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Teams consider risks as draft picture comes into focus
Peter King--Monday Morning QB
Posted: Monday April 23, 2007 3:05AM; Updated: Monday April 23, 2007 9:23AM
Five days from now, you'll all get to open your holiday gifts. I agree with what ex-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi says in TimLayden's upcoming Sports Illustrated piece about draftmania. According to Accorsi, the draft is now the second-biggest day on the NFL calendar, next to Super Sunday. And from what I'm hearing on talk shows, what I read on draft sites, what I'm running into everywhere I go, Accorsi's right.
In many cities, the draft is bigger than the Super Bowl. Think about it: What engenders more hype, say, in Cleveland: a game your team's rarely in, or the prospect of taking a matinee-idol Notre Dame quarterback tutored by the same guy who made Tom Brady ... Tom Brady? Well, duhhhh.
With approximately 120 hours to go until Roger Goodell kicks off his first draft weekend, here are the seven things I know about the draft:
1. I know that every bit of intelligence I've gathered points toward Tampa Bay not trading up from No. 4 in the first round. There are so many logical reasons the Bucs are not going to make a move in the first round, that I would be shocked if they did. Not surprised. Shocked.
There have been approximately 6,023 rumors in the past month about Tampa Bay trading up to get the No. 2 pick from Detroit, because legend has it the Bucs are dying to pick Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Inside the Tampa Bay draft meetings last week, I bet Bucs officials were having a good chuckle over some of those rumors. The funniest: Tampa would deal defensive end Simeon Rice to Detroit. Never mind that Rice is 33, definitely on the downside entering his 12th NFL season, and coming off a year in which he had shoulder surgery and missed half the season. Great rumor. That's the kind of guy you want to build your franchise around for the future.
The biggest reason I don't think Tampa Bay will trade up is there's a 50 percent chance he'll still be there at No. 4. Everyone knows the Raiders will likely take a quarterback at No. 1, Detroit knows it has far bigger needs than Johnson at two and Cleveland is more likely to take a quarterback or running back at three. Could someone trade in front of Tampa Bay to take Johnson? Possibly, but highly unlikely; the price is just too high, not only in picks, but also in money, for which I'm about to explain.
Look at the top picks' salaries in last year's draft. I'm going to assume each player plays for his original team for four years, minimum, because very rarely does a player picked so high get cut before then. So I'm going to judge each player by the guaranteed money and salary he's due in the first four years of his contract.
• Mario Williams, first overall, Houston: Due $31.6 million, minimum, in the first four years.
• Reggie Bush, second overall, New Orleans: Due $33 million. His four-year figure is higher than Williams' because the Saints have to exercise an $8.5 million bonus after the third year to keep Bush.
• Vince Young, third overall, Tennessee: Due $28.4 million. Young's big bump, which could be up to $7.5 million, would come in year five of his six-year contract.
• D'Brickashaw Ferguson, fourth overall, New York Jets: Due $19.6 million. Don't think of this as a bad deal until you check out the No. 5 pick, A.J. Hawk. I think Ferguson got an excellent contract, because as long as he has staying power and continues to start for the Jets for four years, he's doing fine. His contract has a big bump, up to $7.5 million, due in year five, which Hawk's deal does not have.
• A.J. Hawk, fifth overall, Green Bay: Due $20.4 million.
That should tell you everything you need to know about what's driving decision-making at the top of the first round.
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Let's say you're slotted behind the Bucs and thinking about moving up. If Calvin Johnson gets picked at No. 2, do you think he's going to ask for less than Bush got? Last year, the difference between the second and fourth picks, over the first four years of their respective contracts, was $13.4 million. That's $3.35 million a year, for the difference of two lousy slots in the draft. Have you heard how many people in the league in recent months are screaming about the financial injustice at the top of the draft? Well, you now know what that means.
One other point to be made from the Bucs' standpoint. Along with wondering if Johnson might be there at No. 4 anyway, Tampa Bay has to think: It's insane to move up unless we think the player we're after is going to be the difference in making the Super Bowl in the next year or two.
That's the last reason they won't be moving up: In the most recent 23 drafts, nine receivers have been picked in the top five of the first round. Only one (IrvingFryar, New England, 1984) made an appreciable difference in helping his team get deep into the playoffs, and you've got to put an asterisk next to his name.
