It's the NFL's annual renewal weekend and it blends perfectly with the Jaguars' fresh start theme.
With a new personnel boss making the picks and a new attitude in the team's draft room, General Manager Gene Smith and the Jaguars hope to lay the foundation for the team's future this weekend, as the NFL conducts its annual college draft. In his first draft as the Jaguars' ultimate authority in the selection process, Smith is facing enormous pressure to fix a roster decimated by first-round busts and wasted spending in free agency a year ago.
"I think pressure is being unprepared. You build a reputation based on the decisions you make. I feel I have very good people around me to help me make the best decisions," Smith said recently.
Smith will not be unprepared. He is known league-wide as a tireless worker who obsesses on the fine details of every prospect in the draft. What Smith and the Jaguars need most is the thing of which great drafts are almost always made: a thing called luck.
How lucky was it that Denver found Terrell Davis in the sixth round? Davis, of course, led the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles. How lucky was it that Tom Brady fell to New England in the sixth round? Brady, of course, has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl wins.
Here's an even better example: How lucky was it that Pittsburgh had Ben Roethlisberger fall right into its lap at pick 11 in 2004, two picks after the Jaguars passed on Roethlisberger and selected Reggie Williams? Roethlisberger, of course, is the quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champions and has collected two championship rings.
Claiming to be committed to drafting the best available player, Smith hopes to be facing the same situation tomorrow: Having the chance to draft a potential franchise quarterback, this time at pick number eight. If he has that chance, it's unlikely Smith will ignore the value.
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez could become this year's Roethlisberger, in as much as Sanchez could give the Jaguars a second chance to get it right, provided Sanchez is available when the Jaguars go on the clock. Pick him or trade him? Smith, of course, isn't going to tip his hand, but he's made it clear he would like to have to make that decision.
"It's certainly a consideration," Smith said of trading back and acquiring more picks.
Sanchez is the player who could make that happen. If he's available at pick eight, the Jaguars might get trade offers from teams such as the Jets, Broncos and Redskins. It could turn into a sweepstakes for the Jaguars.
Terry McDonough, a scout with the Jaguars since 2003 who was promoted to director of player personnel in the recent re-structuring of the personnel department, doesn't expect Sanchez to be available. McDonough sees too much value in a franchise quarterback prospect to last to pick eight. Most draftniks, however, disagree with McDonough. Several draftniks even have the Jaguars picking Sanchez.
If Sanchez is available, the situation would be nearly identical to the one the Jaguars faced in '04. Roethlisberger was available to the Jaguars a year after the Jaguars picked Byron Leftwich and signed him to a rich, long-term contract. Should Sanchez be available to the Jaguars on Saturday, it would be a year since the Jaguars signed David Garrard to a rich, long-term contract.
"We look at draft picks as being something very special," Smith said. "We look at draft picks as something that can sustain your team and help you manage your salary cap better."
The extra picks Smith might acquire from trading back could provide Smith with the ammunition he needs to rebuild the Jaguars roster. As it stands, he has nine picks; the Jaguars have one in each of the first six rounds and three in the seventh, the final two of which are compensatory picks.
Other than Sanchez, the first-round prospects most linked to the Jaguars are: Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.