Monroe's Absence from Jaguars' Camp Smacks of Last Year's Struggles

Jack HarverCorrespondent IIAugust 3, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with with Jacksonville Jaguars #8 draft pick Eugene Monroe at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Today, for the second year in a row, the Jacksonville Jaguars will begin training camp without their first-round draft pick under contract.

The Jaguars aren't alone in that predicament. As of this morning, 10 of the draft's 32 first-rounders remain unsigned, including Bengals tackle Andre Smith.

As the sixth pick and a player at Eugene Monroe's position, Smith's contract might clarify the framework for Jacksonville's negotiations. At present, though, the Jaguars' front office must deal with a familiar obstacle from last year: heightened expectations in the wake of a blockbuster deal.

In 2008, the New York Jets were the culprit. The five-year, $50 million contract they offered Vernon Gholston—specifically, its $21 million in guarantees—represented a 20 percent increase over what LaRon Landry, the 2007 draft's sixth pick, had signed.

After Gholston's signing, Derrick Harvey's representation began to see bigger dollar signs than they'd hoped for. His subsequent 33-day holdout, the longest in Jacksonville's history, resulted in a deal with $17.5 million guaranteed—a mere 11 percent raise over 2007 eighth pick Jamaal Anderson for which the Jaguars fought tooth and nail.

This year, Jacksonville's front office might be in for a similar fight. On July 30, Oakland signed seventh overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey to a five-year contract with $23.5 million in guarantees.  Like Gholston, Heyward-Bey received a 20 percent increase over the money given to his draft position last year.

The ceiling for Monroe's contract, then, is the same 20 percent raise that Harvey spent most of the 2008 preseason expecting.

Unfortunately for him, the Jaguars are better-equipped to play hardball this year.

When Jacksonville traded up to draft Harvey, he was expected to contribute from day one. The Jaguars believed a first-rate pass rusher was the one ingredient missing from a Super Bowl mix on their depth chart, and no one on their depth chart fit that bill.

Even with that leverage and a lengthy holdout, Harvey couldn't squeeze much out of owner Wayne Weaver's wallet.

Monroe, like Harvey, was drafted with the potential to start right away. He impressed coaches and onlookers at Jacksonville's organized team activities in May, and is considered the odds-on favorite to win the starting job at left tackle.

But Tra Thomas, a 12-year NFL veteran competing with Monroe for that spot, looms large. The Jaguars signed Thomas as a free agent before the draft to ensure that tackle wouldn't be a weak spot on their roster. With Eben Britton, their second-round pick, under contract as of Sunday, it's a position of strength.

Three-deep with potential starters at tackle, the Jaguars seem ready to wait for Monroe to accept their contract terms.

"We're going to be fair [in negotiations]," coach Jack Del Rio told editor Vic Ketchman. "But we're not going to do something ridiculous."

If Monroe's representation is determined to hold out for that 20 percent increase on Harvey's guaranteed money, this process could take a while. Britton, who has been in contact with Monroe, said that his teammate wants to sign and report to camp "as soon as possible."

The Jaguars aren't without incentive for getting their first-round pick into camp quickly. In an offseason where players are buying into a new strength and conditioning program, growing beards to promote team unity, and approaching the task of rebuilding with optimism, Monroe's holdout sticks out as a negative vibe.

Contract negotiations do seem to hit spontaneous "breakthroughs" this time of year, once a player starts missing practices. There's hope that this hiccup in Jacksonville's offseason will resolve itself that way, with an eye toward getting to work.

"It's going to get handled," David Garrard told AP writer Mark Long. "He's not going to hold out for very long, hopefully. I know he wants to play this year, and the longer guys hold out, the less likely it is for you to get on the field."

The longer Monroe goes unsigned, though, the more fans and observers might start to wonder: new look, new talk, same old Jaguars?