Answers slow in coming on wisdom of draft moves

On The NFL

March 05, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers have added a lot of intrigue to a college draft that was supposed to include only three blue-chip players.

The decisions made by the three teams are likely to be debated for a long time, and it may be years before it's clear which teams made the right moves.

When the college season ended, Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick and Penn State defensive standouts LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown were expected to be the top three picks.

Arrington still figures to go in the second slot to Washington, which needs a linebacker.

But it's uncertain whether Warrick or Brown will be the top pick.

After the scouting combine, some scouts are saying Brown is the best player and that the Browns should take him first and grab a receiver later. Cleveland seems torn.

Meanwhile, Washington, which traded up to get the third pick from San Francisco, seems ready to take Arrington and Brown with the second and third picks if Cleveland takes Warrick.

But the Redskins, who need an offensive tackle, have added a fourth name to the mix -- Alabama tackle Chris Samuels. If they take him with the third pick, Brown could fall to Cincinnati with the fourth choice.

There's also much debate about whether the Redskins made the right decision in giving up four picks to San Francisco -- including two in the first round -- to get the third pick.

Those two picks will cost them about $20 million in signing bonuses for two players who've yet to play a down in the NFL.

There are never any guarantees in the draft. The Colts had the top two picks in 1992 and took Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt, and neither made a major impact.

The stakes are even higher in the salary cap era. The Redskins will have a huge chunk of salary cap money tied up in those two high picks, so they'll pay a big price if they don't make it big. There's also the chance both players will hold out and their rookie years will be a wash.

The 49ers' decision to trade down wasn't surprising because they need to rebuild, but there were raised eyebrows when they made the move so quickly without persuading the Redskins to give up their third-round pick instead of their fifth to go with the fourth.

The 49ers might have gotten a higher price if they would have played poker a bit longer. But the 49ers didn't want to risk getting even less for the third pick.

So who will be the winners and losers in all the maneuvering? Check back in about three years for the answers.

Second guessing

Denver owner Pat Bowlen wasn't impressed by the decisions of the Redskins and Ravens to pay big money for veterans Bruce Smith and Shannon Sharpe.

Bowlen may not be an objective observer because he lost Sharpe to the Ravens, but he said, "There are lots of organizations out there that think with the addition of a guy here and a guy there, they're going to be the next Super Bowl participants."

He added, "So they'll go after a guy like Shannon or Bruce Smith who have had great years somewhere else. Whether he's going to be as good in their system in their city is questionble in my mind.

"You tend to be more optimistic than you should be about a player. But there are so many circumstances surrounding the team and the player and those kinds of things that it doesn't often work out.

"But the prices that are being paid this year for players reflect the attitude of teams that have not been playoff-caliber teams that they can buy into the playoffs or buy into championships," he said.

Bowlen overlooks that the Broncos spent $5.7 million in signing bonuses to sign defensive and Kavika Pittman and Lester Archambeau and another $2.8 million for safety Billy Jenkins after making a trade for him.

More money

It's strange to hear an owner say he's willing to give NFL players more money.

But that is what Steelers owner Dan Rooney is saying.

He's willing to boost the salary cap from its current limit of 64 percent of designated gross revenues to something "like 70 percent," although the exact figure would have to be negotiated with the union.

In return, Rooney would want to put more restrictions on free agency and distribute the money in a more equitable way.

Rooney worries that the constant movement of players is hurting the game.

"It's bad for the fans," he said.

He also doesn't like the fact that the top 10 players on each team usually get half the money.

Achieving these goals won't be easy. He not only has to persuade union head Gene Upshaw to go along with more free-agency restrictions, but also has to persuade the other owners to agree to raise the cap.

Rooney has brought up the subject with Upshaw, but they haven't gotten down to serious negotiations. But the union is likely to reject any suggestion of limiting player movement.

"I don't think the players would be enthusiastic about more restrictions [on free agency]," said Doug Allen, Upshaw's top lieutenant.

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