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The system isn't broken

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Allen from Hubert, NC:
I know you said to stop thinking about the salary cap because it was dead, but won't the salary cap going away hurt a small-market team like the Jags?

Vic: I don't think it will because it would mean small-market teams such as the Jaguars would no longer be financially hamstrung by minimum-cap constraints, and I genuinely believe there is an overflow of football talent in America.

Haran from Edmonton, Canada:
I'm in. With the increasingly large contracts being given to high draft picks, will there come a point when free agents will become cheaper than draft picks?

Vic: This is the kind of deep thinking I invite in this column. This is the question of a visionary. Could it happen? Sure, and if it does and if those "cheap" free agents out-produce the more expensive draft picks, cheap free agency will increase in value and high draft choices will decrease in value. What you're suggesting is the kind of creativity small-market teams will have to exhibit to remain competitive with the large-market teams. They'll have to be trendsetters.

Cory from Jacksonville:
If the NFL is a copy-cat league, why don't more teams adopt the philosophies of perennial playoff teams such as the Patriots and Steelers and avoid overspending for expensive free agents?

Vic: Because the Patriots' and Steelers' way is not a quick-fix formula. A lot of teams want to believe they're a player or two away from the Super Bowl, so they spend foolishly for those players, only to find out they weren't the answer and the team really wasn't as close to the Super Bowl as it thought. The Patriots and Steelers collect draft picks; the Patriots by trading players for picks and the Steelers by allowing players to leave in free agency, resulting in compensatory picks being awarded. The players selected with those extra picks, however, aren't likely to put you over the top this year. That's where patience is required and, frankly, most teams don't have it.

Scott from Jacksonville:
If the Jaguars are really looking to go young and potentially rebuild, how long do you realistically think it will take for the Jags to be a contender once again?

Vic: Next year's schedule isn't a killer. I'm a big schedule guy and a lot of teams have ridden favorable schedules into playoff contention. Could the Jaguars do that? Yes, but I won't tell you they'll be a Super Bowl contender. That would be disrespectful of the trust you put in me to be honest with you. This team is in a form of rebuilding. It can be eased by the schedule if, in fact, the schedule turns out to be as favorable as I think it might be, but for this team to become a true Super Bowl contender, I think it will need at least two years of strong personnel work. I think I'm being aggressive with that projection.

Jeff from Durham, NC:
I heard today that 90 percent of the changes/signings the Dolphins made last year didn't even make the newswire. Obviously, those small changes resulted in big dividends. Do you think this describes Gene Smith's philosophy in small building blocks? I, for one, am excited that he is re-stocking the shelves.

Vic: That's an interesting observation. What I can tell you is that Miami is a team that rode a favorable schedule into the playoffs last season.

Phillip from Jacksonville:
I read your column every day and I just wanted to say that I don't always agree with your opinions but you present them in a very professional manner. Keep up the good work and, by the way, don't people realize that flooding your inbox with countless BAP vs. need questions will not change what the Jaguars do on draft day? These people need to sit back, relax and just wait and see what the front office does. Enjoy the stories around the NFL. There's no need to beat these topics to death.

Vic: I was recently confronted by someone who took exception to what they perceived as a snub of offensive tackle Jason Smith. I let the guy have his say and then I asked him if he had watched the UConn tape. It was a leading question, of course, because I know it's tough for fans to get tapes of games, but how can you expect to know more than the scouts if you haven't watched the same amount of tape they have? Smith was up against a guy named Cody Brown, a too-small defensive end who will likely have to make the move to linebacker in the NFL. Hey, if you can, put on the tape and take a look.

Oliver from Germany:
The mock drafts look really good in the 5-15 range, in my eyes: Orakpo, Maualuga, Jenkins, Brown, Crabtree, Maclin, Davis, the offensive tackles. Just a different opinion.

Vic: Yeah, it is a different opinion. Rey Maualuga pulled a hamstring and didn't do much at the combine. Malcolm Jenkins ran bad and fell hard. Michael Crabtree was found to have a foot injury that'll require surgery and a screw. Jeremy Maclin turned in an ordinary combine workout and one of the top offensive tackles went AWOL. You lost me on this one, Oliver.

