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O-Zone: Reality check

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Daniel from Jersey City, NJ

O-man, at what point do these obscene quarterback salaries start to impact the rest of the roster and reduce overall performance?

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a $35.8 million salary cap figure in 2022, which was about 18 percent of the team's cap for that year. He was the National Football League Most Valuable Player that season and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. The Chiefs mostly had a roster of young players with some key, high-priced players such as tight end Travis Kelce. Bottom line: If the quarterback is elite, the team's performance should be fine even with the quarterback making "obscene" money – if the franchise makes good decisions with young players and has a handful of front-line veterans in key roles. If the quarterback isn't good enough to merit the contract, look out.

Justin from Jax

Top of the mornin' to ya, Zone. You've written that an under-the-radar player who's stood out to you is Gerrit Prince. Do you think there's a chance we carry four tight ends on the 53 and he earns that fifth spot? Also, who would you say has been an under-the-radar player on defense, so far?

I expect the Jaguars will keep four tight ends in the regular season: Evan Engram, Luke Farrell, Brenton Strange and Prince. We'll get a better feel for under-the-radar defensive players when padded practices begin this week.

Big Jags Fan from Jacksonville

All Mighty O, I feel there are more quality players throughout the running back, tight end and wide receiver position groups than we have seen on the Jaguars' roster in many years. There will be some tough decisions when the roster gets trimmed to 53.


Josh from Atlanta, GA

Can cornerback Tyson Campbell cover wide receiver Calvin Ridley one on one?

Sometimes, but only if required to do so for a reasonable amount of time. This is as expected: Not even the most elite NFL cornerbacks can cover elite wide receivers without help all over the field for more than about five seconds. This is because the receiver knows where he is going and the cornerback must react to the receiver. It's an impossible task. It's what generally makes pass rush more important than coverage.

Bill from Jacksonville, FL

John, this focus on the running back position no longer being a salary cap priority is strange. Where was the hue and cry when the fullback went away, when the middle linebacker was no longer the most important position on the defense, when the safety took a backseat to even the third cornerback? The game has evolved, the expectations of running back salary needs to as well.

There was hue over the changes at the other positions. I suspect there was a bit of cry, too, though memory might fail. Probably the biggest reason this feels different is those positions weren't quite as high-profile as running back. That's the irony of this "controversy." While running back has been and continues to be devalued, it remains a position with high-profile statistics and highlights. Because of that, the players who play it – and the public – perceive it at least a bit differently than the team officials determining the value.

Brad from The Avenues

I have to admit my thoughts on the Josh Pederson hiring mirror those of John from Jacksonville. The tight end room being pretty tight, I could see dad throwing his kid a bone to get his foot back in the door. Hell, I'd do it. These days though, I try to remind myself that I do not share a mind with the coach, or anyone else for that matter. But what the hell, I'm human.

I don't quite know what you mean by the tight end room being tight. The thought here is Engram, Farrell, Strange and Prince are pretty clearly the top four and I'd expect that foursome to make the roster. We're gnashing a lot of teeth in these parts on Josh Peterson because his father is the head coach. The reality right now is Josh Pederson is a bottom-of-the-roster player who was signed in the middle of the summer. He must go a bit in the coming weeks to be a bigger story than that.

Sean from Oakleaf, FL

How many players from the 2017 team that was a whistle blow away from the Super Bowl are still on the roster today?

Three: Left tackle Cam Robinson, offensive lineman Tyler Shatley and defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot.

Bill from Bostwick

Looking at the offense, how many players at each position do you forecast on the final 53-man roster? We know there will be one kicker, two quarterbacks and most likely four tight ends. But do see the Jaguars keeping four or five running backs or five or six wide receivers? And including Cam Robinson, 8, 9 or 10 offensive linemen?

A "final roster" is an NFL misnomer. While much is made of the "final 53," teams often change the roster immediately and weekly throughout the season. This is particularly true since the NFL changed its practice squad rules beginning with the 2020 COVID-19 season, allowing weekly practice squad elevations and more players on the unit. The Jaguars last season kept 23 offensive players on the original 53-man roster – two quarterbacks, three running backs, four tight ends, five wide receivers and nine offensive linemen. I would expect something similar this season, though I might add a receiver and a running back (or maybe two running backs). Remember, too: Special teams play a role here, with teams often retaining a special-teams ace at the "bottom" of a position group or two.

Chris from Mandarin

What happens when you add an elite receiver to a top 10 offense? Asking for a friend.

My "not-nice"-reader sense tells me there may be some sarcasm to this email because I have discussed this topic a lot here. But in cases my senses are failing, which is possible at my age: A No. 1 receiver such as wide receiver Calvin Ridley joining an offense can help immeasurably. It gives the quarterback a reliable "first read," which gives the quarterback confidence and an easy decision – and throw – on many plays. It also helps all other receivers because the No. 1 receiver draws double teams and shaded defenses, which allows those other receivers to run routes against true single coverages. There's also the obvious – that a true No. 1, elite receivers can make plays that lesser receivers can't make. If a player such as Ridley makes five or six touchdown receptions that wouldn't have been made otherwise, and if he makes five or six momentum-changing plays, that might be 10-to-12 games in which he changed the momentum. In a league where games often turn on a play or two, that's a mammoth difference.

Gary from St. Augustine, FL

It looks like training camp is going well for the Jaguars. You definitely still suck.

Good eye.

Sascha from Cologne, Germany

Hey John, I know there is a lot of hype especially because of Trevor, Calvin Ridley and the offense. But do you think they have done enough on the defensive line and cornerback issues. Or is it enough to hope for development of Travon Walker?

A couple of thoughts here. One is that the Jaguars took the approach they took this offseason at defensive line and cornerback partially by necessity. Their salary-cap situation this offseason was far tighter than in the 2022 offseason, so they couldn't mimic the 2022 approach and address certain positions with huge outlays in free agency. Also: The Jaguars had just drafted players such as outside linebacker Travon Walker and inside linebackers Chad Muma and Devin Lloyd in the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. When you invest that sort of draft equity in the defensive front seven one offseason, it's difficult – and perhaps even reckless – to reinvest significantly in the same area the following offseason. If you're going to be a draft-and-develop team, you at some point must trust that what you drafted will develop. Have they done enough? I don't know. It's a major storyline. We'll find out soon enough.

Lawrence from Blair, NE

I think all of the pontificating over the offense line positions when Robinson gets back is pretty moot. Don't you think by Week 5 next season at least one of the other offensive linemen will be banged up, maybe missing a game or two? It's only natural, and seems pretty likely to me. That would shake up the whole line whether Robinson had been suspended or not.

Good eye. Offseason speculation on topics such as this is understandable and intriguing. We have six months to grind through these issues, and during those months it's easy to begin analyzing football as if it's played on paper – or a video game. It's not. It's played in real life by real people, and injuries usually become a real part of these decisions.