The official start of contract negotiations between the Jaguars and their quarterback, Mark Brunell, began yesterday when Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver and Brunell met for a "kickoff" conversation. Money wasn't mentioned, but Weaver and Brunell each made it clear to the other they want a new deal to get done.
"I thought it went great," Brunell said of his talk with Weaver. "He expressed to me that he wanted to get a deal done and that he had confidence in me as the quarterback of this team."
In return, Brunell said he wanted to remain with the Jaguars. "I want to be a part of it because I think there are some great years ahead," said Brunell, who is represented by Leigh Steinberg, the agent of choice by NFL quarterbacks.
Brunell has one year remaining on a five-year deal he signed in the summer of 1997. The Jaguars had converted about $10 million of salary into bonus money over the past three seasons, and the remaining amortization and his salary next season would make Brunell a $13 million cap hit.
The Jaguars can't afford to take that kind of hit. Beyond that, they want Brunell to remain their quarterback. The combination of the two demands that a new deal get done this offseason, and the question is: Can the Jaguars find enough room in future salary caps to sign Brunell to a deal most believe will pay him about $20 million in signing bonus? That would be twice what he received in '97.
Meanwhile, Brunell is preparing for a game in Cincinnati against the 3-11 Bengals. A win would put the 7-7 Jaguars over the .500 mark for the first time since they beat the Bengals in Jacksonville in the third week of the season.
"There have been times we've gotten on rolls and we're on one now. We're playing as well as anyone in the league right now," Brunell said.
In roster news, the Jaguars placed linebacker Erik Storz on the injured reserve list and moved rookie wide receiver Emanuel Smith from the practice squad to the active roster. Smith is a sixth-round draft choice. Storz broke his left thumb in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars' win over Tennessee on Nov. 26. The injury required surgery and coach Tom Coughlin said today the rate of healing wasn't as rapid as expected.
Running back Jason Brookins took Smith's place on the practice squad.