New England was 8-8 in 1983 and traded up with Cincinnati to get the top pick in 1984 to select Fryar. The Pats went on to play in the Super Bowl following the '85 season and had a short-lived tenure as a competent team. I would argue that it is virtually impossible for a wide receiver to turn around a team with many holes -- and Tampa Bay's geriatric defense looks like Swiss cheese right now.
Reminds me of last year before the draft when then-Houston GM Charley Casserly, trying to gauge interest with teams below him for the first overall pick, called New Orleans, Tennessee and the Jets. Casserly asked Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, "You interested in moving from four to one?''
"Sure,'' said Tannenbaum. "What else are you going to give me for it?''
On Saturday, Tampa Bay GM Bruce Allen took a break from draft meetings -- the Bucs spent the weekend getting their board straight on sixth- and seventh-round picks -- to hear my windy, much-too-long theory about how he wouldn't be trading up.
"What do you think?'' I said.
"It appears you've done a lot of work on this,'' Allen said, chuckling. "It appears you're not full of it, I'll say that. But in general, I don't think one draft has much to do with another. I don't think last year's draft, and the money that was spent, will determine what we do this year.''
We then sparred about the money being spent and other topics. "I've never thought spending money at the top of a draft was out of whack,'' he said. "Do you think Bill Polian and the Colts think they spent too much to get PeytonManning?''
No. But do you think the Chargers (Ryan Leaf) and Cards (Andre Wadsworth) like the value they got with picks two and three of that same 1998 draft?
"Will you tell me what you think the chances are of you moving up?'' I asked.
"No, I won't address that,'' he said.
Why would he? But Allen's too smart to spend the Glazer family's money foolishly. That's what he'd be doing to deal with the Lions this week.
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2. I know it makes more sense for the Bucs to move down to No. 6 than it does for them to do anything else. If I'm Allen, this is what I'm thinking: My defense is older than Lauren Bacall.I've got a superb defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, trying to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers; and there are two players in this draft who are perfect for the defense we play, Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. At least one of them will be available at No. 6, where Washington currently resides. So if the Redskins are hot-to-trot over Johnson, Allen would be smart to deal down two slots.
3. I know there's some intense anger over the leaking of marijuana admissions of top prospects last week. Pro Football Weekly reported that Johnson, Okoye and Adams admitted in interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine that they'd used marijuana.
At the combine, the NFL does boilerplate interviews, about 15 minutes in length, with every one of the 320 prospects on hand. The interviews are taped, filed and made available to any team that wants to watch them before the draft, in case they haven't had a chance to meet the players themselves. What angers many team officials is the league asks players to be open and honest in the interviews and tells the players they're for internal league use only. And then the info is splashed in headlines just before the draft, possibly endangering the high-draft status of the players who were honest during the interviews. If a player can't trust the information is going to be kept private, then why be honest?
"I'm incensed it was leaked,'' Indianapolis GM Bill Polian told me. "It's disgusting, it's unprofessional, it's amoral. It shouldn't happen. I am absolutely sickened by it. I can't tell you how sickened I am. This is confidential information and a violation of everything honorable that the league stands for.''
Polian, in fact, wants to see Commissioner Goodell investigate and discipline the leaker -- assuming, of course, he or she can be found. And judging by the negative firestorm around the league since this information was published, my guess is the source has gone so far underground the league will never find out who it was.
"I view the people who did this in the same vein as the people who violate the NFL's code of conduct,'' said Polian. "Because it's conduct that brings ill-repute on the league. It makes the NFL look terrible and dishonorable. I hope the commissioner suspends who did this, the same way he suspended those players [Pacman Jones, Chris Henry] last week.''
Few people in this league can rant like Polian. But I can tell you he's not alone on this one. There's going to be some pressure on Goodell to investigate this leak.
4. I know the Raiders, wisely, are zeroing in on JaMarcus Russell. Silence is golden, and no one around the Raiders is talking about their strategy. But let's try not to overthink this one. If the Raiders pass on the quarterback who makes scouts think of an Elway/Culpepper combo platter because of his arm strength and size, they'll be making a huge mistake. Don't discount the accuracy factor, either. Russell simply is a more on-target thrower, at all distances, than Brady Quinn.
5. I know the Lions will ignore the draft-trade value chart if they can find a suitor for their pick. I told a Cowboys official the other day: "That draft value chart you guys created is the dumbest thing I've ever seen, and it's got all the GMs in the league spooked.''
