The first round of the draft is shaping up as a wild one, but it
depends on what the Bengals do with the top pick
The Bengals are on the clock, and the rest of the league is
anxious about whom they will select to kick off the April 26
draft. With no prospects of a trade for the No. 1 pick in sight,
new coach Marvin Lewis said last week that Cincinnati would
choose from among quarterback Carson Palmer of USC, quarterback
Byron Leftwich of Marshall and cornerback Terence Newman of
Kansas State, and then try to sign the player before draft day.
"If they don't take one of the quarterbacks like everyone thinks
they will," says Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome,
"it changes the whole draft."
Word around Cincinnati is that team owner Mike Brown is dead set
on Palmer, the Heisman winner and a perfect gentleman of a
quarterback, while Lewis, a longtime defensive coordinator, might
be leaning to Newman, a cover corner with blazing speed and more
of a sure thing compared with a pair of passers who aren't
can't-miss prospects. (Leftwich, who twice broke his left leg in
college, is scheduled to work out for coaches and scouts on
Whatever Cincinnati decides, trying to figure out how the first
round will shake out is one of the biggest crapshoots in draft
history. Last year there were seven trades involving first-round
picks. This year? "I think you'll see an awful lot of movement,
with teams targeting certain players more so than in the past,"
says Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt. "More
teams are filling bigger holes because of free agency." With the
second selection the Lions appear set on taking Michigan State
wideout Charles Rogers. But the Texans, the Bears and the
Cowboys, the next three teams in the draft order, would love to
trade down and stockpile picks, as would the Jaguars (eighth) and
the Ravens (10th).
Two clubs with multiple first-round choices, the Saints (Nos. 17
and 18) and the Jets (Nos. 13 and 22), will try to move into the
top 10 to select Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant and
Miami wideout Andre Johnson, respectively. The Packers (picking
29th) and the Raiders (31st and 32nd) are also considering moving
up. But the dominoes won't start falling until the Bengals make
the first move.
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Quietly, the NFL is working to schedule a preseason game in
Shanghai in 2005 and another in Beijing in '06. In the wake of
the immense success the NBA has enjoyed with the arrival of
Rockets center Yao Ming, the NFL is sending emissaries to China
this month. The Shanghai game could feature the Broncos and the
Patriots. "We need to be in China," says Pats owner Bob Kraft,
whose paper-manufacturing company has an office in Shanghai.
"Asia's the future." ...Asked near the start of the league's
annual meetings about the prospects of a proposal to allow each
team at least one possession in overtime, commissioner Paul
Tagliabue said last week, "The coaches seem to be too preoccupied
with the status quo." Two days later the proposed rule change
fell seven votes shy of the 24 needed to pass, and thus the
overtime coin flip remains a huge factor in the outcome of the
extra-session games.... Next season, for the first time in seven
years, the Super Bowl champion will open its title defense on the
road, and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden isn't happy about it. "I
don't know why we buck that trend," a peeved Gruden said last
week. The Bucs will help christen the Eagles' new stadium in the
Monday night opener, on Sept. 8.... Kudos to the Cardinals for
being up front about their signing of Emmitt Smith, the alltime
rushing leader who turns 34 next month. Smith, who agreed to a
two-year deal, was brought in as much for his marketing appeal as
for his rushing skills. "His importance to us is equal in both
areas," says vice president of football operations Rod Graves.
"Obviously I feel he's an ambassador, but I also feel he's a good
player with some juice left."