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It's not a sideshow

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

Todd from Baltimore, MD:
With the start of free agency, why would teams with available cap room not use it all, excluding the rookie pool, of course?

Vic: Teams make sure they use every penny's worth of their salary caps. The issue is how to use it. Do you spread it around? Use it to sign some of your own guys to long-term deals? Save some of it for "not likely to be earned" incentives players might reach? Or spend it all in free agency and leave yourself with no wiggle room the rest of the season? The biggest problem I have with the fan attitude toward free agency is that it's some kind of sideshow in which teams should spend irresponsibly for the purpose of entertaining fans who get some kind of kick out of the recycling of worn-out, old players. Free agency is an integral part of the business of pro football. I have succumbed to that fact and I recognize the importance of being a player in free agency, but I still believe free agency should be approached in small doses and with great caution. I'll walk into expensive stores and look around, but that doesn't mean I have to buy something. In my opinion, a team with money to spend should spend some of it, but save most of it. They'll never regret having money to spend.

Jason from Arlington, TX:
Donovin Darius says he will not play for the Jags again. If Darius is not traded, what happens to his guaranteed salary if he decides he is going to sit out the season? Will he still get his money?

Vic: He signed the tender, which is a contract. He must abide by the terms of that contract or he won't be paid. Donovin Darius, despite not having gotten the long-term contract he wants, has never allowed his frustrations to affect his performance. He's a pro.

Lane from Lake Mary, FL:
I love the column and all of your insight. I had a question regarding the free-agent process. When a team brings in a player, what happens? Do they work him out and get a physical or do they just interview the player? Is the player's agent typically there? If not, does the player then call the agent to start negotiations? Does the team ever deal directly with the player in terms of what the offer is?

Vic: Let's refer specifically to Reggie Hayward's whirlwind Wednesday, which saw him complete a $25 million deal with the Jaguars in less than 24 hours. Teams were not permitted to begin their pursuit of free agents until midnight on March 2. Paul Vance, the Jaguars' lead contract negotiator, was in his office at midnight to begin the process. So was Vance's trusty sidekick, Tim "The Cap Man" Walsh. In other words, negotiations between Vance and Hayward's agent began at midnight. Hayward arrived at Alltel Stadium in mid-afternoon. That's when I knew this was probably going to get done. Hayward took a physical and met with Jack Del Rio and the appropriate coaches on Del Rio's staff. While that was happening, Vance and the agent were closing the deal. At seven p.m. last night, it was done. Players do not usually work out for teams. The teams have had plenty of opportunity to look at tapes and do their scouting work. It's buyer beware. Free agency is a marketplace.

Greg from Coxsackie, NY:
I think the Jaguars should go after Ty Law, Jerry Rice, Troy Brown and Roman Phifer. Would that be a smart move?

Vic: You're talking about four players who represent 56 years of NFL experience. What are you trying to build, an old-timer's team?

J.D. from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
What player did the Jags get with the pick from the Mark Brunell trade? Do we have any additional picks this year from other teams?

Vic: The Jaguars traded the third-round pick they got for Mark Brunell and a fourth-rounder to Green Bay for the Packers' second-round pick, which the Jaguars then used to select Greg Jones. The Jaguars currently have no additional picks in this year's draft.

Gary from Jacksonville:
With the signing of Hayward, who do you see as the Jaguars' next target in free agency?

Vic: That's too difficult to predict because the Jaguars are gonna have to let the water calm down before they step back into the pool. They made a big splash yesterday, eating up $7.55 million in 2005 salary cap room, which left somewhere around $10 million in remaining cap room. Of that amount, figure in $5 million for rookie-pool money and it's easy to see the Jaguars will have to wait for prices to come down before they take their next swing or swings in free agency.

Shane from Jacksonville:
I'm pleased that Hayward signed with us. Your thoughts?

