IT TAKES TWO TO TRADE
When the first five rounds of the NFL draft ended on Sunday, the new brain trust of the Chargers emerged frowning from their war room at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. General manager Bobby Beathard and aides Dick Daniels and Billy Devaney looked like California kids who had just had their skateboards ripped off. "Frustrating day," Devaney said. "We were offering our next year's one [the Chargers' 1991 first-round pick] around the league and getting no response. None."
"Teams were listening," Daniels said, "but they were holding, holding, holding—then folding."
Of the many surprises in the 55th NFL draft, one of the biggest was that Beathard, the Monty Hall of pro football, didn't deal away half of Mission Bay by sundown. Sunday was to have been the most frenzied day in draft history. With juniors available for the first time, the draft was very strong through the second and third rounds. So deep was the talent that the likes of Beathard were expected to wheel and deal, trading down for as many early-round picks as they could get their hands on.
It didn't happen. Which is why Beathard, Devaney and Daniels, who together traded up, down and sideways throughout the 1980s for the Redskins, were so disgusted. Beathard did land the player he liked more than any other, Southern Cal linebacker Junior Seau, with the fifth overall pick. But the Chargers, who didn't have a second-round selection and couldn't find a team to deal with them, had to wait 52 turns—until the 57th overall pick, early in the third round—before choosing again. After five rounds, Beathard had four players, but he would have liked to have had six or seven.
Although he got Seau, Beathard's thoughts on Sunday night were of Keith Sims, a guard from Iowa State, and Harold Green, a running back from South Carolina. Miami obtained Sims with the 39th pick (the 14th of the second round), after the Bengals took Green with the 38th pick. San Diego came close to striking a deal with Green Bay for the 19th overall choice, which Beathard would have used to take Sims, and with Dallas for the first pick of the second round.
"I almost got Dallas's second," says Beathard. "I could have had it, for a third and for next year's first. I was picturing Sims on our team. But I backed out. It was just too much. I never forget the guys we miss. I'll be following Keith Sims for his whole career, thinking about him and thinking how we missed him. My problem is I sometimes forget some of the good things that happen to us."
Beathard went on, trying to figure out what the rest of the league was trying to figure out. After the Steelers traded down four spots in the first round, no team made a deal for four rounds. That's like Wade Boggs going hitless for four months. There's always some maneuvering on draft day. "You really had to sweeten the pot to get anything done," says Beathard. "You had to overpay. I'm not sure why. Maybe there's more pressure to win now, and teams don't care about next year so much. Maybe this was just a great draft. All I know is that I've never seen a draft where next year's picks had so little value."
One player he wanted badly but didn't think he would be able to get, quarterback John Friesz of Idaho, was still available after the fifth round Sunday night. Beathard made sure he got Friesz by trading the Chargers' 1991 third-round pick to Dallas for the Cowboys' three 1990 sixth-round choices. That gave San Diego four picks in the sixth round on Monday.
Beathard hadn't given up yet.
SIGNING WAS A BONUS
In the days leading to the draft, some teams were already worrying about getting first-round picks signed and into training camp on time. One team that had one of the first 10 choices said it had eliminated University of Miami defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy from consideration because his agent, Robert Fraley, was likely to keep him out of camp in a lengthy contract negotiation. The Bears, who picked sixth, tried something novel. They began negotiations with their top five candidates—all defensive players-five days before the draft. They reached agreement with two of them. They drafted one, safety Mark Carrier of Southern Cal, and signed him on Sunday.
Carrier's contract—for more than $3.5 million over five years—is not as lucrative as that of last year's sixth pick, linebacker Broderick Thomas of Tampa Bay, who signed a five-year, $4.25 million deal. Still, coming to terms early with Chicago made sense for Carrier, because if the Bears had not selected him, he might not have gone until the second round.
PAY ATTENTION, JUNIOR
Eleven of the 38 juniors admitted to the draft went in the first two rounds, but only seven were taken in the last 10 rounds, leading to two conclusions: 1) The best players will always be picked high, whether or not they're seniors, and 2) this is a very risky business for marginal juniors. "We weren't interested in sending messages [to juniors]," says Cleveland vice-president Ernie Accorsi, "but what I think the draft says is if you're not a very good player, you're going to ruin your educational future. What it shows is it's a hell of a gamble."
Leaving school early paid off for the five juniors who were among the first seven players drafted, including Seau, who gets the Honest Man of the Year Award. When Seau was asked what his biggest adjustment to the pros would be, he said, "The money. I can't grasp a million dollars." You can now, Junior.
Falcon coach Jerry Glanville received a tour jacket in the mail from John Cougar Mellencamp. Glanville lip-synched backup vocals to Mellencamp's Rain on the Scarecrow at the Farm Aid IV concert in Indianapolis recently. "When I was standing on stage with John Cougar Mellencamp and Kris Kristofferson, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," Glanville says....
The day after the Colts traded for hometown quarterback Jeff George, a TV station in Indianapolis asked viewers if they approved of the deal. This was the same as Bernie Kosar coming home to Cleveland, wasn't it? Apparently not. Nearly 12,000 people responded, and 87% said they didn't like the trade....
Let history note that agent Leigh Steinberg and Indianapolis general manager Jim Irsay negotiated part of George's contract while they were buying five triple cheeseburgers, five large orders of fries and five large chocolate shakes for themselves and their colleagues in the negotiating room. "It was fun to do the deal in such a short time," says Steinberg of the negotiations that were completed within 14 hours over two days. "At one point I said to Jimmy, 'This is like listening to Light My Fire by the Doors. You can listen to the short version or the long version.' He took the short version."
UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE
Since 1987, the Colts have been living for today, the Falcons for tomorrow. In trading for running back Eric Dickerson, linebacker Fredd Young and quarterback Jeff George during the past three years, Indianapolis has mortgaged its future by dealing young starters and high draft choices. Poor play—bringing high draft position—and smart trading have poised Atlanta for better things to come.
WHAT THE COLTS HAVE TRADED SINCE 1987
First-rounder in '84
First-rounder in '89
Bronco first-rounder in '83
First-round picks in '88, '89, '90 and '91
Second-round picks in '88 and '89
WHAT THE FALCONS HAVE STOCKPILED SINCE 1987
First-rounder in '87
First-rounder in '88
Second-rounder in '88
First-rounder in '89
First-rounder in '89
Colt first-rounder in '89
Bronco first-rounder in '83
First-rounder in '90
Second-rounder in '90
Two first-round picks in '91
One second-round pick in '91