Mike Lombardi is a 22-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, spending eight years with the Raiders and nine years with the Browns, in addition to brief stints with the Broncos, Eagles and 49ers">49ers. This is his debut column for SI.com.
Bill Parcells just passed Day 100 in his new life as the architect of the Miami Dolphins. As with most new administrations, the first 100 days sets the tempo and direction for the future of the organization. We have already seen him act quickly in free agency, signing former 49ers offensive guard Justin Smiley just as the clock struck midnight on the first night. Now, with his first draft in Miami two weeks away, everyone is asking: WWBD?
To understand what Parcells will do with the No.1 pick, you have to first understand the man and his background in player procurement. Working in personnel with five NFL teams over the past 23 years, I've gotten to know Parcells pretty well. He has been a mentor of sorts to me. While I was with the Eagles and Parcells with the Jets in 1998, we made a trade with New York for defensive end Hugh Douglas, who did not fit the new style of defense Parcells and his staff were going to install. To get the deal done, the Eagles wanted Douglas to agree to a new contract before the trade was to be finalized and sent to the league office for approval.
Parcells is a man that does not have much patience and has his own timetable for events to occur, so after a day of the Eagles not being able to get an extension with Douglas, he told me in a stern voice that I knew was no bluff: "When I get back from dinner tonight, we either have a deal or I will never trade Hugh to Philadelphia.'' So, before he could put his napkin on his lap for his meal, we called him back and finalized the deal for Douglas ... without the extension we needed.
So how does that story relate to today? Parcells won't let the crazy money at the top of the draft dictate what he's going to do with the first pick. He is not going to wish and hope to sign the guy he picks on draft day. I think Parcells knows exactly who he wants to pick and he knows exactly what he wants to pay for that pick. (He also knows he can't trade the pick, but more about that later.)
Parcells' potential player pool is small and it's not that difficult to know what direction he may be headed. No matter what team logo he wears on his shirt, his personnel philosophy are all Giants-based from his time working and building those championship teams in the eighties. The term we use in the scouting industry is the Giants were a size/speed team. The Giants were very big on defense, football smart and tough at every position.
Miami will exclusively look for players that have the size and speed requirements that Parcells has set for each position, setting a blueprint of what they will become. Also, his players in Miami had better love football and be willing to work at getting better during the season and especially in the offseason. (How's Dancing With The Stars going, Jason Taylor?) All of those qualities will go into the selection of the first pick for the Fins and every pick under the Parcells administration.
I believe Bill's course of action during draft week will be for him to call the agents for his top four or five players. He will swear those agents to secrecy; Parcells hates loose lips in his organization. Miami will call agent Tom Condon about clients Matt Ryan, the Boston College quarterback, and Michigan tackle Jake Long. Marvin Demoff will be phoned on behalf of defensive end Chris Long of Virginia. So, too, will the agents for defensive end Vernon Gholston and perhaps for LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Parcells almost certainly knows which one of those players he wants, but he'll create competition, hopefully to lower the price Miami will pay for the pick.
What the fans don't know about the backroom dynamics of the draft is that most agents are more interested in bragging about big deals to next year's recruiting class than they are in getting a deal done today. I say most agents because one of them, Demoff, is a sort of lion in winter, a veteran agent who doesn't sully himself in the recruiting wars and likely won't care very much about what other agents say about him. That could give Chris Long an edge in taking a deal below what some would think the top pick in this draft should earn.
Miami will present offers to all the potential picks -- probably one after another, with deadlines for each agent -- based on a percentage of increase (anywhere from 3 to 10 percent) of the 2007 Joe Thomas contract from Cleveland. (Thomas signed a five-year deal valued at $42.5 million, with over $23 million in guaranteed money.) Why not use the JaMarcus Russell deal from last year since he was the first pick in the draft? Parcells will not discuss that deal because in draft pick-signing protocol everyone operates under the premise that the QB deals are premiums and have no basis for other positions in the round. Therefore there is no reason to begin your percent of increase off a non-factoring contract.
Parcells will use every means necessary to make sure his message is getting accurately delivered to each player. For Jake Long, it would not surprise me if fellow Michigan alum Jumbo Elliott, who played for Parcells with the Giants, was in Long's ear telling him all the reasons to be the first pick.
So why don't the Dolphins just trade the pick? That's a very fair question, especially considering the last time the Big Tuna had the first pick in the draft with the Jets, he was able to make a few trades and acquire an extra first-round pick. An extra first-rounder for the talent poor Dolphins would be a welcome addition. But the draft today and the draft of 1997 are worlds apart. Back then you could move around in the top 10 of the draft, you could trade picks and shuffle your hand. In 1986, when I was with Bill Walsh and the 49ers moved so many times in the first round, we did not pick until 39th in the second round after being slated to pick at 18. Walsh made four trades and had teams wondering if we'd ever pick.
But today's drafts are a far more complicated enterprise then the ones in '86 and '97. Having held two top-five picks in the last five years with the Oakland Raiders, our phone never rang with calls of interest, only calls asking, "What are you going to do?" The pick is like a hot potato, no one wants to be left holding it. As Colts president Bill Polian said, "Trades are a unique thing in the first round because of the cost of the top 10 picks financially. To take on that cost ... is almost counterintuitive."
My educated guess and research tells me that Jake Long will be the first pick. He gives the Dolphins size, speed and toughness, the key traits Parcells has used to build teams from East Rutherford to Dallas. Jake Long fills a huge need for Miami at right tackle, assuming he's willing to play ball with Miami on the contract, which I think he will do.
Without a quality offensive line, it's hard for any team to evaluate the skill positions correctly and all of Parcells' teams have been well-stocked and highly talented in the offensive line. This pick begins the rebuilding process in Miami and firmly establishes the direction of the new administration.
If Parcells thinks the offensive Long wants too much money or Condon won't talk before the draft, then I expect Chris Long to be next in line. He fits the Parcells profile -- a never-say-die kid with position versatility, a great football pedigree and a player who won't be ruled by money. Both Longs are Parcells guys who would be good cornerstones for the new Dolphins.