Vic: He was the only guy in the defensive end ranks who represented a fix at the position for the Jaguars. It is a premium position and you're always going to have to overpay for a pass-rusher, especially on the first day of free agency, but had the Jaguars not gotten Reggie Hayward, they would've been back to where they were a year ago; heading into the draft with no guarantee that need and value would meet at defensive end when it was their turn to pick. Hayward addressed a need and at a price the Jaguars could swallow. I especially salute the responsible structuring of the deal.

Jeremy from Buford, GA:
So do you think we overpaid for Hayward? He will be a big help. I think his upside is above average. Do you agree?

Vic: His upside is what drove the deal. The Jaguars believe he can be this year's Bertrand Berry.

Dan from Thousand Oaks, CA:
You say an average rookie pool is $5 million. How much was Eli Manning or some other big-time quarterback that went number one paid? Isn't it more than $5 million and wouldn't that leave you with no money to sign your other draft picks?

Vic: It's not how much he's paid, it's how much must be charged to the team's salary cap in the player's rookie year. You can't go over your salary cap allotment for your draft class in the first year of its contracts. You might want to read "Salary Cap 101."

Dan from Columbus, NE:
With the new addition of Reggie Hayward, a young promising DE, how much does that improve our defense?

Vic: Expectations are that the addition of Reggie Hayward should provide major impact for a defense that may not need much of a boost to get over the top. When you spend $10 million of bonus money on one player, you should expect him to provide major improvement.

Scherer from Lincoln, NE:
I love the Reggie Hayward pick-up, but I heard there's $10 million in guaranteed money. Explain exactly how that money fits into the contract and if you think it's a bargain or a bad deal?

Vic: I'm never going to say a $10 million bonus is a bargain, but if Hayward turns out to be a star pass-rusher, then this deal will have been worth the money in it. What most pleases me and gives me cause to applaud the Jaguars is the manner in which the contract was structured. The Jaguars designated $7 million of the $10 million bonus money as "roster bonus," which means all $7 million must be charged against this year's salary cap. In other words, 70 percent of the bonus amortization will be gone by the time one year of the contract has expired. That's how you provide for the future of a franchise. In contrast, when the Jaguars signed Tony Brackens to his big deal in 2000, they took the exact opposite approach. They made all of his bonus money "signing bonus" or "option bonus," both of which must be spread out evenly over the life of the contract from the time when it is paid. Then they worsened matters by deferring payment on half of that bonus money for a year, which meant the second half of the bonus money was going to be added to what remained of the first installment and then divided by one fewer year left on the contract. Real tricky, huh? The Jaguars gave themselves a real low cap number on Brackens in the first year of his contract, as the team took one more swing at the Super Bowl fence. The following year, however, the "amortization" train started roaring down the tracks. Brackens was a runaway train that mowed down the Jaguars' salary cap and left the team with major "dead money." There's no chance of that happening with the Hayward deal.

Cormac from Cork, Ireland:
Love your column. It really makes me feel more connected to the Jags, especially as I live in Ireland. Are Jags players monitored during the offseason? Do they have to eat right, stay fit, go to the gym under supervision, or is it up to them to come to the training camp fit? Just wondering what a player's offseason is like.

Vic: A little later this month, the Jaguars will begin their offseason conditioning program. In other words, the party's almost over.

Hasso from Jacksonville:
What are the possibilities of the Jaguars picking a DE in the first round now that they have Reggie Hayward?

Vic: I don't see any reason for the Jaguars to turn their back on a pass-rusher. You can't have enough of them.

Mike from Jacksonville:
Suppose a team is interested in trading for Donovin Darius, but they aren't interested in assuming a $5 million dollar cap hit.

Vic: Any team that trades for Donovin Darius will do so knowing they must be able to get a long-term deal done. He's not going to be happy with anything less, and why would you trade for a guy who you'd run the risk of losing at the end of the season? The $4.97 million "franchise" fee will be immediately replaced on the team's cap when the team reaches a new contract with Darius.

Evan from Hull, Quebec:
This offseason there's a rich crop of over-the-top QBs. For a team like Arizona, who do you think should have the most attention?

Vic: I like Mike McMahon.

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