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O-Zone: A lotta thinkin' goin' on

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Christian from Titusville, FL:
O-Man, I heard an interesting interview with Bill Polian recently ... he really threw a cold blanket on free agency. He basically says the 'A' players don't make it to free agency often (retained by their team) and you end up overpaying 'B' players. Also, when a free agent is paid the same as someone on the team with equivalent value, it causes locker-room issues. He said to NEVER pay a free agent more than your best player; destroys a locker room more times than not.
John: Polian was voicing a widely-held view in NFL circles – and a view I've expressed quite often in this space over the last few years. Free agency, even high-profile free agency, is not in any way the end-all; it absolutely brings with it risks and fundamental flaws that make it a very dangerous way to build a roster. Ideally, most general managers would prefer to dabble in free agency as little as possible for the exact reasons you heard Polian discuss. The biggest, most inarguable reason is the first you cite – that prime, core-level players are almost always retained by their teams … because why let a prime, core-level player leave if you possibly can avoid it? Therefore, you're always going to get players who teams feel are not as good as players they're keeping – and that's why the draft is a far superior way to acquire talent for the long-term. The locker-room issue is real, though it can be lessened by a strong culture – and by the free agent being good enough to merit the contract. That's certainly not to say free agency never works – and the Jaguars are certainly going to be active in the area next month – but Polian certainly laid out several reasons to not use it as the foundation for your franchise.
Jeremy from Miles City, MT:
No question, but mark me down as a Clive Walford guy. He has an exceptional array of abilities and athleticism for the tight-end position.
John: OK.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
Do you have any insight as to how the Patriots, who looked so bad the first part of the season, could make such a dramatic turnaround?
John: I don't cover the Patriots, so my insight doesn't have a story, anecdote or first-hand information on their 2014 season. But it's not uncommon for teams to struggle at times during the season before hitting a stride and winning the Super Bowl; in fact that's far more common than a team being dominant from start to finish. The Seahawks this season struggled early. The Ravens two years ago didn't look like a dominant team at times before winning the Super Bowl. The Colts in 2006 were struggling defensively before turning themselves around and winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots also have done this before: in 2003, the year they won their second Super Bowl, they struggled early before looking dominant late. The key often is having a veteran quarterback and veteran on-field leadership – as well, of course, as having coaching and leadership that is willing to stay the course, not panic and believe in the direction until the approach brings results on the field. Remember, this is not college football, where it's possible sometimes for a team to be clearly superior to their opponents from start to finish. It's the NFL and there are week-to-week ups and downs. The key often is to stay as injury-free as possible, get good quarterback play and hit your stride at the right time.
James from Columbus, MS:
So, Blake Bortles is conducting a passing camp; I am delighted since I don't recall hearing about any of our other quarterbacks ever doing that. I think that tells us a lot about his ability to improve – his dedication to doing so. How much can his mechanics improve during the offseason? Second question: Olson has a press conference, saying Bortles needs to work on this or that (e.g. recognizing defenses); does a quarterback pay attention to those articles for hints on things that their offensive coordinator will want them to work on ahead of the offseason program?
John: Yes, Bortles' commitment to offseason work is a good, powerful thing. And that commitment may be as important as any improvement that actually is made in the coming few weeks. It sends the right message, and shows a willingness to work and a focus on what needs to get done. That sort of dedication speaks volumes to what Bortles will do not only in the offseason but year-round – and it also sets the tone that other teammates will follow. And his mechanics can improve in the offseason. As for Bortles paying attention to Olson's press conference, I'm sure he did. But look, he's not dim. He knows what he needs to improve. Now, it's a matter of doing it.
Steve from Hudson, FL:
Would you explain how a team can end up in "salary-cap hell" by being too aggressive during free agency?
John: Salary cap hell doesn't happen by being aggressive in one free-agency period. It happens with a team has too many highly paid veterans at too many positions, with cap hell typically developing over time. In reference to the Jaguars, they are far enough under the cap entering this offseason that they would have trouble getting themselves into too much trouble this offseason. At the same time, even when you're in a good cap situation such as the Jaguars are in, you want to be smart and sign players to deals that will allow you continued flexibility as your roster improves.
The Wolverjag from Ohio:
I have been on many articles about the Jaguars reading fan comments and I have been on the message boards interacting with fellow fans and I have come to one conclusion. The Jaguars may not have the most fans of any team, but we certainly have the best and most knowledgeable fans. So great to be a Jaguar fan. The few, the proud, the Jaguars.
John: #DTWD
Chris from Houston, TX:
It's just speculation, but if the Jaguars are able to sign one of the big tight ends available through free agency would that hinder the chance of Marcedes Lewis being kept? What would be the point of having a Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis on the same team? I would say it's a good problem to have but at the same time do you need two expensive tight ends on the team?
John: First off, it's hard to determine what the future holds for Lewis. My guess is he will need to play for a lower salary if he is to play for the Jaguars next season, but that's not an official stance. As far as having a player such as Thomas and a player such as Lewis on the same roster … absolutely there would be a reason. Thomas is a pass-catching, athletic tight end who can help significantly in the passing offense whereas Lewis at the point in his career is far more valuable as a blocker at the point of attack than as a receiver. Were they to play on the same team they would be far more complementary than competitive. Just because players play the same position doesn't mean they have the same skill sets. Teams carry two tight ends all the time, and having two good players at the position can make you better easier than it can make you worse.
Tom from Duval:
It's hard for any player to look tough in these uniforms... Has it been 5 years yet mr O?
John: I'll check.
Frank from Jacksonville:
Are there any rules that keep a quarterback coach or offensive coordinator from say, talking to Palmer or someone not on the roster who they know will be working with a current team member to give them pointers on what a certain individual should be working on in the offseason?
John: It appears we're still at the point of w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y overthinking this topic. I say that because every day I get multiple emails from people trying to come up with ways for the Jaguars/Blake Bortles to get around the coaches-can't-coach players-in the-offseason issue. Look, the offseason rules are the offseason rules. Coaches can't coach players. That means they can't talk to them about football and they can't be on the same field with them until late April. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett at that point can begin working with Bortles on the offense – and at that point, I'm sure Hackett and Bortles will begin discussing fundamentals, etc. But until then, Bortles will be working on fundamentals. He'll be doing so with Jordan Palmer, a veteran who Bortles respects and trusts. Bortles is keenly aware of where he needs to improve. It's not a mystery. He needs to improve fundamentals, particularly his footwork, and there's no reason the improvements can't be made without him and the Jaguars' new coaches playing sneaky games to bend or circumvent the rules.

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