The trade heard 'round the league; thoughts on all 32 first-round picks
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Before I get to the story of the night, the mega-trade between Cleveland and Atlanta that I'm sure made Sean Payton cringe, an explanation of the weirdness that happened with Baltimore on the clock at pick 26, weirdness that is not over:
Chicago, picking 29th, and Baltimore, at 26, finalized a trade that would have had them switch slots, with the Ravens getting the Bears' fourth-round pick in return. Chicago would take Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi, and the Ravens, if Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith was still on the board, would take Smith at 29. With two minutes left in the Ravens' period, the deal was done.
Under NFL rules, each team has to report the trade to NFL draft headquarters at Radio City Music Hall. The Ravens called it in. They assumed Chicago called it in, but due to a miscommunication in the Bears' draft room, no one from Chicago ever called the league. As the clock ticked down to zero, and with Chicago on the phone with Carimi to tell him he was going to be their pick, Baltimore noticed no one at the league had announced the trade and Chicago's pick of Carimi. Meanwhile, Kansas City, with the 27th pick, rushed its card to the desk at Radio City, taking Pittsburgh wideout Jonathan Baldwin.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, on an open line to New York, demanded to know why the trade hadn't gone through. Chicago never called to confirm it, Newsome was told. Baltimore was infuriated. The league didn't allow the trade. The Ravens picked Smith at 27 (not 26; Kansas City was awarded the 26th pick and took Baldwin, because the Chiefs got the pick in before the Ravens did), and the Bears got lucky, getting Carimi at 29.
"Whatever you hear, Baltimore did everything the right way," Bears GM Jerry Angelo told Chicago media. "There were a lot of things happening in the draft room. We were getting a lot of calls, we just ... dropped the ball. I dropped the ball. I can't say anything more than that."
All's well that ends well, you say? Not so fast. Angelo called Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti to apologize, but Bisciotti wanted the fourth-round pick anyway, claiming it was part of the deal they'd agreed to. In fact, I'm told Bisciotti today will push to get the fourth-round pick, or to make the situation right in some way.
The league is under no obligation to do so, because the trade was never official. And maybe all's fair in love and draft-night trades, but as far as Baltimore's concerned, I don't think this one's over. I think the Ravens will ask the league to award them some compensation from Chicago before the draft resumes at 6 p.m. Eastern today. Stay tuned.
The Julio Jones trade was a perfect storm of two bold, young general managers trying to do something that made inordinate sense for each team ... with a bizarre historical precedent.
"When we started talking about a trade this size about a week ago,'' Cleveland GM Tom Heckert told me last night, "we looked for a trade we might be able to pattern it after, and we found one back in 1995. Cleveland and the 49ers">49ers made a deal where the 49ers moved way up to take J.J. Stokes.''
Uh-oh. Harbinger of doom right there.
Cleveland owned the 10th pick in 1995, San Francisco the 30th. With John Taylor and Jerry Rice getting old, the 49ers sent first-, third- and fourth-round picks in 1995 and a first-rounder in 1996 to move up to take Stokes, the receiver they thought would be a great successor to Rice. He flopped, of course, averaging 38 catches a year in a starless nine-year career. In the 1995 draft, Cleveland coach Bill Belichick, running his last draft before getting fired by Art Modell, didn't have his best day. He chose linebacker Craig Powell and linebacker Mike Frederick with the first two 1995 picks.
But the 1996 first-round pick, after the franchise moved to Baltimore? Linebacker Ray Lewis.
Cleveland got zilch out of the deal. The 49ers got the same.
"I don't think history's going to repeat itself,'' said Heckert.
These two teams hope not. This time, Cleveland traded the sixth pick in the draft to Atlanta for the Falcons' first- (27th overall), second- (59th) and fourth- (124th), and next year's first- and fourth-rounders. So in 1995, San Francisco moved up 20 spots in the first round and paid a 1, 1, 3 and 4; in 2011, Atlanta moved up 21 spots in the first round and paid a 1, 1, 3, 4 and 4. An extra four, as it turns out. A ransom, some called it. A Ditka/Ricky Williams deal, others said.
I love it for both teams. Cleveland has six or eight major holes all over the field and acquired three top-60 picks and two in the fourth round to address them. In Matt Ryan's career, Atlanta may never be in position to draft a 6-foot-4, 223-pound wideout who runs a 4.38-second 40 and blocks like a poor man's Hines Ward. The Falcons were desperate for an explosive offensive player to take pressure off Roddy White -- who turns 30 this season. Seems like a good deal for both teams, though I realize the Falcons slightly overpaid for a player who has B-minus hands.
"It will be lauded by some, scrutinized by others,'' Dimitroff said over the phone just before midnight. "It's a substantial price to pay, but we spread it over two years, and we're still left with a three, a five, a six and three sevens this year. I want to emphasize this: I know the impression out there will be that we must think we're one player away to have paid so much for one player. But that isn't the case at all. We need more explosive playmaking, and this will help not only Matt but Roddy White and Michael Jenkins and Tony Gonzalez. We just decided to make an aggressive, bold move that we think will pay off for our team.''
Dimitroff first called Heckert last week, and they actually reached the parameters of a deal early this week. Cleveland would have gotten cold feet had the best player on their board, A.J. Green, slipped down to their pick at six, but he was taken at four. When Jones was there at six, both teams eagerly pulled the trigger.
This is the kind of trade a timid GM can't make. Wouldn't make. I'm reminded of the 2008 draft, when I spent the weekend in Atlanta for Dimitroff's first draft. He turned down a treasure trove from Baltimore to stay at number three and pick Mike Vick's replacement, Ryan. Then he dealt two second-round picks in a deal for tackle Sam Baker, the 21st pick in the first round. Baker wasn't worthy of the 21st pick in terms of talent, but Dimitroff saw the tackles flying off the board and said, "It can't always be about the value. Sometimes it has to be about the player.'' Baker's a passable left tackle now, and without him, Ryan might have been abused significantly more in his first three years.
But give credit to Heckert too. The Browns desperately wanted a wideout threat; they have none for young quarterback Colt McCoy. And now the pressure's on Heckert to make sure that, like Dimitroff, he can turn one of these prominent picks into an explosive offensive weapon.
This is the deal that made the 2011 draft so much fun. A good friend of mine, a Falcons fan from Augusta, Ga., texted late last night to say, "ATL has a Christmas feel to it tonight.'' Thanks to Dimitroff.