The clock was ticking. It was 1:50 p.m. last Thursday, and
Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard stood by a pay phone at
the tiny airport in Steamboat Springs, Colo., ready to pull the
trigger on the most eye-popping NFL trade of the 1990s. Beathard
was on the verge of giving the Cardinals San Diego's first-round
draft picks in 1998 and '99, a second-round choice this year,
one of the game's most dangerous return men (Eric Metcalf) and a
reserve linebacker (Patrick Sapp) to move up one place, from No.
3 to Arizona's No. 2 spot, in the NFL draft on April 18. In so
doing, Beathard would guarantee that the Chargers could select
one of two marquee quarterbacks, Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning.
If the Cardinals backed out, Beathard had a two o'clock deadline
from the Jets to make a trade for defensive end Hugh Douglas.
The Chargers would give up their second- and sixth-round picks
this year for Douglas. Then San Diego would almost certainly use
the third pick in the draft on Andre Wadsworth, Florida State's
terrific pass-rushing defensive end.
Beathard, who had just arrived in Steamboat Springs for a family
vacation, called Arizona. He told Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill
and vice president of player personnel Bob Ferguson that he was
ready to do the deal, which the two teams had been negotiating
for five weeks. But the Arizona executives asked for more time
to give the trade some final thought. "I can't," Beathard said.
"I have a deadline with another team on another deal."
March 23, 1998
"When's the deadline?" Ferguson asked.
Beathard looked at his watch. "Three minutes," he said.
"Wait a minute," Ferguson said, putting Beathard on hold.
Moments later Bidwill got back on the line and said, "We have a
Nothing says more about what pro football has become than this
trade. First, there's the desperate-for-a-quarterback factor.
When Packers general manager Ron Wolf heard about the swap, he
said, "I've got to call Bobby and congratulate him. You pay
whatever you have to for a franchise player." The Chargers had
to pay a king's ransom to Arizona, which was fielding several
tempting offers for the rights to whichever of the two
quarterbacks the Colts, picking first in the draft, don't take.
(The Bengals dangled two first-round picks plus running back
Ki-Jana Carter; the Saints offered a first-rounder plus five
more picks in 1998; the Bears were willing to part with their
first-rounder plus 1,000-yard rusher Raymont Harris and
defensive end Alonzo Spellman.)
Then there's the sacrifice-tomorrow-for-today factor. San Diego
doesn't have a pick in rounds 2 through 4 this year and in round
1 in '99, but at least it will have a quarterback who it can
Finally, there's the mania factor: having to respond to
impatient fans and having to be competitive in a league that
recently negotiated $17.6 billion in TV contracts. "There's more
pressure today," Beathard says. "There's more of the
On the day after the trade Beathard had no buyer's remorse.
Since Super Bowl XXIX three years ago, when the upstart Chargers
got shellacked by the 49ers, his team is 21-28, and quarterback
Stan Humphries has retired. "Had we gotten Douglas and
Wadsworth," Beathard says, "that means we don't get the
quarterback. So maybe if we're 4-12 next year, we have another
chance to pick a great quarterback--if there is one. But if
we're 4-12 next year, maybe I'm not around to do the picking.
Did we overpay? Shoot, we all overpay in this game now. For
If the Colts take the University of Tennessee's Manning, then
Leaf, the Washington State quarterback and a big Chargers' fan,
would be thrilled. The added pressure of a team's trading a
large chunk of its future for him doesn't seem to faze Leaf. "If
there's more pressure, I welcome it," he says. "My mom and my
coach have always said I'm at my best when I'm backed into a
If the quarterback San Diego selects doesn't pan out, this could
be the last megadeal by a guy once regarded as the smartest
personnel man in football. It was suggested to Beathard last
Friday that he had paid too dearly in this deal. As sure as he
has ever been about anything, he replied, "You'll be wrong."
THE JURY'S STILL OUT
Marshall sophomore wide receiver Randy Moss, the enigma of the
first round because of his troubled past, had an impressive
workout for the handful of NFL teams who watched him go through
drills at his school last Friday. In a 25[degree] windchill,
Moss ran the 40 in 4.31, 4.35 and 4.44 seconds--superb times
even in ideal conditions. But his performance the night before
at a dinner with Bears coach Dave Wannstedt may have been
better. "He made a great impression," Wannstedt says.
"Well-dressed, polite, smart. The big question is whether he's
grown up, and nothing showed up negatively in our two days there."
The Bears draft fifth, followed by the Rams and the Saints. New
Orleans talent evaluators also left West Virginia impressed, but
St. Louis was a no-show. "He's not on our draft board," Rams
coach Dick Vermeil said last week, citing the three black marks
on Moss's resume: a guilty plea to two counts of battery when he
was in high school, a positive marijuana test in college and a
1996 incident in which he and his former girlfriend were
arrested for domestic battery. "There are too many things in his
career that lead you to believe you might not get a good return
on your investment," says Vermeil, who last season, his first
with the Rams, waived talented but troubled second-year running
back Lawrence Phillips.
With a nod to Moss's 174 catches for 3,529 yards and 54
touchdowns over two college seasons, Wannstedt counters, "Our
scouts say he's the best receiver to come out of college in the
last 30 years."
DOUGLAS A GOOD FIT FOR EAGLES
The Eagles did well in getting Hugh Douglas, an orphan of the
Jets' 3-4 defense, for second- and fifth-round picks. "Hugh
likes the 4-3," says Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes, who uses a
four-man line. "He's comfortable playing on the edges with his
technique and power."... At the league's annual meetings next
week in Orlando, instant replay is on the agenda--again--and
proponents hope they can sell a system that assesses a five-yard
penalty against a team asking for a replay that doesn't change
an official's ruling.... Look for the Seahawks to sign
quarterback Warren Moon, who turns 42 in November, to a
two-year, $6 million extension.
After one month of free agency Green Bay has lost five players
who started in the Packers' 31-24 Super Bowl loss to the
Broncos: cornerback Doug Evans (to the Panthers), punter Craig
Hentrich (Oilers), free safety Eugene Robinson (Falcons), guard
Aaron Taylor (Chargers) and defensive end Gabe Wilkins (49ers).
In the six years since the NFL instituted unfettered free
agency, the 1997 Packers and the '93 Cowboys have lost the most
starters in the off-season following a Super Bowl appearance.
What's more, none of the other three hardest-hit teams made it
back to the NFL title game the next year.
STARTERS NEXT YEAR'S
TEAM LOST RECORD FINISH
1993 Cowboys 5 13-5 Lost in NFC Championship Game
1997 Packers 5 -- --
1995 Cowboys 4 11-7 Lost in NFC divisional playoffs
1995 Steelers 3 11-7 Lost in AFC divisional playoffs