Deceit and trickery the only certainties

April 23, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

Somewhere past chicanery and just short of espionage, the NFL draft will blow away all smoke screens this weekend. The truth - as personnel men see it, anyway - arrives with freeze-frame clarity Saturday.

Was Miami Dolphins czar Bill Parcells playing mind games with his NFL peers when he began negotiations with Michigan tackle Jake Long as the first pick two weeks ago? Contrary to popular opinion, he was not.

Were the Kansas City Chiefs shadow dancing when they sent Herm Edwards - the only head coach in attendance - to Boston College for Matt Ryan's private workout? Indications are they were; they would love to squeeze a trade offer from the quarterback-starved Ravens.

What's the draft without a little gamesmanship, anyway?

Dull, perhaps, and certainly not prime time.

Even Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome enjoys the give and take of pre-draft bantering, when misinformation - and not footballs - fills the air.

"I think one of the best parts of the draft is the intrigue that goes with it, with what other teams are going to do," Newsome said during the Ravens' draft luncheon last week.

"Right now, probably half of you think Jake Long is going to be the No. 1 pick. I'd probably smile and say that's not going to happen. And [Miami is] negotiating with the kid right now, for whatever reason."

The consensus had been that Parcells wanted a pass rusher, either Chris Long of Virginia or Vernon Gholston of Ohio State. When Miami GM Jeff Ireland said he wanted the first pick to be "a pillar of [his] defense for a long time," he called it a Freudian slip and it appeared to confirm the obvious.

Nevertheless, the Dolphins announced yesterday that they signed Jake Long to a multiyear contract. Deceiving with the truth?

Imagination is the only limit when it comes to draft trickery. A decade ago, when the Ravens' personnel entourage stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Indianapolis for NFL combine evaluations, the team talked to prospects in a laundry room in an effort to keep their intentions secret.

Interviews weren't organized by the league then, so every team was on its own getting players. According to Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting, many - if not all - would position "runners" outside other team's meeting rooms to scoop up exiting players and keep tabs on who visited whom.

The Ravens avoided detection by shuffling players out of the back door of their room and into an adjacent laundry room.

"Nobody caught on to it because it was a little bit of a hallway behind us," DeCosta said with a grin.

Sometimes the trickery is as blatant as the writing on the wall. Or draft card.

In 2006, the Cleveland Browns, under second-year GM Phil Savage, held the 12th pick, one before the Ravens.

On draft day, knowing the Ravens coveted defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the Browns' representatives in New York seemingly tipped their hand.

"They had Ngata written down [on the draft card], and they made sure our guys saw it," DeCosta said.

The Ravens wanted Ngata badly enough they gave up a late-round pick to swap places with the Browns. Cleveland took linebacker Kamerion Wimbley.

Newsome said the Arizona Cardinals tried the same ploy in 1996 when they thought the Ravens wanted running back Lawrence Phillips. The Ravens resisted, and after Arizona took Simeon Rice, they got offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"Teams try things," DeCosta said. "We've always thought it was overblown. We don't really care too much about what other teams are doing."

Still, the Ravens try to keep private the names of potential draft picks they've invited to their Owings Mills' facility. DeCosta said that, on occasion, friendly agents will even issue "fake names" to reporters looking for information.

Last year, for the first time, the Ravens began tracking every player's private workouts and visits to see where it led.

"It was very interesting," DeCosta said. "As we started to look at who drafted whom, then compare that to the information we compiled, we saw some definite things start to develop."

Of course, there's a flip side to that kind of research. Some teams bring in players they have no intention of drafting, just to throw off outsiders.

Clearly, it comes with the territory.

"I think with the entire league there are some smoke screens out there," Ireland said. "I think that's part of strategy, though. I think you need to have some strategy, and I think you need to set some smoke screens."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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