The Jaguars have more than one strategy to keep their team together. Yes, they want to re-sign quarterback Mark Brunell to a long-term contract that would help them reduce Brunell's hit on next season's salary cap, but there's another strategy, a hardball tactic, that would allow the Jags to keep Brunell.
It begins with re-structuring several players' contracts, which would provide enough salary cap room to fit Brunell's projected $13 million hit under the 2001 $67.4 million ceiling.
Can the Jaguars do that?
"Yes," owner Wayne Weaver said.
Are you sure?
"Positive," added Weaver, who said he has received indications from a sufficient number of players that they would agree to re-structuring.
OK, so that takes care of the 2001 season, which is the final year of Brunell's current Jaguars contract. Of course, when the 2001 season ends, Brunell would be slated to become an unrestricted free agent and the Jaguars would risk losing him without compensation.
Not if they use the "franchise player" designation that was used on defensive end Tony Brackens last season, but is now free to be used on another player, such as, Brunell.
At that point in time, leverage would belong to the Jaguars. The "franchise player" tag would pay Brunell the average of the top five quarterback salaries in the league. Immediately, that would be a substantial reduction from the $13 million hit Brunell will be on the Jaguars' 2001 salary cap.
Beyond that, the "franchise player" tag does not include a signing bonus. It is pure salary, which means the Jaguars' future caps would be protected.
It's a strategy the Jaguars want to avoid, but they would employ it if it's their only means of retaining Brunell or his rights. At this point in time, it would seem to be the team's only means of gaining leverage in contract negotiations with Brunell's agent, Leigh Steinberg, who may not believe the Jaguars can fit Brunell's $13 million hit under their 2001 cap.
That would seem to be the key in negotiations. Before Steinberg budges on his asking price for Brunell, the Jaguars may have to prove to him they can execute the "franchise player" strategy.
Again, re-structuring is the key. "It has to be. That's the only way you can do it," Weaver said of extinguishing the Jaguars' projected $35.5 million salary cap excess.
"We've locked ourselves into a black hole, so, it's the only way you can do it," Weaver added of re-structuring.
That re-structuring must be complete by March 2, when the Jaguars must have trimmed their $35.5 million excess and be in compliance with the league's mandatory cap figure. Weaver said the Jaguars have already begun contract re-structuring negotiations on several fronts.