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Monday, February 16, 2009
Cutting Taylor dents Jaguars' locker room

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Last week, the Jaguars cut Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence. The moves were a giant "our bad" from the organization, which invested significant money and hope in the free agents last year and wound up seeing their lack of production paired with their prices turn into a major issue in a locker room that went sour.

Monday, the Jaguars cut Fred Taylor in a move with a far different set of repercussions.

Fred Taylor By the Numbers
Fred Taylor is among the running backs with the highest yards per carry average (RBs with at least 10,000 rushing yards).
Running Back Avg.
Jim Brown 5.22
Barry Sanders 4.99
Tiki Barber 4.71
O.J. Simpson 4.67
Fred Taylor 4.64
Taylor is expensive and aging -- he would have cost $6 million against the cap in 2009 and he just turned 33, a huge number for a running back.

He has been an underappreciated player throughout his career. He got a reputation as injury prone in his first four seasons, but played in 100 of 112 regular-season games since. He's fifth all time among running backs with at least 10,000 yards with an average of 4.64 yards per carry.

According to ESPN.com researcher Andrea Williams, the next-best average among active backs belongs to LaDainian Tomlinson who's at 4.4. Taylor's been a quarter yard better per carry than Tomlinson. Bet you can win a bet armed with that next time you get together with the gang.

In Jacksonville, Taylor was a stand-up guy, super-accountable and unselfish -- willing to work as a duo with Maurice Jones-Drew after having had the lead role to himself. Those are qualities Jack Del Rio and new GM Gene Smith will be looking to infuse into a restructured locker room, and it has to be hard for them to let go of a guy whom they could point to as a model.

(Here's a link to a December entry on Taylor when he went on IR with a thumb injury.)

This season, I heard from many fans who wondered if Jones-Drew should take over as the starter. I didn't believe that would have solved anything at all. Taylor and Jones-Drew were good running backs working behind a line gone bad because of a slew of injuries, and the Jaguars possessed no receiving threat to make defenses back off.

  Taylor tops 11,000
  NFL.com Video
  Jaguars RB Fred Taylor topped the 11,000-yard mark in a Week 10 win over the Lions.
Their time together was mutually beneficial. I understand the attraction to the younger and more powerful Jones-Drew. But I think he may have benefited a bit more from Taylor than Taylor benefited from him -- those defenders getting bowled over by MJD were tired from chasing Taylor. In time, I suspect there will be little question that Taylor was the better and more feared back.

Is Taylor finished?

Old running backs aren't a popular commodity, and he's not the one-cut-and-go type that's becoming increasingly popular. He's not been a major pass-catcher in recent years as Jones-Drew has been on the field more in situations where the Jaguars would throw to a back.

But with his shiftiness, Taylor could fit someone's vision for a veteran piece of a backfield. If it's a low-risk, high-reward, incentive-laden contract, then here's an occasion where maybe the general running back age concerns can be put on hold long enough for Taylor to go through training camp and show what he's got left.

Here are quotes from the release the team sent out:

Taylor: "I want to thank Wayne Weaver and the coaches and the Jaguars organization for 11 great years. I feel healthy and I'm determined to continue my career. I understand the team's decision to move on, and I have nothing but warm feelings for the Jaguars organization."

Del Rio:  "I have nothing but love and respect for Fred Taylor. In the six years that we've been together he has been a pro, a leader and a great teammate. Out of respect for Fred we went to meet with him face-to-face this morning in south Florida. He made it clear that he wants to continue playing, and we are making this move now so that he can continue his career."

Smith: "This was a difficult decision to come to, but a decision that had to be made despite how we all feel about Fred. We all respect and appreciate what Fred has done, and we feel that he can still play in the NFL, but in our current situation we believe this is the right move at this time."

Owner Wayne Weaver: "Fred Taylor's place in Jaguars history has been clearly established. He is not only the standard-bearer for many team records, he is and has been a leader and one of the most important people in the 15-year history of this franchise. Fred came to us as a promising, talented and soft-spoken rookie from Florida, and today he can look back at his 11-year career with pride in all that he accomplished both on the field and off the field. I want to thank Fred for all that he has contributed to this franchise and this city. He is a true professional and a champion."