Work in Sports
Ravens pleased with picks
No deal turns out to be best deal for Baltimore
Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 08:46 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A jumble of nervous energy, Brian Billick was up for good at 3:30 a.m. Saturday. By 7 a.m., he was in his office at the Baltimore Ravens' complex and eagerly awaiting his team's pivotal role in the first round of the NFL Draft. There were phone calls to field, scenarios to plot out one last time, and the day's unknowns to try and project.
In reality, the Ravens' ultra-prepared second-year coach could have slept in. At least until the scheduled "sunrise" on what turned into a dreary, drizzly Saturday on the East Coast. For all the potential twists, turns and intrigue that could have developed for the Ravens, who held the Nos. 5 and 10 picks overall, the top third of the first round was surprisingly uneventful and went almost according to form. Unless you consider Baltimore's landing the two players they had their sights most set on -- Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis and Florida receiver Travis Taylor -- as an event all to itself.
"At No. 5 and 10, to come away with a running back and a wide receiver, I don't know that you could write a better script for us," Billick said.
Open to the idea of trading out of the No. 5 spot, the first slot in the first round that held any drama or suspense, the Ravens never got the barrage of offers and phone calls that they expected. So they sat still and took 20 percent of the draft's top 10 off the board, content with their no-lose lot in the day's proceedings.
The most exciting part of Billick's day actually occurred from 8-9 a.m., hours before the draft started. Resuscitating contract talks that had broken off Friday night with Seattle free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams, Billick and the Ravens found Adams by phone at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where he was set to take off for Green Bay at 9:30 a.m., and likely sign with the Packers.
Negotiating by cell phone, Billick and the Ravens convinced Adams to leave the airport -- his luggage had already been checked onto his flight -- and catch a cab back to the team complex. Within 90 minutes, Adams had signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the team, eliminating any need for the Ravens to address defensive tackle by selecting Florida State's Corey Simon at the No. 5 pick.
"It was funny, but [the draft] was almost anti-climatic because of what went on [Saturday] morning and all the energy we had to put into that," Billick said of the Adams negotiations. "In the war room, it was like all we've got to do now is just pick. [Saturday] morning, it was wild. But once we got [Adams] into that cab, it was done."
In eschewing a trade and selecting a pair of juniors in Lewis and Taylor, the Ravens made two bold moves designed to rev up a 24th ranked offense that looked anemic at times in averaging just 298.6 yards per game in 1999. But the Ravens, who finished an improved 8-8 in Billick's first season, didn't make the anticipated bold move out of the No. 5 spot, swapping their way down a few spots and picking up extra selections in the process.
Baltimore had opportunities, but they were few. Chicago called Saturday morning with an offer of its No. 9 pick, plus a third- and fourth-rounder. The absence of a second-rounder doomed the Bears' attempt. Chicago, which wound up drafting New Mexico linebacker/safety Brian Urlacher at No. 9, was thought to be trying to move up to get either Urlacher or Michigan State receiver Plaxico Burress.
"The Bears just didn't come far enough for us," Billick said. "The No. 2 pick was pivotal to us from a value sense. We wanted to recoup the second-rounder that we traded Denver [on Wednesday], and they just didn't want to give it up."
With five minutes or less to go in the Ravens' 15-minute allotment of time before their No. 5 pick, Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf called the Ravens and tested their resolve, offering the Packers' No. 14 pick, plus a second and fourth-rounder. It was the same deal Green Bay had offered Friday, and the Ravens' reply was the same: make that fourth-round pick a third-rounder and you've got a deal.
"It was nothing new," Billick said. "They just wanted to see if we'd take a cheaper deal. They called late on the clock and were trying to pressure us and find out if we were content in taking Taylor at No. 10, or whether we wanted to drop down and recoup our second. But it was an undervalued combination they gave us."
The Packers wound up selecting Miami tight end Bubba Franks at No. 14, and apparently were interested in trading up to acquire either him or Tennessee defensive end Shaun Ellis, who went to the New York Jets at No. 12.
Interestingly, it was the Jets, who had pursued the Ravens' No. 5 pick more aggressively than anyone in recent days, dropped out of the running Saturday. Baltimore vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome called New York, but Jets de facto general manager Bill Parcells did not sweeten his previous offer to the Ravens of the bottom two -- No. 18 and 27 -- of his record four first-round picks.
Baltimore was seeking the Jets' Nos. 12 and 27 picks in exchange for its No. 5, and became convinced at some point that New York was hanging on to its Nos. 12 and 13 picks in order to draft Franks. Instead, the Jets opted for Ellis and South Carolina linebacker John Abraham at Nos. 12 and 13.
Despite shopping a package of their first-rounders to several teams above them Friday, the Jets settled for becoming the first team to ever select four players in the first round -- perhaps a legacy piece for Parcells as he heads into retirement.
"We thought New York was going to jump all over Franks," Billick said. "We thought that's why they were sitting there at 12 and 13 and why they were so reticent to give one of those up. But nobody matched the value we had placed on the opportunity to get both Lewis and Taylor."
While the Ravens valued Taylor, Billick conceded that he was willing to draft Franks in the No. 10 spot if Taylor was off the board. Baltimore signed former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe to a free-agent deal early this offseason, but would have gone to a two-tight end formation had it landed Franks.
"I was the advocate for the tight end, because you just never get a big-time tight end in the draft," Billick said. "I've been trying to draft one for 10 years now, and you just never have the right guy at the right place. It's just a rare breed.
"We could have pulled off the deal with Green Bay, because our comfort zone was Franks. I don't think people had us sized up for that. But had we known he would fall to No. 14, we would have had to consider it."
In drafting Lewis with the fifth pick, the Ravens believe they got a rare package of both explosiveness and power, and a player who shows no ill effects of the knee injury (a lateral collateral ligament tear) he suffered in 1998, as a sophomore. The injury cost him all but four games that year, following his standout 1997 freshman season of 1,364 yards rushing.
"The key to the draft for us was Lewis," Billick said. "Even if we dropped down below the No. 10 pick with our other pick, the big question was 'Can we go to No. 10 and still get Lewis?' There was a great deal of debate. And we finally said let's just stay at 5 and 10 and not run the risk.
"We knew the value we were getting. We thought about trying to pick up a little bit more and squeezing a little bit more out of those two picks, but in the end the system worked. Because the board came down the way we said it would and we got the best valuable available."
The Ravens already had executed one major first-round transaction this week, sending their No. 15 pick and a second-rounder (45th overall) to Denver in exchange for its No. 10 pick. Billick told CNNSI.com Saturday morning before the draft that the possibility of two more trades existed: One that dropped the Ravens out of the No. 5 spot to somewhere between No. 12-18, and a second deal that boosted them back into the No. 8-11 range.
The goal was to assure themselves of selecting either Taylor or Franks with their second first-round selection. Ravens owner Art Modell may have been the most pleased member of the team's front office Saturday. It was his desire all along to stay put and take two top-10 players rather than deal one of Baltimore's first-rounders.
"I think you have to go for quality, not quantity," Modell said. "Exactly what happened is what I wanted to happen. Chicago's offer was inadequate and the other didn't get there either."
Lewis said he didn't have more than 30 seconds warning that the Ravens were making him the draft's fifth pick.
"I knew Baltimore wanted a running back," Lewis said of the Ravens' loss of starting running back Errict Rhett to Cleveland during free agency.
"I didn't know if they were going to trade the pick or not. I knew it was a possibility that they would take me with one of their picks. ... I'm able to block, run and catch the ball out of the backfield and that is why Baltimore chose me at No. 5."