Jaguars owner Weaver vows to rebuild team through draft, not free agency

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Don't expect the Jaguars to spend another $24 million in free agency.

Not this year. Not down the road. Maybe not ever again.

Team owner Wayne Weaver, still reeling from giving wide receiver Jerry Porter and cornerback Drayton Florence huge free-agent contracts last year, vowed Wednesday to fill most of the franchise's holes through the NFL draft. In a wide-ranging, 40-minute interview on his 74th birthday, Weaver also said his small-market team was positioned to handle tough economic times and capable of turning things around after finishing 5-11 and missing the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine years.

Even though the Jaguars don't have a stadium naming-rights deal and have struggled to sell season tickets in recent years, Weaver said they were in position to spend money. They might even be in better shape than some franchises that have huge debt from new stadiums and face mounting losses from plummeting investments.

"Anyone that thinks they're not immune to this economic condition is brain dead," he said. "We're going into a very, very difficult period that I haven't experienced in my business career, and I've been around for 50 some-odd years. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. The consumer's hurting. We've got to do a lot of things better to make sure we position our organizations to be successful."

Weaver also reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the team in Jacksonville.

"At some point, do I have to have an exit strategy? Absolutely," he said. "But I'm a healthy 74, and I expect to be around here for a number of years yet, and the team is not for sale."

The team is in rebuilding mode, especially given the number of holes Weaver said needed to be filled. He hopes to revamp the offensive line, add a big defensive lineman to play alongside two-time Pro Bowl tackle John Henderson, bolster the receiving corps and get better play from the secondary.

Weaver plans to do it without spending big in free agency.

"If you look at our batting average over the years in free agency, I would say that would tell you how I feel about that," Weaver said. "We don't have a stellar batting record there. We've always espoused from the earlier days in this franchise that we would build this team through the draft. Sometimes you step back and say, like last season, 'We're very close. Maybe we can add a player or two that's going to give us the chemistry to get to that next level.' And our history has been that more times than not, that doesn't work."

It certainly backfired last season.

Porter signed a six-year, $30 million contract that included $10 million guaranteed. He started the season on the physically unable to perform list following hamstring surgery and ended it on injured reserve (groin). In between, he caught 11 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown, and teammates eventually singled him out as a main culprit for their chemistry issues.

Florence signed a six-year, $36 million deal with $13 million guaranteed and couldn't win a starting job. He spent most of the season playing in nickel and dime situations, and giving that much money to a backup raised eyebrows around the locker room.

"Obviously, I endorsed them or we wouldn't have done them, so I'm not going to go back and second guess what was done," said Weaver, whose other free-agent busts include defensive end Bryce Paup (1998), linebacker Hardy Nickerson (2000) and defensive end Hugh Douglas (2003). "We just have to learn from our mistakes and move on."

Porter and Florence remain on the Jaguars' roster, and coach Jack Del Rio has given no indication whether they will be around next season. Weaver, though, said it was clear the team needed to correct its chemistry problems, even if it means taking a salary-cap hit.

"You do that by getting rid of some people and moving on with some people," he said. "If we have something we know that's not working, that's creating a problem, there's no hesitation to move on -- no matter what the financial implications are."

Weaver gave Del Rio and new general manager Gene Smith a vote of confidence, said quarterback David Garrard needed to play better and planned to do everything he could to lock up running back Maurice Jones-Drew for the foreseeable future.

Former personnel chief James "Shack" Harris resigned last month, taking the fall for the free-agent flops and for several failed first-round draft picks.

"It's safe to say I'm disappointed in some of our drafts, but we learn and move on," Weaver said.

Weaver expects better results with Smith calling the shots. Smith has been with the team since its inception, working his way up from a scout and, like Weaver, would prefer to build the team through the draft.

The Jaguars likely will try to trade down from the No. 8 spot in April's draft and stockpile picks and revamp the roster with less expensive talent.

"You can't compete in this league unless you're able to spend for players," Weaver said. "That doesn't mean that you have to make crazy, knee-jerk decisions. I think you've seen in the past when we've signed players, we've been able to make reasonable decisions. Now, all those decisions haven't always turned out well. We haven't gone out and just opened the company treasure and said, 'Take a handful.'"

Last spring, the Jaguars gave Garrard the richest contract in franchise history, a six-year, $60 million extension that included $18 million guaranteed. Jones-Drew could be next.

"He's the kind of guy that you want to build your franchise around," Weaver said. "He's an unselfish player that gives you 110 percent every play."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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