You probably have heard of this chart. A Cowboys front-office man named Mike McCoy invented it when Jimmy Johnson took over as coach in 1989. It assigns a point value to every slot in the draft. The first overall pick is worth 3,000 points, No. 10 is worth 1,300, No. 40 worth 500, No. 80 worth 190, etc.
The Lions, picking second, would be happy with a number of players, from what I hear, and are aggressively trying to trade down. I don't see it happening; but if Detroit does, I know Matt Millen won't be tied to getting the exact value the chart dictates. "The chart is a guideline,'' one draft-board setter told me the other day. "It shouldn't be gospel. When you trade, you have to look at the market and see what the market will bear.''
6. I know Eric Wright is the most seductive player in this draft. Wright is a corner from UNLV. He transferred from USC after being accused of rape (the charges were later dropped) and having 136 tabs of Ecstasy found in his on-campus dorm room. He played but 22 college games, starting 10. But then he went to the Combine, ran a 4.36 40-yard dash, and scouts started studying his six UNLV starts from 2006 like crazy. Interesting case.
USC doesn't hate the kid; in fact, one USC official told an NFL scout recently that Wright would have easily been the Trojans' best prospect in this draft had he not gotten into his trouble off the field. But he did, and now teams have to decide if he's worth the clean slate, particularly in light of the league's acute attention to player character. I'll say this: I wouldn't be surprised if he was drafted 15th or 50th.
"He's the best cover corner in the draft, though he takes a few too many chances,'' this scout told me. One problem: Scouts can't figure out why the Vegas coaches subbed for him on quite a few series last year. It wasn't an injury, I'm told.
7. I know the player who teams will be doing the most work on in the final pre-draft hours is Kent State cornerback Usama Young. It's a mediocre crop of corners this year, and interest was peaked when Young ran a 4.39 40 at his pro day. "We've got grades all over the board on him,'' one AFC scout told me. "He's probably more of a zone corner guy, and you don't see him play all that well on tape; but he's the kind of a guy a good defensive coach would think he could turn into a decent starter or a solid nickel. He'll probably be a first-day pick.''
Finally, one question for the NFL: Is the draft still working as the best tool to narrow the gap between good and mediocre teams in the sport? Seems to me the risk for being wrong in the top three is so great in salary cap and roster implications that we've totally gotten away from why the draft was set up, which was to make sure the teams on the bottom didn't stay there for long. I hope to address that issue in more depth after the draft.
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Quote of the Week I
"Our relationship wasn't great, because Coach Cowher was here before I got here and I was just a young kid. Coach Tomlin and I are rookies together, in a sense, so I think we will have a better relationship.''
-- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, talking about his relationship with his old coach, Bill Cowher, and his current one, Mike Tomlin.
What an odd, odd thing to say. May I remind you, young Ben, that Bill Cowher put you in the starting lineup early in your rookie year, kept you there when you struggled mightily in the playoffs and was a very big reason why you have that gigantic ring on your right hand. Sheesh.
Quote of the Week II
"I lied. What can I tell you? I'm not going to defend it. I didn't plan on lying, but I did.''
-- New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who said in spring training he would not pitch Mariano Rivera for more than one inning in a game this year. On Friday night, in game 15 of the Yankees' season, Torre inserted Rivera in the game with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and New York ahead 6-3. Rivera promptly allowed four runs to score in a 7-6 loss to Boston.
Quote of the Week III
"Now the bluffing game is on, and it could go all the way to the draft. We don't want to give up on getting a number one pick. It's very much on the front burner, and it hasn't subsided. The game is on now."
-- San Diego GM A.J. Smith, commenting to the San Diego Union Tribune on the possibility of trading restricted free-agent running back Michael Turner before the draft.
Smith says Buffalo, Tennessee and four teams he wouldn't name are interested in Turner. The Chargers have a choice. They retain the right to demand first- and third-round draft choices for Turner -- a deal even Smith knows is unrealistic for a backup running back -- or Smith can choose to make a lesser deal with an interested team before the draft.
Smart money around the NFL thinks Smith will take a high second-round pick for Turner ... if the Chargers have a player in mind at the top of the second round they like more than Turner. If they don't deal Turner now, and then don't re-sign him before January, they're likely to lose him in free agency next offseason.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
In 1955, the Steelers used the 281st pick to select Villanova tight end Mike Mayock.
