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O-Zone: No way, no how

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Jeff from Austin, TX:
Much has been made, with good reason, about clarifying the "Catch Rule" this offseason. If Dean Blandino answered to you, what would you advise him?
John: The first thing I would do is wonder why he was involved in the process; although he once was the NFL's vice president of officiating, Blandino now is a rules analyst at Fox Sports. If someone from the league asked my advice on this, I would tell them they probably need to accept that the league is not going to find an "absolute" answer to the problem. That would be a significant thing to accept, because that's what led the NFL so far down this confusing path. The NFL Competition Committee over the years has strived as much as possible to remove subjectivity from the equation for officials. That was why the league removed the "force-out" rule in which officials could rule a receiver would have made the catch had a defender not forced him out of bounds, and that's seemingly the objective of the current catch guidelines – to find a rule that has no gray area. That's never going to happen. There are always going to be gray-area plays in the NFL, particularly when a reception is involved. My suggestion? Have a reception be possession of the ball with two feet (or one knee) down, with the possession of the ball having to be clear in a real-time replay. The real-time replay part is necessary because you can't rule possession on a frame-by-frame basis. If the receiver makes a "football move," that would make it an absolute certainty; if there's no football move, it would be left to the official's judgment. The judgment part isn't ideal and would lead to controversy, but it seems it would be an improvement over the current system.
Tim from Fernandina Beach, FL:
John: Every year it seems like we are looking for an athletic tight end a la Gronk. I've been a fan since Day 1 and we've never had any significant production from tight ends. Is that a chicken-or-the-egg problem? We don't have the talent, therefore we don't have a playbook that features the tight end – or our playbook doesn't feature the tight end, therefore we don't get great production from the position?
John: I'll mention the obvious here first – that you can search for a long time for an athletic tight end and not find one like Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. He's a different beast and it could be a long time before the NFL sees a tight end on his level again. But your point about the Jaguars' tight ends is a good one; with a nod to Marcedes Lewis' 2010 Pro Bowl season, the Jaguars never really have had an elite downfield threat at the spot. Julius Thomas had moments in 2015-2016, but not nearly enough to justify his contract – and he's arguably the best threat the team has had at the position in at least a half decade. As far as the chicken-egg question, it's more about not having the downfield threat at the position. When you don't have it, it's hard to scheme it. When will the Jaguars get such a player? That's hard to predict, though I think you'll see resources used on the area this offseason.
Gamble from Brasilia, Brasil:
The Jaguars' quarterback problem is that they're due to pay Blake Bortles $19.1 million — which is close to franchise quarterback money — when they know that he cannot carry the team as franchise quarterbacks must do. That's why Kirk Cousins at $25-28 million looks reasonable. Didn't he carry a very weak Redskins roster the last two years?
John: There's a big difference between paying Cousins $25-28 and Bortles $19.1 – and it's more than $6-to-$9 million. While you're paying Bortles that money for one season and deciding whether to commit long-term to him at a later date, you're committing that money to Cousins for the long-term. And the concern about Cousins is while he was very good statistically, he did not carry the Redskins to the postseason the past two seasons. Was the Redskins' roster great? No. Do "franchise" quarterbacks sometimes carry "not-great" rosters further than Cousins carried the Redskins? Yes. That's not to say Cousins isn't worth pursuing. The Jaguars might pursue him and it might be the right move. But there are reasons why pursuing him isn't an absolutely no-brainer move – and the uncertainty over whether or not Cousins is an absolute, no-doubt franchise quarterback absolutely is chief among them.
Brian from Charlottesville, VA:
Is there any risk of the locker room becoming unsettled if the Jaguars pay Bortles $19 million next year? I believe that would make him the team's highest-paid player and he's far from the best player. I understand he's the quarterback, but my question lies more in the realm of "Would it be better to acquire the quarterback that can be had in free agency for $8-10 million per year (guessing Tyrod Taylor, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, another player of that ilk) and let Blake walk?" Is there any reason Blake would agree to play for less than the $19 million (I'm guessing no, since his camp has all the leverage when discussing a one- or two-year deal)?
John: The risk of resentment in the locker room toward Bortles is relatively low. Not only are highly-paid – even overpaid – quarterbacks common in the NFL, Bortles' respect among teammates is such that it likely wouldn't be an issue. As far as acquiring an $8-10 million quarterback, I doubt you would be thrilled with what you got for that price. Mike Glennon, remember, signed a three-year deal worth $45 million with the Bears last offseason. Because of Bridgewater's injury history, he might sign somewhere for less than Glennon, but Keenum? Taylor? They likely will sign somewhere close to what Bortles is making next season – and possibly more. Your final question was about Bortles playing next season for less than $19.1 million. The answer is no … not unless he signs a long-term deal, and that doesn't seem likely this offseason.
Chad from Jacksonville:
I keep seeing the pundits talk about us losing Allen Robinson to free agency. I hope not. What say you?
John: I say re-signing wide receiver Allen Robinson is perhaps the most important task facing the Jaguars between now and the March 14 start of the NFL League Year. I think the Jaguars will do everything reasonably possible to get it done. I don't think it will be easy, and I think there's a chance the team uses the franchise tag on Robinson – at least in the short term.
Steve from Hilton Head, SC:
The Jaguars and Patriots both won their AFC divisions, and therefore must play each other next season. The NFL likes to showcase champions in the Thursday Night game to kick off the season. I would not be surprised if these teams play that game.
John: I would be shocked. That's because since 2004 the defending Super Bowl champion has played in the Week 1 Thursday "Kickoff Classic." Neither the Jaguars nor the Patriots won the Super Bowl this past season.
Steve from Jacksonville:
What a mess Josh McDaniels left the Colts in. Here's thinking that another general manager in the league is going to have a hard time trusting his word. Agree?
John: Yes.
Need quarterback from St. Augustine, FL:
Do you think that any quarterback could fall to us in the first round? Also, why are the Jaguars so bent on keeping Bortles?
John: Sure, a quarterback could fall to the Jaguars in the first round. Which one? Well, the draft is two-and-a-half months away – and nary a combine or Pro Day workout has been held – so on that front I haven't the faintest idea. As for why the Jaguars are "bent" on keeping Bortles, the answer is it's far simpler to want to improve at the quarterback position than to actually do so. The Jaguars and many other teams obviously would love to have their quarterback position solved for the next decade with a player who had made multiple Pro Bowls with a Super Bowl appearance by the age of 25. As it stands, there are precious few such players in the NFL. Because of that, and because it's difficult and phenomenally expensive to obtain a player markedly better than Bortles, they might keep Bortles next offseason with the idea of seeing during or after next season if he is their quarterback of the future. That seems to be the most likely route this offseason, but remember: it's February 8 and unrestricted free agency doesn't begin for about a month and a half. A lot can change. Stay tuned.
Keith from Jacksonville:
Any chance the Jaguars-Eagles game in London gets flexed back to Jacksonville as a Sunday/Monday nighter? You would have the Super Bowl champion versus a team that nearly beat the same opponent in Foxboro. It should be a great game.
John: No. there is no chance of that.

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