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Something to ease the fear

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The first reaction was alarm. Oh, no, they're doing it again!

Who could be blamed for reacting that way to the Jaguars' rush of free-agency signings late last week? After all, this is a team that was forced to give away its best players a year ago to relieve itself of its self-imposed financial burden. Now, they're doing it again. Didn't they learn their lesson?

It was the question almost every fan and every sportswriter asked this past Saturday, when the Jaguars announced they had signed veteran defensive end Hugh Douglas to a contract that included a $6 million signing bonus. That made it $11,125,000 the Jaguars had spent in bonus money in a three-day period. Whoa!

Say this about the Jaguars: They don't scare easily and they want to win very badly.

You could also say this is a team that suffers from a serious lack of patience and you could complain credibly that the Jaguars still haven't learned the fundamental NFL concept of taking one step back to take two steps forward. They are perfectly logical reactions to this spending spree. After all, wasn't this supposed to be a rebuilding year?

Well, it isn't now. No owner spends $11 million in bonus money in three days to go 6-10. So, if you're inclined to ask, "Can the Jaguars make the playoffs this season?" the answer is, "That's the idea."

And, you know, that's not such a crazy notion. If the Bears can go from 13-3 to 3-13, why can't the Jaguars go from 6-10 to 10-6? At the end of next season, we may all be proclaiming the Jaguars' new regime a stroke of Wayne Weaver's genius. Or petitioning the court to freeze Weaver's assets.

As risky as the Douglas signing would seem to be, Jaguars salary cap boss and lead negotiator Paul Vance protected the team from salary cap disaster by structuring the deal in such a way that the Jaguars could get out from under it in the third year, if Douglas turns out not to be the player the Jaguars expect him to be.

Vance did the same with the Mike Peterson deal. Simply put, in each case the player's salary in year three exceeds his remaining amortization, which means releasing the player would provide cap relief.

It was the opposite formula that originally plunged the Jaguars into the flames of salary cap hell. In those days, the Jaguars' formula was to convert everything to bonus money and push as much of it as possible into the future. Then, the future became the present.

Go ahead, be frightened that the Jaguars are doing it again. It's healthy to have that kind of respect for the salary cap. But this is not the same situation. This team may not have learned how to accept the inevitability of rebuilding, but it has at least learned how to structure contracts responsibly. The challenge is to maintain that discipline.

It's expected the team will soon announce a re-structured Mark Brunell contract that will include an extension. And we'll again learn more about this team's new salary cap resolve.

But, for now, we'll give a thumbs-up to this unexpected rush of spending. Douglas is a top-notch pass-rusher. More than that, he's a true effort guy. He plays hard. He's great in the locker room. He's everything you could want in a veteran leader.

All of that comes from no less an authority than Tom Modrak, who became the Eagles' general manager in 1998, the same year Douglas was acquired by Philadelphia in a trade with the Jets.

"The first year I was there we went 3-13 and it was a really tough year. As soon as the year was over he came into the office and said, 'All I care about is getting a ring. I'll play linebacker or defensive end.' That said a lot about him to me," Modrak said of Douglas.

Modrak believes Douglas is a good acquisition by the Jaguars. "Yeah, I do," Modrak said. "You can't measure veteran leadership. He's always an upbeat personality. That stuff gets contagious, and when you're trying to put something together; he'll be one of the guys up front for Jack (Del Rio) and 'Shack' (James Harris). I can talk about (Douglas) a lot because I really like him," Modrak added.

They are words that help ease the fear.

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