In 1981, the Steelers used the 265th pick to select Boston College defensive back Mike Mayock.
Father and son.
Neither played a snap for the Steelers. The dad went into coaching. The son got cut by the Steelers, signed with the Giants, played for Ray Perkins and BillParcells (1982, 1983) and became a draft genius.
Stat of the Week
Two teams picking high in the first round, Tampa Bay and Washington, love Georgia Tech wideout Calvin Johnson. Detroit will have the chance to pick him, assuming, of course, the Raiders do the smart thing and take a quarterback and not Johnson at No. 1. This chart illustrates why the Redskins are such bad trading partners for the Lions -- unless, of course, Washington is willing to involve its 2008 first-round pick -- and why the Bucs, even though they won't do it, are such good partners. How Detroit, Tampa and Washington stack up in the first five rounds of the draft:
Round Detroit (overall choice) Tampa Bay (overall choice) Washington (overall choice)
1 2 4 6
2 34 35 --
3 66 64, 68 --
4 101 102 --
5 139, 145, 154 141 143
Picks in first 5 rounds 7 6 2
Note: Regarding the value of the fifth round, Baltimore safety Dawan Landry, San Diego running back Michael Turner and starting Super Bowl guard Jake Scott of Indianapolis were all picked between 139 and 154 in the last four NFL drafts.
I don't see Tampa Bay moving up. As I wrote above, I see a better chance that Washington would try to get to No. 4, if Johnson's on the board. The Redskins could strike it rich ... but only if they're willing to sell their souls, as they usually are at this time of year, in next year's draft for satisfaction now. I keep hearing they want Johnson, Okoye or to trade down for extra picks. But that's not a rarity these days. Everybody wants to trade down, and so few want to trade up, as I told you in MMQB two Mondays ago.
Aggravating/Enjoyable Travel Note of the Week
Regarding last week's note about the governor of New Jersey not wearing a seatbelt in the crash that nearly took his life on the Garden State Parkway: The trooper driving Jon Corzine from Atlantic City to his appointment in Princeton was traveling at 91 mph at the time of the crash. And the journalistic bible of our state, the Star Ledger, reports the trooper may have been on a cell phone or mobile device either at the time of the crash or shortly before, and that the trooper is in the middle of a love triangle with another cop and a woman who is divorcing the other cop. It can only happen in New Jersey, I believe. Isn't that what Tony Soprano says?
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I am guilty of making too little of Will Shields' retirement last week. The Chiefs will miss the player, and the league will miss the man. Kansas City has to be concerned about the lost maturity and experience on the offensive line.
2. I think the Trent Green trade has to get done. It makes way too much sense not to. I had a great idea proposed to me this week by an AFC general manager. For Green's sake -- and he is one of the best people in the NFL -- the Chiefs and Dolphins should agree to do something close to this: a fifth-round pick this year, with a conditional pick in next year's draft shaped by his performance in Miami. If Green starts 14 or more games with a quarterback rating of 90 or better, Kansas City gets a second-round pick. If he starts 12 or more games and his performance doesn't match that, Kansas City gets a fourth-round pick. The GM theorized, and I agree, that a quarterback who will start for your team for one season should be worth at least two second-day draft choices. And if his performance is better than that, the Chiefs deserve to be rewarded in next year's draft.
3. I think of all the excessive fines I've seen in my 23 years covering the NFL, $100,000 for Brian Urlacher wearing a hat with a non-NFL-sponsor logo at Super Bowl media day takes the cake. Absurd.
4. I think either I'm a 49-year-old square or the sports world has lost its collective mind. Last week, the EA Sports firm, which produces the Madden video game, announced that Vince Young's picture would be on the game's box. The day before the announcement, outlets reported breathlessly about what EA Sports would do. The Nashville City Paper wrote that "a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Young's gracing the cover of the game.''
And this stuff about a jinx for the last six players on the box getting injured the year they were featured on the box? The sport is football, people. Men get hurt, very often, playing football. And by the way, the only man I ever knew who seriously did not want to be on the cover of SI because of its supposed jinx was BillParcells, a card-carrying superstitious nut. Jinx, schminx.
