Landing Suggs, Boller is win-win

Nfl Draft

April 27, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

WHEN A TEAM walks away from the first day of the NFL draft with college football's top pass rusher and the No. 3 quarterback, it's a great day.

Actually, correct that. It's an incredible day.

The Ravens' deal for franchise quarterback Byron Leftwich of Marshall University fell through yesterday, and the team mortgaged part of its future by trading next year's No. 1 draft pick, but it came away with Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs and California quarterback Kyle Boller.

Say it again, please?

Suggs and Boller.

What's that you say?

You wouldn't have given up this year's second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and next year's No. 1 for Boller?

Oh, please.

It was a smart move by the Ravens. Creative. Gutsy. It's a stretch for team officials to say they had Boller rated among the top 10 players, but they got a quarterback who would be ranked among the top five overall if he were eligible for the draft next season.

If the Ravens didn't draft a quarterback, they would have had to sign a veteran, possibly Mark Brunell, whom Jacksonville has been trying to trade during the past week. Brunell would have lasted one or two seasons, just like Scott Mitchell, Trent Dilfer, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac and Jeff Blake.

And where would that have left the Ravens but back in the draft again next season searching for a quarterback among a second-rate bunch. The list of top five quarterback prospects for next season includes Mississippi's Eli Manning, Louisiana Tech's Luke McCown, Tennessee's Casey Clausen, Tulane's J.P. Losman and Washington's Cody Pickett.

Except for Manning, who might be No. 1 overall, good luck with the rest of that bunch.

Maybe Boller isn't Leftwich, but he was rated fairly high on most teams' boards, about where the Ravens drafted him at No. 19 overall. Next year, the Ravens probably will be slated somewhere between No. 20 and 30 in the first round.

So they made a good investment yesterday.

"If you look across the board at every measure you have, he's the complete package," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's got size, intelligence, huge arm strength, great personal charisma, great character and is just scratching the surface of where he can go. The huge upside was a real positive for us."

The Ravens had a shot at Leftwich and were willing to make a deal to move up to No. 7 overall with the Minnesota Vikings. According to Minnesota coach Mike Tice, the Vikings consummated a deal with the Ravens to swap first-round picks with 32 seconds left during the 15-minute time period. The Ravens were believed to have offered fourth- and sixth-round draft picks to move up. But Tice said the Ravens failed to turn in the card on time.

According to Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager, the Ravens didn't complete the deal because the Vikings waited too long to begin negotiations and ran out of time because they were trying to pit the Ravens against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also were interested in Leftwich.

"The deal is not consummated until I talked to Joel Bussert [NFL senior director of football operations] and I never talked to him," Newsome said. "There was a time element involved that created a risk of not getting that job done."

If Leftwich lights up the league, Ravens critics will have a field day with this one. But the Vikings are idiots. They tried to get the best deal, but forgot to watch the clock. Minnesota's front office wasn't quick enough selecting its No. 1 pick last year, either.

Vinny Testaverde must be fumbling their cards.

But the addition of Boller is a good fit. The Ravens should be in playoff contention this season, but are probably another year way from being a serious Super Bowl contender. With Boller vs. fourth-year quarterback Chris Redman for the starting job, it gives the team at least another year of investment in two young players.

Redman now has someone younger to push him, and Boller has a tutor in his fifth year in the same system. It also puts pressure on Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to finally develop a young prospect with serious potential. There can be no more excuses. Boller isn't a third-round draft pick like Redman. He isn't a hand-me-down like Banks, Blake or Mitchell.

He's a No. 1 draft pick whom the Ravens scouts describe as being poised and mobile in the pocket, and has the ability to sidestep pass rushers. He can scramble if he needs to and puts good velocity and zip behind his passes.

"There are a lot of circumstances that come into play," Billick said about Boller possibly starting this season. "It has to do with where your team is, what the expectations are, what's the capabilities of the young man. I've seen it done a number of different ways. Throw them in, sink or swim. Nurture them along with more of a veteran presence. Pick the right spot. Let him go the entire season and let him learn from that standpoint.

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