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Jags fortunate to not be a 'player'


Following a winter of singular thought and purpose -- repairing the salary cap -- the intensity with which that all came to an end last Friday has left the Jaguars in somewhat of a lull.

Here it is, the first full week of free agency and the Jaguars aren't even a player in the NFL's annual trap for fools. That's the good news. This year, free agency won't dig the Jaguars an even deeper financial hole.

Who will be the next Jaguars? How about the Tampa Bay Bucs? In the last two years, they've traded away two first-round picks for a wide receiver who didn't make the difference, and now they've dropped a ton of money on Brad Johnson. Apparently, this is the Bucs' window-of-opportunity season.

Does it make you wonder why learned and successful men refuse to learn from the repeated mistakes of others? Didn't the Redskins teach everyone a lesson?

It is to the Jaguars' great advantage that they can not be a player in free agency this year. Here's why.

The Jaguars' salary cap constraints will force them to pursue more passionately the least expensive and most productive venue for new-player acquisition. Of course, the NFL draft is that venue.

That's not to say the Jaguars haven't approached past drafts with great vim and vigor. They have. However, in the past their drafts have been conducted in coordination with their free-agency signings. Moreover, because the draft follows the start of free agency, the draft was often used as an adjunct to free agency, and that's a mistake. The draft is too important to ever be treated as secondary.

Consider this: In Feb. of 1996, the Jaguars signed Leon Searcy to what was then the richest contract of any offensive lineman in pro football history. With Searcy joining 1995 second-pick-of-the-draft Tony Boselli at tackle, and with '95 second-round pick Brian DeMarco having to move from tackle to guard, there was no doubt in anyone's mind the Jaguars would not pick a tackle early in the '96 draft. They didn't. They selected linebacker Kevin Hardy with the second overall selection.

You could argue that it all worked out for the best. The acquisitions of Searcy and Hardy allowed the Jaguars to rise quickly to the top of the AFC. However, would anyone say now they shouldn't have selected tackle Jonathan Ogden?

In this year's draft, the Jaguars will have no prized free agents to turn them away from particular positions in the draft. They have intense need for offensive and defensive linemen, a linebacker and probably another wide receiver, but more than needs at specific positions, the Jaguars need a lot of productive players at a lot of positions. They need to recover the roster depth they had to cut last week to make it under the cap.

Fortunately, the broader the scope of a team's draft search, the more successful that team usually is in its selections. After all, the pool gets bigger as the search deepens.

Head coach Tom Coughlin will tell you the draft is all about needs. Most other coaches would agree. However, the teams that consistently draft the best are the ones who treat the draft as a unique and separate event that is granted priority status. Everything must take a back seat to the draft.

No problem this year.

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