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O-Zone: Christmas wrinkles

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Christoph from Northampton, England:
With Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller signed to new deals, do you think the organization will sign all future free agents to Marks- and Miller-style prove-it deals or will we have to do a few break-the-bank deals in the future?
John: A contract typically depends on the demand for the player during the free-agency period. Miller and Marks were not high-demand free agents when they signed with the Jaguars in the 2013 offseason. Therefore, they were willing to play for "prove-it" deals. A player in more demand can demand more guaranteed money up front, so yeah – if the Jaguars are going to pursue "name" free agents there is going to be some bank-breaking involved.
Bob from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Other than his blocking ability, Marcedes Lewis has been extremely poor in offensive categories during his nine-year Jags career. He has averaged 35 receptions per year (No. 27 among his peers), and less than three touchdowns per year (two if you exclude his "banner" 2010 season!) His salary is astronomical versus his production … Don't you agree?
John: Sure, Marcedes Lewis has a high contract. And if you judge him solely based on his receptions, he probably hasn't "lived up to the contract" – whatever that means. I guess I never have understood why that bothers people, though. Lewis' contract hasn't ever precluded the Jaguars from signing another player, and they've never been jammed against the salary cap because of his deal. And just as a heads up, if you're going "break the bank" in free agency as many are calling for the Jaguars to do, there's a very high percentage chance that player is going to be overpaid. One thing to remember is as much as Lewis has been criticized in his Jaguars career – and he has struggled as a receiver – he still is among the better overall tight ends in the NFL. If the Jaguars part ways with him in the offseason – and that's a long way from a done deal – they need to make sure they upgrade the position. That won't be as easy as many believe.
Jason from Da'Hass :
Blake is running from phantom pressure. Last Jags quarterback that ran from phantom pressure is in San Fransisco via a seventh-round pick. Is this what being in the Twilight Zone looks like?
John: Let's be clear here: Many, many, MANY quarterbacks struggle with decision-making and when to leave the pocket early in their careers, and there are many different degrees to which quarterbacks do this. Mark Brunell ran from phantom pressure early in his career with the Jaguars. Just because Bortles has done it this season does not mean he will fail as a quarterback. And I actually wouldn't say he has done it a great deal. He does have to improve it, and there's no reason to think he won't. And Blaine Gabbert was traded for a sixth-round selection.
Keith from Palatka, FL:
The plain truth is we are not very good on offense – as our two touchdowns in our last forty-six possessions – or four games – reveal. Our young players need to and can improve in the offseason, but that is not the cure-all. The plain truth is we need an infusion of talent on the offensive side of the ball if we are going to compete. The plain truth is we need a receiver who can take the top off the defense (like Amari Cooper) to prevent eight in the box and single-high safety. A right tackle (several good prospects in the draft) and perhaps a center (Cameron Erving). A good running back (like Todd Gurley or Duke Johnson), not the committee we now have. A tight end that can get open and catch the ball. The return of Justin Blackmon would also help. Do you think we need help on offense or should we just cross our fingers and hope the current group makes progress?
John: Well, well, well, Keith … we've actually found quite a bit of common ground here. That frightens me more than a little, but let's go with it. I've never said the Jaguars should stand pat on offense with what they have now; I have said that what is there now should be the core going forward. I agree that the Jaguars could use a wide receiver to take the top off the defense, and I'll be curious to see how the Jaguars go about addressing that. Marqise Lee has some potential in that area, but they certainly could use another player with those skills. Do they use big free-agency or draft equity on it this offseason? I sort of doubt it. And yeah, I think right tackle will be addressed in the offseason, though the Jaguars like Luke Bowanko at center. A running back early in the draft is a possibility, though not an absolute certainty, and I'm on record over and again that the return of Justin Blackmon would help a great deal. I also don't think there's any question that they will pursue a pass-catching tight end. Wow, Keith … that's an awful lot of agreeing going on there. Back to normal soon, huh?