Bubba from Jacksonville:
With John Parker Wilson slotted as a late-round pick or a free agent, do you see the Jaguars having an interest due to his relationship with Mike Shula?

Vic: You obviously didn't watch the Mike Shula video. Mike expressed interest. Those videos have some information in them.

Patrick from Jacksonville:
Don't you think with the economy the way it is the Jags should go out and make a splash so fans will buy tickets or renew their season tickets? If we don't give the impression we are trying to get better, they won't sell out the stadium.

Vic: This question may drive me into therapy.

Ray from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
You said the Steelers want the compensatory pick. I'm curious of just how many compensatory picks have actually made an NFL roster.

Vic: Tom Brady was a compensatory pick.

Paul from Arlington, VA:
When a team would prefer to have a low first-round pick instead of a high first-round pick, the system is broken.

Vic: The system isn't broken and it doesn't need to be fixed. As I wrote last week, this just happens to be one of those years that the bottom of the first round looks a little more inviting than the top of the first round, especially when you factor in the money difference. That happens from time to time. I can remember years when it was said that this is a good year to not be drafting high. The real problem is irresponsible contracts for high picks, such as the Jets' deal with Vernon Gholston last year. It spilled down through the top half of the draft and it was the reason the Jaguars had so much trouble getting Derrick Harvey signed. The system is fine. The spending behavior of teams is not fine. That's the problem. When you combine that with a draft class that appears to be flat in the first round, Bill Belichick's wishes to stay low instead of going high make sense.

Tom from St. Augustine, FL:
I understand what you said about the differences in talent vs. money for various levels of draft picks, I just can't understand why New England wouldn't have tried to get the highest pick they could. They could trade that pick away for lower picks from more desperate teams and, if that didn't work, they could just pass on drafting during their time period until the money matched the talent still available. Am I incorrect in the way the draft works?

Vic: No, they could do that, though it would be making a mockery of the system, which isn't something a team with an already tainted image should attempt to do. I can't answer for the Patriots. Go to "Ask Bill." All I can tell you is that a lot of teams are dumping salaries and the Patriots have always been very shrewd money managers. Might they be favoring Scott Pioli? It's possible. The Seahawks' personnel director sure cut a friendly deal with Dallas in 1977 that allowed the Cowboys to draft Tony Dorsett, and it just so happened that the Seahawks' personnel director was a former Cowboys employee.

Mario from Burlingame, CA:
How do you measure character? I believe the late Joel Buchsbaum once mentioned how a person handles money as a way to measure character. Is that true? Again, thank you for the best analysis of football anywhere.

Vic: I had never considered how a person treats money as a measuring stick, but I like that. In the old days, the scouts would ask the college coaches about a player's behavior. That's where the scouts got their information. They still do, but teams have much more sophisticated ways of checking on a prospect nowadays. Teams have security divisions that know how to look into a player's background. In the final analysis, however, it's up to the man making the pick to make his decision based on the evidence in front of him. He may look at a player who had character issues in high school but nothing in college and wonder which is an accurate indicator of the player's behavior. That's when he needs to talk to as many people as possible who know the player and can explain whether the light went on, or the college program he was in just did a good job of hiding the dirt. Teams will spend a lot of time and money checking on the players in this year's draft.

Gabe from Jacksonville:
Can you ask your sources up in Pittsburgh whether their fans are infuriated that they haven't signed any free agents yet?

Vic: Steelers fans have come to expect it. They know free agency is a good time to watch hockey or basketball because the only news concerning the Steelers is likely to be about players leaving, as Nate Washington did when he signed with the Titans. Bryant McFadden is the next Steeler likely to sign and probably for a pretty pricey deal, which will immediately put the Steelers in the deep black for compensatory awards next spring. The Steelers had 13 unrestricted free agents, I believe, heading into free agency. If Gene Smith is successful in his program, I think we can expect the same thing to happen here. At the press conference at which it was announced that he was promoted to general manager, he talked about New England and Pittsburgh being models. Yeah, the Jaguars could use some help here and there but, if they sign too many guys, they're not likely to get much in the way of a compensatory award next year. They took Brad Meester and Scott Starks off the market and I don't see Reggie Williams attracting a lot of interest.

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