With no Rocket on its launchpad, NFL draft has trouble taking flight

April 22, 1991|By Gary Myers | Gary Myers,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- The Rocket took the money -- a guaranteed four-year, $18.2 million deal from the Canadian Football League -- and did what he does best. He ran. And who says he's not an impact player. The Rocket caused total chaos in a never-ending first round at yesterday's NFL draft.

When Raghib Ismail decided to accept Bruce McNall's offer to play for the Toronto Argonauts in the minor-league-like CFL rather than take Dallas' five-year, $10 million proposal, it threw an already unpredictable draft totally off.

And the Rocket was not forgotten yesterday. He went from pick No. 1 to pick No. 100 when Al Davis took him in the fourth round. The Raiders will retain his rights until the 1995 draft -- about eight months after his CFL contract expires. Davis took a similar gamble, and won, with Bo Jackson.

The Cowboys, behaving as if they didn't care about losing the electrifying Rocket, set off the longest first round (4:55) since 1967 by taking smallish University of Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland.

The draft began at 12:04 p.m. EDT and the first round mercifully ended at 4:59 p.m. -- about 90 minutes longer than usual -- when the New York Giants shook up the draftniks at the Marriott Marquis by taking Michigan fullback Jerrod Bunch. This did not make Maurice Carthon a happy guy.

Why were teams using their entire 15 minutes? It was a bad draft, and clubs were struggling to make decisions and trying to make trades. But even more clock-draining and more significant: In this era of summer-long rookie holdouts, signability ranks right behind playing ability. There's no question teams were on the phone with agents setting parameters for contracts before making their picks. At least three players signed before their name was called.

The Cowboys agreed with Maryland -- who was recruited to Miami by Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson -- on a five-year, $8 million deal, with a $3.6 million signing bonus, hours before they made him the first defensive lineman to go No. 1 since Bruce Smith in 1985. It was negotiated by Leigh Steinberg, who set an unofficial record by representing his third straight No. 1 pick -- "a three-peat," he said -- following Troy Aikman and Jeff George. Logic says the Cowboys would not have traded the 11th and 41st picks in the draft and three players to the New England Patriots if they knew they would get Maryland and not Ismail. However . . .

"We 100 percent traded up to get Russell Maryland," Johnson insisted. "We had every intention of doing what we had to do to get Russell."

The Cowboys claimed they negotiated with Ismail on Saturday just to see what it would take to sign him. "We knew two days ago Russell was our pick," Johnson said.

* Trends: The first six players drafted play defense -- the first time that's happened. Maryland was followed by UCLA safety Eric Turner, who surprisingly went second to Bill Belichick in Cleveland, the earliest a defensive back has gone since 1956. "I think he gives us a physical player in the middle of the field that can help us be a physical football team and win a lot of games," Belichick said. Notre Dame corner Todd Lyght, perhaps considered a tough sign, dropped down to No. 5 with the Los Angeles Rams, who had planned to take Maryland.

* Surprises: You can always count on the bizarre Cardinals. Phoenix reached and took Eric Swann with the sixth pick. Swann, a physical marvel at 6-4, 313, didn't play college ball because he couldn't score 700 on his SAT in eight tries, but did dominate with the minor-league Bay State Titans. "To go from the Bay State Titans to the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft -- it's beyond my wildest dreams," Swann said. GM Larry Wilson, who signed Swann yesterday, said, "We feel very comfortable this is a safe pick."

The Philadelphia Eagles traded their 1992 No. 1 to Green Bay to move from No. 19 to No. 8 in order to draft tackle Antone Davis. Big price. But big need. A protector for Randall Cunningham. "He's good enough to block those defensive linemen drafted ahead of him," Eagles personnel director Joe Wooley said.

* Big Winners: Atlanta pulled off another early shocker when it selected Nebraska corner Bruce Pickens over Lyght, and that came after they had traded picks in the third and 12th rounds to Miami for talented but mouthy corner Tim McKyer. Pickens, McKyer and Neon Deion Sanders give Jerry Glanville three excellent cover guys. And that's a necessity with so many teams playing four wideouts. Glanville then picked up receiver Mike Pritchard at No. 13 and QB Brett Favre at the top of the second round.

Virginia wide receiver Herman Moore was the first skill position player to go, at No. 10 to Detroit. It wasn't until the Seahawks at No. 16 that a quarterback, Seattle native Dan McGwire, the 6-8 mountain from San Diego State, was picked. He was followed by the controversial Todd Marinovich to the controversial Raiders at No. 24 and then Favre to the Falcons and Browning Nagle to the New York Jets in the early part of the second round.

Marinovich, maybe the most talented quarterback in the draft, had some baggage. He was arrested three months ago on a misdemeanor possession of cocaine charge. "I've put it behind me. I'm glad the Raiders feel the same way," Marinovich said.

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