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NFL makes it work

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

Josh from Salem, OH:
We know the opponents we will face at home and away next year, but how exactly do they determine who you play and in what order?

Vic: The NFL provides a scheduling format that rotates divisions from year to year. For example, I can tell you that in 2006 the Jaguars will play the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Giants and one team from the AFC North at Alltel Stadium, and will play the Bills, Dolphins, Eagles, Redskins and one team from the AFC West on the road. That's in addition to the Jaguars' six home-and-away AFC South games. This is not something new. The NFL established this format a few years ago and has widely publicized it. With a few differences, the other teams in the AFC South will play that same schedule of opponents in '06. Most agree it's a very fair arrangement and it's a considerable improvement over the old formula, which attempted to penalize first-place teams with difficult schedules and assist last-place teams with easy schedules. The problem with that formula is we are no longer able to predict who the good and bad teams are. When you looked at last year's schedule, did you think San Diego and Pittsburgh would represent a combined record of 26-6? As far as the dates and times games will be played, that's decided arbitrarily by the NFL schedule-maker. He better like you a lot because he can take the easiest schedule and make it very difficult. We'll find out what his plans are for the Jaguars sometime in April.

Chad from Easley, SC:
How are Gene Smith's and James Harris' jobs different? And do you get to go into the draft room and sneak a peek?

Vic: Gene Smith is the Jaguars' director of college scouting. James Harris is the team's director of player personnel. In other words, Smith oversees the accumulation of information and the evaluation of college talent. Harris is the final authority on all personnel. As far as the draft room is concerned, it is the most secure room in every team's facility. You don't go there. Period.

Justin from Jacksonville:
I love your column and write all of the time, but I have never been published. Do you even get my questions?

Vic: Yes.

Hasso from Jacksonville:
When teams make their value board, do they take into consideration their salary cap, free agency and scheme?

Vic: I think you're confusing college scouting with pro personnel scouting. I hope the "Scouting 101" series will help you better understand the distinction between the two. College scouting arrives at a value board in which about 250 prospects are ranked in order according to their individual grades; not by position. In selecting from that pool of talent, you really wouldn't consider the salary cap because all draft picks are slotted and will probably receive a contract better than the guy drafted immediately behind and not as good as the guy immediately drafted ahead. Teams that draft for need would take into consideration what they did in free agency and how a player pertains to the team's scheme. The ranking of available free agents is done by position and, therefore, is not a value board. Free agency is clearly a forum for need acquisitions, and scheme and salary cap are primary considerations. To quote Gene Smith, "The draft is for value. Pro free agency is for direct need."

Malosi from Valencia, CA:
You've mentioned high and low tenders for first and third-round picks respectively, so is there a middle tender for a second-rounder?

Vic: I, obviously, did not explain tenders properly, so let's start over. There are four levels of tenders teams may use on restricted free agents. There is a low tender that would pay the player $660,000 and would result in any team signing that player having to compensate the player's original team with original draft pick compensation. The next tender up would pay the player $1.4 million and signing him would result in the original team being compensated with a first-round pick. The next tender up would pay the player $1.9 million and would return compensation in the form of first and third-round picks. The fourth and highest tender isn't worth discussing because nobody ever uses it. If Akin Ayodele was given the low tender and signed by another team, the Jaguars could choose to match the offer and keep Ayodele, or let him leave and take a third-round draft pick, which is what the Jaguars used to acquire Ayodele in the 2002 draft. If Ayodele had been drafted in the seventh round, the compensation would be a seventh-round pick. Get the idea now?

Steve from Jacksonville:
What are the chances we'll see the Jaguars switch to a 3-4 defense for 2005? I believe they'd have to change more and spend more to keep them at a competitive 4-3 than they would to adjust to a 3-4 defense.

