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Making sense of the 2008 draft
A combo platter of a column, with How I Spent My Weekend in Atlanta, followed by what I loved, and what I scratched my head about after the 2008 draft.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It was never excruciatingly close, but 20 minutes before the draft, St. Louis Rams decision-makers were sequestered in an office and seriously considering two trades down from No. 2, one of which would have changed the headlines in your Sunday newspapers.
Matt Ryan to Baltimore.
Glenn Dorsey to Atlanta.
Chris Long -- don't gasp so loud, Howie -- to the Raiders.
Chad Henne to Atlanta, somewhere in the middle of the first round as the Falcons' quarterback of the future, not Miami's.
Jacksonville NOT trading up for Derrick Harvey.
Vernon Gholston to the Chiefs.
Joe Flacco somewhere in the second round.
"Can you imagine,'' I said to Ryan late Saturday night, "you in Baltimore, and Henne and Glenn Dorsey here in Atlanta?''
"Really?'' he said. "Was it close?''
Again, not so close that the three teams involved in the discussions are regretting it this morning. But in re-creating the events of the two hours before the draft, I learned that the Rams had some lines in the water that would have surprised us all.
Shortly after noon, Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome offered St. Louis first-, second- and fourth-round picks this year and a third-rounder in 2009 for the Rams' first-round pick. In essence, to move up six spots in the first round, Baltimore was offering the 38th and 106th pick this year and, say, around the 80th pick next year. Tempting, St. Louis thought. So the Rams called Atlanta, at number three, asking for a second-round pick this year to swap spots. If St. Louis traded with Atlanta, the Rams would pick up a free first-day pick and still get Chris Long. If the Rams traded with Baltimore, they'd lose out on Long, the only legit pass-rusher they liked in this draft.
Though the Rams never asked, Baltimore was unwilling to sweeten the pot. I'm told a sweetener like next year's first-round pick instead of the third- would have gotten the deal done for St. Louis. Two reasons the Ravens didn't ratchet up the offer one last time. One: New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron loves Ryan, but he also likes Flacco and Henne, and he thinks Flacco might have the traits and the arm to be special. Two: New coach John Harbaugh wanted picks. He wanted an influx of talent for this first-year coaching staff to coach, and if they had to spend a mint to get Ryan, three or four of those bright prospects -- like second-round back Ray Rice -- would never have been Ravens today.
The Rams called the Ravens back and turned down the offer about five minutes before the draft began. "It was a really hard decision,'' said one of the Ram execs in the room. "But it was more about our belief in Chris Long and the fact that we thought he was the perfect pick for us more so than anything else. Anybody else but Chris Long, and we'd probably have done it. But when we walked out of the room and made the phone call to Baltimore, we were in 100 percent agreement that it was the right decision.''
The Falcons turned down the swap offer shortly before that. I write about that in SI this week, so I'll not spill everything about why. But I'll say that the Falcons were comfortable enough with their feelings for Henne that they figured if they lost Ryan, Dorsey and Henne would be a suitable draft-day bonanza.
You could, of course, go on with this what-if stuff forever. But I thought you'd like to know what was really going on in the minutes before the draft in three draft rooms. Stuff like this isn't rare; sometimes deals are discussed and come close, like this one. Sometimes it's excruciating to make the call. This was just difficult for the Rams, not a killer.
Obviously, Kansas City had the best draft day in the league, and it's a little unfair to compare a team with 12 picks to teams with six or seven. The Chiefs had so many picks that they took two tight ends -- even with Tony Gonzalez on the roster. My favorite pick for the Chiefs was a Day Two job. Jamaal Charles, of Texas, is the kind of fleet back who's hard to tackle and who's slithery. KC got him at 73.
Now, on with the show, with five teams I liked last weekend, and three I didn't.
The five teams I liked
1. Miami. It started before the draft. In 2006 tight end Anthony Fasano was the 53rd player picked in the draft, by Dallas. In 2007 linebacker Akin Ayodele started 14 games for Dallas. The Dolphins acquired those two players for the 100th pick in the 2008 draft, their fourth-rounder. Are either of those guys great players? No. But Bill Parcells always believes in improving every spot on the roster, 1 through 53, and this trade was part of that.
Miami drafted a franchise tackle who could be in the lineup for the next 10 years, and it might have gotten its quarterback of the future with an absolute steal in Chad Henne at 57 -- using the pick acquired in the Chris Chambers trade to San Diego last season. The roster churns. Lucky for the Dolphins no one came up with a great offer for Jason Taylor.
2. Philadelphia. The Eagles always ask for too much in trade. Always. They couldn't get rid of Lito Sheppard last weekend, but that was primarily because Sheppard, who gets hurt too much, wants a new contract even though he has four years left on his current one. But the Eagles were able to auction off the 19th pick in the draft for a mind-boggling sum, which they got from Carolina -- second- and fourth-round picks this year and the Panthers' first-round pick next year.
On the draft-trade chart, the 19th-overall pick is worth 875 points. If you assign Carolina an average 2008 season and give them the 16th pick in the first round next year, this trade will be worth 1,546 points on the trade chart -- almost double what the 19th pick is worth. In terms of real additions this year, DeSean Jackson as a receiver/returner with the 49th pick is excellent value.