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O-Zone: Approach with caution

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Boxcutter Bill from Massachusetts

Mr. Zone. In my opinion, losing outside linebacker Arden Key could be the Jaguars' biggest free-agent loss, and he went to an enemy. We were never going to give him three years. I know we won't be players in free agency, but is there a chance we pick up some pass rush depth at a low cost? Would be nice to see Chassion raise his game.

I sense the angst over losing Key could continue for some time, and I understand why this hurt Jaguars observers. And not just because he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars' AFC South rival. Key was an emotional player who developed into a locker-room leader – and who also was quite popular with fans. He also got good pressure in some key spots last season. He mattered very much to the Jaguars' defense in the run to the 2022 AFC South title. But remember: The Jaguars signed Key as a second-wave free agent last offseason and they signed him to a cost-effective one-year contract. And while Key was an important part of the defense this past season, it's perhaps important to remember that he registered four and a half sacks. That's good production, but it's not irreplaceable production – and I would expect the Jaguars to again seek some pass rush depth in second-tier free agency. As they did around this time last offseason. And sure … it would be nice to get more from outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson. Maybe the former first-round selection can get that production this season. It hasn't happened yet. Stay tuned.

Lawrence from Blair, NE

I get not being able to re-sign right tackle Jawaan Taylor. That was a massive contract and the Jags pretty much lost out on him when they didn't tag him. But Arden Key and still no long-term deal for tight end Evan Engram. The Arden Key deal was very reasonable: $13 million guaranteed for three years? I can't see how that's not a steal. Could it possibly be that General Manager Trent Baalke's "line in the sand" is not practical/reasonable? That would be true cause for concern. I'm not familiar with his history on second contracts in San Francisco.

The Jaguars spent huge money in free agency in 2021 and 2022. They weren't going to be able to do that this offseason. They have a huge contract to get done with quarterback Trevor Lawrence on the horizon – quite possibly next offseason. The Jaguars at some point must become a team that drafts well around a franchise quarterback and has comparatively limited free-agent expenditures. This offseason is a step toward becoming that sort of team.

Jaghawk from Palatka, FL

KOAF, please explain the nuances of the salary cap. Is it possible to be over the cap in a given year? Seems like I recall other teams being over. I've heard there is a "cap tax" based on a three-year rolling average. If this is the case, is the "tax" only monetary or are draft picks forfeited? If this is correct couldn't the Jags have a little space we aren't aware of? Clarify with as much detail and to the fullest extent you can.

NFL teams cannot be over the salary cap. The league's salary cap in that sense is a "hard cap." The league does not approve contracts that move a team over the cap. A team could be over the cap by releasing a player, with that player's future signing bonuses accelerating into the current year and pushing the team over the cap. In this case, the team would have seven days to be in cap compliance. This likely would be achieved by restructuring the contract of – or releasing – another player. Each team must spend at least 89 percent of its cap over a four-year period. Cap space reports are unofficial and vary a bit, so I don't know how much cap space people believe the Jaguars have remaining. The Jaguars, like all teams, can create short-term cap space by restructuring contracts and pushing money into future years. The Jaguars have done this a little this offseason. The extent to which a team does this must be managed judiciously, which is why teams don't always sign players fans want signed.

Jason from North Pole. AK

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year with just six players making more than $5 million dollars on their 2022 salary cap. They had 16 starters making $4.8 million or less. Draft and develop then pick your spots to occasionally overpay.

All teams' salary caps are different. All teams have arrived there on different paths. But essentially … yes, if you have a quarterback on a megadeal – the sort of deal Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on, a deal such as Lawrence will sign – then the approach you reference absolutely is a prototype.

Brian from Gainesville, FL

Big O, as you and others have noted recently, the defense will be the story in 2023 - that is, can it improve, and more specifically, can the young players in that unit improve? Hindsight being what it is, should the Jaguars have opted for a more polished prospect like Aidan Hutchinson instead of hoping for development out of a raw project like Travon Walker?

We'll see. This will be a more pertinent question in 2023 than it was in 2022, because we'll have a better idea about each player in 2023.

Doug from Jacksonville, FL

As a fan, I would have been disappointed if the Jags paid $60 million guaranteed for Taylor. I would have been disappointed if the Jags gave up a third-round pick for an overrated prima donna corner. As a Jags fan, I was disappointed when the drafted a project first overall last year with this year having it be the biggest question mark on the team when the consensus pick in the same position did exactly what he was expected to do most likely removing that question mark from the team. I guess two out of three ain't bad ... except the one miss was at the (arguably) second most important position in the NFL.

Your email suggests that the Jaguars should have selected Hutchinson over Walker No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, and that the Jaguars' pass rush would be solved had they done so. I understand the suggestion based on their rookie season. We have a long way to go before we know if that suggestion is correct.

Paul from Jacksonville

Seems like it's all perspective. The Jags acquiring Calvin Ridley is a bigger splash than most teams will make in free agency, right?


Ryan from Jacksonville

Hello, Mr. Oehser. I'm a longtime follower but I have not commented for years. I feel the alarm over Travon Walker's lack of production is premature. Even J.J. Watt had low sack numbers his rookie year. Speaking of Watt, do you think the Jaguars would benefit from moving Walker to play more of an "end" role like Watt did throughout his career? Thanks!

The Jaguars need to figure how to best use multiple young players. One is Walker and another is Devin Lloyd. Could there be a way to use Walker at end at times and outside linebacker at times? Could there be a way to use Lloyd inside and outside? Could the players move around at times in different packages? We'll see.

David from Ada, OK

Even in Tecmo Bowl, when you don't re-sign your players, you lose a percentage of the fans.

I loved Tecmo Bowl. I played more than I like to admit. But no team in the NFL "signs all their own players," particularly if the team is good. It's unrealistic.

Will from Jacksonville Section 138

When the schedule is released in May, can Jaguars fans expect at least one prime-time game at the 'Bank? Maybe you could use your super impressive pull with the NFL and land us the Sunday night game in November against the Chiefs. Jags fans like playing under the lights at home; 2-0 last year after all.

I would expect at least one prime-time game at TIAA Bank Field in 2023. The home game against Kansas City would seem appealing, but remember: The Chiefs won the Super Bowl last season. From the league's perspective all their games will be appealing.

Steve from Nashville, TN

I sense some apprehension from the KOAF in a lower number of 1 p.m. kickoffs this year?

I have been open and up front in my personal preference for 1 p.m. home games. This allows me to slumber at a normal hour. It is a selfish desire on my part because what's good for me is what's good for me and therefore is more important than all else. It's not looking good for me on that front for 2022. At all.

Brian from Fanwood, NJ

If I saw and approached you on the street, what would you say to me?

How much you got?