Chargers hardly look out for No. 1

ON THE NFL

April 11, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

Bad franchises often repeat their mistakes, so it comes as no surprise the San Diego Chargers are a virtual lock to trade the top pick in the NFL draft sometime in the next 14 days.

The Chargers are a bad franchise for a good reason. They haven't capitalized on their biggest personnel resource - first-round draft choices - during the past decade.

In their past 10 drafts, the Chargers' first-round picks have produced two Pro Bowl players - running backs Natrone Means (drafted in 1993 with picks that included a first in 1994) and LaDainian Tomlinson (drafted in 2001).

Worse yet is that only three first-rounders from the past 10 years are still with the Chargers - Tomlinson and cornerbacks Sammy Davis (2003) and Quentin Jammer (2002).

What's worse, the Chargers have traded all over the draft board to get players of choice who failed miserably. Employing a strategy of trading future No. 1s for current second-round picks five times, the Chargers have watched players like Terrance Shaw, Terrell Fletcher and Bryan Still pass through San Diego without distinction.

In fact, the Chargers have used their own No. 1 pick only once in the past 10 drafts. That was for Jammer two years ago.

The Chargers are infamous for two critical first-round mistakes that involved quarterbacks. In 1998, they gave the Arizona Cardinals two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two players to move up one spot and take Ryan Leaf with the second pick of the draft. Leaf was a bust and is no longer in the league.

Then, in 2001, they owned the top pick in the draft and traded away the rights to quarterback Michael Vick. They dropped from No. 1 to No. 5 in a deal that got them Tomlinson, who is wasting his best seasons playing on awful teams.

Now the Chargers are poised to repeat history. This time, they would drop from the top spot to, reportedly, fourth in a rumored trade with the New York Giants. Once again, the Chargers would pass on a franchise quarterback (Eli Manning of Mississippi) to take quantity over quality.

At No. 4, they could wind up with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio), offensive tackle Robert Gallery (Iowa) or safety Sean Taylor (Miami). If they drop an additional spot or two, they might get Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., son of the Chargers' Hall of Fame tight end.

The Chargers haven't had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 1995, a year after they went to the Super Bowl. Since then, they've been caught in a losing draft cycle.

Eating big

A 60-pound loss in weight since season's end answered questions about the work ethic of Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews and could push him into the top 12 in the draft.

Andrews rocketed from 350 pounds to a blubbery 400-plus last season after he went on steroid medication to correct a sinus condition. Once off the medication, the 6-foot-4 All-American also cleaned up his diet. When he visited the Pittsburgh Steelers (11th pick) recently, he was an almost-svelte 345.

Andrews, who has been training in Arizona, attributes his weight gain last season primarily to poor eating habits.

"I wanted to eat right, but when you only have $2 in your pocket and the double-cheeseburgers are 99 cents each, you have no other choice," he said. "Then there was a training table meal, and you have to fill up because you don't have anything back in your dorm room to eat. That was the situation."

New blood

When the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999, the lineup at the top featured billionaire owner Al Lerner, CEO Carmen Policy, general manager Dwight Clark and coach Chris Palmer.

The announcement last week that Policy will depart in May leaves the Browns, in Year 6, with 42-year-old Randy Lerner as owner, 42-year-old John Collins as CEO and 52-year-old Butch Davis as personnel czar and coach.

When Al Lerner died in 2002, Policy reportedly told Randy Lerner, Al's son, "You need to find your own man." Toward that end, Policy cashed in his 10 percent ownership share and started construction last year on a winery in Napa Valley, Calif. Last month, he became a grandfather for the first time and wants to return to the Bay Area, where he had helped build the San Francisco 49ers' dynasty.

Even though Davis followed a 9-7 playoff season in 2002 with a 5-11 clunker last year, the young Lerner appears firmly in his corner.

"I would not fire Butch right now under any circumstances," Lerner said. "It makes absolutely no sense to me. And I have no sense that there's any big group of people or any great source of wisdom that says you'll have to fire Butch Davis."

Two-minute warning

New Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, an advocate of smaller, faster players, has ordered nearly all his defensive players to lose weight, including middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is 6-4 and 255. ... Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has jettisoned 31 players from the 53-man roster that finished the 2002 season under Dick LeBeau. The list includes four starters, soon to be five when the Bengals unload running back Corey Dillon, possibly in a trade to the Oakland Raiders. ... The Carolina Panthers had seven reversals among 11 instant replay challenges last season, best percentage in the league. The NFL average was a scant 28.3 percent. ... Reportedly available to the Chargers if they pass on Manning are veteran quarterbacks Kerry Collins of the Giants and Jon Kitna of the Bengals.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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