5. I think Bill Polian's drafting acumen and TonyDungy's resourcefulness are going to be put to the test in the next few months. It looks like both starting Super Bowl corners will be gone. NickHarper's already flown the coop to Tennessee, and now Jason David has signed a surprisingly rich four-year, $16.5 million offer sheet with the Saints. I don't expect the cap-strapped Colts to match, and that would mean three of the back-seven defensive starters -- Harper, David and linebacker Cato June -- would have to be replaced this spring. Add the loss of defensive tackle Montae Reagor, a valuable man in the defensive-line rotation, and third safety Mike Doss, and you see how much work Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will have to do in Terre Haute this summer.
I don't think the Colts have lost too much ... yet. But it might be a matter of this: Have the Patriots, who were a Tom Brady last-minute pick from winning the AFC title at the RCA Dome three months ago, gained enough this offseason to pass Indy?
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6. I think this is assuming a lot, but if the lanky LSU thrower goes first overall, JaMarcus Russell will hold out from the Raiders for a long time. I don't see him in camp before the middle of August because Oakland will be so stressed out by the gigantic contracts of the second and third slots of this year's draft.
7. I think there might not be a dry eye in the house at Radio City Saturday when Frank Beamer, the Virginia Tech coach, steps onstage. New York's going to be very emotional for Beamer, and for Hokie Nation.
8. I think Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca, in the current NFL economic climate, deserves a raise from $3.4 million a year. And I think he'll get it from the Steelers, who do not have many alternatives to replace the best offense lineman on their team.
9. I think they don't make them anymore like Sid Brooks, the Chargers' longtime equipment manager. And they never will again. Brooks died last week when he fell and hit his head in a sauna near his Arizona home. Of all the people I've met in my time covering the NFL, none was as genuine, welcoming and unfailingly friendly -- expecting nothing in return -- as Brooks.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I think the saddest thing about the Virginia Tech tragedy is that we're starting to become hardened to these things. There's a fine line between moving on with life and realizing there's something seriously wrong in this country. The ease with which guns can be obtained, buying ammunition on eBay, ignoring the warning signs of a person gone mad ... there's a pretty long list of things to be concerned with after 33 people died in Virginia last week. I mean, what should be more safe on this planet than rolling out of bed on a bucolic campus in southwestern Virginia and walking into a German class? In all ways, we have to fight the madness. And that, by the way, does not include ignoring the madness. NBC and other news outlets had every right to show the insane ramblings of the lunatic who did this. It was too newsworthy to ignore.
b. After this week, not that it amounts to a hill of beans of a difference in this crazy world, I've decided not to mention BarryBonds' name in this column. Just my own little silent protest, because every fiber in me tells me he cheated to get the most hallowed record in sports.
c. Enlightening story about the enigmatic Manny Ramirez by Ben McGrath in this week's New Yorker. I'm still anti-Manny for how he dogged it so blatantly at the end of last season, basically sitting out a month for some reason known only to him. McGrath's conclusion, it seems to me, is that Manny's an oddball simpleton. Anyone who names his first two sons Manny Jr. and Manny Jr. has to be pretty odd.
d. It's amazing to see all of these kids Mary Beth King played sports with and against now entering the workaday world. Good luck in your job search out of Penn State, Kaitlyn Sweeney. Remember the classic Montclair-Cedar Grove softball games, with Mary Beth paired against Kaitlyn in the circle? (You probably don't. But I'll never forget them.) She'll graduate with a 3.8 GPA in public relations next month. I've read her stuff, and it should take her about 10 minutes to get a great gig somewhere. Same with Jess Sarfati, her catcher from Montclair High, finishing at Bates after an impactful college life this spring. Great kids. Not kids anymore, either.
e. Saw Blades of Glory. My guess is that I laughed uproariously 10 times, mostly at WillFerrell's understated lines. Like, after the two men skate in a competition in Denver and are getting cheered wildly, Ferrell semi-mutters, "Love you, Denver ... city by the bay.'' I think a movie is worth $9 if it makes you laugh hard 10 times.
f. I like the way Jason Whitlock thinks.
g. Coffeenerdness: Back to two lattes a day. Trying to wean myself off, and get back to one latte and one giant green tea. Stop me before I sin through the offseason. The bottom line: The triple grande hazelnut latte, done right, is an art form.
h. We'll catch up on The Sopranos either Tuesday morning or next week. Couldn't miss Matsuzaka on Sunday night.
i. Chances are you know someone with an autistic child. I know a few, and they're trying to raise money for autism research by asking people to watch a Five For Fighting music video online. If you click on this link and watch this video, you'll be generating 49 cents for autism research, so please do it if you have the time.