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O-Zone: Mistaken identity

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Michael from Orange Park, FL

Zone, let me be clear: I'm OK with paying T-Law. But making him the NFL's highest-paid player? Make it make sense.

The Jaguars have yet to reach a contract extension with quarterback Trevor Lawrence and since we're being clear around here: There is nothing remotely official to indicate that a possible contract extension that will make the fourth-year veteran the NFL's highest-paid player is nigh. But it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if it happens. While Lawrence hasn't in three seasons played like the NFL's best quarterback/player, and while he hasn't been elite, there's little question the Jaguars consider him their franchise quarterback. He's only 24 and has shown enough potential to project him as the franchise's foundation. We're also in a time when quarterback salaries/bonuses contract escalate rapidly enough that it's fair to call the situation out of control. But whatever you call it, that's the Jaguars' situation and it's why if/when Lawrence signs his contract extension there's every chance he will be the NFL's highest-paid player or at least very, very close to that status.

Devin from RVA

Trevor, Trevor, Trevor ... is there any story with ETN contract/fifth year option? Do we suddenly doubt our RB?

Good eye. While the focus around the Jaguars increasingly has been on Lawrence's contract, Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. indeed is in a similar status. The reason there have been few stories on Etienne is there isn't much of a story for now. Etienne, like Lawrence, was a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft and therefore is eligible for a contract extension. The team also now must decide whether to exercise a fifth-year option for Etienne for 2025 by May 2. I doubt we'll see an extension for Etienne this offseason because there isn't as much urgency to reach one with a running back as a quarterback. It's also riskier from the team's perspective to sign a running back to a long-term extension than to sign a quarterback to one. I do expect the Jaguars to exercise Etienne's fifth-year option this offseason, then worry about the extension later.

Brian from Maryland

Where are my keys?

Check your pockets.

Nathan from Utah, US

Draft Zone, give it to us. Be the KOAF. You say cornerback. You've been mocking. You've been covering professional football in Jacksonville for a year or two. Give us your prediction. How the draft will fall to the Jaguars and which corner they pick at 17 overall. Thanks. DUUUVAL!!!

If I were posting a mock draft in the coming days, I probably would have Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold to the Jaguars at No. 17 overall.

Eric from Jacksonville Beach

With the draft coming up, it got me thinking. Can you remember a draft pick on any team you've covered that you were really excited about that surprised you that they didn't pan out? What about the other side, someone you were scratching your head about on draft day that ended up being great?

I remember during my first year covering the NFL Draft for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 wondering about the wisdom of selecting an undersized pass rusher No. 11 overall. I don't remember if I ever mentioned this to Dwight Freeney. I'm not sure he would have cared much either way.

Luke from Brisbane, Australia

Howdy O, curious on your thoughts on drafting "project" players. Do teams genuinely get enough time and access to develop players they identify as "having something?" Given the Jags' current roster, should they be looking to take a swing or two, or is the safer bet the best bet? Thanks.

Most NFL players select beyond the first round or two have some level of "project" involved, meaning they must develop and adapt to a league that in many ways is a different sport than college football. This is why most players are better in their second, third and fourth seasons than they were as rookies – and it's why coaches/personnel officials often speak of second-year jumps. Also: In a very real sense almost all sixth-and seventh-round selections are project players, with teams in those rounds looking for a trait or two that might allow that player to develop into a starter. If you're talking about Round 1 … the thought here is that that's not the place for "projects." The player doesn't have to be great as a rookie, but there should be little debate among decision-makers that the player will be very good in the long run. No home runs, no strikeouts in Round 1. That's a common mantra of really good general managers.

David from Orlando, FL

KOAF - In the 2017 NFL draft, "The Kansas City Chiefs moved up to 10th overall by sending their first-round pick that year (27th overall) to Buffalo, along with a 2017 third-round choice (No. 91 overall) and KC's 2018 first-round pick." With that pick, the Chiefs selected quarterback Patrick Mahomes. There's a good chance the Houston Texans would have drafted Mahomes at No. 12 instead of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Per ESPN, the New York Giants were in love with Mahomes and tried to trade up for him, but couldn't. The Giants had the No. 23 overall selection and selected Mississippi tight end Evan Engram instead. If the Chiefs would've stuck with the No. 27 pick, the next quarterback off the board was DeShone Kizer. There has been some discussion lately about how trading up is risky, but the Chiefs showed us that sometimes fortune favors the bold.

The San Diego Chargers in 1998 traded a slew of selections – including a first-rounder in 1999 – to select quarterback Ryan Leaf No. 2 overall. Sometimes you kill the bear. Sometimes the bear kills you.

Bradley from Sparks, Nevada

I kind of think the priority is a high-octane offense that scores touchdowns in the red zone and a potentially elite wide receiver on a rookie contract. I don't see Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke passing on Louisiana State wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. if available – particularly with several good prospects at corner projected to be available at No. 48. Who knows really, though? They were completely manhandled in the trenches by a few teams last year that it would not be shocking to see that addressed, especially considering the age of the free agents they did sign but my question is how does the coaching staff feel about Antonio Johnson and his development?

No one knows who the Jaguars will select at No. 17 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft, including Baalke. Such is the nature of selecting in the middle of Round 1. Jaguars coaches and personnel officials like second-year safety Antonio Johnson a lot.

Brad from The Avenues

I'm wondering John, are special teams going to be getting any extra time in training and practice figuring out how this new kickoff is going to work. It seems like the NFL and the NFLPA should have gotten together by now on this. I'm actually feeling pretty positive about putting some excitement back in the kicking game, but if they're still figuring things out come week one, things could maybe look not so great.

I expect teams to focus on the new kickoff rules in the offseason program – including organized team activities and minicamps – and for there to be heavy emphasis in training camp and preseason. I don't expect the NFL and the NFL Players Association to negotiate added practice time to allow for this preparation, nor should there be such added time. Teams can and will work it into their normal practice schedule.

Tom from The Mean Streets of Nocatee

Hi, John. The two-tone helmets were not an abomination. Urban Meyer WAS an abomination.

Perchance you are new to these parts. Perchance you therefore need a review. We have been talking here in the O-Zone for many a month – nay, many a year – about being nice. This was not nice.

Jerry from Jacksonville Beach, FL

You continue to discount the idea of a wide receiver. I don't get this.

I'm sorry to have been discounting too much of late. I'll try to curtail this for all our sakes. I think there's a very good chance the Jaguars take at least one wide receiver in the 2024 NFL Draft, and I expect they could select one in the early rounds – i.e., Rounds 1-4. I indeed have discounted the idea of wide receiver in Round 1 – not because there aren't good receivers there, and not because the Jaguars couldn't use a good young player at the position. It just seems the needs and likely players available at other positions – particularly cornerback and perhaps offensive line – will push the Jaguars in one of those directions rather than receiver. We'll find out soon enough. The draft is five days away. Boy howdy.

Jerell from Wherever

Even on draft night, u still suck.

This isn't the real Jerell. And it's not Gary. Whoever, whatever, he still has a point.