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NFL Draft '99

Inside the NFL

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Posted: Tuesday April 20, 1999 05:28 PM

This week's topics:
Hail to the Redskins | Edge to Edgerrin 
Dispatches | The End Zone
Dr. Z's Draft Report Card

Hail to the Redskins  

In perhaps his last draft with Washington, G.M. Charley Casserly had a day to remember

By Peter King

Sports Illustrated

Last Saturday, as the Redskins prepared to trade themselves into the strongest position of any team in the draft, Washington general manager Charley Casserly dialed up club president John Kent Cooke and explained the deals he had working. "Charley," Cooke told him, "we need to do what's best for the franchise in the long run."

  The Redskins got Bailey, the player they wanted all along, and a few extra picks to boot. Al Tielemans
What cruel irony. This off-season has been a rewarding one for the Redskins, yet the team's three architects -- Casserly, Cooke and coach Norv Turner -- still sit like lame ducks waiting to find out who the Skins' next owner will be. New York real estate mogul Howard Milstein nearly bought the team from the estate of Cooke's late father, Jack Kent Cooke, early this month, but Milstein withdrew his loan-heavy $800 million offer when it become apparent that NFL owners would reject his bid. The younger Cooke's $680 million offer remains on the table (and may be increased), but he'll probably be trumped again by outside investors.

Had his bid been accepted, Milstein planned to clean house, a move that would have been tough to criticize. Turner is 32-47-1; Casserly, Washington's G.M. since 1989, has lorded over six straight teams that missed the postseason.

Casserly has also presided over some awful drafts, but he's in the midst of his second consecutive productive off-season. In February he traded a 1999 first-round choice and two other picks to the Vikings for quarterback Brad Johnson, giving Turner the accurate passer he has sorely lacked since the team's misguided drafting of Heath Shuler in 1994, Turner's first season. Then, having stolen two first-round picks, in 1999 and 2000, from the Panthers last year as compensation for the signing of holdout defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, Casserly traded twice early in Saturday's draft and ended up not only with the player he coveted, Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, but also, among other picks, with an additional first-round choice in 2000, giving Washington a total of three next year.

Still, it's been a strange, and strained, off-season around Redskin Park. In late February, Milstein was allowed to appoint an ad hoc general manager, former 49ers director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato, to work in concert with Casserly. Cerrato wanted an office at Redskin Park. Cooke said no, so Cerrato set up shop in a hotel five miles away. "Every time we were considering a free agent," Casserly says, "I had to remind myself to copy some tapes and send them to Vinny. It was uncomfortable, but I told Vinny, 'This isn't complicated. Either you're going to be here or I'm going to be here. We have to do what's best for the Redskins.'"

Which is what Casserly did in the draft. Last Saturday morning Casserly, who had the fifth pick, set up a tentative deal with New Orleans, which was choosing 12th and looking to move up to take running back Ricky Williams. The teams would swap first-round selections, and the Redskins would get the Saints' other five choices in this draft, plus a first- and a third-rounder next year. But that deal was contingent on Washington's pulling off another trade, with the Bears, who had the seventh pick. Casserly got that done, sending Chicago third-, fourth- and fifth-round choices this year along with a third-round pick in 2000. After everything fell into place, an amazed Casserly said, "We got our guy, and we've got three ones next year."

Yes, the Redskins now have three first-round picks in 2000, but who will make those selections remains to be seen.

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Edge to Edgerrin:  
James Was Hot Commodity

The most ascendant star of the draft was 20-year-old running back Edgerrin James, the surprise fourth pick. When Indianapolis chose the 6-foot, 216-pound James -- a slippery inside runner with good speed, excellent hands and significantly less wear on his tires than Ricky Williams -- AFC East rivals New England and Miami were crushed.

The Patriots had offered four high draft picks, including the 20th and 28th selections, to Washington in an attempt to move up to fifth. The Dolphins had dangled most of this year's picks and next year's first-rounder to jump from 24th. "We had a scenario where we'd trade up twice, to Baltimore at 10 and then to Chicago at seven," Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said last Saturday night. "That's how badly we wanted him. Peyton Manning with Edgerrin James. Two great, young players together. Unfortunately, they're in our division."

The night before the draft Johnson had tried to trade for Marshall Faulk, the Pro Bowl back whom the Colts had dealt to the Rams last Thursday. St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil said no thanks. Finally, on draft day, Johnson traded out of the first round and took Mississippi State's James Johnson with the 39th pick, passing on troubled but talented McNeese State runner Cecil Collins. "Such a high risk," Jimmy Johnson said of Collins, who has been dogged by off-field problems. But on Sunday, with the stakes not as high, Johnson did take Collins with the first pick in the fifth round.

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Arizona Stacks The Deck

Arizona had a heated debate in its war room over whether to take Ohio State wideout David Boston or BYU tackle John Tait with the eighth selection. The Cardinals settled on Boston, then tackle L.J. Shelton of Eastern Michigan fell into Arizona's lap with the 21st pick. When was the last time you heard this? The Cardinals should be the favorite in the NFC East ... Southpaw quarterback Cade McNown, who wore number 18 at UCLA, will don number 8 with the Bears. "Three great lefties -- Mark Brunell, Steve Young and Carl Yastrzemski -- wore 8," McNown said. "That's the number for me." ... Poor Akili Smith, chosen third, is bound for Cincinnati, where high draft choices (David Klinger, John Copeland, Dan Wilkinson, KiJana Carter, Reinard Wilson) go to die. On Monday the Bengals cut last year's incumbent quarterback, Neil O'Donnell. They'll play Jeff Blake while Smith learns the system.

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The End Zone:  
Science of Scouting

If the Saints were so hot for a running back, why were they interested only in Ricky Williams and not Edgerrin James? When he met James at the NFL scouting combine in February, New Orleans coach Mike Ditka didn't think much of James's handshake. "Like shaking hands with a dead fish," Ditka said last week.

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Issue date: April 26, 1999

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Dr. Z's Draft Report Card
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