Posted on Mon, Apr. 21, 2003
Panic rooms: Behind-the-scenes at five big deals
By GARY MYERS
New York Daily News
NEW YORK -The seating chart for the New York Giants' recently renovated high-tech draft room has been set for days: Ernie Accorsi and Jim Fassel will be next to each other, across the large rectangular table from college personnel director Jerry Reese.
They'll be joined by nine scouts and capologist Kevin Abrams, who'll be on Accorsi's right. On the table will be scouting reports, reference material and a speakerphone the hierarchy will use to relay picks to two team reps at the draft headquarters at Madison Square Garden.
Assistant coaches and the training staff, seated in rows of tables, will have their notebooks filled with crucial information as well. Wellington Mara will carefully observe the proceedings from his traditional spot in the back right corner.
Everybody will have one eye glued to one of the two television sets that hang from the ceiling, and another eye on the whiteboards that displays player values, players by position and a team-by-team chart detailing each club's picks.
This is the Giants' draft room, similar to the scene found in 31 other spots for next weekend's NFL draft. It's a high-anxiety, energy-filled space where Super Bowls are won and dreams are crushed, front-office reputations made and destroyed. Emotions run high and arguments are not uncommon, which may explain why it is often called the "war room."
With the Bengals on the clock, here is a look inside several draft rooms where wheeling and dealing has forever changed the NFL:
Two Bucs for a fortune
It took the Bucs only four hours at the 1995 draft to put together a Super Bowl defense.
Tampa Bay entered the day with the seventh overall pick. Bucs GM Rich McKay had worked out a deal with the Eagles to move down to No. 12 so Philly could take Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula. The trade, to be consummated when the Tampa was on the clock, would give the Bucs the extra picks needed to trade for a late first-rounder, where they would take Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Then the unexpected: Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp, a certain top-five pick, went tumbling through the first round after rumors of a drug problem started circulating hours before the first pick. Sapp was on the board for the Bucs at No. 7, and although they didn't expect him to be available, they had done enough research on him to know he was not a risk.
"The arguments got hot and heavy: At seven should we just take Warren?" McKay says. "The coaches were lobbying to take him. But we said, `Our plan all along was to get out of seven and the purpose was to get Brooks.' "
The Bucs hoped Sapp would fall to No. 12, believing the Seahawks, Jets and Browns would pass on him. However, they weren't sure about the Vikings at No. 11.
"I don't blame the coaches. They're saying here's an opportunity to get a great player, let's go bird in the hand," McKay says. "Our feeling was we were not a good enough team where one bird in the hand is going to help us. We need more birds. We need a flock."
With three minutes left on the 15-minute clock, the Bucs traded the pick to the Eagles and then sweated out the next hour. If Sapp was gone, Hugh Douglas would be the pick.
The Seahawks (WR Joey Galloway), Jets (TE Kyle Brady), Browns (traded to the Niners, who took WR J.J. Stokes) and Vikings (DE Derrick Alexander) didn't touch Sapp. A few hours later, the Bucs traded up to Dallas' No. 28 spot, took Brooks and one of the game's most dominating defenses was born.
Elway draws `em in
Before he died last September, Johnny Unitas told longtime friend and former Colts GM Ernie Accorsi: "I told you that you should have picked Marino."
Accorsi had the first pick in the great draft of 1983. He wanted John Elway, but Elway didn't want the Colts.
The Stanford quarterback threatened to pull a Drew Henson and join the Yankees, with whom he had played in their minor league system the previous year. Accorsi was also feeling pressure to trade the pick from owner Robert Irsay, who was reluctant to sign Elway to a five-year, $5 million contract.
"I had made up my mind unless I got the greatest compensation in the history of the league - three No. 1s, with two in one year, and two No. 2s - I wasn't going to make the trade," Accorsi says.
Elway compiled a list of 10 teams he would play for. Dallas was one of them, but Accorsi wanted Randy White, Danny White and two No. 1s. Dallas would not part with Randy White.
The Chargers and Raiders nearly satisfied Accorsi's demands. San Diego had three No. 1s (5, 20, 22) but would not give up the best of the picks. The Raiders, selecting 26th, needed a higher pick to satisfy the Colts. They made a run at the Bears' No. 6 pick, but the deal fell apart when Chicago demanded Howie Long. If Accorsi had gotten Chicago's pick, he was going to draft Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino.
Before the draft started at 7 a.m., Irsay told Accorsi he had an offer from the Patriots that included All-Pro guard John Hannah and a swap of No. 1s.
"I told him there would be two press conferences: One to announce the trade, one to announce my resignation," Accorsi says.
A few moments later, at 6:55 a.m., Accorsi told Irsay he wanted to draft Elway "one second after seven. He said, `Go do what you want to do.' "
One week later, Accorsi was watching the NBA playoffs on TV when it was announced during a break in the action that Irsay had traded Elway to Denver. "I called (coach) Frank Kush and asked if he was watching because I think they just traded the quarterback," he says. "I didn't quit that day. I went through the season."
