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O-Zone: Bright lights, big city

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … David from Orange Park, FL:
You're kidding, right? First, no Olivier Vernon? Now, no Robert Ayers? Did these guys just decide to forget about pass rush?
John: Obviously, the Jaguars didn't forget about pass rush. Look, I understand the disappointment. I do. And the Jaguars did pursue pass rush in recent days. They pursued Olivier Vernon and he chose the New York Giants. They pursued Robert Ayers and he chose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, that's where the Jaguars stand as we move on toward the draft. Did the Jaguars land a front-line edge rusher in free agency? No. Can they address it in the draft? Perhaps. Is it a concern? Sure. Can the addition of Malik Jackson, and the return of Fowler and Marks, improve the pass rush enough? Well, that certainly needs to be the case. No doubt about that. The Jaguars got better in recent days. They signed Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara and those were needed acquisitions, but pass rusher will be an issue until next season proves otherwise.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Those deals were not as bad as I thought they would be. Money-wise, it looked like there was good value. It seems the team that overspent was the Giants, who snatched Olivier Vernon from the Jags. What do you think?
John: I think we have reached a stage in NFL free agency in which terms such as "good value," "good deal" and "bad deal" have lost their meaning. Is there any way the contracts signed this week by players such as Olivier Vernon and Malik Jackson can really be "good deals" or "good value?" Almost certainly not. That's because they can play very, very well and not live up to $15 million a year. It's not their fault; it's the reality of the situation. Now, were those contracts in line with the rest of the market based on the players available in free agency? Sure. I do find it interesting that Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell has said a couple of times in recent days that the team was well out of its "comfort zone" financially at the end of its effort to sign Vernon. At that point, the guaranteed money to Vernon was approaching and surpassing $50 million. Uncomfortable? I would hope so. Shoot, I'd be absolutely petrified.
John from Cape May, NJ:
You'd be surprised if the Jags select a defensive tackle in the first three rounds? I feel the complete opposite. Not only do I think they should draft one defensive lineman, I think they should draft two defensive linemen within the first three rounds. This is considered to be deepest and most talented position group in this draft, so why not take advantage of that? You can never have too many talented pass rushers; this is the draft to go get those guys and have your defensive line taken care of for years.
John: OK.
John from Mobile, AL:
So, now that the Jaguars have signed Prince Amukamara, does that mean that it's less likely that they pursue Vernon Hargreaves III or Jalen Ramsey? Thanks.
John: Hargreaves? Probably. Ramsey? Probably not.
Wayne from Jacksonville:
Caldwell was brilliant in signing Malik Jackson and that told a heck of a lot about who we are drafting. With a healthy Sen'Derrick Marks and Jackson inside, and two young and hungry ends (Dante Fowler Jr. and Joey Bosa), our front four just became very scary and is going to make our secondary a lot better.
John: If Joey Bosa is the Jaguars' selection at No. 5 – and I think that's a looooong way from a lock – the Jaguars indeed would have a lot more disruptive players up front than they did last year.
Joseph from Statesboro, GA:
I'm puzzled by the argument that Jackson was only good because of strong edge pass rush from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware; if anything, they got a boost by having a guy who keeps the quarterback from stepping up into the pocket and avoiding that outside rush. It's not like you double-team an edge rusher with a center or guard; you usually chip with a tight end or a running back.
John: I find the argument a bit puzzling, too. Jackson was really disruptive this past season – and indeed, a huge reason the Jaguars signed him is a belief that he is as good as any interior defensive tackle at getting quarterbacks off their "spot" with inside push. If you wonder if he will continue to be that after signing a big free-agent contract, I think that's a fair thing to wonder; that's always an unknown with a free agent. Now, if you're concerned he was only good because of his Broncos teammates … nah.
Greg from Dallas, TX:
So, Greg's still on the market, and he'd rush the passer. Should he get an offer?
John: Greg who? Oh … No.
Mike from St. Johns, FL:
If Dante Fowler Jr., whoever who we pick up the rest of the offseason and Gipson don't provide significant improvement, are we putting Gus Bradley and the coaches in a position where they have a reasonable chance to be successful? I'm sure it's a shared responsibility because coaches need to develop and put players in the right position/scenarios, but who takes the greater responsibility for our failures with those two positions, specifically? I don't think we've had sufficient talent with the safeties and the pass rushers from the beginning of this regime; if 2016 were to play out like 2015, I have to wonder if we'd be getting rid of the wrong guy by sending Gus and staff packing versus the folks who are responsible for bringing in the talent.
John: That's certainly the eternal question in many NFL organizations: Is it players? Is it coaching? Is it personnel? Usually, of course, the answer is it's all of the above because the NFL is not played in a vacuum. One fact effects the other effects the other and so on and so on … No one around the Jaguars' organization would tell you there has been enough talent the last three seasons; everyone around the organization when this build began in 2013 knew that was and would continue to be the case for several seasons. Now, the roster appears to be talented enough for the Jaguars to have a realistic chance to win more games than they lose. That's the expectation, so it's fair to say this will be the first season when the people involved can be judged in that light.
Tyler from Jacksonville:
It's truly amazing that a draft bust lasted so many years and collected so much money from the team. Mercedes Lewis always has been a full step slower than he needed to be. The 10-touchdown season was a fluke. Say what you may about his awesome blocking, but you don't take blocking tight ends in the first round, and you certainly don't keep them on the team for 14 years. I like all the other moves but I am sick of hearing Mercedes Lewis' name, and how it always leads to a mention of how great a blocker he is. As a fan, am I "allowed" to have player fatigue against a certain player? It isn't that I think he is terrible, just wish he was on another team, ya dig?
John: I dig, and you're entitled to your feelings. I don't know that Lewis ever has been an elite tight end, but when you play double-digit years, make a Pro Bowl and are considered a strength for as long as Lewis has been … well, he's not a bust. No way.
David from Orlando, FL:
I read an article about how the Olivier Vernon deal went down; it seemed he left some money on the table for the allure of the bright lights of New York City – a.k.a., "sexy town." In fact, could you see a guy like Johnny Manziel being happy in Jacksonville … or Dez Bryant, Terrell Owens, Michael Irvin, Joe Namath or Deion Sanders for that matter? Are some players too big to play in small markets? Is this something a general manager needs to consider?
John: It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge this as an issue; Caldwell addressed it Thursday when discussing free agency, saying that the pursuit of Vernon illustrated the necessity for the Jaguars to draft and develop their own players. His point was that once players visit Jacksonville they see the great things about the city and the team, but it's sometimes a difficult sell sight unseen. So, sure, there are probably players that wouldn't be happy here. At the same time, there are many, many players who wouldn't be happy in New York or other bigger markets. And to think you can't win in smaller markets is categorically untrue. The Jaguars won in the 1990s; the Colts were a star-oriented, successful team when I covered them and Indianapolis isn't exactly a bright-lights, big-city town. The Green Bay Packers, the San Antonio Spurs, the Kansas City Royals … all of those teams are very successful and none play in New York.

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