Draft intrigue centers on Miami's James

In wake of Faulk trade, Pats target Hurricanes RB

April 17, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- In the aftermath of the Marshall Faulk deal, the New England Patriots were continuing their pursuit of running back Edgerrin James yesterday on the eve of the NFL draft.

With commissioner Paul Tagliabue set to read Tim Couch's name as the first player selected by the Cleveland Browns shortly after noon today, the focus of the draft has shifted to James.

James, the Miami running back who was rated second to Ricky Williams among running backs, had been expected to go to the St. Louis Rams with the sixth pick.

That all changed on Thursday when the Rams traded second- and fifth-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts for Faulk.

The Patriots, who have the 20th and 28th picks in the first round and two third-round picks, want James to replace Robert Edwards, whose career may have ended with a freak leg injury suffered in a flag football game.

But the Patriots appeared to be striking out yesterday. They offered the Washington Redskins their two firsts and two thirds if the Redskins would toss a second into the deal. The Redskins said no and countered by asking for New England's first-round pick next year in addition to the two first-rounders this year. The Patriots rejected that idea.

That indicates the Redskins plan to stay in the No. 5 position and draft cornerback Champ Bailey, leaving James' fate uncertain.

The Patriots have talked to the Rams, but St. Louis doesn't appear to be inclined to trade and apparently plans on taking wide receiver Torry Holt over cornerback Chris McAlister.

McAlister's fate was clouded when ESPN reported yesterday that he will have to serve 10 days in jail for violating probation on a petty theft charge. It remains to be seen if that will affect his draft status.

Like the Rams, the Bears, who own the seventh spot, don't want to trade down to the 20th spot because they want to select quarterback Cade McNown. They like him enough to take him at No. 7. The Patriots reportedly offered the Bears their two firsts and wide receiver Terry Glenn, but the Bears rejected it.

This means that James could be on the board when Arizona makes the eighth selection, and the Cardinals will have to decide whether to listen to the Patriots or take James or another top player.

If James falls to No. 8, the Cardinals could get deluged with offers from several teams because he's rated too high on most draft boards to get past the eighth spot.

Meanwhile, Bill Polian, the Indianapolis general manager who started the domino effect by trading Faulk, justified the deal yesterday by saying Faulk would likely have been a holdout.

Polian also is taking the public position that the Faulk trade didn't necessarily clear the decks to draft Williams. "I don't think we're taking a risk and I don't know where Williams enters the equation," he said.

Polian apparently isn't convinced that quarterbacks Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith will be selected in the first three spots by Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, respectively.

Polian insisted that what Philadelphia does with the second pick will determine the course of the draft, a sign that he's wondering if the Eagles will cave in to public pressure from the fans and politicians to take Williams.

Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell has advised fans to call the Eagles office to suggest they draft Williams. A resolution was even voted on in the Philadelphia City Council that the Eagles should draft Williams, but it was defeated. At the Phillies' home opener Monday, the fans in the upper deck had a Williams sign. Coach Andy Reid was even booed at a Flyers game because he apparently plans to take McNabb.

Reid, though, isn't bothered by the controversy.

"They [fans] will understand within time that the decision we make is the right one. But until that player performs on Sunday, they probably will question that. We will make the right decision," Reid said.

Reid, though, wouldn't rule out trading the pick.

Numerous teams are entertaining offers in the last hours before the draft. However, entertaining them and taking them are two different things.

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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