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O-Zone: Preaching to the converted

Redmond from Jacksonville:
I know a lot of the impending free agents will be re-signed or franchised by their team, but if free agency began today who is the player you would target that could contribute to the franchise the most?
John: Well, there's Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who could contribute pretty much anywhere, but if you're talking realistic guys, I'd go with center Alex Mack of Cleveland and defensive end Michael Bennett of Seattle. Each would make a lot of sense.
Greg from Jacksonville and Section 233:
Given the Jaguars improved the bottom of the roster so dramatically last season, wouldn't it make sense to spend more in free agency on a few "difference-makers?" For my money, give me Michael Bennett, Alex Mack and 10 draft picks and you could see a make a legit run at the dreaded Colts this year.
John: Sure, it makes sense to spend on difference-makers. And if Mack and Bennett are available come March, then, yeah, they make sense. That's free agency on paper. In reality, you must be careful in free agency. Pursue the difference-makers like crazy if they're available and if you sign them be very happy. But don't spend on names for the sake of names if they're not really difference-makers. That can be difficult, because in March it's easy to convince yourself a name will make a difference. It can be a difficult distinction to make, but making it is the key to having a solid roster and a having a roster full of unproductive names.
Mark from Jacksonville:
Aren't the Jaguars due a draft pick from Seattle for the D'Anthony Smith trade?
John: No, the Jaguars traded Smith to Seattle for a conditional selection. Smith did not play enough to meet the conditions.
Wayne from Brunswick, GA:
I thought I would get a serious answer from you, but you blew me off as a joke. Then, I read the next article (connection) where Gus and Dave want to really know what the fans think. Why can't you be serious, too?
John: Wayne, I'm actually serious quite a bit. And I seriously went back and read your question. Our misunderstanding seems to stem from the fact that you wrote a lengthy email in which you proposed that the Jaguars run their draft by polling the fans on each selection. Trust me, Wayne, when I say you don't want a serious answer to the question.
Troy from York, PA:
Hey O-man … with all the upgrades going on with the stadium do you think that will help bring the Super Bowl back to Jacksonville?
John: The upgrades won't hurt, but realistically, getting the Super Bowl again with the rest of the stadium in its current form will be a long shot. At some point there will need to be further upgrades, and if those upgrades are significant enough then getting the game could again be a possibility.
Peter from Maribor, Slovenia:
From all the running backs hitting free agency, MJD looks pretty good. Yes, the age, the money, but I feel Dave will match some good offers unless Pocket Hercules gets the chance to go to a Super Bowl contender. I mean, if you look at his stats (92 total TD, 10,000 yards) plus three really good seasons with 1,000 yards rushing and a Super Bowl ring, he could be in the Hall of Fame … right, John?
John: Maurice Jones-Drew has been incredibly valuable and productive for this organization. I think the Jaguars would like to re-sign him for the right price and I think he'd like to sign with the Jaguars for the right price. And I think he will need a pretty strong finish to his career to make the Hall of Fame.
Nick from Fort Benning, GA:
I know it's only January, but I think watching the Jaguars continue to get better next season is going to be more exciting than it was last season. David Caldwell seems like a very smart general manager with the ability to build a solid team that will play tough defense and move the ball late in the season. Gus Bradley is the most contagious coach I have ever had the privilege to watch; everyone who is around him really buys into his coaching style. In the last game of the season the Jaguars played with more passion for 5-11 than the Dolphins did for a playoff berth. Once the Jags get the right players, this team is going to be fun to watch for a very long time!
John: This is a sentiment I'm hearing more and more as time goes on – and that I've heard a lot since the end of last season. People who were watching closely liked what they saw from the Jaguars last season because people who were watching closely saw a team that was very much in tune with the head coach. The players fully grasped by the end of the season what Bradley was about and what the coaching staff wanted offensively and defensively. That's the start of the foundation that Bradley wanted to begin to establish in Year One. So, yes, as the Jaguars continue to add the right players, the team over time should get stronger, which for fans should be a lot of fun.
Steve from the Bold New City of the South:
Don't free agents have the option to play for whatever team pursues them? Maybe they decide on their own to go play somewhere else.
John: Yes, and often they do just that.
Atom from Behind You:
HA! Move the kickoff to the 50 because "This would give them less field to pick up speed..."?! Running is not equal to achieving "terminal velocity." These are NFL players and they achieve full speed in no time at all. #thinkb4utype
John: I don't want to get into an argument about this, but a reason for moving the kickoff up in 2011 was exactly that. It wasn't all the league did, but it was a part of an initiative to make kickoffs safer. The league also at the time eliminated the 15-yard running start kickoff of coverage teams – changing it to five yards. The league two years before had eliminated three- and four-man wedge blocking on kickoffs. So, while it's unlikely the league will move kickoffs to the 50-yard line it's likely it will continue to try to find ways to make kickoffs and any other play safer.
Charles from Midlothian, VA:
Why all the love for the No. 32-rated quarterback in the league last year? I fear no matter who we have next year without a top-notch quarterback it will be a repeat of last year. Why does ANYONE think Henne will be a top-notch quarterback? He hasn't shown it yet – not in Jacksonville and not in Miami.
John: I'm not sure how much "love" Henne has gotten, but the way David Caldwell and the Jaguars are looking at this right now is this: they want to re-sign Henne, partly because doing so gives them the option to approach the draft reasonably. Henne went 4-4 as a starter in the second half of the season, and the thought is if you improve the offensive line and add a play-maker or two to the offense that the offensive will improve. The Jaguars would love to add a franchise quarterback in this draft, but if there's not one there they don't want to force it and draft a non-franchise quarterback at No. 3. If you do that, you hurt yourself in two ways – not getting a franchise quarterback and missing on another elite player at another position. The thinking is that Henne can give them a player to get them through until the team finds the franchise guy. I don't know how much love that shows Henne or what notch it puts him on, but it tells you why the Jaguars very much want him around.
Chris from Dayton Beach, FL:
Which of the relatively unknown players do you foresee developing into a full-time starter next year?
John: I keep hearing coaches and personnel people around here talking about cornerback Demetrius McCray. A rookie seventh-round selection, he started just one game, but he impressed on special teams. There's a feeling he could make a bigger contribution next season.
Dakota from Dupree, SC:
O-man, you da man!
John: Go Gamecocks.
Jeff from Jacksonville:
Clowney has this sense of being a little fragile to me. But I wouldn't say that to his face.
John: No, I bet not.
David from Illinois River:
I'm on my boat right now, the Cooperative Venture. My crew and I are currently iced in, so we can't move and the only thing keeping me sane is your column! I have currently turned three of my fellow crew members into daily O-Zone readers although neither are Jag fans. So any ideas on how I could fully convert them? Maybe you could ask your wife, I hear she's always right. Stand United!!!
John: My wife is indeed always right – and she knows as well as anyone that even stranded, desperate people in inclement weather don't like reading the O-Zone.

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