Chris from Philadelphia, PA:
Parts of Bortles' game reminds me of Steve McNair's. Bortles is a big, strong, athletic quarterback with a propensity for making exciting plays. However, he doesn't throw a very tight spiral and doesn't have pinpoint accuracy. Do you think it is a fair comparison, at least so far? If Bortles has a career similar to McNair's, will he have been worth the third-overall pick in your mind?
John: I suppose I see why you see what you see, but I can't compare Bortles too much to McNair. Bortles has escapablity and is strong, but McNair was strong and athletic on another level – to the point that he was able to build a lot of his game on it. His emphasis on it eventually led to enough wear and tear that it shortened his career, but when he was good he was very, very good. I don't know that Bortles is the sort of strong to build his game on it, and I think that's a good thing. I'd rather have a quarterback win with his arm than his legs and strength. As for whether a McNair-level career would have been worth the No. 3 overall pick … he played in a Super Bowl and was within a yard of winning it. He was a co-NFL Most Valuable Player. There have been a lot of quarterbacks in the Top 10 with lesser careers, so yeah, that would be worth the No. 3 overall selection.
John from Jacksonville:
With Poz hopefully back next season, do you think the four current linebackers could work well together with perhaps one of them more in the "Otto" role? Or could Telvin be a Leo? Is there a combination there that works?
John: I think it's likely that Paul Posluszny is the middle linebacker next season and I think Telvin Smith will get a chance at the weak side, though having Smith specialize as nickel linebacker also is a possibility. He's not a Leo. J.T. Thomas could theoretically play the Otto, but the Jaguars seem likely to try to upgrade at linebacker, particularly at the strong side or Otto spot.
Casey from Templeton, CA:
If you had to guess, does Caldwell break the bank for a tight end like Julius Thomas?
John: If an elite tight end is available in free agency, yes, I think the Jaguars would spend a lot to get him.
Mike from St. Mary's, GA:
"I think if the draw had worked Fisch would have been a genius." Wrong, some people would just point to another play that didn't work. Haters gonna hate, John.
John: And fans gonna fan.
Paul from Jacksonville:
In your mind, are there two to three major deficiencies keeping this team from winning, or is it more of a "death by a thousand cuts" situation where a myriad of details aren't going right and everything just kind of snowballs into losses?
John: The deficiencies aren't in my mind; they're on the field – and yeah, there are some major ones. I think the Jaguars lack a dominant pass rusher, and I think they lack a free safety who makes plays above the Xs and Os and who changes momentum. They also could be better at linebacker. That's defense. Offense is tougher, because right now – primarily because of youth – they lack pretty much everything. Mostly, they lack a quarterback who can change the game and a dominant offensive line. They have players in both spots capable of playing well if they develop. That's the task now.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
John, Sorry, but I have to agree with Keith from JAX and David from JAX. The Jaguars' offensive line is exactly that - OFFENSIVE (as in they stink). Gus and Dave had better figure out soon whether it's the players or the coaching and make some moves. If they don't, Blake Bortles is going to turn into a bust and both these fine gentlemen will be getting pink slips from Shad Khan. From what I see the poor offensive line play is the primary detriment to this team being a five-to-eight win squad.
John: You needn't be sorry for agreeing with other readers/emailers. It's difficult for many people to see right now that the line isn't a lost cause. The Jaguars have allowed a lot of sacks and they haven't run well this year. That's a combination that causes people to jump to the conclusion that the entire line must be rebuilt. People don't want to accept that young players in the NFL struggle, particularly young offensive linemen. They also don't want to accept that players grow. I believe the Jaguars will make changes on the line. I think they will try to upgrade right tackle. And I never have said they've played well this season. I have said they haven't played as poorly as many believe, and that's true.
Andy from Roswell:
So I guess Storm Johnson missing a block or Bortles taking a sack on a screen (a screen!) or Bortles rolling out of the pocket instead of stepping up in it is the O-Line's fault. Like everyone else, I'm not saying they are playing great, but I'm pretty convinced this is a team effort to be this bad.
John: No, Andy. Everything is the offensive line's fault – pass protection, run blocking, the pain I have in my knee, the parking situation at the Town Center at Christmas, the fact that I can never figure out how wrap a present without a wrinkle on the end … pretty much everything in life.

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