Dealing No. 5 pick makes sense in draft with 4 gems

March 24, 2000|By John Eisenberg

If you just don't have enough time to keep up with the latest on the Keyshawn Johnson saga -- and who does? -- we're somewhere in between the New York Jets sending a message to their top receiver by shopping him, and Johnson sending a message back by approving of being shopped. Or something like that.

How it all will shake out is anyone's guess, especially since translating Latin into Greek is easier than deciphering Bill Parcells' inscrutable methods and motivations, and Parcells, as the boss of the Jets, is definitely running this show.

The Ravens would gladly take Johnson in exchange for the No. 5 pick in the draft, but this is the NFL, where nothing is simple, so there are complications. The Jets have spoken to other teams and entertained other offers, and they might not even deal Johnson in the end because he happens to be their best player and, as a general rule, you don't trade your best player at age 27, in the prime of his career.

But no matter what happens, the whole exercise has brought into sharp focus a fundamental dilemma the Ravens are facing with the draft just a few weeks away now:

Do they keep or deal the No. 5 pick in the first round?

Here's a vote for dealing it, even if Johnson ultimately is traded elsewhere or remains a Jet.

As much as the Ravens could use the No. 5 pick to take a quality player and fill a hole at running back or wide receiver, there's a problem: Most scouts agree there are only four top-quality prospects in the 2000 class -- receiver Peter Warrick, linebacker LaVar Arrington, defensive end Courtney Brown and offensive tackle Chris Samuels.

Those are this year's versions of Peter Boulware or Jonathan Ogden, superior players who could make a difference for a decade.

After those four comes the Ravens, picking at No. 5 from a second-tier group of about 10 players who are pretty much interchangeable and will get selected based on teams' needs more than the order of their ability.

In other words, it's a real possibility the Ravens would end up with a player who, though talented, doesn't deserve to go quite as high as No. 5, and more importantly, doesn't deserve the big contract he'd command.

That's dangerous stuff in the salary cap era; investing too much money and too many years in the wrong young player can be a mistake that resonates for years.

In this case, it's probably wiser for the Ravens to deal the No. 5 pick for an established player or a future pick, move down a few slots and draft closer to the middle of the first round. With the way the 2000 class is constructed, the Ravens could do that, add an asset and still end up getting the player they wanted at No. 5. At a lower price, of course.

Now, this is advised with the understanding that things tend to get nutty near the draft, and you never know what might happen. Warrick's stock seems to be falling ever so slightly, for instance, after he turned in slower-than- expected 40-yard dash times in a workout. If he were to fall to the Ravens, he would be well worth the high pick and accompanying investment.

The chances of him slipping that far are small, though. The scenario is based on the Cincinnati Bengals, who pick fourth, not really needing Warrick because they already have Carl Pickens catching passes. But in the end, the Bengals probably still would either draft Warrick and trade him (or trade Pickens), or deal the No. 4 pick to a team that wants Warrick.

Basically, it's a good bet that the four blue-chippers will be gone after the first four picks, leaving the Ravens in a quandary at No. 5.

At this point, for as much as they supposedly have done to upgrade their offense, they still have no running back (other than Priest Holmes), no wide receiver (with Qadry Ismail looking around), an up-and-down starting quarterback (Tony Banks) and a 31-year-old tight end coming off a major shoulder injury (Shannon Sharpe).

It's an offense that has possibilities, but it still needs work.

The No. 5 pick in the draft obviously is a place to get some of that work done. The Ravens could take the first running back in the draft. Or the first receiver after Warrick. They'll all be there. No gamble involved.

But if they aren't going to get a top, top player, it makes more sense to resist that temptation and take the sure thing, either adding an established name or re-investing in the future with another high pick.

And if Keyshawn Johnson actually is still out there and available in a deal on draft day, jump on him before the Jets change their mind.

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