The Niners had the seventh selection but didn't intend to spend it on one of the available quarterbacks, instead taking Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith. Baalke and Harbaugh had targeted Kaepernick and Dalton, in that order, before the draft. Late in the first round Baalke tried to trade up with a package of picks starting with the Niners' second-rounder, at 45, but couldn't swing a deal. He started again a half hour before the beginning of Friday's round 2, calling the Patriots, who held the first pick (No. 33) that evening. The Raiders, who'd dealt their 2011 first-round choice to New England in September 2009 to get defensive tackle Richard Seymour, were also trying to get the Pats' pick. That gave the Patriots leverage. San Francisco offered two third-round picks (one from this draft, one from 2012) to move up, but New England wanted a third-rounder this year and a second-rounder next year. Baalke thought that was too much, even if it meant losing his quarterback of the future. The Patriots drafted Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Baalke knew the Bills weren't going to take Kaepernick or Dalton at 34, and he figured Cincy would take Dalton at 35. So he focused on the pick after Cincinnati's, held by the Broncos, and dealt fourth- and fifth-rounders this year to Denver. Cool Hand Baalke got his man, and at significantly less than he would have paid New England.
As Harbaugh was leaving the 49ers' offices on Friday night, he ran into Baalke and shook the general manager's hand heartily. "You were a stud today!" Harbaugh said. "Great job in there!"
THE LIONS (!) ROAR
Under former G.M. Matt Millen (don't say that name too loudly in Michigan), Detroit became infamous for first-round bombs—Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Ernie Sims—that set the franchise back years. But Millen's successor, Martin Mayhew, and coach Jim Schwartz did their part to make up for those busts last weekend. The Lions had perhaps the best draft in the league, nabbing three potential impact players in the top two rounds: disruptive defensive tackle Nick Fairley of Auburn, a DeSean Jackson--like playmaker in Boise State wideout Titus Young and the top running back on a few teams' boards, Mikel Leshoure of Illinois.
Fairley's drop to 13 was the biggest shock, considering the consistent disruption he caused for the national champions. In 14 games for Auburn last year he had 35½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 11½ sacks. That's reminiscent of the best interior lineman in last year's draft, Ndamukong Suh. Now Fairley will be playing alongside Suh, the 2010 defensive rookie of the year, in Detroit.
"What helped us tremendously was the dynamic of the system this year," Schwartz said on Saturday. "Because you couldn't make player trades or sign free agents, teams that wanted a quarterback had to pick one high to make sure they got one. People couldn't go with the value on the board; they had to go for the need. That pushed some really good players down. And when our pick came, you don't question why a guy like Nick's still there. You just say thank you and take him."
ATLANTA PLAYS THE NUMBERS
How do you calculate fair-market value for one of the best receivers to come out of college football in the last decade? You consult the well-worn NFL draft-pick value chart. The invention of Cowboys scouts two decades ago, the chart is used—religiously by some G.M.'s, casually by others—to assign a numerical value to each draft position for the purpose of trades.
Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff wanted an explosive offensive weapon, and the two big and fast receivers, Green and Julio Jones, were sure to go in the top 10. After throwing out some preliminary offers to move up from his slot in the first round (27) to the Browns' (six), Dimitroff got out his calculator. According to the chart, Cleveland's pick was worth 1,600 points, so he offered the 27th choice (680 points), the 59th (310) and the 124th (48) this year. Then, assuming the Falcons would draft in the same spots next year—but those picks would be worth 20% less because they won't take the field for another season—he calculated the value of the 27th (544) and the 124th (38.4) choices in 2012. The total worth of those five positions: 1,620.4—essentially making it a straight-up trade.
I asked eight personnel directors or G.M.'s about the deal over the weekend, and seven thought Dimitroff overpaid. He may have. Dimitroff is not a typical football G.M. Last summer at training camp, between two-a-day practices, he hosted me in his office for green tea and organic biscuits. In pursuing this deal he reasoned that barring a 4--12 finish in the next few years—hard to imagine with Matt Ryan as his quarterback—he would never get a receiver like Jones unless he made a major move like this.