Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Capology 101

If the dream has always been to have a league that’s competitive, or with “parity” then the salary cap is the warm milk NFL administrators have taken in order to drift off to sleep at night. The salary cap has brought mighty teams down, making them pay for what was once thought to be a virtue: a desire to win.

The cap is supposed to give each team an equal opportunity to compete, year in and year out. Many teams have found ways around it, the 49ers did with Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark in charge. They go caught, and have paid hefty fines. As many who break the rules say, their only crime was they got caught. Maneuvering around the salary cap is rampant in the league, the Niners are just the first to be exposed.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have taken advantage of their advantage as an expansion team. Starting out, their balance was zero. They paid no money to players not on their roster. Nobody counted against the cap that wasn’t in uniform. Using that advantage, they signed players to lucrative contracts, attracted free agents, and became instantly respectable. Now, they’ll fall in line with the rest of the league.

Although Head Coach Tom Coughlin says he doesn’t sense a “rebuilding” year ahead, he has used the phrases “magic wand” and “a challenge” when describing salary cap issues in the upcoming off season. If there is one thing the league needs inside the salary cap rules, it’s a provision for injury. Setting a team in the off-season takes plenty if imagination and ingenuity. The balance created between the stars and the backups on any roster is very tenuous. One injury, and that balance is forfeited. If you lose a star player, you can’t go try and replace him, but his salary counts against your cap.

Inside the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room, the talk is about a .500 record, the Giants and playing for pride, at least publicly. Outside of the locker room, the talk is of the salary cap, and that’s it. Estimates range as high as $40 million as the number the Jaguars will be over the cap next year. Michael Huyghue, the Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations, their capologist, says the number is not quite that high but they will have some cutting to do. He lists, Mark Brunell, Leon Searcy and Kevin Hardy as the team’s top priority in restructuring contracts for next year.

No mention of Keenan McCardell, whose cap number is just over $4 million. If the team cuts him, he’ll still count $1.8 against the cap next year, so for not much more, they can keep him. If you go through the offense, there are no more than 5 players who will definitely be back in the teal and black next year.

Brunell says ‘no question” he’ll be back next year. His cap number will need to be around $7 million. Jimmy Smith is the best bargain in the NFL, Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor are under contract. After that, it’s wide open. Kyle Brady has been valuable, but are they willing to pay $3 million for a Tight End? Jeff Smith and Todd Fordham are both free-agents who have made themselves some money in the last 6 weeks. Brad Meester will only be in his second year. Daimon Shelton and Brendan Stai seem to be returning players, if their salaries are at the right level.

Huyghue’s comment about Searcy was the most puzzling. Leon is in the driver’s seat. They owe him money if they cut him or if they keep him. The Jaguars didn’t allow Searcy to show the rest of the league he can still play when they put him on injured reserve at the end of the season. He didn’t like that, but didn’t make a stink about it either. As Tom Coughlin said, he’d like to wave a “magic wand” to keep Searcy on the team, but it will be very difficult.

Defensively, the question centers around Carnell Lake and Hardy Nickerson. The Jaguars have admitted they went out of their model for success in signing both players, but Tom Coughlin says they did that because they were productive players who had never been hurt. Both have been injured. Bringing them back seems unlikely, except Nickerson already counts over $2 million against the cap next year so he might return.

They have to make a decision on Tony Brackens and the second half of his bonus. Gary Walker is a Pro Bowl caliber player, but do they want to spend that money on a defensive tackle? Joel Smengee wants to return and says he’ll be reasonable with the Jaguars because, frankly, he doesn’t want to move and play somewhere else. If he returns, it will be with an entirely new contract.

Huyghue admits the team will have what he calls a “catch up” year, in order to pay for being very competitive for the last five seasons. Every other team in the league has had to “catch up” and it looks like the Jauguars turn.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A Quarterback’s Confidence

I’ve been accused over the years of being arrogant by my detractors. I’ve never been able to figure this out. Arrogance denotes some sort of mean spirited attitude. I don’t have that. I do have confidence.

