Leftwich draft spin doesn't ring true

April 29, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

A BOTCHED PHONE call? No answer? On NFL draft day, the most over-prepared-for bit of sports insanity this side of March Madness, the Ravens found all circuits were busy, please try again?

Free minutes are as ubiquitous as air. This is beyond weird.

Phones these days can snap pictures, are wired for the Web and can send a text message to order pizza. Still, the Ravens could not complete a call to the league office to consummate a very big deal.

You can do almost anything with a phone these days, except, apparently, draft Byron Leftwich.

If it weren't so funny that the Ravens were forced to call an audible on their history-making moment (never before a first-round pick for a quarterback), it would be downright inexplicable.

Impressive are the love and respect Art Modell has for his general manager, Ozzie Newsome. This fact did not need last weekend's NFL draft for further proof.

Or did it?

In this business of splitting hairs, there's a thick one left standing on the back of this warm and fuzzy Ravens draft. It's this:

What were the Ravens attempting to do when they played phone tag with bumbling Minnesota about the Vikings' No. 7 pick?

The Ravens had never traded up on a first-round pick, nor had they ever taken a quarterback in that precious first round of talent-grabbing.

That, friend, is exactly what the Ravens set out to do Saturday. That was their intent - unless Newsome was outfoxing not only us and the Vikings, but also his grateful owner and boss.

In the dizzying aftermath of the draft, Newsome showed off his poker face - or maybe that was an impressive display of spin control.

Let's recap:

At the post-draft interview, Art Modell was found happily lauding the fast and furious work of Newsome and his staff. They handled the elements, made some nifty cutbacks and headed into the end zone for two quick scores, Modell gushed.

Later, Modell's words were echoed from sea to shining sea. The Ravens are the darlings of the 2003 draft. You've read it from here to eternity. The Ravens are living proof that the best deals are sometimes the ones you don't make.

Except, what about intent?

What about the fact that the Ravens are a team eager for a quarterback who can lead via arm and character?

What about the fact that on what figures to be his final draft as big cheese of an NFL franchise, Modell wanted Baltimore to once again have the pop and presence of a top quarterback prospect?

"I wanted to go a different direction, but I trust this guy," Modell said, adding without hesitation: "I wanted Leftwich."

It wasn't hard for the Ravens to sweet talk the fact that they didn't nail the first-round pick they wanted when, by reason of Minnesota Phonegate, they came away with a new outside linebacker whose sack-master prowess will no doubt super-size the Ravens' defense.

It certainly made Ray Lewis' marketing team look smart, pairing Lewis with Terrell Suggs in those draft-day advertisements.

The Ravens wanted Leftwich.

They got Suggs.

The Ravens had a second-round selection and a future first-round pick in their pocket.

They traded them for Kyle Boller, whose vertical leap must equal that of David Thompson's for the way Boller jumped so high up the quarterback depth chart.

Boller may have been the No. 19 pick, but he's on the books for needing to be as good as a No. 7 - the spot at which the Ravens were willing to tab their first pick for a quarterback of the future, the gutsy slinger from Marshall.

By not getting Leftwich, the Ravens traded next year's first-round pick to New England to guarantee they got Boller at 19.

Time will soon tell whether Brian Billick and Co. have to keep correcting Boller's loose lug-nut mechanics. Duct tape and worn-out gym shoes will be on this kid's training table, because Boller's senior makeover at California was accomplished by cutting down on bad arm angles and making him plant his feet on throws.

However Boller's development plays out, Baltimore now has a unique kind of quarterback controversy: Boller vs. Leftwich.

(By the way, draft-day rumors about the Ravens possibly trading with Jacksonville for Mark Brunell only heightened a sense of loss about not getting Leftwich, who was nabbed by the Jaguars at No. 7.)

In the meantime, it's lucky Baltimore has some experience with these kinds of quarterback controversies and quandaries - and we won't mention John Elway, the last big gun who got away.

In a playful deflection of what exactly he was going to do with that No. 7 pick he was attempting to secure from the Vikes, the fleet-footed Newsome said, "How do you know we weren't going for Suggs?"

A man this decent with a draft-day track record that has afforded the Ravens all kinds of breathing room, Newsome definitely has the footwork to dance ahead of doubters.

But for the record, we do know whom the Ravens were going after. It was Leftwich. Modell could not keep that secret.

All eyes may now be on Boller now, but no broken bones about it: Leftwich will be on Baltimore's radar screen, bust or shine.

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