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System promotes movement

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Nathan from Richmond, VA:
I agree with the best available player philosophy, in that you want to make sure you get your pick's worth of player, but what about development time? I have heard that you can expect a good four years until your QB gets to full speed, whereas RBs can have an almost immediate effect. Just look at Fred Taylor's rookie season. Is this a factor when the personnel people draw up their selections? In other words, if a QB and a WR both had the same talent level, but you knew you would have to wait on the QB, would that push the decision more toward the receiver?

Vic: Teams allow for a reasonable number of variables in grading players. For example, safeties don't usually rank as high on teams' value boards as cornerbacks do, either because teams don't value safety as much as they do cornerback or because safeties seldom run as fast, cover as well or are as athletic as cornerbacks. But what you're talking about doing – knocking a player down because it'll take him longer to develop than a guy at another position – would be a serious compromise of a ratings system. If you're going to do that, you might as well not even have a rankings. In my opinion, the most important ingredient in drafting successfully is patience. The draft isn't about today; it's about tomorrow.

A.J. from Woodstock, CT:
Here's a question that has yet to be answered by anyone. How do the Raiders go from Super Bowl runnersup to, quite possibly, the worst team in the NFL?

Vic: They took a double hit: They got old and capped out. Salary cap first; always. If you screw up your cap, you're done. The cap is a team's single-most important possession. In my opinion, it takes precedence over everything else.

David from Port Orange, FL:
Do you think the Jaguars are interested in unrestricted free agent Adalius Thomas?

Vic: Yes, but only at an affordable price.

Chris from Greenville, NC:
What would you think about the Jaguars looking at David Boston for maybe a second and one of the third-round picks?

Vic: Why would you want to trade away two draft choices for a wide receiver who probably isn't as good as one you might use one of those picks to select from what may be the deepest crop of wide receivers in NFL draft history?

Chuck from Detroit, MI:
As a displaced Jacksonville fan, your column keeps me up to date on my favorite team. My question is regarding Wayne Weaver. There are many styles of management in this league, from hands on to not involved. How would you describe Weaver's role in handling the team and who would you compare him to style-wise?

Vic: One of the most significant acts in Jaguars history was Wayne Weaver's decision to become more active in the management of his team's salary cap. We have not given Weaver enough credit for the repair of the team's cap over the last three offseasons. He was the man who personally negotiated Mark Brunell's last contract with the Jaguars, and it was a contract that allowed the Jaguars to trade Brunell at a significant salary cap savings recently. Why? Because Weaver negotiated a deal that did not give the team's future away in signing bonus. At the same time, Weaver decided his team would no longer involve itself in contract restructurings that were robbing the future to benefit a present that wasn't producing positive results. In the winter of 2002, Weaver took control of his team's salary cap and, as a result, this team's "arrow" is pointing up. If I had to compare him to another owner, it might be Carolina's Jerry Richardson, who did the same thing with his team's salary cap a couple of years ago, after the Panthers had nearly ruined their franchise by spending ridiculous sums of money and draft choices on players such as Sean Gilbert and Doug Evans. Weaver will tell you there's a learning curve for owners, too.

Tyler from Birmingham, AL:
According to your Jags not done yet column, you were saying that if the Jaguars do remove the "franchise" tag from Donovin Darius we would save a lot more money. What do you mean by this statement?

Vic: By "franchising" Donovin Darius, the Jaguars agreed to pay him $4.1 million in salary this year. When Darius signed the "franchise" tender offer, that $4.1 million became guaranteed, meaning the Jaguars can no longer simply remove the tag. They can negotiate a new contract with Darius before March 17 and recover use of the tag, or they can trade him to another team and recover use of the tag, but they can't take the tag off and not suffer the consequences of that act without something else happening first. In other words, if they cut Darius they would still owe him the $4.1 million, and they would still lose use of the "franchise" tag for the remainder of the year. But let's say the Jaguars trade Darius, which is a reasonable possibility. If that was to happen, Darius' financial liability would go with him to his new team and the Jaguars would receive $4.1 million credit on their 2004 salary cap. How significant is that figure? Well, that's about what the Jaguars will spend on their draft class.

Brady from Jacksonville:
Do you think Jacksonville will trade Darius? What do you think the plan is?

Vic: Both sides have had to protect themselves by keeping all of their options available because they remain far apart in contract negotiations. The Jaguars believe Darius has trade value, so they've used the "franchise" tag to retain his rights. Last year, they had a trade offer from New Orleans before the Saints chose to trade for Tebucky Jones. Darius has signed the tender to protect himself financially and, possibly, to invite a trade because he may need to join a new team to get the kind of contract he wants. When he signed the tender, the Jaguars gained the ability to trade Darius. I think it's likely the Jaguars will attempt to trade Darius, because prospects for negotiating a new contract are not promising and because the Jaguars have depth at the safety position.

Mickey from Jacksonville:
Thanks for the great coverage! I have kind of a dumb question. When a player is listed as a DB, that means defensive back, right? Is there any difference between DB and cornerback or safety?

Vic: Usually, when a team lists a player as a DB, instead of specifically designating him to be a CB or S, it's because he's capable of playing cornerback and safety and may be used in both capacities. For example, he's a safety in base defense but a cornerback in the "nickel" defense.

Scott from Reynoldsburg, OH:
I'm having a hard time remembering there ever being this many big names changing teams. To what do you attribute all the movement?

Vic: The current system of talent distribution promotes player movement. That's what the players union sought when it negotiated for free agency, and the owners were willing to give it as long as they got a salary cap. To create that movement, the draft was reduced from 12 rounds to seven and training camp rosters were reduced to 80 players. In other words, movement of veteran players was assured by limiting the flow of new players into the league. If player movement seems to have increased this year, it's probably because the majority of teams have an increased understanding of the salary cap and are doing a better job of managing it. A lot of deals aren't as rich as they appear. In many cases, those contracts are back-loaded in salary and allow the team to get out from under the deal after the second year. The real wealth of a contract is only as good as its guaranteed money.

Harley from Ormond Beach, FL:
Vic, great column and thanks for educating us. I am looking forward to the draft and testing your best player theory. But the moves so far are dull and unimaginative. Do you think we have improved the team with the free agents thus far? We let some good people go and have gotten journeymen back. We need playmakers, not just players. Can we be a playoff contender with these players?

Vic: If you're looking for playmakers in free agency, you are going to ruin your salary cap. In my opinion, free agency is for patching holes in your roster, and I like what the Jaguars have done. They have patched a lot of holes, and the young free agents they've signed offer the potential for developing into playmakers.

Chris from St Augustine, FL:
Did any of the replacement players from the 1987 NFL strike move on to have a successful NFL career?

Vic: Steve Bono comes to mind.

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