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O-Zone: Take a breath

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … John from Jacksonville:
Can you explain how the rookie pool works?
John: I sure can! Under the NFL's 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is assigned an amount of money and cap space it can use each season to sign rookies. This was a change from before, when rookie salaries – particularly in the top few selections and particularly at the quarterback position – escalated to the point that they could cripple a franchise if the player did not live up to his draft positioning. The rookie-pool formula as it stands now is not made public, but it's generally based on team's number of draft selections and where rookies are drafted. Teams then have that amount of money to sign their drafted rookies and free agents.
Jeff from Keystone Heights, FL:
Do you think the inception of the rookie-wage scale has helped alleviate concerns of taking a non-premium position further and further up the draft board? You're definitely trying to get value for the Pick Number, but that was in part because you were paying astronomical dollars to an unproven player and you wanted that for premium position. Maybe that's not the case as much anymore. Any degree of agreement with that?
John: I do believe the rookie scale has had an effect on how teams view certain positions at the top of the draft – at least to a point. I wouldn't say that the scale has completely transformed how teams draft early in the first round; old habits and thought processes tend to die hard, so you still see a lot of the traditional thinking take place at the top of the draft. Still, you are seeing some more unconventional selections in recent seasons. A safety could be selected in the Top 5 this offseason and two safeties could be selected in the Top 10 – though that may be a case of safety overall taking on more importance in an increasingly pass-oriented league. Running back Ezekiel Elliott went No. 4 to Dallas last offseason. Two guards were selected in the Top 10 in 2013. There is talk tight end O.J. Howard of Alabama could be selected in the Top 5 this offseason. All of those are sort of against conventional wisdom. Now, I can't foresee there ever being a time when guards, tight ends and middle linebackers dominate the Top 10, because teams are always going to need quarterbacks, pass rushers, cornerbacks and defensive tackles more than other positions, but the rookie wage scale has allowed teams to not be quite so concerned about paying non-premium positions Top 5 money.
Adrian from Inglewood, CA:
Good enough is not good enough.
John: I wouldn't know.
TomCat II from Jacksonville:
John, the hiring of Coughlin has been described as a crappy thing to do to Caldwell. Was it?
John: I don't know how crappy or uncrappy hiring Tom Coughlin as executive vice president of football operations was to Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell. Shad Khan believed the Jaguars needed Coughlin's direction, leadership and experience – and the way to put that in place was to hire Coughlin to oversee all things football. Khan clearly believed in Caldwell or he wouldn't have extended his contract to have him in place along with Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone. Actually, Khan in January could have fired Caldwell. Now that I think about it, that would have been a lot crappier than retaining him as general manager.
Josh from Pensacola, FL:
I love the moves we made in free agency. The only player I wasn't really familiar with was Barry Church. Do you think he is actually an upgrade over Johnathan Cyprien?
John: I don't know that Church is a mammoth upgrade over Cyprien, but he clearly is a fit for what the Jaguars wanted to do in free agency – i.e., bring in experienced, professional players who know what it takes to win and can consistently play at a high level. On that front … yeah, Church is probably an upgrade.
Aaron from White Hall, AR:
So, I just moved and had to wait for my internet to get set up. It was a lonely week as my data on my phone ran up. I could no longer read the O-Zone every day. I felt lost, insecure, helpless. Hunger started to set in and when I was just about to give up hope that I would never read the O-Zone again I heard a knock. It was the cable guy and everything is now right again.
John: Not being able to read to the O-Zone is not why you should give up hope.
Sid from Jacksonville:
Hey John, do you believe that the problems that Blake Bortles has had in his career thus far could realistically be fixed this offseason? Also, any news about how he's doing in California?
John: Bortles spoke about this Sunday before his charity golf tournament, saying he indeed feels good about the work he has done in California on his mechanics. And there's no reason to think Bortles can't improve in those areas; he certainly made strides in mechanics between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, so it stands to reason it can be done again. The bigger issue is whether Bortles can improve the mechanics and at the same time improve the areas that he needed to improve on following the 2015 season. Remember: a lot of the Jaguars' hopes for 2016 were based on the idea that Bortles would improve in decision-making, pre-snap reads, intermediate passing, pocket awareness, etc. Can Bortles improve all of those things while ensuring his mechanics stay stable? That's as big a question as his mechanics.
Ken from Vero Beach, FL:
Give Bortles a break. He has never had a running back or a tight end. What quarterback can operate without those two positions?
John: Nah. I can't go there. Bortles hasn't had enough help, but he also needs to play much better.
Scott from Jacksonville:
Hi, O-Man. With so much activity in free agency, it seems Tom Coughlin is going all-in to try and win as immediately as possible. Considering that and Coach Tom's commitment to immediate success, I have a very hard time imagining him entering the season with the most important position on the team being such a question mark. I know Blake is working hard and is going to give himself a good chance to succeed, and I am certainly hopeful, but vast improvement is not guaranteed. I just don't see him standing pat. Do you?
John: Yes.
Les from Jacksonville:
I don't understand why you feel like one old left tackle is going to change anything. We couldn't move the ball an inch behind this line. What if the old guy gets hurt? Then what? We basically have the same offensive line. I don't understand where all the optimism comes from. Just tell it how it is. This offensive line sucks to the second power.
John: I don't know that I feel that the Jaguars acquiring left tackle Branden Albert indeed will change the Jaguars' offensive line. I certainly haven't written or said anything to that effect because I don't know what impact the move will bring. I do know that the Jaguars believe Albert will be an improvement over Kelvin Beachum, particularly as a run-blocker. If Albert gets hurt, I suppose his backup will play. But here's the thing about the offensive line as it moves forward. We know the unit will have one new starter. I believe there's a good chance a rookie could start at guard. If that happens, then you'll have 40 percent of the offensive line being new entering next season. Within the context of roster change in the NFL, that's not an insignificant number – and in that scenario it certainly couldn't be said that the Jaguars would be entering next season with "the same offensive line."
Alan from Ellington, CT:
When Tom left, the Jags were in a salary-cap mess. Wasn't he general manager back then also? Do you see any of those spending habits coming back as he starts getting into free agency?
John: Not particularly – and remember: Just because you spend money in free agency doesn't mean you're spending in a way to get into salary-cap trouble. The Jaguars have guaranteed players such as A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church significant up-front money this offseason, but the contracts are structured in a way that allows the Jaguars to get out of the deals after two seasons if they deem it necessary.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
I most want to trade back from the No. 4 overall pick because of two things. One, we have had one good pick in the Top 10 EVER (No. 71 that should be in the Hall of Fame). Two, we have been in the Top 5 so long it obviously ISN'T an advantage. Good teams draft well from Nos. 11 to 25. Last I checked three through 10 is Destination Failure.
John: Take a breath, Logan. Fred Taylor was selected No. 9 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft.

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