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Targeting the tight end

With Lions on the clock, Browns weren't going to let Winslow slip away

Updated: Wednesday April 28, 2004 4:40PM
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Kellen Winslow
The Browns traded up one spot to draft former Hurricane TE Kellen Winslow Jr. at No. 6.
John Marshall/AP Photo

CLEVELAND -- Midway or so through the New York Giants' 15-minute first-round draft window early Saturday afternoon, Cleveland Browns head coach Butch Davis was starting to feel pretty good about things.

The No. 7 Browns had a tentative deal in place with the No. 4 Giants, allowing them to ship New York its 2004 second-round pick (37th overall) and move up into position to select the University of Miami's talented tight end, Kellen Winslow Jr. Not Miami's Sean Taylor as many had speculated, believing the Browns had the standout safety rated just ahead of Winslow. It was Winslow that Davis coveted, and there was no confusion on that topic.

But then Philip Rivers for Eli Manning happened, and the first round's blockbuster trade of elite quarterbacks seemed to erase any chance that Davis would come away with the impact playmaker that he thought he had nearly locked up. The Giants ended talks with the Browns when they got word that the Chargers would be willing to swap Manning for Rivers, prompting New York to select the N.C. State quarterback and ship him westward.

But the Browns got a break when No. 5 Washington surprisingly bypassed Winslow in favor of Taylor, leaving No. 6 Detroit on the clock. The Lions were thought to be eager to draft Winslow themselves, but when the Browns came calling, another deal starting taking shape.

Like the Giants, the Lions wanted the Browns' second-rounder to move down, a steep price for Cleveland to pay to jump up just one spot. But the prize was Winslow, one of the three highest-rated players on the Browns' draft board. Based on the conventionally used point system that helps NFL personnel decision-makers assign value to each draft slot, a move from seventh to sixth was only worth a low third-round choice or maybe even a high fourth-rounder in exchange (Miami sent Minnesota its 2004 fourth-rounder later in the first round, just to slide up one notch from 20th to 19th).

But with Davis making the call, the Browns willingly overpaid the Lions, convinced that Winslow was worth the price of giving up their high second-rounder. The reasoning? Having gotten so close to landing Winslow at No. 4, Davis had few reservations about spending the same pick to acquire him at No. 6. Especially after the Lions made it clear to Cleveland that Winslow was the only player they would stay in the No. 6 spot to select.

Bluff or not, the Browns bit, and Davis had his man. The Lions followed suit by drafting Texas receiver Roy Williams at No. 7.

"You hope the Lions really were intending to draft Winslow, but it came down to a situation where the head coach [Davis] was just going to sleep better [Saturday night] if he got Winslow,'' said a source with knowledge of the situation. "Especially after getting that close at No. 4.''

Davis acknowledged that the Browns had to overwhelm Detroit in order to move up and land Winslow, but if he had any qualms about the pricey move, he wasn't sharing them on Saturday.

"[Detroit and us] talked about it, and they actually indicated that [Winslow] was who they were going to take, and that's why the compensation was maybe a little bit higher than people would have thought,'' Davis said. "But at that point to get the guy we want, that fits our offense and fits our specific needs, it was worth the compensation. For our football team, Kellen Winslow was the right pick for us.''

The Lions, with the West Coast offense favored by head coach Steve Mariucci, convinced Davis that Winslow was headed for the Motor City barring a trade.

"Kellen Winslow was almost a legitimate slam dunk [for the Lions],'' Davis said. "We almost had to buy him out of Detroit.''

While the Browns found a willing trade partner with the Lions, their efforts to move up to both No. 2 Oakland (for Iowa tackle Robert Gallery) and the No. 4 Giants (for Winslow) were rebuffed. Cleveland had talked to Oakland on and off for several days, but in the end, the Raiders wanted a ransom for their selection.

[Raiders owner Al Davis] wanted the entire Cleveland Browns franchise,'' Butch Davis quipped. "But let me tell you something. We just picked a heck of a football player and I'm fired up.''

In Winslow, the Browns took a tight end in the first round for the first time since selecting Ozzie Newsome out of Alabama in 1978. That one worked out pretty well, considering that Newsome went on to a Hall of Fame career. Winslow, the latest in the line of first-round Miami tight ends, is the league's first top-10 tight end since Oakland took Ricky Dudley in 1996.

Davis, along with his right-hand man, Browns director of football development Pete Garcia, helped recruit Winslow to the University of Miami in the fall of 2000, Davis' last season in Coral Gables. At least one veteran league observer believes that Garcia and Winslow's relationship could complicate the coming contract talks. Also a factor is that Winslow is represented by agents Carl and Kevin Poston, who have a reputation as tough negotiators.

"It's a terrific pick and he should be easy to sign, theoretically,'' said the league observer. "But it'll be interesting to see if his agents try to take advantage of the Garcia-Winslow relationship in negotiations. Pete Garcia is going to have to negotiate against someone he recruited. That's going to be an interesting dynamic for a player whose only downside maybe a bit of a lack of maturity.''

Around the league....

Cleveland's willingness to overpay in trade value for a shot at Winslow wasn't the only first-round move that raised some eyebrows around the league. Here are other surprising maneuvers that deserve quick bits of first-round analysis:

• Jacksonville -- Failing in their attempts to move up to Detroit's No. 6 spot in pursuit of Texas receiver Roy Williams, the No. 9 Jaguars proved they did indeed have injury concerns regarding USC defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who was once projected to Jacksonville.

How else to explain the Jags making a bit of a reach for Washington receiver Reggie Williams, who was considered either the third or fourth-best receiver in the draft and expected to last until the teens? Like other teams, Jacksonville had heard the reports that Udeze has a torn labrum in his shoulder that could limit him as a rookie.

• Buffalo -- The Bills, shut out on the top-three quarterback front at No. 13, also turned heads by taking Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans higher than anyone had him projected. Evans has blazing speed and great collegiate production, but he suffered a pair of reconstructive surgeries on his left knee in 2002 and only started to round back into his 2001 form toward the close of his 2003 season.

Kudos to the Bills, however, for trading back into the first round with No. 22 Dallas to snag Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman, the draft's fourth highest-ranked passer. Losman now becomes the heir apparent to take over for veteran Drew Bledsoe in 2005. The former Green Wave standout is a tough, resilient player who should fit in well in the blue-collar atmosphere favored by Bills fans.

• Philadelphia -- At least the Eagles aren't leaving any bullets in the chamber. Intent on ending their three-year NFC title game losing streak, Philly made another bold move in an offseason of bold moves. After acquiring Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens in March, the Eagles on Saturday jumped way up in the first round for a second consecutive year, going from 28th to San Francisco's 16th slot to take Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews.

Andrews, a junior, carries something of a risk because he has battled weight problems and carries at least 350 pounds on his frame. His arrival may allow the Eagles to move veteran right guard John Welbourn, as they have been trying to do all spring. The Eagles nearly traded Welbourn to the 49ers in a pre-draft deal. Philadelphia intends to work Andrews at both tackle and guard in training camp, but he is seen as left tackle Jon Runyan's eventual long-term replacement.

Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.