In return, the Colts got tackle Chris Hinton, who had been picked three spots behind Elway, veteran quarterback Mark Herrmann and a No. 1 pick in 1984. In addition, Denver owner Edgar Kaiser agreed the Broncos would play the Colts in preseason games at Mile High Stadium in 1984 and 1985. The gate receipts were worth $800,000 to Irsay.
"I still think I picked the best player, as much as I love Marino," Accorsi says.
Cowboys in no rush
When everything else failed in 1990, Jimmy Johnson drafted the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
Johnson's draft board had Junior Seau first and Emmitt Smith fourth. Dallas was picking 21st, one of the choices received from the Vikings in the Herschel Walker trade. The Cowboys would have had the No. 1 pick after going 1-15, but they used it in the supplemental draft the year before on Steve Walsh.
So Johnson worked the phones.
"We tried to move up to get a defensive player," Johnson says. "Teams wanted too much."
Johnson's targets were gone when Baylor linebacker James Francis went 12th to the Bengals, and Houston linebacker Lamar Lathon went 15th to the Oilers.
"I looked at the board to see what players were left and the whole front part of the board was blank except for one tab - Emmitt Smith," Johnson says.
The draft was at No. 16. The next five or six players on Johnson's board played offense. "I looked around to the guys and Jerry (Jones) said, `We're not going to have a defensive player at 21,' " Johnson says. "In all probability, at 21, we would take Rodney Hampton."
So, Johnson said, "If we're going to take a running back, let's trade up and take Emmitt Smith."
The coach traded for the Steelers' No. 17 pick in exchange for the 21st pick and a third rounder, more than was required on the chart he devised that most teams now use.
"As great as he was his rookie, second and third year, I still didn't realize how great a player he was for the simple reason I didn't think he would last this long," Johnson says.
A D.C. double
Charley Casserly waited in the Redskins' draft room in 1999 ready to act on a deal too good to be true.
"(Saint coach) Mike Ditka made a statement at the league meetings: I'll trade my whole draft to get Ricky Williams," Casserly says now. "I called New Orleans the next day and said, `Put us in line.' "
Casserly agreed to trade down to the Saints' spot at No. 12, and then worked a deal to move up to the Bears' spot at No. 7. He would still get the player he wanted, Champ Bailey, the rest of the Saints `99 picks and Nos. 1 and 3 in `00, the No. 1 bringing LaVar Arrington.
The Saints called the Browns, Eagles and Bengals, who had the first three picks. None were interested in dealing, with each taking a quarterback. The Saints had several talks with the Colts, picking fourth, with draft picks plus running back Lamar Smith and cornerback Alex Molden as the bait.
But the Colts, who had just traded Marshall Faulk to the Rams, decided two days before the draft to take Edgerrin James over Williams. Indianapolis president Bill Polian was tempted by the Saints and talks continued while the Colts were on the clock. "We thought about it very hard," Polian says.
Washington, with the fifth pick, was ready to deal. Casserly had called every team from No. 12 on up to find a spot where he could draft Bailey or the other top-rated cornerback, Chris McAlister.
He found a partner in Chicago, giving the Bears two third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds to swap No. 12 for No. 7.
The only contingency was Williams being on the board at No. 5. But, Casserly was convinced the Colts would take Williams instead of James, and he would then be forced to take Bailey at No. 5 with the Saints deal dead. He even called Bailey the day before the draft to set up flight plans to Washington.
"The Colts did a good job of disguising their interest in James," he says. As soon as Indy took James, Casserly put his plan into motion. The phone started ringing. "New Orleans called me as soon as Edgerrin James was picked. I put them on hold," he says. "I got Chicago on the phone. I had one phone on the left ear, one on the right ear, making sure everything was set. I said, `Okay, we're doing it.' " The Saints took Williams, the Rams, at No. 6, took wide receiver Torry Holt, and Casserly got Bailey.
Time was running out last year and the Titans were calling. Accorsi does not talk trade in the Giants' draft room. He usually goes to his office, but now he didn't have time.
"I went to the switchboard," he says.
The Titans were fielding calls left and right about their No. 14 pick, with several teams looking to take Jeremy Shockey. The Giants, who had been trying to move up to get Shockey, were petrified Oakland's Al Davis was going to jump up one spot ahead of them, envisioning Shockey as the next Dave Casper. The Browns and Seahawks were also trying to get him.
"There is a tremendous amount of pressure at that time," Accorsi says. "You want the guy so - bad and the clock is running out."
Picking 15th, the Giants were the perfect trading partner for the Titans. By moving one spot, Tennessee could still get defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
The Giants were proposing a fifth-round pick, but the Titans had an offer of a fourth-rounder. Accorsi was close to losing him, but the Giants matched the offer as time was running out.
"Everybody was thrilled," Accorsi says. "His rating in that room was unanimous."
And that room will be all abuzz again on Saturday.
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