Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin is expecting the return of wide receiver Jimmy smith to have an "immediate" impact on the team's slumping offense.
Coughlin told reporters today he expects Smith's presence to raise the performance levels of the Jaguars' other wide receivers, "because of his abilities and what he will bring to the table," Coughlin said.
Shortly after Coughlin's remarks to the media, Smith spoke to reporters collectively for the first time since spring workouts. Smith said he will resume his leadership role and that he fully expects to be in the starting lineup this Sunday in the season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts, but Smith wouldn't make any personal performance predictions.
"That's a question mark. It's not like I've done this before. Who knows? We haven't had a very good preseason. I think my presence will add a spark to the team overall," he said.
Smith reached a contractual agreement with the Jaguars late Friday night, then participated in two conditioning workouts Saturday and one today. Though he was under contract to the team through 2006, Smith was a holdout through training camp this summer, as he sought compensation equal to that of the top five receivers in the NFL.
It's believed Smith's new deal will pay him $10.5 million over the next two years. Of that amount, it's thought that about $7.5 million will be paid to Smith this year. Of course, that significantly increases Smith's remaining bonus amortization and stresses the Jaguars' future salary caps, even though the Jaguars are clearly in a salary-cap repair program.
"As you look at it initially, it's better off this year and not as well off next year," Coughlin said of how Smith's deal impacts the Jaguars' salary cap.
Smith remains under contract to the Jaguars through '06. The key to the Jaguars' ability to absorb the latest payoff to Smith is the wide receiver's ability to continue to play at a high level for at least two more seasons. The team's salary cap should be sufficiently repaired by '04 for the team to have flexibility in dealing with Smith's amortization at that time.
"If you're going to have a player of Jimmy Smith's ability, you're going to have to compensate him fairly. The key in salary-cap repair is to recognize those dollars in a reasonable way," Director of Football Operations Paul Vance said.
Owner Wayne Weaver issued the following statement through the team's public relations department: "This process took a lot longer than anyone wanted it to, but because Jimmy was (previously) signed to a long-term deal, this was more complicated. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish: We reached an agreement that was fair to Jimmy and served the team's interest of being committed to our salary cap goals. This will avoid us having to address this situation on a yearly basis. It's time now to prepare for the start of our eighth season."
Weaver clearly felt an attachment to Smith, who has had six consecutive seasons of 1,000 receiving yards or more. Smith has caught 116, 91 and 112 passes in the last three seasons respectively. Beyond that, Smith shocked the football world by coming out of a hospital bed to be the team's offensive MVP last season.
Coughlin said Smith will assume his familiar "X" receiver position, and that Bobby Shaw and Patrick Johnson will compete for the "Z" spot.
Smith offered his thoughts on the Jaguars offense, which did not score a touchdown in the preseason while under the direction of quarterback Mark Brunell.
"The offensive line definitely took a step forward. We're definitely much better there than we were last year. I think (Fred Taylor) can be the best back in the league. It's just a matter of him being on the field. When the real bullets fly, Mark is going to be our leader," Smith told reporters during a telephone interview late this afternoon.
"I didn't want to go through this thing. The business side is hard to deal with. I'm a football player. Fortunately, (the Jaguars) were able to get this deal done and, hopefully, I'll be able to retire as a Jaguar. Hopefully, I'll be a Hall of Fame player if I can continue the success I've had," Smith added.
Meanwhile, Coughlin announced his final cuts today. Even though they were less dramatic than in previous years, this remains the league's most high-profile day for roster moves.
The most significant of the Jaguars' moves today is the release of veteran wide receiver Darnay Scott. "What we brought Darnay here to do he was unable to do. It's very unfortunate," Coughlin said of the shoulder injury that limited Scott's practice time this summer.
Scott was one of 19 players released. Smith was granted a two-week roster exemption, which means the Jaguars had to cut their roster to 54 players by four p.m. today. If Smith is activated for Sunday's regular-season opener against Indianapolis, the Jaguars will have to cut another player from their roster.
Those players released today are: Scott, fullback Detron Smith, center Kevin Long, seventh-round draft choice Steve Smith (safety), linebacker Rashad Harris, safety Renard Cox, linebacker Aaron Humphrey, defensive end Randy Garner, running back Reggie White, wide receiver Henry Douglas, tight end Steven Fontana, center Carey Clayton, offensive tackle Jeff Miller, offensive tackle Patrick Venzke, safety James Watkins, defensive end Javor Mills, defensive end Mike Cecere, wide receiver Corey Parchman and cornerback Bruce Branch. Offensive lineman Derrick Chambers was placed on injured reserve.