- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
I've got to be the
Godfather today," Lions president Matt Millen said last Saturday morning,
sitting in the living room of his town house in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
He sounded full of hope and anticipation. In an hour Millen, a man who badly
needed a good day, expected to be fielding calls from three or four clubs and
hoped--in a role reversal for Don Corleone--that someone would make him an
offer he couldn't refuse in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
A month earlier Denver had offered two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two third-rounders, plus veteran linebacker Al Wilson, but when the Broncos wouldn't substitute another second-round pick for the injured Wilson, Millen turned them down. With that, the bar was set high.
Two minutes passed. Four. Eight. Not a single ring. And Millen wasn't going to make any calls. In the macho world of NFL deal-making, to do so when you're on the clock is the ultimate sign of desperation.
Not that desperation hasn't been in ample supply in Detroit. The Lions' 24--72 record during Millen's six seasons--worst in the NFL over that span--partly reflects his poor drafts. Johnson would be the fourth receiver Detroit had taken in the top 10 in the last five years. Two were abject failures--the injury-plagued Charles Rogers (2003) and the uninterested Mike Williams ('05), who, fittingly, was dealt to Oakland later on Saturday. Quarterback-of-the-future Joey Harrington, the No. 3 pick in '02, also flopped.
"Remember what I told you when you visited here, that you wouldn't get past the Number 2 pick?" Millen asked Johnson.
"Well, you're not getting past the Number 2 pick. Congratulations. You're a Lion."
If Johnson's as good as advertised--a physical 6'5", 239-pound receiver with sprinter's speed who loves to play the game-- Millen did the right thing by setting the trade bar high. But he shouldn't have been surprised that no offer materialized. A team picking in the top 10 used to be able to trade down for a package of picks and/or players, but this was the third straight year no such deal was made. Why? The disparity in payouts to rookies at the top of the draft has grown more pronounced as the NFL salary cap has risen from $85.5 million to $109 million since 2005. A mere two-slot move up by Tampa Bay, from fourth to second, would have cost the Bucs an additional $3 million per year, minimum, in player compensation, plus at least two second-round selections. The fact that no one moved up for a such a highly touted player as Johnson is a sign that the days of top-of-the draft trades may be over.
Which helps explain all the deals that came later. For Millen the action started in the second round. He held the 34th pick and had his eyes on Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton, whom the Lions had graded very close to Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. The Bills, eager for Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, offered second- and third-round picks for the 34th. Millen made the trade and got Stanton at No. 43. He'll be groomed to be Detroit's 2008 starter.