Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguar Outlook

In the middle of the locker room, Jaguars Linebacker Kevin Hardy stood, with the help of crutches, surveying the landscape. As he looked around, the sight was different than anything he’d seen in the past, and is different than anything the locker room will look like in the future. There are remnants of the Jaguars past, Mark Brunell, Seth Payne and Jimmy Smith, and there are glimmers of the Jaguars future in Marlon McCree, Danny Clark and others. Hardy is a free-agent, and after a 7 week rehab on his knee, he’ll be fielding offers from other teams. The Jaguars won’t be in that market.

“It would be tough,” is how Head Coach Tom Coughlin characterized the Jaguars chances to re-sign Hardy.

Getting many veterans back is going to be very tough for the Jaguars from top to bottom. Some estimates have the Jaguars being able to keep fifteen players off the 2001 team and the rest will have to be minimum salary contributors (rookie and first year players). So who are these fifteen?

On offense, Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor have cap friendly salaries that will have them on the roster next year. Keenan McCardell’s cap number is about $4 million, and will only return if the Jaguars agree to a long-term restructuring of his contract with some guaranteed money. Sean Dawkins isn’t affordable, Kyle Brady won’t be back because of his cost and Zach Weigert’s a question mark because of his salary.

Stacey Mack is a free-agent who should attract some attention after his late season performance. Elvis Joseph is a coaches’ favorite and comes at the right price. Maurice Williams returns, so does Brad Meester. The Jaguars will weigh Todd Fordham, Jeff Smith and Patrick Washington’s production against their cost.

As for Tony Boselli, his status could be a very hard decision for the Jaguars. His cap number is around $7 million and in recent years hasn’t shown an ability to stay healthy. His work ethic is unquestioned, his ability unmatched, and his leadership a key factor in success for the Jaguars. But can he stay on the field? He’s a Coughlin type of player, in fact he’s the Coughlin type of player and no doubt he’ll be on the roster next year. But at least once this off-season, the Jaguars will look at Boselli as a number, instead of a player, for the first time in his career

On defense, Tony Brackens is back, as is Marcus Stroud. Paul Spicer won’t cost too much. Renaldo Wynn is a free-agent and the Jaguars will have to decide between Seth Payne and Gary Walker. They can’t keep both, and might have a tough time fitting either under the cap.

T.J. Slaughter and Danny Clark will be two of the starting linebackers but who’s the middle linebacker? Marlon McCree and Donovin Darius will be in the defensive backfield. Have Kiwaukee Thomas and Jason Craft played well enough to allow the Jaguars to cut loose Aaron Beasley and Fernando Bryant? Bryant’s production is down, and Beasley’s cap number is too high. (Beasley should market himself as a free-safety at this point in his career. He has the size to stop the run and the cover skills to play on third down against a third wide receiver.)

So there you have it. Next year’s Jaguars team will have a few remaining veterans and a lot of young players. Some, like Joseph, Thomas and Craft, have gotten plenty of playing time. Others, names unknown as draft picks and rookie free-agents have yet to see the field in the NFL. Coughlin, his coaches and personnel department will be tested this year. They’ll have to do a better job of gathering players who can make their team and contribute right away.

Chris Hanson is the best find of the year, but the Jaguars spent a 5th round pick on a punter who didn’t make the team. Could that pick have been used better at another position?

The Jaguars lost 6th round pick Chad Ward to the 49ers this week off their practice squad. Another draft pick currently not on Jaguars roster. Add Anthony Denman to that list, and the trend of the team’s draft picks is not what they were hoping for. From Cordell Taylor, a second round cornerback bust, to R.Jay Soward, a first round washout, the Jaguars haven’t been able to stock their team sufficiently from their own draft classes whether it’s with special teamers or starters on offense or defense. They won’t be able to hide the 2002 class. How well the Jaguars do on the field will be a direct result of how they do in the war room in April.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


Christmas is a time for family and friends, kids and relatives. Christmas sports traditions have evolved into the Blue/Gray game, a bowl game and Michael Jordan playing in an NBA Game. Of course, NBC wasn’t aware Jordan would be back this year, so he and the Wizards have the day off.

