Players' tactics may mean March draft

On the NFL

April 21, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The scouts are having problems staying one step ahead of the players in the evaluation game.

As the players jockey for position in the draft, they've come up with a new tactic to improve their ratings.

They put on a few pounds before the scouting combine in Indianapolis in early February to help them in the weightlifting drills.

They then refuse to run at the combine, forcing the scouts to come to their college campuses to time them in mid-March on their favorite track. This gives them time to lose that extra weight and run a better time on a faster track.

The scouts are blaming the agents for advising them to refuse to run at the combine -- 68 of the 350 players skipped the timing drills this year -- but the agents can't be blamed for helping their players get every advantage.

That's why a lot of scouts hope this is the last draft in late April. They're lobbying to move it up to early March. That would force the players to do all the drills at the combine and save the teams the money they spend chasing the players around the country.

George Young, general manager of the New York Giants and co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, said there is a lot of support for the proposal.

"The initial reaction of a lot of people is that they'd like to see it moved up," Young said.

Young said the owners will discuss at it at their May meeting, but it's still not a sure thing it'll be switched. He hasn't taken a position on it.

"The implementation is the problem," he said. "We'll try to have it discussed at length to see if it's worthwhile."

One problem is that it won't give the scouts much time to evaluate the juniors.

But there's no proof the extra time helps the evaluations. After all, drafting is an inexact science no matter how much time is spent on it.

The earlier draft also might force teams to put more emphasis on the way the players play in the fall instead of how they perform in drills in the spring.

"I'm one who feels the final exam has already taken place during the football season," Young said.

How times have changed

It was kind of fitting that on the same week a Baltimore team was getting ready for the draft, John Elway signed a five-year, $29.5 million deal with a $6 million signing bonus that made him the league's highest-paid player -- until Dan Marino signs a new deal.

Elway was the Colts' first-round pick (and top pick overall) in 1983, the last time Baltimore had a team in the NFL. Elway bluffed Colts owner Bob Irsay into trading him to the Denver Broncos by saying he wouldn't play in Baltimore. Elway's first deal was five years for $5 million, which is less than his signing bonus in this deal. It shows how salaries have skyrocketed.

Meanwhile, Baltimore fans can only wonder might have been if the Colts had kept Elway had signed him.

Bob Leffler, who was then the Colts' marketing director and now heads the ad agency that does business with the Ravens, said he thinks Elway could have sold an extra 5,000 season tickets in Baltimore for the 1983 season. He might have renewed the franchise.

Incidentally, Leffler had a Baltimore kid with big hair and bold opinions analyzing the draft at the team's draft party at the Convention Center that year.

He was Mel Kiper Jr., long before ESPN turned him into a household name.

Unemployed

When the St. Louis Rams signed Steve Walsh to compete with Mark Rypien for the starting quarterback job, it left Randall Cunningham without a team with training camp less than three months away.

Eagles coach Ray Rhodes, who dumped Cunningham at the end of last season, said he still thinks Cunningham will find a job.

"It might be a monetary situation or it might be a situation where teams are looking for younger players. It could be a combination of a lot of things," Rhodes said. "But I feel confident he'll hook up with a team."

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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