do Weaver, Del Rio and company do? Boldly announce this "new era" by clearing out those four players and moving on with young talent that would clearly serve the future, but not the present? Of course, the positive in that approach is that you would move the future a little closer to the present.

Yeah, that sounds real good, until you factor in Weaver's desperate concerns for ticket sales. Gutting your roster of your star players isn't going to increase ticket sales.

Therein lies the major rub in making this a truly "new era" in Jaguars football. How new?

Let's examine the numbers:

• Brackens is scheduled to be an $8.2 million cap hit this year. His salary is $5.5 million and his remaining amortization is $9.7 million. Because he's coming off major knee surgery, most have predicted Brackens will be released after June 1. That would leave the Jaguars to claim $2.7 million of Brackens' amortization in '03 and $7 million in '04 as "dead money." The Jaguars would save $5.5 million on their '03 cap.

• Brunell is an $8.75 million hit in '03. His salary is $6.75 million and his remaining amortization is $4 million. If the Jaguars traded Brunell, they would save $4.75 million on their '03 cap. If they cut him after June 1, they would take a $2 million hit in each of the next two years. That means the Jaguars would save $6.75 million in '03, but would accept $2 million in "dead money" in '04.

• Smith is a $6.5 million hit this year. His salary is $3.35 million and his remaining amortization is a whopping $10.2 million. If he was cut after June 1, Smith would be a $3.1 million hit this year, but he would then become a $7.1 million "dead money" hit in '04. That means it's unlikely the Jaguars could cut both Brackens and Smith after June 1, because $14 million of "dead money" in '04 is too much to realize for two players.

• Brady is a $5.2 million hit in '03. His salary is $3 million and his remaining amortization is $3.3 million. If he was cut after June 1, Brady would be a $2.2 million hit in '03 and a $1.1 million hit in '04. Clearly, Brady's numbers are of much less concern to the Jaguars than the Brackens-Brunell-Smith triumvirate's. Nevertheless, Brady's numbers are significant for a tight end.

So, what's the right combination of keep and cut. Clearly, a decision has to be made. It's unlikely all four players will be retained.

What to do? Clear the deck and make this a truly "new era" in Jaguars football? Or do you favor something between all or nothing? What would you do?

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