The new look of teams
By Pat Kirwan
The weekend after the draft, 26 teams held a minicamp to get a look at their draft picks. And this past weekend, the remaining six teams had their sneak preview at the unproven talent they just acquired.
In the NFL before the salary cap, the drafted players were brought in and warned that making the team would be tough and veterans would fight them tooth and nail for roster spots in late August. Nowadays, personnel decisions are made on paper or in shorts long before the pads are put on. Here are a few examples of the ripple effect the draft has on franchises because of the salary cap.
No sooner did the New Orleans Saints draft DT Johnathan Sullivan in the first round, then they traded Norman Hand to the Seahawks. Hand didn't have a very good year in 2002, but had been effective inside for coach Jim Haslett, historically. No time to waste -- Sullivan is in and Hand is out.
The Saints weren't done with the cause-and-effect of the Sullivan pick. Haslett promptly announced that DT Grady Jackson was moved to second string and needed to get in better shape. Still not done with their personnel decisions, the Saints released offensive guard Wally Williams with the drafting of Montrae Holland in the fourth round.
In the era before salary cap, veterans would look at the draft to see who they would compete against. Now they look to see who is taking their job.
Roster cuts the days after the draft are more common than ever before. Quarterback Chris Simms falls to the third round and into the lap of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then Shane Matthews is cut the next day. Carson Palmer signs as the top pick with the Bengals and Joe Germaine is the first to go in Cincinnati. Others will follow in time.
Teams can't afford to have players under contract who may get hurt and count against the salary cap. If a veteran has too many contract issues and will hurt a team's cap, the club will now wait for June 1 to cut him. However, they will not let them come to minicamp with the risk of injury.
Imagine being a member of a team but being denied the right to compete for a job. It's the way business is done after the draft these days. It's nothing personal. Teams use their draft picks in April to make decisions about September. Miami drafted LB Eddie Moore from Tennessee and Derrick Rogers will be playing for another team next year. Steelers safety Chris Hope called it a slap in the face that the team drafted Troy Polamalu in the first round. My advice is to get over it and just "hope" the Steelers let you stay long enough to compete for a job. That's not the case most of the time in the league. Receiver Brandon Lloyd, taken by the 49ers, makes it easy for them to let J.J. Stokes go after June 1.
The next two ripple effects of the draft are a bit more subtle, but very effective. Draft picks can apply direct pressure to veterans to perform better. Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell may not see it coming yet, but Billy McMullen was taken in the third round and he is a very good player. It is now time for Mitchell to step up and play better.
Chicago wide receiver David Terrell is another former top draft pick who has to figure this year's fifth-round selection, Justin Gage , will give him a run for his money by August. So Terrell needs to play like a first-rounder. If nothing else, McMullen and Gage are a lot cheaper, and that is always a factor down the road.
Keith Hamilton is the starting DT for the Giants, but William Joseph is the future.
The second subtle effect of draft picks is future leverage against star players who may price themselves out of the market, or age and health may become issues in the next year or so. If Giants DT Keith Hamilton can't fully recover from his injuries at his age, then the William Joseph selection protects the future. The Eagles have a good tight end in Chad Lewis , but he's over 30 and his long-range replacement was drafted in the second round with L.J. Smith. For the time being, Philadelphia can use a lot of two-tight end sets, but in time Smith should take over the starter's role.
Travis Henry will have another great season in Buffalo, barring injury. But if Willis MaGahee is ready in a year or two, Henry will not have the leverage to demand a big payday. Have you noticed Denver running back Clinton Portis is already suggesting he needs his contract restructured? Olandis Gary is gone, Terrell Davis is fighting to mount a comeback and Mike Anderson is now the fullback. Teams don't like when the players have the leverage and the draft is the best answer to the issue.
From things I have heard, Mark Brunell has lost his leverage in Jacksonville with the selection of Byron Leftwich . The ax finally falling for Brunell is a function of when Leftwich is ready. Brunell is still an excellent quarterback, but just like most guys in this league, he will finish up his career somewhere else.
The Raiders love All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson and running back Charlie Garner, but with CB Nnamdi Asomugha taken in the first round and RB Justin Fargas taken in the third round, the team has regained the upper hand if future negotiations become a struggle.
Seattle's selection of offensive tackle Wayne Hunter in the third round could eventually lead to the Seahawks regaining negotiating leverage over franchise tackle Walter Jones , who always seems resistant to a long-term deal. If I were the Seahawks, I might be a little more reluctant to give away the farm to Jones until I see what Hunter is all about.
When a team doesn't use the draft to strengthen its position with a veteran player, it usually means the club wants to pay what the market will bear for his services or it doesn't want to replace him. Take, for example, center Barrett Robbins of the Raiders who missed the Super Bowl with personal problems. Just about everyone, except the Raiders, thought Oakland would draft a center. In fact, there were 10 centers drafted and none by the Raiders. Forget what anyone is saying about Robbins, he's Oakland's center in 2003. I asked a Raiders employee about the Robbins issue and he said, "We made our decision before the draft that Barrett was our center, contrary to popular opinion that we would take Jeff Faine or any other guy."
Finally, three years ago, could any Patriots fan imagine a team without Drew Bledsoe? The drafting of Tom Brady caused that development. Ricky Williams became a Dolphin because the Saints drafted Deuce McAllister, once again using the draft to quickly change the face of the team. Some believe that the Chiefs have created the same scenario with the surprise selection of running back Larry Johnson. Time will tell, but one thing for sure is the draft will cause the changes and these first minicamps are followed by personnel meetings to decide some of those changes.
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