The first round of serious contract negotiations between the Jaguars and quarterback Mark Brunell will begin next week when Director of Football Operations Michael Huyghue meets with Brunell's agent, Leigh Steinberg.
"By the end of the month, we'll have some sense of where that's going and what our options are," Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said of the critical negotiations with Brunell and Steinberg.
They are negotiations that will determine almost everything about the Jaguars' offseason direction. Keep the team together, or blow up the roster? The ability to sign Brunell will answer that question, and that answer must come quickly.
"The deadline is very short. We have to get Mark done on a very fast timeline, otherwise we don't give ourselves a chance to work through all of the other issues," Weaver said.
In every instance, "other issues" involve the Jaguars' bulging salary cap, which is about $35 million over the projected $67.4 million limit for the 2001 season. If the Jaguars are able to sign Brunell to a new and favorable deal, they would immediately begin efforts to re-structure the contracts of their core players.
"It's hard for me to accept that we can't get Mark Brunell done. He wants to get this done. If there was no way to get it done, then, clearly, we would have to take a drastically different approach to this franchise, as to how we rebuild. Nothing would be sacred," Weaver said.
Weaver has made it clear he will not cave in to a cap-friendly deal that merely backloads money and compromises future salary caps and the future of the team. Weaver said the Jaguars will be fair to Brunell, but expect the same in return.
"We're poster boys for making the thing cap-friendly. That's where this thing has a chance of breaking down, unless we can get the three parties to keep this team together. That's what we'll get the deal done," Weaver said.
Brunell is believed to want to stay in Jacksonville, but Steinberg is the league's toughest negotiator and has negotiated deals for other quarterbacks that have devastated their teams. Troy Aikman in Dallas and Steve Young in San Francisco are classic examples.
"I do believe, in this case, that our interests and Marks' interests are aligned as well as they can be. The agent's interests are not aligned with the club," Weaver said.
Brunell has a year remaining on his Jaguars contract, which was backloaded and would pay him $7 million in salary next season, making Brunell a $13 million cap hit. Brunell would seem to possess all of the leverage in negotiations. Weaver is depending on Brunell's desire to stay with the Jaguars, since the failure to get a deal done quickly would cause the Jaguars to pursue trading Brunell.
"We've got to do what's right for the franchise long-term now," said Weaver, who remains optimistic that a deal with Brunell can be negotiated.
"If we can keep this team together, we can make another run at the Super Bowl," he said.