Hail to the Redskins
In perhaps his last draft with Washington, G.M. Charley Casserly had a day to remember
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."
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 hell 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.
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.