In his interview with Jacksonville reporters on Wednesday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher made his team's salary cap difficulties sound as though they were a minor nuisance.
"As we speak now, we don't have a lot of room to replace players, but that's no different than in the past. You have to make choices and that's what we have done," Fisher said.
Well, then let's just say the Titans have made some very interesting choices.
They chose to do a contract with Steve McNair that pins the team against a new contract deadline. McNair's current deal was executed for the purpose of pushing money onto future caps through 2009, which allowed the Titans to stay competitive in the present. But, to protect himself, McNair included in the deal a $50 million option bonus for '06 that makes '07-'09 dummy years.
McNair is due a $7.5 million salary in '05. His cap hit would be $12.6 million, which the Titans can't afford. They almost certainly will have to re-do McNair's contract, pushing even more money out further.
Even if they found a way to go with McNair's scheduled hit for '05, they'd run into the same problem again the following year, when the Titans would have to exercise a clause in his contract that would allow them to avoid paying the $50 million option bonus, but would result in the team having to pay McNair a $1 million bonus and a $9 million salary. For all practical purposes, the Titans have to get a new deal done with McNair next spring.
It is, by far, the worst salary cap situation in the league and Fisher has to know that. The Titans have pushed out a lot of money that has already started slapping them in the face, but not nearly as briskly as it will over the next couple of years.
Eddie George, for example, will be a $4.1 million "dead money" hit in '05. Then there are guys such as Kevin Carter, Brad Hopkins and Fred Miller, older players who've already been re-structured beyond their prime years and will almost certainly have to be re-structured again for the purpose of pushing money out even further. Those types of players represent so much potential "dead money" that it might be impossible to cut them.
It's the perfect storm. Cut them and their amortization accelerates. Keep them and you'll have to pay their whopping salaries. There's almost no escape, which is what the Jaguars were facing until the Houston Texans came along.
Carter, for example, is scheduled to be a $14 million cap hit as a 32-year-old player next year. Ouch!
Give the Titans credit, however, for having devised an ingenious tactic for dealing with their devastating salary cap mess. What is that tactic? Well, they revealed it in last spring's draft when they traded back to accumulate cheap extra picks.
Ingenious! Replace expensive older players with cheap younger players. The problem is that formula may not produce the quality a team needs to stay on top. You don't get good by trading out of the first round, which is what the Titans did last spring.
Five of the Titans' 13 draft choices were the result of trades. Yes, it's too early to pass judgment on that class, but the Titans are not getting significant help from it currently.
Fisher was asked if a team can stay on top for 10 years in the salary cap era. "Yes, that's possible, provided you draft well," he said.
The Titans will be relying heavily on the draft strategy they unveiled last spring. It would appear to be their salary cap remedy. It'll bear close watch.
Now, here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Titans on Sunday.
1. Be physical—It always starts with that against physical teams. You must play their game and be better at it than they are.
2. Stick with what got you there—The Jaguars are 2-0 because of a strong defense and good kicking game. That's the formula, for now.
3. Be aggressive when you can—At some point, the Jaguars will have to be more aggressive on offense, and the time to do that is when they're on the Titans' side of the 50.
4. Be aware of tricks—Jeff Fisher always has a special teams trick up his sleeve. He tried one against the Colts and it backfired, but don't think he won't try again.
5. Go for the kill shot—A win over the Titans could send the Tennessee boys into bad times. Go ahead, pull the trigger.
6. Get Fred his yards—Fred Taylor has rushed for more yards, 627, against Tennessee than he has against any other team. Let Taylor lead the way.
7. Let good luck happen—This team is on a roll. Somebody wants it to win. Don't fight it.
8. Put the pressure on them—The Titans are 1-1 and coming off a home loss. This is pretty close to a must win for them. Keep the game tight and give them a chance to crack.
9. Be loose—Nothing good comes of playing tight. Let it rip.
10. Score two touchdowns—One a game is cutting it a little close. Two should do it.