Fred Taylor is ready to begin a season he hopes will allow him to do what teammate Jimmy Smith did, which is to say negotiate a better contract. But Taylor knows he'll have to state his case on the field first.
"Jimmy's situation is totally different. I've got to go play and let (agent) Drew (Rosenhaus) handle it. But that's in the offseason. I'm pretty sure my situation will handle itself," Taylor said this week, as he prepared for the start of what may be the most important season in his career.
Taylor is coming off a season that was ended in the first half of the second game with a severe groin injury. It's agreed he's one of pro football's most electrifying runners, but through the first four years of his career Taylor has missed 24-and-a-half games due to injury.
With two years remaining on his contract, this is the season that may determine his salary-earning future. It may even decide his future with the Jaguars. With a big year in 2002, Taylor will vault back into the category of elite running backs and he will probably motivate the Jaguars to negotiate a new contract with their star runner.
This time, Taylor wants a player-friendly contract. No more rookie-like salaries; Taylor wants to be paid like a star.
"I want to win," he said. We lost three games in the preseason and everybody's ready to write 'here we go again.' Jimmy's back. Everybody's excited. Now we've got to go play. No more excuses," Taylor added.
Taylor's proving year begins Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts and their star running back Edgerrin James. It couldn't be a better stage for Taylor to make an early-season statement. The Colts are a suspect defense attempting to learn Tony Dungy's system. Against what was the NFL's 25th-ranked rush-defense last season, there's every reason to believe Taylor could burst out of the starting blocks with a big game.
"Fred's ready to go and we're ready to give it to him. I'm not afraid of any number (of rushing attempts)," coach Tom Coughlin told reporters earlier this week.
Dungy's "cover two" defensive scheme is designed to stop the pass. Dungy seldom employs an extra defender at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The Colts will do it with their front seven or they won't do it at all.
All of that, coupled with the fact the Jaguars pass-offense was miserable in the preseason, would give reason to believe Taylor's going to get the ball often Sunday. This game was meant for him.
"With the weapon we have in (number) 28, it's important we get him off. He can change everything," wide receiver Bobby Shaw said.