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Important offseason dates

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Jonathan from Jacksonville:
I read a report that Tom Brady might have to have another surgery to tighten his ACL and MCL ligaments, which would likely end his 2009 season, or he could wear a brace and risk a career-ending injury. If you were the GM, would you give Matt Cassel a big contract to stay or let him walk? Or would you consider trading Brady (it's a young mans game)?

Vic: I would franchise Cassel, which would buy time to further evaluate Brady's progress. Franchising Cassel would likely require clearing salary cap space, but that can be done without much risk and all of that room would come back to you if Brady recovers and you decide to trade Cassel. If you don't franchise Cassel, you're going to lose him in free agency. In my opinion, using the franchise tag on him is a no-brainer. I also think not making the playoffs may be for the best for the Patriots in the long run because it eliminates the possibility of Cassel playing poorly and losing trade value. His season ends with a nice passer rating and an even greater mystique. Even though his reputation was built in games against bad teams, the terminally hopeful and desperate will always overlook Cassel's bad game against the Steelers and look at his good games against weak defenses. As far as Brady is concerned, I doubt that he'll have much trade value until it's known that he'll make a full recovery, and if you know he's going to make a full recovery, why would you trade him?

Andrew from St. Augustine, FL:
Miami 1-15 and Baltimore 5-11 in 2007 and in the playoffs this year gives me hope for the Jaguars in 2009. Do you think we can do it with the core players we will keep and those we add?

Vic: I think that's the wrong attitude to take. That's the kind of thinking that leads to disappointment. What were the 2008 expectations for Miami and Baltimore last winter? See what I mean? I think it's time to get out of the happy business and get into the get-serious business. There's a lot of work to do. That's the right attitude.

Aqeel from Toronto, Canada:
What differences do you expect to see in approach to the draft and free agency under Gene Smith?

Vic: Some guys are playmaker drafters and some guys are big-guy drafters. I see Smith as a big-guy drafter and I think that meshes well with the Jaguars' needs. The Jaguars have only drafted four offensive tackles in the last six years and three of those were in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Since 2002, the Jaguars hadn't drafted a defensive lineman higher than the fourth round until Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves were selected in the first two rounds of this year's draft. Is it any surprise that the Jaguars found themselves in such a desperate state? I think Smith will be focused on drafting big guys. The playmakers are gonna have to wait until this team finds players who can block and tackle.

Ryan from Hilliard, FL:
What is your thought on possibly having Paul Spicer play tackle and do you think the Jags should test Reggie Nelson at corner?

Vic: No to both. I previously thought Nelson might be better at cornerback, but I've changed my mind.

Matt from Atlantic Beach, FL:
What is it that makes Montell Owens and Chad Nkang such good special teams players?

Vic: Fearlessness; that's what makes for good special teams players.

Ryan from Kokomo, IN:
Who do you like in the AFC wild-card game between the Chargers and the Colts?

Vic: I like the Chargers in what may be the equivalent of the AFC title game. The Colts and the Chargers are the two hottest teams in the conference. Their offenses are on fire. Forget about that 8-8 stuff; the Chargers are for real and they have an impressive track record against the Colts. That doesn't mean I'll be surprised if the Colts win the game, it just means that I like the roll the Chargers are on and I think homefield advantage is meaningful.

Megan from Chesapeake, VA:
What a great story! Our quarterback is the most knocked down in the league and our receivers can't get open or catch the ball when they do, and you post a story saying that building the defense is our top priority in the offseason?

Vic: Do you want the truth or do you want happy talk? Wide receiver fever isn't gonna rebuild this team. It starts with defense. That's what wins. That's what makes a team competitive. Five of the six AFC playoff teams are among the top 15 defenses in the league; two of them are 1-2 in the league. Yes, the Jaguars need to turn attention to their offensive line and, yes, they must rebuild their receiving corps, too, but this team isn't going anywhere until it fixes its defense. Jack Del Rio is a defensive-minded guy. He knows the importance of defense and appreciates what it means to a team's ability to be competitive. It doesn't require genius to know the defensive side of the ball will be an area of focus in the offseason, especially since the status of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is unknown.

Phil from Delta, PA:
What do you think about the decision to have the Pro Bowl played a week before the Super Bowl in 2010?

Vic: I think it's good for the game and for the fans, but it's clearly going to devalue Pro Bowl appearances in players' resumes because those players in the Super Bowl won't be participating and that's going to cost participation in the game a degree of esteem. The Pro Bowl has always been an important measuring stick for Hall of Fame committee members, but that'll have to change.

Jon from San Diego, CA:
Intriguing matchups this weekend; all four road teams are favored. Who are your predictions to win the four games?

Vic: In addition to the Chargers, I like the Ravens, Cardinals and Eagles. I think all four games are tough to pick and I feel like a traitor picking the Cardinals over the Falcons because I'll be rooting hard for Mike Smith, but I just don't think the Falcons have the pass-defense (they're number 21) to match up against the Cardinals' receivers. Plus, Matt Ryan will be coming off a tough week. I watched the previous game between the Ravens and the Dolphins and the Ravens just physically beat the Dolphins to a pulp. The Dolphins seem to have some magic dust and I'd like to pick them, but it's just too difficult to envision them moving the ball against the Ravens defense.

Keith from Jacksonville:
What are the key dates for the offseason?

Vic: Jan. 18-23 is golf camp, weather permitting. Feb. 9 is the first day teams may cut players. The franchise and transition tags window is Feb. 5-19. The scouting combine is Feb. 18-24. Restricted free agent tenders must be made by Feb. 24. Free agency and trading begin on Feb. 27. March 16 is the first day teams may begin offseason conditioning. April 17 is the deadline to sign a restricted free agent. The draft is April 25-26.

Dustin from Kissimmee, FL:
The coaching carousel has me nauseous, like it does every year. Is there anything that'll make it stop spinning?

Vic: It's become an event and the teams that participate in it are, in many cases, doomed to repeat the process. What did you like in the guy when you hired him? Hey, if you got it wrong the last time, why do you think you won't get it wrong again? I love what the Bengals did with Marvin Lewis. Everyone had Lewis fired and then Mike Brown gave him one of those votes of confidence you know you can trust, and the Bengals started winning. After an 0-8 start, they were 4-3-1 in the second half of the season and they won their final three games. That should serve as a lesson to every owner that a coach has to have clout to get his players to play hard. When the Browns allowed Romeo Crennel to twist in the wind, Crennel was doomed and his team's performance declined with each passing game. Lame-duck coaches can't win. A coach has to have the backing of the team's ownership. The teams that win back their coaches and display resolve.

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