I’ve always liked Christmas. With two sisters and a brother growing up, it was a big deal around my house, and with three children of my own now, it’s a fun holiday. The gift giving is fine, but it’s the spirit of the season that important. I know it sounds hokey, but doesn’t everybody seem a little bit nicer on Christmas?

More than any other holiday, Christmas should give us a chance to reflect and renew, a chance to count our blessings and to reach out to those less fortunate. September 11th has brought a new meaning to Christmas for many people and I hope in this holiday season you’ll hold your kids a little bit tighter and linger with friends a little bit longer.

The sports world will be there tomorrow. I checked the schedule. Jordan and the Wizards are playing at Charlotte.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A-Rod’s Millions

There’s been a large outcry from sports fans this week about the $252-million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers. Over the next ten years, if he chooses, A-Rod will be the highest paid player in baseball.

It’s in his contract.

He has to be or he can leave.

People are screaming about this because they’re dealing from the wrong premise. Baseball, or any other sport played at the professional level these days is not the sport we played, or watched as kids.

Pro sports aren’t part of the backdrop of society anymore. They’re what defines communities, defines fans, and in many cases define the cultural fabric of our country. It’s a rare exception that an athlete is identified with one team, one city throughout his career. Free agency has taken care of that.

In the off-season of any sport, athletes are headed off to better tax havens, warmer climates and the good life. How many Ravens hang around Baltimore in the summer? Where are the Pirates in the winter? Pittsburgh? Are the Browns sitting around in the Flats in Cleveland on New Year’s Eve?

There’s no slipping into the corner tavern and bumping into your favorite player. I worked in a bar in Washington, D.C. while I was in college and it would have been unusual if a night went by when I was behind the bar that a player from the Redskins didn’t walk in. Not anymore.

They’re entertainers, they’re stars, and they’re paid accordingly. The games have gone from just that, games, to a big show. Have you seen the opening of an NBA game lately? They’d gotten so outrageous with smoke, lasers and loud music that the league had to put limits on what teams could do. It’s a big show, and that’s what the fans are paying for. And don’t lament how nobody can afford to go to a baseball game. How many Garth Brooks fans have actually seen him in person? Most can’t afford it.

Rodriguez’s $25-million a year is about right for a top flight entertainer these days. Robert DeNiro, Meg Ryan, Elton John, they’re all in that range. Nobody’s yammering about their salaries. We accept they have talents we don’t have. So does A-Rod. And that’s why the owners are paying that kind of money.

Baseball’s problem is the escalation of salaries over the long haul. When will it stop? Only when the owners can’t pay that kind of money. It’s not the superstars who are tilting the books. It’s how they drag up the utility infielder to a salary structure that doesn’t allow all clubs to be in the bidding. At some point, the league will realize that the competitive balance in the league is so out of whack, tilted toward the big market teams, that some clubs like Kansas City, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee fold their tents and go away. Not relocate. Just fold because they can’t compete.

Lately at owners’ meetings you hear the word “contraction.” That means they’re thinking about it. Considering getting rid of teams for the first time since 1900.

Don’t think it can’t happen.

U.S. Steel?



On the way out.

Fewer teams will mean fewer jobs, less power for the Players Union, better talent on a smaller number of teams, and the owners can control the salaries. If they want to.

The common theory is that anything a guy makes is what’s he’s worth, because somebody is willing to pay it. Clearly, Texas billionaire Tom Hicks can afford to pay Rodriguez $25-million a year. He’ll probably make money over the long haul on the deal between ticket sales, promotions, broadcast rights and the overall value of the team.

The problem is, will he have anybody to play? A 162-game schedule between the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Braves, Mets, Angels and Dodgers could get a little boring.

Don’t blame A-Rod. By all accounts he’s the perfect player to get the perfect deal: Can do it all on the field offensively and defensively, knows the history of the game and respects it, great in the clubhouse and is a model citizen off the field.

I hope he wins the Triple Crown. Somebody we’ll pay to watch perform. He’s an entertainer.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


So who thought the BCS was a good idea from the beginning anyway? From the minds of, as my friend Cole Pepper says, “money grubbing fat cats” comes an idea that’s flawed from the start and has gotten worse as it’s gone along.

