Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo
On draft day back in April, the New York Giant front office was a divided camp. A faction led by coach Dan Reeves wanted 20-year-old Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam, while another, led by director of player personnel Tom Boisture, wanted 23-year-old Tyrone Wheatley of Michigan. Reeves isn't talking about the disagreement, but those who sided with him say he felt that Salaam was the prototypical NFC East power back and had significantly less wear on his young body.
General manager George Young, who has mediated several of these dustups in his 16 years with the team, did what he is paid to do. "I break ties," he said last week. "If you hire intelligent people, you have to let them be intelligent. I don't want yes men. Once in a while you'll have a disagreement, but we're a democracy."
In this case Young preferred Wheatley, and the tie was broken. The Chicago Bears, picking four spots later, grabbed Salaam, who had won the Heisman Trophy four months earlier. The decision to go for Wheatley will be under close scrutiny because the Giants are counting on a strengthened backfield to help them mount a challenge to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.
When Wheatley arrives in camp—he was still unsigned as of Monday—he will join incumbent starter Rodney Hampton and another off-season acquisition, aging legend Herschel Walker, giving the Giants three stalwart every-down running backs. What they don't have is a back capable of matching the third-down wizardry of Dave Meggett, who made 10 electrifying plays a year that the Giants will be hard-pressed to duplicate. Meggett signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent. "We're still searching on third down," Reeves said last week. "We may have third down by committee. Wheatley [who quarterbacked some in high school] can even throw, so that may factor in there."
Hampton has gained over 1,000 yards in each of his last four seasons, but his yards-per-carry average has slipped from 4.4 in 1992 to 3.7 in '93 to 3.3 last fall. Perhaps for that reason, Hampton says he likes the Wheatley pick. "It's not a negative. It's a positive," he says. "I'll be fresh in the fourth quarter now with Tyrone and Herschel here."
At 33, Walker still wins sprints against rookies, then draws crowds of players to watch his postpractice workouts. "Herschel's like a circus act," quarterback Dave Brown says. "Guys gather round to watch him do pushups."
Walker rushed for 2,344 yards and a 4.3-yard average behind a porous Philadelphia Eagle offensive line the last three seasons, and he may be the wild card in New York's ground-hugging offense. Reeves may decide to give Walker lots of time at fullback, presenting defenses with a one-two punch out of the backfield matched by only a handful of teams in the league. Walker also will return kickoffs and Thomas Lewis will handle punt returns.
Pain in the Cap
The rookie salary cap was supposed to keep rookie salaries down while distributing more money to the veterans, right? Well, then, how do you figure the recent flip flop by the Carolina Panthers? A day before picking Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins in the April draft, owner Jerry Richardson declared that his club would not negotiate a contract with any rookie that included voidable years—the provision that, in effect, rips up a contract before it expires if a player meets specified performance standards.