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O-Zone: Lucky me

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Gary from St. Augustine, FL

Interesting that we haven't heard anything from Yannick since the draft. Whaddup with that, Zone?

Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue indeed has been quieter in the last month or so on social media than was the case before the 2020 NFL Draft. Not much tangible has changed in this situation, though. The Jaguars applied the franchise tag to Ngakoue earlier this offseason, which means he can play for the Jaguars this season on a one-year deal or not play in the NFL. The other alternative is for the Jaguars to sign him to a long-term deal, but there are no indications that's close to happening. While Ngakoue was vocal before the draft about his desire to be traded, Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell made equally clear during the draft that the team liked Ngakoue and very much wanted – and expected him – to play for the team in 2020. That's the recap. What's next? I would expect this storyline to return in a big way as we get closer to training camp, and it feels like it will probably linger beyond camp's opening – and possibly into the regular season. Ngakoue won't get paid this season if he doesn't play. Perhaps that will be incentive enough for him to return to the Jaguars. We'll see.

Bill from Orlando, FL

What reason do you have for thinking the NFL will play this season?

Because that's the intention – and because there is enormous motivation to do so. And because the league is putting enormous effort and resources into doing so. The league currently intends to play a 16-game regular season with postseason as normal. There also undoubtedly are numerous contingency plans as it determines how best to do this with the ongoing and very real concerns over COVID-19. The league has no illusions that this will be easy or in any way normal. The precautions and steps to minimize risk will be extraordinary; the efforts and innovation in this area will be ongoing. I'm not certain how it will look. No one is. It probably won't look normal. But the NFL and enough other people want the season to happen badly enough that I believe it will. Again, we'll see.

Edward from Carbondale, IL

Actually, I think "Jess from Glen Carbon, IL" has it wrong. You are only prevented from protesting at work if your employer does not allow it.


Geoffrey from Orlando, FL

I'll preface this by saying I have no problem with kneeling during the anthem. The first amendment right is not extended to individuals representing a business organization. I work at a conservative private club. If I were to spout a dissenting political agenda to our members, I would certainly be fired and would have no recourse. Now obviously you cannot compare a chef to an NFL player this way, but owners absolutely have the right to restrict speech or actions of players while they are at work (on the field) without infringing upon the players individual rights. Legally speaking they could fine such players or outright release them without any legal blowback. That said I hope more owners follow Mr. Kahn's lead and allow their employees to express themselves on their very visible platform. Go jags!

While NFL owners perhaps could legally fine players in this scenario, the enforceability of such fines would be subject to arbitration. That's because players operate under a Collective Bargaining Agreement, with the NFL Players Association representing rights of players in such situations. That's one of the fundamental differences between players and "normal workers." But the biggest difference – and the one that most people seem to miss – is the fact that NFL players have a specific skillset. They are therefore in high demand. For instance: if every star player were to kneel for the National Anthem, would NFL owners or teams punish/suspend them? Even if the owners were so inclined, it's reasonable to assume owners would not suspend entire rosters over the issue; the will to win is too strong.

William from Jacksonville

What the hell were you thinking?

I thought I could jump over it. I really did.

Paul from Orange Park, FL

I read with interest your conversation with Josh Oliver. What sort of impact can he make in 2020?

You're referencing a recent O-Zone conversation on with Jaguars second-year tight end Josh Oliver, a player I consider one of the team's most intriguing and important storylines entering 2020. Oliver, a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, was very impressive during the offseason program as a rookie before missing most of training camp and all but four regular-season games with hamstring and back issues. He is now fully healthy, and the Jaguars think he can make a big contribution this season. He has the ability to be very effective as a receiver and Jaguars tight ends coach Ron Middleton very much believes Oliver is a better blocker than many analysts believed was the case entering the '19 draft. I got the impression from Oliver he is confident entering '20, and that he knows he has much to prove. I do believe he can make an impact. He could be hampered at least somewhat by the lack of an offseason, but between Oliver, Tyler Eifert and James O'Shaughnessy I feel better about the Jaguars' tight ends entering the season than I have in several years.

Zach from Deavan

Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, and Anthony Jeselnik. Good choices, O-Zone! Those guys are some modern greats. Who are some of your old-time favorites?

Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart.

Jason from Jacksonville Beach, FL

Who do you expect to be the Jaguars' most-improved player?

It's too easy to select Oliver, because we just discussed him in the previous answer. Players such as cornerback Tre Herndon, Oliver and tackle Will Richardson seem in a position to make big jumps because they are entering their primes and have gained experience in recent seasons. This could maybe apply to defensive end Dawuane Smoot – and perhaps defensive tackle Taven Bryan, the latter of whom could make a huge difference if he continues the progress he made in the final month of last season. But let's go with quarterback Gardner Minshew II. He progressed at the end of last season, and has shown impressive leadership this offseason. Besides: if he really is the Jaguars' most-improved player in 2020, this team could surprise a lot of naysayers in 2020.

Brian from Washington, D.C.

It's possible I like you less as I get to know you.

I have no reason to think that wouldn't be the case.

David from Jacksonville

So, O: Is this the Dead Zone?

Yes, it is. The dead zone – the time when the number of O-Zone questions tails off a bit and become less about football – comes around each offseason after the end of the team's offseason program. That officially ended for veterans Thursday, so yeah … we're in it. It's also true that it feels as if it started a bit early this offseason because COVID-19 and the recent unrest in the country have understandably moved the focus from football to more off-field issues. So, here we are. We've gotten through it before relatively unscathed. I have no doubt we will again.

Mike from Atlanta, GA

If Keelan Cole is your fifth wide receiver, that's not a bad situation. It seems like that's where you want to be, realistically. They don't have to count on him making a big jump, but it would be a nice bonus. Having him as the fourth or fifth receiver on the field in obvious passing situations is pretty good. He should be able to beat the fourth cornerback or safeties on most teams. You don't want him to be matched up on shutdown corners or have to rely on him to consistently move the sticks but having him matched up with the fourth best cornerback in second- and third-and long seems like it could be a matchup advantage. With that said, do you think there's any chance someone like Collin Johnson beats him out for that. Is the Top 5 receiver corps locked in, or will they carry six this season?

There is a lot around the Jaguars currently not locked in – and in fact, fewer things than normal are locked in because there was no on-field work in the offseason program. I expect the Jaguars to carry six wide receivers in 2020: DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley, Laviska Shenault Jr., Dede Westbrook, Cole and Collin Johnson. I don't quite have a feel for the order because it will take the two rookies – Shenault and Johnson – time to develop and find their roles. Cole will matter. Depth is good.

Henry from Mobile, AL

Your arrogance, vanity and sarcasm aren't as appealing as you think. And I don't think you're as smart as you think.

You're right, Henry. If I weren't so damned good-looking, I would really be up a creek.