Vic: Let's approach this logically. The Jaguars had two players in the Pro Bowl. They are both 4-3 defensive tackles. Switching to the 3-4 would mean those two players would have to become ends because they're too tall to be nose tackles. Think back to the San Diego game. Do you wanna move Marcus Stroud to end? Do you think that's what you do with a two-time Pro-Bowl tackle? I don't think John Henderson could play end. I think he's a 4-3 tackle and that's it. Now look at your linebackers. Do you have the kind of guys you need? I don't think so. Just because New England and Pittsburgh play the 3-4 doesn't mean everybody should do the same. Switching to the 3-4 as the Jaguars' base defense would fly in the face of all logic and would set the team back to square one of the Jack Del Rio era.

Mike from Palm Coast, FL:
Now that the Saints are planning to "franchise" Darren Howard, who are the attractive free agents at DE the Jaguars will be looking at?

Vic: I think it's time to wait until free agency begins. Just as I predicted, we've wasted a lot of time talking about guys who are now evaporating into "franchisism." Let's at least wait until the Feb. 22 "franchise" deadline passes.

Nic from South Sioux City, NE:
You've said some of the names you're interested in, now let's hear some of the ones that won't fit the bill we're looking for here.

Vic: Emmitt Smith (yeah, he's on the list of unrestricted free agents), Hugh Douglas, Jeff George, Eddie George, Kelvin Pritchett, Marco Coleman, T.J. Slaughter and Gary Anderson. I really like Anderson but the NFL has a rule against playing with a cane.

John from Jacksonville:
There is a lot of talk now about baseball and steroids. I think those who use steroids in any sport tarnish any production they achieve, as it is nothing less than cheating. Are you satisfied with the NFL's policy on drugs and steroids, and will baseball ever learn the NFL wisdom in drugs, steroids and the salary cap?

Vic: Two recent stories are having a major impact on professional sports. Number one, Jose Canseco spills the beans on steroids abuse in baseball; number two, the NHL cancels the 2005 season due to labor strife. Think about the impact of those two events. Baseball's record book, the most hallowed journal of accomplishment in all of sport, has been tarnished beyond repair. In hockey, there will be no champion this year and fans a hundred years from now will ask, why isn't there a 2005 champion engraved on the Stanley Cup? What a tragedy, for there is no greater shame in sports than the tarnishing of its traditions. Go ahead and blame major league baseball's management for not having taken a harder line on issues such as steroids, but when has the players association been agreeable to anything management has wanted? When have the players acted with the integrity of the game in mind? When has anything but money been at the top of their agenda? The same goes for hockey. The NFL is the most successful professional sports league in the world because its owners and its players have operated in concert. The NFL has a substance-abuse plan that works; a salary cap that works. The NFL has a system that works because the league's owners and players share the same vision. I salute the hockey owners for shutting it down until they get the concessions they need to make the sport work, and I hope that someday baseball finds the courage to do the same.

Robert from Columbus, OH:
I just got done reading something about Jeff Garcia getting cut. What's your take on this? Do you think this will affect the draft boards of the teams picking 1-10?

Vic: This isn't a good year to be looking for a quarterback in the draft. The Browns had their chance last year with Ben Roethlisberger. I still can't believe they traded up to draft a tight end.

Jon from Denver:
By throwing out the name Julian Peterson and saying we have a need at linebacker, should we read into that that you don't have much faith in Akin Ayodele?

Vic: It's not about Akin Ayodele. It's about a declining performance by the Jaguars' linebackers in the second half of last season. I don't know why everybody thinks the Jaguars don't have need at linebacker. What does 134 yards rushing by Zack Crockett and 150 by Dominic Davis tell you?

Mike from Atlanta, GA:
I'm usually an advocate of building through the draft, but I'd rather see the Jags fill the offensive tackle position with a quality free agent. It seems to me that left tackle is a tough position for a rookie to pick up right away. Am I wrong?

Vic: You're right, it's a tough position for a rookie to master, but quality at left tackle may be difficult to find in free agency. Teams tend to keep good left tackles. Let's wait to see who's available.

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