The torch was passed to Maurice Jones-Drew, following a Monday morning meeting at which Taylor was given the option to retire or be released by the team. He elected to be released.
"He clearly wanted to play football so, out of respect to him, we're doing this early so he'll have a chance to catch on (with another team)," Del Rio told reporters on Monday afternoon.
Del Rio, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, General Manager Gene Smith and football operations chief Paul Vance met with Taylor and his agent Drew Rosenhaus near the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Taylor knew about the meeting as early as last Friday and was prepared to announce his decision.
Taylor was due a $1 million roster bonus by the Jaguars early in March but after the start of free agency. The team could've declined to pay the roster bonus and allowed Taylor's contract to expire at that point, but the decision was made in advance of that date to give the team and Taylor a fresh start now. Taylor was also due to be $5 million in salary in '09.
"We just see a very talented group of backs, a very competitive group, and felt it's time to move on as a football team," Del Rio said. "He's still got some talent. I'm sure there'll be interest by other teams."
"At that position we have a group of young, ascending players and you (only) have one ball," Smith said.
Taylor had said late last season that he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay with the Jaguars, but Del Rio said the team had no such negotiations with Taylor and that the decision to release him was solely for football reasons.
"We felt this was best for us going forward. It's time for a younger version," Del Rio added, referring to Jones-Drew, who will become the team's feature running back in 2009.
Jones-Drew made that a foregone conclusion last season when he took the team rushing lead away from Taylor. Jones-Drew rushed for 824 yards and 12 touchdowns. Taylor slumped to 556 yards rushing and one touchdown, though injuries on the Jaguars offensive line were a major reason for the decline.
Smith was given full authority on all personnel decisions, as part of Smith's promotion to general manager. The decision to release Taylor, which certainly involved owner Wayne Weaver, is Smith's most dramatic call to date and he did not deflect responsibility.
"It's my decision, from a roster standpoint. Having been through the Tony Boselli situation probably prepared me for this," Smith said, referring to coach Tom Coughlin's decision to leave Boselli unprotected in the 2002 expansion draft. Smith was the Jaguars' director of college scouting at that time.
Smith termed the release of Taylor a "well-reasoned decision in the best interest of the organization," and referred to Jones-Drew as "a player we want here into the future. He's a younger Fred Taylor, in essence."
Taylor rushed for 11,271 yards in his 11-year Jaguars career. He is 16th on the all-time NFL rushing list.
"I want to thank Wayne Weaver and the coaches and the Jaguars organization for 11 great years," Taylor said on Monday. "I feel healthy and I'm determined to continue my career. I understand the team's decision to move on and I have nothing but warm feelings for the Jaguars organization."
"We spent time talking about the various scenarios. We want to see more Maurice and more Greg Jones. It was difficult to see a role that would've been acceptable for everybody," Del Rio said.