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Protecting his downside

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Ryan from Syracuse, NY:
I absolutely love your column. I try to read it every day. A poll on the Bears website was asking how many catches Muhsin Muhammad would have. I am very surprised that a team whose fans know their team has no other good receivers on the team would believe he would catch over 80 passes his first year. Any thoughts?

Vic: Number of catches has become one of the most misleading statistics in football. In my opinion, it's all about the quality of those catches. How many of those catches made a difference in the game? How many of those catches had little or no affect on the game? I don't see Muhsin Muhammad as a difference-maker wide receiver.

Steve from Jacksonville:
Who has the most first-round picks in this year's draft?

Vic: San Diego has the 12th (Giants) and 28th (own) picks of the first round, and Dallas has the 11th (Bills) and 20th (own) picks.

John from Atwater, CA:
Now that Darius has signed his one-year tender, will any team wanting to trade for him still have to give up two first-round picks for him, and what kind of trades would the Jaguars likely agree to if teams are not required to pony-up said picks?

Vic: I'm having a little difficulty understanding your question. I don't think this is as difficult as you're making it sound. In fact, it's real simple. Having signed the "franchise" tender, Donovin Darius is now under contract to the Jaguars and they may trade him. It's the same as it would be for David Garrard, who has one year remaining on his Jaguars contract.

Chris from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
You brought up an intriguing name in your free agency article, Kendrell Bell. I've always thought he was a great player since his days at UGA. Although we are deep at LB and he comes from a 3-4 system, could he fit into the Jags' plans?

Vic: I don't think the Jaguars are deep at linebacker. In fact, I think linebacker will be a target position in either free agency or the draft. I don't believe, however, that Kendrell Bell fits into the Jaguars' plans. Bell needs to play on a 3-4 team, or on a team that has special plans for using him. He can not be used in coverage. He is a forward-only player. I don't think the Jaguars are looking for that kind of a linebacker.

William for Jacksonville:
I went to the "Monster Truck Jam" on Saturday night and watched 35,000 or so folks sit through three hours of rain and cold to watch big trucks crush regular-sized cars. Do you think these are the same 35,000 that were at the Houston game with me, or did we just find out what Jacksonville people will brave the cold and rain to support? Your thoughts?

Vic: Yeah, but what if it had been the day after Christmas?

Aaron from Titusville, FL:
If a team is over the cap at the start of free agency, what penalty or consequences do they receive from the NFL?

Vic: Teams are required to be under the salary cap on the first day of the new league calendar year, which is also the day free agency begins. The cap, however, is enforced 365 days a year; it's just that the first day of the new calendar year is a big bump day. If on that day, or any other day, a team was over the cap and was unable to fix its own problem, the league would step in and begin voiding contracts, working backward, until the team was in cap compliance. Then that team would expect to lose draft picks and to be fined. Those measures, however, have never been employed. The commissioner isn't likely to embarrass one of his team owners by taking over the place. The team would likely be given a deadline for fixing the problem.

John from Jacksonville:
When players re-structure their contracts, is there a little added compensation to re-do the deal, or is it adequate compensation for the player and agent to get the money immediately?

Vic: You're talking about the same things. When a team asks a player to do it a favor by re-structuring the contract to allow the team a more favorable salary cap arrangement, it's certainly understood the player will expect a "little something for the effort." That's what got the Jaguars into salary cap trouble in the late 1990's. They re-structured contracts every winter to make room on that year's cap, mostly to sign expensive free agents. The player would add years and the team would convert that year's salary into signing bonus and then amortize that bonus money over the life of the new contract. In effect, the Jaguars were pushing the current year's salary onto future years of the cap. The Titans have been doing that for the past several years. Eventually, you run into all of that remaining amortization for a player you either can't or don't want to keep. A little bit of that kind of re-structuring is OK, especially if you're doing it with a core player for the purpose of making room that will allow you to move money forward on another contract. When you do it exclusively for the purpose of making room now, you're heading down a dead-end street.

Steve from Philadelphia, PA:
Do you think there's a realistic chance the Jags could trade Darius? What do you think is fair trade value for Darius?

Vic: The Jaguars could've traded Darius in 2003, when they "franchised" him for the first time. I believe they were offered a second-round pick by the Saints. My understanding is there were no such offers last year. This year, Darius is coming off his best season as a pro. That's the positive. The negative is that he's guaranteed to make $4.97 million this year and he's still not happy, which would suggest he's going to be very expensive to sign. Are teams looking for a $5 million or more safety? Logic would tell me the answer is "no," but I'm to the right of Belichick when it comes to spending on safeties. There are probably teams out there who would trade for Darius, but the next big question is, what would they give the Jaguars in return? I don't think the Jaguars will trade Darius for less than a second-round pick.

Danny from Carson, NV:
Do you think Jacksonville should go after Plaxico Burress if we don't sign Derrick Mason?

Vic: No. Let somebody else get robbed.

Roger from Jacksonville:
I was confused by your answer to Pete's (Jax Beach) question about money to sign rookies. Just what is "rookie-pool money," how does it relate to the current year's salary cap, and how much does a team realistically need?

Vic: Teams are allotted a specific amount of money to sign their draft picks. That amount is determined by the number of picks a team has and where those picks are in the order. That amount is not in addition to the salary cap; it is part of the salary cap. This year, the salary cap is expected to be about $85 million. An average rookie-pool amount is about $5 million.

Gene from Keystone Heights, FL:
I don't blame Donovin for wanting out. How many other NFL players have been "franchised" three years in a row? He has to hold the record.

Vic: Walter Jones and Orlando Pace are the other two players to have each been "franchised" three consecutive years. Unfair, huh? Yeah, well Jones made a lot more money by being "franchised" than if he had signed a long-term deal three years ago. The same can be said about Donovin Darius, who will have earned $12 million with the Jaguars as a "franchise" player the last three years. Would the Jaguars have signed Darius to a $12 million deal three year ago? No way.

Ralph from Middleburg, FL:
One of the lead stories today is that Donovin Darius is unhappy and will not play for the Jaguars again, but in a press release yesterday the Jaguars indicated he signed his tender. If he is unhappy with the offer, why sign it?

Vic: It's a way of protecting his downside. Had he not signed the "franchise" tender, he could've ended up not being courted in free agency by another team (for the obvious compensation reason), being released by the Jaguars and then finding little market for himself because free agency had passed, teams got their guys, spent their money and have neither need nor room for Darius. Having signed the tender, the $4.97 million is guaranteed. The Jaguars can trade him and avoid having to pay that amount, but they can't cut him to avoid making that payment. Having signed the tender, Darius assured that he will earn no less than $4.97 million in 2005.

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