Is "passing" the next draft trend?
By Pat Kirwan
Special to NFL.com
(May 5, 2003) -- Sure, on draft day the Minnesota Vikings took a public relations beating for not sealing the deal with the Baltimore Ravens on time, thus passing on their pick at No. 7. But they still got their man, defensive end Kevin Williams, at the No. 9 spot.
When teams believe they can get the man they want at a lower spot, they attempt to trade down in the draft and pick up some additional selections. That's good business, but it has occurred to a few teams that the concept of passing when your turn comes could also be good business, especially if you can't get a team to trade with you.
Williams and his representatives can argue all they want about the idea that Williams was supposed to be the seventh overall pick in the draft. The fact is, he was the ninth pick, and with the rookie pool reflecting that fact and "slotted contracts" being the reality of rookie negotiations, Williams most likely will be paid as the ninth pick. I know I would pay him as the ninth pick. The Vikings saved themselves a few $100,000 of cap space, and probably over a million dollars in cash over the contract.
That being said, it brings up the whole idea of the virtue of passing during the draft.
I sat right on the floor of the draft when the Vikings got to the end of their allocated 15 minutes and neither consummated a trade nor handed in a pick. The advantage the Vikings created for themselves was that they could hand in a name at any second even though other teams would be on the clock. From where I was, I saw the teams behind Minnesota -- Jacksonville and Carolina -- run up to the podium and submit the names of players they wanted ( Byron Leftwich and Jordan Gross, respectively). These teams had no real time to make a trade with any team even if they wanted to. It turned out that because they wanted to get their picks in, they didn't control the clock. Who did? The Vikings, and they handed in their card soon after the Panthers handed in theirs.
I've been in many draft rooms -- no team can anticipate another team passing at their selection and quickly making a call to get a trade done. The Vikings weren't interested in either player, so short of a trade down, they simply saved money and cap space and got their man. Granted, it was probably by accident, but it now has to be discussed as a strategy.
I've been inside the football world for over 25 years and I know more good ideas are born out of accidents and mistakes than most people realize. Here's a funny example as told to me by Bill Parcells:
One day at lunch when I was with Bill at the Jets, he told me a story about Lawrence Taylor as a rookie. On a particular defensive call, Taylor was supposed to drop into coverage but Taylor could tell the opponent had no one to block him, so when the quarterback dropped back to pass, he simply rushed in and sacked him. When Taylor got to the sideline, Parcells, in his unique way, asked him what the heck he was thinking about. Taylor told him he knew he could get there before the passer could throw. Parcells said something to the extent of, "Don't do it again; stick with the call."
Well, the next time the same situation occurred, Taylor ran in and sacked the QB again! When he came off the field, the coach ripped him again and warned him. Late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, you guessed it ... a third sack! As the game ended, Parcells turned to an assistant and said, "We better have a name for that blitz when the press asks about it, and we better plan on using it again next week."
With the concept of passing in my mind, I asked a few solid NFL people with long histories in the draft process to consider the merits of passing when their turn came, and I also asked them to look at the first round and conject which teams could have used the strategy, and how far they could have dropped and still got their man. After the Vikings dropped from No. 7 to No. 9 and got Williams, the next place a team could have done it may have been New England at No. 13. A few agreed they could have let Chicago go at No. 14 and Philadelphia at No. 15 and then grabbed Ty Warren (the Patriots had to make a deal to move up one spot with the Bears in order to get Warren, something they may not have had to do).
The next stop was Arizona at Nos. 17 and 18. Three personnel people felt they could have easily dropped to Nos. 21 and 22 and still taken receiver Bryant Johnson and defensive end Calvin Pace. A fast saving of a million dollars easy. When the Broncos couldn't move up for a defensive lineman and decided to draft offensive lineman George Foster at No. 20, a backslide to the No. 24 spot probably could have still sent Foster to Denver and helped the cap-strapped Broncos.
The Packers and Raiders took players in the first round that could have become second-rounders if they considered passing. I like the Packers selection of linebacker Nick Barnett and the Raiders defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha, but the unofficial panel of judges agreed they could have taken them a few picks later in the top of the second round.
Who knows for sure? But if a team is reaching for a guy they really like, or more importantly, have more than one player they like at a spot, then moving down voluntarily isn't the worst idea to come along in years.
One year when I was at the Jets, we were picking first in the second round and another team I was talking with was picking at the bottom of the first round and didn't want to spend first-round money. He asked me to trade picks for future considerations. We didn't want the same player, but he should have just passed until I picked. No trade necessary!
Imagine a GM and a head coach sitting in a draft room with their owner pointing out the player (or players) they want and saving the owner lots of money. Think it's farfetched? I bet the first time Parcells yelled at Taylor to stick with the defense called, he never imagined by the end of the same game he would be inventing a name for what Taylor did.
One personnel man who shared his opinions with me said, "You have opened a can of worms with my owner -- he'll want to pass in every round!"
So just maybe something else was born on draft day this year ... the art of the 'pass.'
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