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Leftwich signs, reports to Jaguars

Posted: Wednesday August 13, 2003 1:52 PM
Updated: Wednesday August 13, 2003 8:56 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Jacksonville Jaguars treated quarterback Byron Leftwich just like any rookie Wednesday: They taped him to the goalpost after practice.

"I knew it was coming," he said. "I welcomed it, because it showed that it wasn't anything personal."

Of course, Leftwich isn't just another rookie. He's the future of the Jaguars, and he wanted to be paid like it. After a 19-day holdout, the first-round draft pick and the team agreed to a contract that will pay him between $23 million and $30 million over five years. It's actually a seven-year deal, but the final two seasons will be voided if he meets certain performance incentives.

Yes, there were some feathers ruffled. Coach Jack Del Rio grew increasingly terse with his answers about the holdout as it progressed. Management -- scrutinized for making the pick when there were more glaring needs -- teetered on the verge of looking ridiculous. Fans remembered a promise Leftwich made when he was picked seventh in the draft in April; he said he would be at camp on time.

But now, it's over.

"It doesn't really matter now," Leftwich said. "If there's something I could take back, it's those statements I made back in April. But I didn't know the process would be that hard."

He'll receive $11.4 million in up-front money. The big sticking point on the contract was the voidable years and incentive money to be paid toward the end of the deal. Whether Leftwich's agent, Tom Condon, did him any favors by holding him out of two-thirds of camp has yet to be seen. There is no doubt, however, that Leftwich missed valuable learning time.

Another Condon client, Cade McNown, was the 12th overall pick by the Bears in 1999. Like Leftwich, he promised he'd be at camp on time. But he held out for 10 days over many of the same issues as Leftwich, and the holdout was part of the reason he never jelled with his team or figured out the offense.

"Now that he's here, we'll look at it and decide what the best plan is," Del Rio said of Leftwich.

The first day was a whirlwind. Leftwich didn't sign the contract until 1:30 a.m. He made it to the team hotel around 3, and was up and preparing for meetings by 6.

Leftwich spent the holdout going between his new home in Jacksonville and a workout facility in Bradenton. He tried to stay sharp, but realized there was no substitute for working out with NFL players. "It's not like you're throwing to Jimmy" Smith down there, he said.

One advantage is that he learned the whole playbook during minicamps over the spring.

"Now, it's just a matter of going out there and going through the situations," Leftwich said.

When he was drafted and the Jaguars refused to extend the contract of Mark Brunell -- essentially making him a lame duck this year -- speculation was that Leftwich might actually push Brunell for playing time this season. Missing much of camp has dimmed those prospects, although Leftwich -- like any player -- isn't conceding much.

"You don't come to this league and want to be a backup," he said. "What I can do as a player is to get better and better every day."

He spoke with several veterans during the holdout and said they all told him to hang in there.

"They said it was something you will go through one time in your career," he said. "I just hope this is the first and last. It's great that it's all over with. Those guys showed me great support, and they welcomed me with open arms."

Not to mention several rolls of tape.

 
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