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The proving season

Join senior editor O'Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions on St. Patrick's Day.

O'Kyle from Jacksonville:
Have you heard anything recently about the number of season tickets left to sell, specifically club seats? Thanks for bringing me joy at least once a day.

O'Vic: It's too early in the offseason to put a number on where the Jaguars stand toward filling Alltel Stadium for next season. The focus right now is on renewals and the Jaguars are in the process of contacting each of its season ticket holders to offer either thanks for renewing their tickets or to encourage them to renew. The Jaguars believe they are the only team in the NFL to make that kind of effort. As of now, the Jaguars have sold 4,200 new season tickets and are about 10 percent ahead of their projected pace. Draft weekend becomes the first barometer of where the team stands in its ticket sales project. At that point, the renewals period will be complete and the Jaguars will know the challenges that'll face them this summer.

O'George from St. Augustine, FL:
Now that we are about a week into free agency, what teams have made the best acquisitions, in your opinion?

O'Vic: That's a really tough question to answer because, obviously, the most active teams get the highest grades and non-participators can't even figure into the rankings, yet, the non-participators may turn out to be the big winners. Washington and Cleveland have been the big spenders. The Redskins have pulled in some top players but the Redskins have spent a jaw-dropping amount of money that will only deepen their future salary cap problem. Cleveland has certainly upgraded its roster but at what cost? The Browns had a lot of cap room but they've spent an insane amount of money on a center, an average left tackle, a 34-year-old linebacker and a 38-year-old defensive tackle. If I'm a Browns fan, am I supposed to get excited about my team getting older? League-wide, what I've seen so far in free agency is over-spending. No one will complain about that over-spending if the players they've signed do, in fact, provide impact, but I still believe the true winners in free agency are the teams that find those bargain-basement success stories. Terry Cousin was that kind of player for the Jaguars last year. Mike Vrabel is a bargain-basement guy for New England. Plaxico Burress was a good signing for the Giants. Ask me this question toward the end of spring and I'll answer it more fully and address it more specifically. At this time last year, the Ravens were considered to be the big winners in free agency. Were they?

O'Roger from Shelby, NC:
What's the Colts' record with Edgerrin James out of the lineup?

O'Vic: 7-9.

O'Nick from Annapolis, MD::
Are the Browns setting themselves up to be a possible sleeper next year or is that asking too much too soon?

O'Vic: I don't think they were as bad as their record made them appear last season. A player here or there would've made a major difference and, clearly, what they do in this year's draft will go a long way toward a turnaround in 2006. LeCharles Bentley will make the Browns better; no doubt about it. I wouldn't spend that kind of money on a center but that's a run-the-ball division and with a straight-line pounder such as Reuben Droughns the Browns should get more value from that signing than most teams would. I have three big questions about the Browns: 1.) Is Charlie Frye the answer at quarterback? He played awfully well against the Jags but I've seen better arms on slot machines. 2.) What about their last two first-round picks, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards? Are they going to be fully recovered from their leg injuries? 3.) Have the Browns achieved peace and harmony in their front office? Yeah, the Browns could be a sleeper, but they wouldn't be my sleeper.

O'James from Hernando, MS:
Even though you didn't know about Brian Williams or Mike Williams, you were right about the Jags not going after Charles Woodson, as NFL Network's Adam Schefter had claimed the Jags would.

O'Vic: That one was easy.

O'Keith from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Every year I get excited about the young talent the Jags bring in. A few years ago they drafted Cordova. Do you think he still has a shot at the roster or is it going to take longer for him to recover from injury?

O'Vic: It can't take any longer. This has to be his year.

O'John from Jacksonville:
While re-signing John Henderson often gets mentioned because he is in the last year of his contact, there is never discussion about re-signing Byron Leftwich, even if he has more than one year left on his contract. As every year goes by, the price of re-signing a highly-rated quarterback goes up significantly, especially with an increasing salary cap. Is it too early to re-sign Leftwich?

O'Vic: Quarterbacks make the kind of money that makes teams' eyes water. Teams tread lightly when it comes to signing quarterbacks to extensions much before it's necessary. If your quarterback is Tom Brady and he's won three Super Bowls, the decision isn't that difficult, but when you're talking about a guy who's still attempting to establish himself, there's a natural hesitation. Byron Leftwich, in my opinion, is right on schedule. That means he's where you would expect a third-year guy to be in his development. That's not to say, however, that all doubts have been erased. Jack Del Rio wants Leftwich to get rid of the ball more quickly. Whether or not Leftwich can do that will go a long way toward his being able to avoid injury. Leftwich has two years remaining on his contract. Clearly, this will be his proving season. That's the way it's supposed to be for quarterbacks. They're expected to confront and defeat the pressure to perform.

O'Jonas from Jacksonville:
It seems to me the Pats are done with their run. I don't think Tom Brady can carry that team another season. What are your thoughts?

O'Vic: Tom Brady can carry my team any time he wants. He's the best quarterback in the game and I can't understand why anyone would think otherwise. Brady is underrated and it appears Ben Roethlisberger is also going to be an underrated guy. Put the two quarterbacks together and here's what you have: a 15-2 postseason record with four Super Bowl titles. What's not to like? Bill Belichick and Bill Cowher won't let their teams fall too far off the playoff path because each guy sees the big picture. They know how to build and maintain playoff-competitive football teams.

O'Mark from Yulee, FL:
In accordance with your philosophies, and since there will probably be little value available for a game-changer late in the first round, shouldn't the Jags grab the best of something, such as a guard or center, rather than taking the third or fourth-best linebacker?

O'Vic: Don't think in terms of positions. Think in terms of players. The purest form of a value board shouldn't even identify the player by position. Maybe the fourth-best linebacker carries a higher grade than the best guard or center. Take the best guy or find a way out of that spot. That's what you do if you're concerned only about value. I understand that it's not that easy; in many cases, drafting the best available player is difficult to do and may require massaging. If you stick to that philosophy, however, you'll usually win.

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