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Jaguars low on money, talent

Cap woes put pressure on club to make this weekend's picks count.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


As if Jacksonville hasn't had enough problems, waiving players for salary-cap reasons and waving goodbye as they sign elsewhere, the Jaguars are in a most unfortunate (some might say unlucky) position in today's NFL draft.

Thirteenth.

By then, tackles Kenyatta Walker of Florida and Leonard Davis of Texas almost certainly will have been selected. Defensive ends Justin Smith of Missouri and Andre Carter of California, too.

So much for picking certified stars to fill the Jags' biggest needs.

On the heels of a 14-2 record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game in 1999, the Jaguars finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since their 1995 expansion season. Then Jacksonville ran headlong into the NFL salary cap. It restructured the contracts of several players to more cap-friendly terms, but still lost right tackles Leon Searcy (Ravens) and Todd Fordham (Broncos).

Also gone: guard Brenden Stai, who signed with Detroit, safety Mike Logan (Pittsburgh), center Quentin Neujahr (Denver), linebacker Brant Boyer (Cleveland), wide receiver Reggie Barlow (Oakland) and punter Bryan Barker (Washington. The Jags did, however, re-sign reserve center Jeff Smith for about $700,000, giving them a little more wiggle room in the draft.

Coach Tom Coughlin is close-mouthed when asked about which players -- or positions -- he might be most interested in on draft day. He did say this week that he has no intention of being burned again by the "character issue," as he was by receiver R. Jay Soward.

Soward, the first-round draft pick last year, was fined $50,000 for violating team rules, suspended for one game in December, then put on the reserve/non-football illness list. He reportedly will miss the first four games of 2001 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

"Obviously, when you have a problem, you get very conscious of that, so we're going to great depth to know everything we can about a player," Coughlin said. If the offensive line still is Coughlin's first priority, he could take Jeff Backus or Michigan teammate Maurice Williams, or hope one slips to the second round. Or he may move Zach Wiegert to right tackle, which means the Jags could be looking at Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson with the No. 13 pick -- if he's still around at No. 13, and if they still have it when their turn comes.

If Coughlin decides on defense first, Florida State defensive end Jamal Reynolds or Miami defensive tackle Damione Lewis might be available.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Jaguars draft

PICKS: 1st round-13th overall; 2-43; 3-73, 3-94*; 4 (traded to Chiefs); 5-142; 6 (traded to Bucs); 7-213, 7-233*, 7-235*, 7-241*.

PRINCIPAL NEEDS: Offensive line, defensive end, wide receiver, fullback/blocking back.

* compensatory selections

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