Jets coach Bill Parcells' signing restricted free-agent running
back Curtis Martin away from the Patriots last week showed a
brazen disregard for New England's front office. Certainly New
England never should have put itself in the position to lose its
second-most-important player, after quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
But the upshot of the deal is that Parcells, who defected from
the Pats to the Jets a year ago, has no respect for New
England's ability to mine talent without him.
Combining their compensation for Parcells' departure with the
draft choices they received for declining to match New York's
offer to Martina six-year, $36 million contractthe Patriots
have the Jets' first-, second- and third-round picks in the
draft this month, plus a first-round selection next year. In
effect Parcells has handed his chief rival for AFC East
supremacyand a two-time defending division championa chance
to reload with 10 picks (including New England's own) in the top
three rounds of the next two drafts.
Martin ranks third in the league in carries over the
past three years, with 958.
(Walter Iooss Jr.)
Would Parcells have given Dolphins coach and general manager
Jimmy Johnson such draft-day largesse? Never. Even New England
vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier, who oversees his
team's draft, believes Parcells was questioning his
organization's drafting prowess. "I thought exactly that when
the offer sheet for Curtis came in," Grier said last Saturday.
"I don't think there's any bad feeling between Bill and me, but
there's definitely something between Bill and our organization."
The backdrop: Parcells and Grier combined on a superb 1995 draft
(cornerback Ty Law, linebacker Ted Johnson, Martin and center
Dave Wohlabaugh). But the following year Parcells and Grier were
at odds over whom to select with the No. 7 pick. Parcells wanted
defensive help, Grier wanted wideout Terry Glenn. When owner Bob
Kraft sided with his personnel man, Parcells seethed. Less than
10 months later, after leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl,
Parcells walked away.
With total control of the selection process for the first time
last April, Grier, a New England assistant coach and scout since
1983, had an uneventful draft, with only nickelback Chris Canty,
a first-round selection, becoming a regular contributor during
the season. All nine players chosen in the '97 draft remain on
the roster, but in addition to Canty, only running back Sedrick
Shaw, a third-round pick, is expected to have an impact in '98.
Now the Patriots have lost Martin, who led the AFC in rushing as
a rookie, with 1,487 yards, and ran for 1,152 yards his second
year and 1,160 more last year, even though he missed all or part
of six games with a torn abdominal muscle that required
The good news for the Patriots is the strength of the draft. New
England holds the 18th, 22nd, 51st, 53rd, 80th and 82nd picks.
"They have almost the same opportunity the Cowboys had after the
Herschel Walker trade [to the Vikings in 1989]," says Rams pro
personnel director Charlie Armey. "This is a top-heavy draft,
really strong through three rounds."
"You judge a draft by the strength of the offensive and
defensive lines, and they're both good," adds Bucs director of
player personnel Jerry Angelo. "On the offensive line, as many
as 12 will come out of the draft and be rank-and-file NFL
starters or better, and that's very good."
The Patriots' top priority is a running back, but New England
would have to pay dearly to move into position to take Penn
State powerback Curtis Enis, most likely bound for the Bears at
No. 5 or the Rams at No. 6. Florida's big, fast Fred Taylor or
Georgia's productive Robert Edwardsthe Patriots called agents
for both last week to arrange visitsmay fall to No. 18. "New
England's still the most talented team in our division," the
Dolphins' Johnson says. "They didn't have Martin the last month
of last season, and they beat us twice."
Grier says he feels no pressure picking impact players in the
first three rounds. Armey, who worked with Grier in the New
England scouting department until moving to the Rams last year,
believes him. "Bobby's not the kind of guy who succumbs to
pressure, even when things are hot," Armey says. "The pressure
will not deflate this man."
It had better not. Grier holds the future of a playoff team in
Issue date: April 6, 1998