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O-Zone: Building blocks wanted

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Nick from Fort Pierce, FL:
John, we the fans are terrified of another joke of a season. Another first-round bust. Another lame-duck coach. Another football bouncing off our running back's foot when we are trying to dead the ball that subsequently leads to another interception. Fans gonna fan. We do every single year. But damn, John: Jags gotta Jag every year, too. Fans will get better when the team does.
John: I know the source of the terror, Nick. And there's no doubt Jaguars fans have every right at this stage to view seasons with trepidation. The past few seasons have done nothing to inspire confidence, and it would be abnormal for fans to be giddy with optimism. I can't write anything to make you feel differently because only winning is going to make you feel differently. I can tell you I get a good feeling about the professionalism of Head Coach Doug Marrone, and I sense at this early juncture that he's a head coach who can get a lot out of his team. I think the players will respond to his approach, and I think there is young talent on this team that can continue to grow and give this team a chance to win. But until that happens, there will be skepticism. Considering how the last few seasons have played out, how couldn't there be?
Jerry from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Does Dave Caldwell have a budget given to him by Mr. Khan or Mr. Lamping? Otherwise, we appear to be witnessing "insanity." Why cut or trade players when you don't have better players already on the roster? We have proven that free agency and the draft are a crap shoot at best. The cap will not be relevant for this team for the foreseeable future. Therefore, there must be a budget. It's likely this "insanity" is reducing our chances of winning more games again this year.
John: The Jaguars have released two players this offseason, defensive end Jared Odrick and cornerback Davon House. It's far from insane to think the Jaguars can and will adequately replace those players.
Glen from Section 408:
As a season-ticket holder, I welcome your smart aleck responses and Airplane humor. Here's one for the O-Man!
John: I didn't understand the question, Glen. Can you pay someone to close-caption it?
Richard from Callaway, FL:
I am officially on the Solomon Thomas hype train – left defensive end or three technique, dude is a beast. What say you, O-Man?
John: I say there's a lot to like. Around the combine, Thomas – a defensive end from Stanford – was talked about like a sure Top 20 player. There seems to be some momentum for him in the Top 5 or 10, and he did nothing at the combine to slow that momentum. There's a long way to go before the draft, and Thomas feels like a player who could ascend – and stay there once he does.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
O-Man, could you expand upon the "seriously-good numbers-that-Bortles-has-put-up" portion of your recent response to Ryan from Apopka? How is a 2016 season rating of 78.8 and 16 interceptions (how many pick-sixes?) considered good at all? Yes Bortles has prototypical size and at times has looked like a decent NFL quarterback, but "seriously good numbers"? Sorry, but not buyin' what you're sellin'.
John: (Sigh.) Anyone who has read the O-Zone any time in, oh, the last year and a half knows I'm not sellin' anything that says Bortles has played like an elite quarterback. But he threw for 35 touchdowns and more than 4,400 yards in 2015 and has nearly 60 touchdown passes over the last two seasons. I don't believe those numbers make Bortles elite and I'm not saying those numbers make up for the other poor numbers Bortles has put up in the same span. But he has put up some seriously good numbers in his three seasons. That he also has put up some bad ones doesn't make that untrue.
Micky from Orange Park, FL:
MJD and T.J. Yeldon both had 36-inch vertical jumps. Barry Sanders had a 41.5 vertical. It foretells burst and explosiveness. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook were not impressive in the vertical or broad jumps. They've been eliminated from consideration at No. 4 in my book. Solomon Thomas has been added, especially with Sen'Derrick Marks being shopped around. Would love an elite safety even more, though.
John: OK.
Steve from Jacksonville:
Oddball question, I guess, but here goes. In a draft that "appears" to be very deep at certain positions where the Jags may need help (running back, defensive line, defensive back), would it be counterintuitive for them to draft someone highly rated on their board from a "not so plentiful group" – say a wide receiver or tight end or offensive lineman and go for the deeper prospects later on? Zig when everyone zags? Or do you just NOT pass up talent where it's slotted because "fans"...
John: I wouldn't say it's an odd question at all, and a position's depth absolutely comes into play when plotting strategy before the draft. As with most draft-related questions, there's not one answer that applies to all situations – and a player deemed a special talent trumps a lot of other factors. For instance, if the Jaguars truly believe a player such as Leonard Fournette of Jonathan Allen or Jamal Adams is a can't-miss, redefine-the-franchise talent then it might not matter that a lot of very good starting-level players are available at their positions later in the draft. True difference-making players are rare and one of those is worth multiple so-so starting-level players elsewhere.
Darren from Arlington:
I'm not sure I understand the release of House. He was inconsistent, but he played well as a whole when he was on the field. Why would we not keep him as a reserve? Was he going to count that much against the cap? And does that even matter given how much cap space we have? Please help me understand this.
John: When a player such as House gets released when a team has as much cap space as the Jaguars it has some to do with the cap and a lot with the team believing it will be better off without that player. Also, remember: cap space can be rolled over, so you don't want to keep or sign players with a high cap number just for the sake of having a player. You do want to make sure the player gives something close to value for the investment.
Jefferson from Phoenix, AZ:
O-Zone, playing free agency feels like playing against the House in Vegas: no matter how much it seems you win, you still lost. I can't really tell what to think. Supposedly the way a franchise treats its players matters to what players are excited to come and stay with the team … but then, money talks. So, to me I would think that Julius Thomas, Odrick and House would leave a bitter taste for other free agents, but it seems just as likely that instead it will be more like a "More $$ Here" neon sign for them. I'm thinking I close my eyes until November and hope we have a winning record before I bother with learning names or numbers.
John: Your question implies that Odrick, House and Thomas were somehow treated poorly during their time with the team. That implication tests reality.
Ed from Ponte Vedra, FL:
Probably out of ignorance, I always felt that when you load free agents' pockets with money, they take a step back. Thomas is the first example. But then I look back at Paul Poz and he was worth three bad picks. What do I know?
John: It's a common conclusion with an underperforming free agent to say that the player's newfound wealth contributed to a decline – and yes, there are times that's true. But there are numerous other factors, too. Sometimes, a player simply was not a fit. Other times a player perhaps wasn't as much an elite talent as he was a player who was playing well and performing in another team's system. Other times a player has reached a point in his career when his performance is going to decline. The last factor often is overlooked, but in a league when injuries and wear and tear mean short careers, it's not uncommon for a player to decline after five or six seasons – the very time when he is playing his first seasons for a new team. What you want from free agency are ascending players who can fit into a new scheme and perform immediately at a high, difference-making level. You also want players who can adapt quickly to a new environment and be exemplary for teammates on and off the field. What you want for the kind of money you're paying are players who you know are going to be building blocks for your franchise. Of course, every franchise wants those kinds of players and most franchises don't let players like that sign elsewhere as free agents.

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