Yes, I hate the BCS.

It hasn’t achieved any goal, and what was the goal anyway? To determine a “true” national champion for college football? That’s a noble idea that has an easy answer: have a playoff. Not something a bunch of writers and coaches have a say in, but a playoff where teams meet each other on the playing field.

The old system had some order, and when there was a question, they just split the National Championship, giving two teams the right to say they were the best. Under the new system, one team calls themselves the National Champion while two or three sit and brood about not getting a chance to at least play for the title. If the traditional Bowl alignments were in place this year, Illinois and Oregon would meet in the Rose Bowl, LSU and Maryland in the Sugar, Nebraska and Florida in the Fiesta and Colorado would have a chance to beat somebody in the Orange Bowl. Maybe Tennessee. Play those games and then come up with a National Champion. Or even better, play those games and then pick the top two teams to play one more for all of the marbles.

(On a complete tangent, how good of a representation is it of a team after they have more than a month off and then have to play in the biggest game of their season? Are they really the same team that went 11-0?)

No offense to Nebraska. They followed the rules and are in the Rose Bowl. Good for them. They didn’t make the rules; they’re just playing by them. Much like Florida State last year, Bobby Bowden said the Seminoles were in the National Championship game because that’s how the polls worked. Sure, Miami should have played Oklahoma, but the BCS brain trust had the ‘Noles in the game and Miami out in the cold.

This year both Colorado and Oregon have a legitimate gripe. The Ducks lost one game early and Colorado beat Nebraska and won the conference championship. Sure next year, they’ll change the rule and say unless you win your conference championship, you’re not eligible. But that’s a year too late. And the worst thing is the guys who invented this thing keep going around telling everybody that they knew this was a possibility and that it’s working, like we’re complete idiots.

Here’s the easy fix: a 16 team playoff that involves the conference champions and at-large teams, the bowls are a part of it, everybody makes money and a real national champion is crowned. There are a lot of reasons that won’t happen, not the least of which is how the money would have to be shared across the board. Do you think Roy Kramer wants the SEC to share all of that loot with Appalachian State? That’s how it works in basketball, and the football guys don’t want any part of that.

The conference commitments and the network contracts run through 2006, meaning they’ll tamper with the rules over the next couple of years, but this is the system we’re stuck with. The Bowls can’t really be happy with this system. All of the attention is on one game with the rest as just window dressing. A little controversy spices things up, a lot of controversy means something’s wrong.

Admit it, and fix it.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Groundhog Day

It took me a while, but I finally have figured it out: it’s Groundhog Day. You know, the movie where Bill Murray wakes up every day and it’s the same day over and over. He knows it, but nobody else does. The Jaguars version involves the other team though.

The Jaguars might be the team going through the same thing over and over, but it’s the other team that seems to know what the outcome is going to be. They don’t panic, they don’t even flinch, knowing that no matter what lead there is or how much time is left, somehow, the Jaguars will give them the opportunity to win the game. You can almost hear the opposing coach’s halftime speech. “Don’t worry that we’re down, they’ll give it to us eventually.”

Of the eight losses this year, six of them have happened with a lead in the second half. Last night was no exception. Up 21-7 and with momentum, the Jaguars gave up long plays to Brett Favre, turned the ball over, had a few key penalties and gave the Packers just enough field position to let Green Bay tie the score and eventually win it with under two minutes to play.

Regrettably, the team has forgotten how to win. “That’s the plan,” Head Coach Tom Coughlin said after the game. “Get into position in the fourth quarter and find a way to win. Instead, we find a way to lose.” That’s a huge statement by the Head Coach, admitting that his team can’t find their way through the darkness. They don’t have a margin of error. The Jaguars have to play a nearly perfect game to win, and they don’t have enough talent through the roster to do that. A missed block here, a blown defensive assignment there and all of the sudden it’s the fourth quarter, the other team has the ball, and eventually the lead.

In the movie, when Bill Murray realized what was going on, he tried to take advantage of it. But until he became a better person, the end result was always the same. The Jaguars are in the same situation, they just have to play better or the end result will always be the same.