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It's about protecting value

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

Hasso from Jacksonville:
I am having trouble understanding the team's use of the "franchise" tag. If you put the "franchise" tag on a player, you would have to pay him the average of the top five salaries at his position or 20 percent more than his old salary, whichever is higher. So, why are guys like Rudi Johnson, Corey Simon and Darren Howard getting "franchised?" They are very good players, but none of them are top-five at their respective positions and they don't deserve as much money. Don't you think you should only "franchise" players that are top-five at their position?

Vic: Your theory is sound in principle, but there are too many variables and considerations involved to adhere to a flat top-five standard. First of all, a lot of top-five players aren't among the top-five salaries at their positions because their contracts are old, so a top-five salary really isn't an ironclad standard of achievement. When a team "franchises" a player, what it's saying is the player's value is worthy of the designation. That value may be to the team as a player or as trade bait. Either way, the team wants to protect that value. The Saints have two first-round defensive ends, Charles Grant and Will Smith, but the Saints judged Darren Howard's value to be too great to let him escape into free agency. The Jaguars are facing the same decision on Donovin Darius. What is his value? I don't think you can consider Darius to be a top-five safety because he's never made it to the Pro Bowl, but the Jaguars may decide for the third consecutive year that his value equals or exceeds what they would have to pay him as a "franchise" player. By the way, Howard is a player who would earn 120 percent of his previous year's salary. Drew Brees is an example of a "franchise" player who would earn the average of the top five salaries at his position. In Howard's case, the jump from a top-five salary ($6.7 million) to 120 percent ($7.8 million) of his previous year's salary is significant.

Rob from San Diego, CA:
What is your take on San Diego putting the "franchise" tag on Brees, and what are they going to do with Rivers? My fear is they are creating unnecessary cap problems.

Vic: This is a really delicate situation. The Chargers have put themselves in a position in which they are going to take a hit no matter what they do. They appear to have "franchised" Drew Brees for the purpose of protecting his trade value. He would command a lot in a trade, which could be the impetus to a nice run by the Chargers. But that's only if Phillip Rivers is the player the Chargers think he is, and even if he is, there's going to be an immediate step backward when he first takes over. Then there's the worst-case scenario: What if Rivers isn't the guy? Ouch! I understand the Chargers' decision to "franchise" Brees. It won't get them into salary cap trouble because his $8.1 million "franchise" fee will disappear from the Chargers' cap the moment they trade him. Brees has to sign the tender, of course, for the team to be able to trade him, so I assume the Chargers have that worked out in advance with Brees or have every reason to believe he will sign the tender. There's only one positive way out of this mess for the Chargers: They trade Brees for a couple of attractive draft picks and Rivers becomes a star quarterback. I think that can happen, but if it turns out any other way, they're going to look foolish.

Rick from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Did any of the scabs from the 1987 strike ever make it onto an NFL team?

Vic: Several did. Steve Bono is one of them.

Mike from Coral Gables, FL:
Going through free-agent listings, some players are said to be injury prone. The idea of being more susceptible to injuries makes sense, but don't certain injuries, such as ACL and other knee injuries, usually just come down to wrong place, wrong time? I don't see how a helmet to a knee has anything to do with another player being injury prone.

Vic: It's up to the scouts to determine if a player misses time because he lacks physically durability, or because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Curtis Martin is the perfect example of a player who was improperly dubbed "injury prone." Martin missed a lot of time in college because of injuries; he missed nearly all of his final college season. Yet, no player in the NFL over the last 10 years has been more durable and consistently productive than Martin has. For every Martin, however, there are 10 guys who just can't seem to stay on the field. It's a crap shoot, but it's a crap shoot that's going to cost a team a lot of money to play. The guy in this free-agent class who comes to mind is Kendrell Bell. We're talking about a major talent. He can take over a game with his physical presence and play-making ability. But Bell only played in a few games this past season and wasn't much of a factor in those. Two seasons ago, he missed four games due to injury. So what is he, a victim of circumstances, or soft? Do you want to spend the money to find out?

Alex from Winter Springs, FL:
In part II of "Scouting 101," you wrote that a scout is assigned to attend the game of next week's opponent. How do teams scout for the postseason, when opponents are not always known?

Vic: You send scouts to both games because you can't afford to have not scouted the team you'll be playing the next week, and there's always the chance you might have to play one of those teams in another round of the playoffs.

Michael from Los Angeles, CA:
Though I know professional football has many faces behind the scenes, your article on personnel got me thinking. With so many tasks at hand, is there a limit to the number of staffers a team may employ who are directly involved in scouting and player personnel? Seems like the more player evaluations and information you can collect the better.

Vic: There is no restriction on the size of personnel departments.

Mark from Kansas City, MO:
Since you are my NFL insider, what names might be "cap casualties" that the Jaguars will or should be interested in?

Vic: Mark, you've just jumped ahead of free agency and into the June cuts. We haven't even reached the deadlines for tags and tenders.

Steve from Jacksonville:
If a player is franchised and has a season-ending injury in training camp, is he paid at all for the season? Likewise, if he's injured in the second week of the regular season, does he get a check for remaining games or only the games played?

Vic: When a player signs a "franchise" tender, his salary is immediately guaranteed. You cut him, you pay him. If he becomes injured, he gets paid in full, but it's the same for all injured players, unless they have a "split contract."

Chris from Albuquerque, NM:
Would it be smart for the Jags to not be a big player in free agency? Instead, use the cap space to re-sign our own guys, heavy with roster bonuses to create room on the 2006 cap. It would seem to be a great way to ensure future cap health.

Vic: I like the way you think.

Ryan from Woodbridge, VA:
I keep reading about teams replacing their field's turf. Where do the Jags fall on this list of best and worst playing fields?

Vic: In a recent survey of NFL players, conducted by the NFL players association, Alltel Stadium was rated to have the seventh-best playing surface in the league.

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