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O-Zone: Blessing and a curse

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Dan from Jax

The adage is it's always coaching in the NFL ... well, I'm starting to think it may be the cap limit. It seems teams like the Jaguars develop players into a cohesive unit only to have to let them go due to the confines of cap space. I do understand the need for cap limits, but how can the Jags hit the big game if they get to the threshold only to have to take a couple of steps back as key ingredients are let go?

The Jaguars can make it to the Super Bowl by retaining core players, drafting good players who develop into core players – and by having quarterback Trevor Lawrence develop into an elite player. Good teams lose players in free agency, and the Jaguars indeed have lost a few good players this offseason – right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the Kansas City Chiefs, outside linebacker Arden Key to the Tennessee Titans and tight end Chris Manhertz to the Denver Broncos. And make no mistake: Those players matter, and the Jaguars ideally would have re-signed all three. But remember: The Jaguars selected Walker Little in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft and he appears ready to play right tackle. And they selected players such as outside linebacker Travon Walker and inside linebacker Devin Lloyd in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft for a reason – to be core defensive players who disrupt offenses. All three were selected early in the last two drafts. Good teams have early-drafted players playing well and performing when called upon. This is that trio's time.

Tim from Fort Wayne, IN

I've heard it said that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. This team had an incredible season last year, but in many ways they outperformed what was expected. The plan appears to be to run it back with the same team. However, they've also lost a key piece on both the offensive and defensive lines. As a whole, do you envision this being a better team next year than it was last season?

Very possibly. Contrary to popular opinion, the best way for a team to improve often is to improve from within – particularly a young team with talent. If the Jaguars' offense improves as expected in its second season in Head Coach Doug Pederson's system, and if young core pieces such as Lloyd and Walker become impact players on defense as expected … if those things happen, then the Jaguars should be a better team than last season. If not …

_Mark from Brighton, UK          _

Hi, John. It seems we don't have the cap space to re-sign Arden Key, a good player. Yet the New Orleans Saints, who are notoriously always way over the salary cap, can find $150 million to pay quarterback Derek Carr. Are the Jags not very good at managing the cap or were they quite happy to let Key walk to the Titans?

Neither. The Jaguars are managing the cap for the long-term and were not happy about letting Key sign with the Titans.

Roger from Chicago, IL

When discussing the free-agent deal that Jawaan Taylor signed, I see many fans refer to his deal as overpriced because the Jags wouldn't want to match. However, I think this is the wrong way to look at it. There is not one value for a player relative to "how good they are." In reality, is it also a reflection of what the player is worth to that team. For instance, if a team doesn't have a starting tackle, an above average free-agent tackle is more valuable to that team vs a team that has two starting and capable tackles. In other words, if we didn't have left tackle Cam Robinson and his contract, the Jaguars very well might be willing to match the Kansas City deal terms.

The Jaguars indeed already have two highly-paid veteran offensive linemen on big non-rookie contracts – Robinson and right guard Brandon Scherff. They also have a receiving corps – wide receivers Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Calvin Ridley and tight end Evan Engram – on big contracts. They have four players on defense with such contracts – defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, safety Rayshawn Jenkins and linebacker Foye Oluokun. They also have Lawrence's contract to consider in the near future. That's significant free-agent money. They must rely on young players to play well on young money to complement that free-agent money because your whole roster can't be free-agent money.

Gabe from Washington, DC

Tough couple of days for the "salary cap is fake" crowd.

The salary cap is only fake for people who don't understand the cap. If the cap was fake, teams wouldn't release players for cap reasons. If the cap was fake, all teams would have highly-paid veterans at all positions – and all would have veteran, pricey backups at key positions. Teams can manipulate the cap in the short term, but it's real in the long term.

Dallas from Sioux Falls, SD

KOAF, I can only imagine the comments you will get in the O-Zone regarding Key moving on to the Titans. That one stings, but it all comes down to cap space. I see the defense being a focus and a storyline in 2023. The offense has set a baseline to maintain and very few parts are being removed or added. My opinion was that the defense was not as good as the offense, and with Key moving on and defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot on an injury it adds more focus on that group, especially the D-line. Do you see that as a storyline, regardless of who we draft?

Yes. The Jaguars must generate better pressure with the defensive front. That group must be more productive.

Ryan from Oceanway

What happened to sign and develop our own? We sign safety Andrew Wingard and let Taylor and Key leave, especially to our hated enemy. Just seems like the Jaguars are coming apart. What good is saving money to sign Trevor if we make it a shell of a team by then? I am tired of giving my respect and admiration for these players who play us for a year then leave. Just spoiled millionaires chasing a buck. Arden Key will forever remain persona non grata with Jaguars fans. Why show these players loyalty and respect when they don't feel the same way.

The Jaguars are not "coming apart." They paid exorbitant money in free agency the last two offseasons and they were never going to spend big in that area this offseason. Either way, they will not be a "shell of a team" in 2022. But yes … if you're going to have a franchise quarterback on the sort of contract Lawrence will earn then you're going to lose some players as you get your cap in order to handle that level of contract. As far as Key being persona non grata for signing with the Titans … this is professional sports. When in the world did loyalty enter the discussion?

Keith from Saint Augustine, FL

It was always Dewey.

I got a few of these emails in recent days following the Jaguars agreeing to terms to re-sign safety Andrew Wingard, and that indeed is a cool story. Wingard, who signed as a collegiate free agent following the 2019 NFL Draft, agreed to a $6 million guaranteed contract that could be worth $14 million over three seasons. It's a deserved deal for a player who has emerged as a key special teams player/defensive contributor – and a player who is also a leader and fan favorite. I spoke to Wingard Wednesday morning and he spoke of it being nice to be pursued in free agency after being an undrafted. He also said there was really nowhere else he wanted to play than Jacksonville. Cool story. And yeah … one fer Dewey.

Aedan from Tennessee

I just watched the Sounds of the Season and it was a thing of beauty. One fer the Jags media team!!!

Hey. One fer the supporting cast.

Jordan from Mandarin

Go get the Mayor back.

I'm still getting multiple emails a day hoping the Jaguars sign defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who played for the Jaguars from 2017-2019 and who was released by the Baltimore Ravens early this week after three seasons with that organization. Campbell, known as the Mayor of Sacksonville during his time here, would be a nice signing. He has unquestioned leadership. I have no idea if it could or will happen.

DJ from Grass Valley, CA

Oh Mighty O, I tried to research this question on my own but, alas, Google has failed me. How many other NFL teams have a Senior Writer that answers mailbag questions EVERY day? You are appreciated Sir!

I don't know of other teams with senior writers who answer questions every day. This is my blessing and curse, and I believe it's mine alone.