The Jaguars are using "$7-$8 million under" the salary cap as a working number, as head coach Jack Del Rio and his staff continue evaluations that will determine the team's direction in free agency.
"What we've attempted to do is get back into a situation in which we have some flexibility. We have some," football operations director Paul Vance said of the team's current salary cap situation, which has undergone an about-face since this time a year ago.
The NFL's worst salary-cap deficit last February is one of the league's better situations this February, but Vance cautions that this is not a good time of the year to apply cap rankings. "There are a lot of moves to make," he said.
In the Jaguars' case, the team has 36 players currently under contract. The top 51 players count toward a team's 2003 salary cap number. And that cap number is expected to be between $74.5 million and $75.1 million per team in '03.
Counting the Jaguars' 36 signed players and excluding tenders for restricted free agents and salaries for exclusive rights players (those players who have fewer than three accrued seasons and whose contracts have expired), the Jaguars are about $17 million under the '03 cap. When Vance figures in projected contracts for exclusive rights players and tenders for restricted free agents, he comes to the "$7-$8 million under" figure as a working number. That figure includes cap room set aside for reserve items such as the practice squad and workout money, and for the rookie pool.
The Jaguars have 13 unrestricted free agents, nine restricted free agents and 14 exclusive rights players. The UFA's are: Donovin Darius, Stacey Mack, Kent Graham, Bobby Shaw, Patrick Johnson, Charles Lockett, Pete Mitchell, John Wade, Zach Wiegert, Todd Fordham, Larry Smith, Wali Rainer and Joe Zelenka. The RFA's are: Paul Spicer, Danny Clark, T.J. Slaughter, Bobby Brooks, Kiwaukee Thomas, Robert Bean, Ainsley Battles, Aaron Koch and Leander Jordan.
An exclusive rights player has no option but to return to the team that holds his rights. He is almost always a minimum-wage, no-signing-bonus player. Fullback Dan Alexander is an example of an exclusive-rights player.
Where does the Jaguars' current cap situation leave the team? Obviously, in a much-improved state, but not far enough removed from their days of anxiety to spend foolishly.
"It's not enough to go out and spend excessively," Vance said of the team's cap room.
One of the team's positive indicators for '03 is that it is currently projecting about $5 million in "dead money," which is beneath the league average. Most of that "dead money" is assigned to remaining amortization for Keenan McCardell and Hardy Nickerson.
"You have to look at what ranking means at this point in the year," Vance said of putting the Jaguars near the top of the cap-room class. "There's not a way to look at ranking at this point in the year and say it means a lot."