Colts bypass Williams for James

Indianapolis' selection jumbles draft

Saints pick Heisman winner

April 18, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Starting a domino effect that scrambled the NFL draft, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian made a stunning move yesterday when he apparently drafted the best running back he could sign.

After quarterbacks Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith were selected by Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, respectively, with the first three picks, Polian bypassed Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams to select University of Miami running back Edgerrin James with the fourth pick.

That meant Williams was on the board when Washington was on the clock with the fifth pick.

In a series of rapid-fire moves, this is what happened next: The New Orleans Saints traded all six of their picks this year and first- and third-round picks next year to the Redskins to trade up to the fifth spot and grab Williams.

The Redskins then moved back from the 12th spot to No. 7 by swapping first-round picks and added four picks in the deal with Chicago to move up and take Champ Bailey, the player they wanted to take at No. 5.

The Bears dropped down to the 12th spot, got the four extra picks and selected quarterback Cade McNown, the player they would have taken in the seventh spot.

The result is that Washington and Chicago traded down and got the player they wanted. It also means that Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, whose job status is uncertain because the team is for sale, has set the team up with three first-round picks next year.

None of this would have happened if Polian had picked Williams in the fourth slot and the Redskins had taken Bailey at No. 5.

So why did Polian pick James over Williams?

"He's the right fit with Peyton Manning," said Polian, who said James had an edge on Williams in his receiving skills.

But the suspicion is that signability was a key factor in Polian's judgment even though he said, "Signability had absolutely nothing to do with it."

Polian dumped Marshall Faulk last week because, among other things, Faulk wants a new contract with two years left on his old one and Polian figured he was going to be a holdout.

Williams may be tough to sign because he signed with the No Limit Sports firm that was owned by rapper Master P before he reportedly gave up control to Leland Hardy, who'll negotiate the contract.

Like Donald Trump, Hardy went to Penn's Wharton School and he's likely to be a tough negotiator.

Hardy appears to have grandiose ideas. He said at a news conference after the Saints took Williams that the Heisman Trophy winner was the best college player ever and he wants to make him "the most celebrated athlete in China."

Polian has a reputation for hating holdouts and even Akili Smith said the conventional wisdom is that Williams' agent was a problem for Polian.

"Some people think it's because of Master P being Ricky Williams' agent," Smith said.

Hardy, though, contended the negotiations won't be that tough and Williams said of the speculation he'll be tough to sign, "I'm not buying that at all."

James figures to be easier to sign because he doesn't even have an agent.

James has his brother, a pharmacist in medical school, and two attorneys as his advisers.

James also noted before the draft that his salary will be pretty much slotted by where he's picked.

It's true that rookie salaries are slotted by the league's complicated set of rookie salary cap rules. It usually results in players getting a slight raise over the player drafted in their slot the previous year, although that doesn't stop players from holding out.

For example, Couch agreed to a seven-year deal with a $12.25 million signing bonus, while Peyton Manning got an $11.6 million signing bonus as the top pick last year. Both contracts are voidable after three years.

James also seems to be a down-to-earth type. When he visited Philadelphia and was asked if he wanted to go to a restaurant, he said he'd be happy to have a Philly cheesesteak.

He said he was stunned in New York when four shrimp on a plate with butter and sauce cost $20.

"I'd rather just hit one of those little shops in the 'hood or somewhere. That's the best food whether you know it or not," he said.

But signing James won't make much difference if he doesn't perform as well as Williams. If Williams becomes the next Earl Campbell and James is an average back, Polian won't live down this deal for a long time.

Meanwhile, the Saints have to wonder if the eight picks they gave up for Williams were too much to move up seven slots.

Coach Mike Ditka boxed the Saints in when he said last month he'd give up his entire 1999 draft to move to get Williams along with some picks in 2000.

That's not as lucrative as it sounds because they didn't have a second-round pick this year and the picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds tend to be players who simply fill out training camp rosters.

But if the Saints had kept a couple of late-round picks, they would have had something for their scouts to do today. Instead, all they can do now is sign undrafted free agents.

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