A quarterback’s confidence.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as the quarterback. I actually played the position in high school, a little bit in college and in a ridiculous semi-pro league. When I used to run around in the front yard as a kid, throwing the ball into the bushes, I pretended to be the quarterback. I’ve always thought that way, and still do. I’m the quarterback of the sports team at Channel 4, given the responsibility of getting the job done while being part of the team.

I’ve always been fascinated by the mental part of the quarterback’s job. It’s one of the few jobs in sports that blends the cerebral with the physical. It’s part motivation, part inspiration. Without all facets clicking, a quarterback’s job can’t get done. No position in sports is as difficult, or as important.

When quarterbacks are in competition with each other for a starting job, it can divide a team. The Cowboys with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, the Redskins with Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer and now with Brad Johnson and Jeff George. No matter how hard a coach and the quarterbacks themselves try to smooth things over, they can’t. The team looks to them as the leader, and they choose sides.

Former NFL quarterback Matt Robinson, now a color analyst for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was involved in a competition with Richard Todd, both vying for the starting job with the New York Jets. “We were friendly,” recalls Robinson, “but it was definitely competitive. There was always an edge there, even when you were out socially.” How do you deal with that, I wondered. “Depending on the guy, sometimes you can talk about it. Richard and I decided we’d do our best with what is always a tough situation. No bad mouthing, no sabotage.”

“That’s right,” adds current Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell. Brunell was in a similar situation in Jacksonville with Steve Beuerlein. “You try to make the best of it, and it really depends on the other guy. There can be tension, but you know it’s going to be a competition going in. Steve and I got along so it wasn’t a problem. With some other guys, it could be.”

Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin admits how competing quarterbacks handle themselves in the meetings and in the locker room factors into the final decision. “It’s not one of the first things you look at, but certainly how a guy handles himself, his reaction to his teammates and his competitors factors into it.”

A quarterback can’t be a small person. He has to have a magnanimous side. He gets too much credit and knows it. He takes more blame than deserved, and he knows that too. A quarterback has to have a “selective memory.” “Oh yeah,” Brunell agreed. “You have to be able to forget every bad play that’s happened and move on. Sometimes that’s really tough.” He has to believe the next play is going for a touchdown, no matter what.

“Confidence is the word I’d use,” added Brunell. “You have to be confident in your own abilities, your teammates’ the coaches, the scheme, everything. You go into every situation confident of success, confident you can make it happen.” Robinson thinks that confidence is what can carry the other guys on offense. “When you step in that huddle, all eyes are on you. Your body language, how you call the play, even how you step into the huddle. The guys are looking at you for a cue. Some want some kind of direction, they’re looking for a leader.”

Other position players agree there’s a common thread that runs through all successful quarterbacks. “They all have different personalities,” says Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan McCardell. “But the good ones come into the huddle and can tell who’s ready to play and who’s not.” “They’re not interested in talk, about what happened beforehand, about the mouthing from the other side of the ball. When it’s time to go, they’re ready to go. You can see it. They shut everything else out and say ‘Let’s go.'”

I asked Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame linebacker about the difference between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants in the ’58 NFL Championship game. “They had John Unitas, we didn’t,” Huff said immediately referring to the Colts Hall of Fame quarterback. “What about the rematch in ’59,” I probed. “They still had Unitas,” Huff barked. “You knew when he was in the game, he believed they would win which meant they believed it. You could sense it in how they came to the line of scrimmage, how they played, how they walked. They all were a reflection of Unitas.”

Pro Golfer Jim Colbert once said he plays a game with himself when he stands over an important 4-foot putt. “I ask myself, will you be more amazed if you miss it or if you make it? And I always said I’ll be absolutely shocked if I miss it,” Colbert explained. That’s a quarterback’s confidence.

Just don’t call it arrogance.