The Draft’s Catch-22

May 13, 2014 by Peter King

As we look at the NFL draft with some perspective now, the one pick that fascinates me is number 22. And not just because Johnny Manziel got taken there, but because there was such heated competition for the pick.

An impeccable NFL source told me this on Monday night:

  • The Eagles, who held the 22nd pick in the draft, informed teams after several players they loved at 22 were snatched—LSU wideout Odell Beckham, who went 12th to the Giants, and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, who went 14th to Chicago, among others—that they were auctioning the choice.
  • Six teams inquired about pick number 22. Philadelphia got four solid offers.
  • Though it was reported by Jay Glazer that the Vikings and Browns jousted for the 22nd pick (absolutely true), they were not alone. The source said that another team, not Minnesota, was the leader in the clubhouse when Eagles GM Howie Roseman told Cleveland GM Ray Farmer with three minutes left in the 10-minute draft period that he had to make a better offer than the one Cleveland had on the table.
  • Minnesota and Cleveland wanted Johnny Manziel. But it’s clear that the second-place finisher, which already had a good quarterback, wanted another player at 22. I wish I knew that other team. I do not. I don’t believe it is Houston.
  • Cleveland, as I reported Monday in my column, did sweeten its offer to move up from 26 to 22, by improving its last offer to the 26th pick and 83rd overall. (I don’t know what Cleveland’s offer was before this, but GM Ray Farmer had less than 30 seconds to improve it to Philadelphia’s satisfaction, and he did.)
  • If Farmer didn’t include the mid-third-round pick in the deal, Philadelphia absolutely would have made the deal with Team Unknown for the 22nd pick. Cleveland would have had to move on. In that case, Cleveland would have called Kansas City at 23 and Cincinnati at 24 to try to get a deal done. I am told Kansas City would have been receptive to an offer for the 23rd pick, but Cincinnati, in love with cornerback Darqueze Dennard, would have held onto the pick.
  • The finish line: Cleveland won. The anonymous team seeking a player other than Manziel finished second. Minnesota was third—obviously because the Vikings didn’t want to include the 2015 first-round pick. (I don’t blame them.) The Eagles would have likely made that trade knowing the three or four players they liked at 22 would have been gone at 40. And another anonymous team finished fourth.

Coming Tomorrow

The MMQB will launch the first of a 10-part series called NFL 95: The History of Pro Football in 95 Objects, commemorating the league’s 95th season in 2014. Each Wednesday until the start of training camp in July, we’ll unveil one long-form piece on an artifact of particular significance, accompanied by others that trace the rise of pro football in America.

So, many of you have asked in the wake of Manziel to Cleveland at 22 and Teddy Bridgewater at 32 whether the Vikings messed this up, whether Bridgewater is just a consolation prize.

All I can tell you is this: I was in Minnesota last month. I spoke to GM Rick Spielman, whom I have known for a long time, and he was dubious about every quarterback in the draft. I spoke to another member of the organization, an influential one, who was similarly skeptical about the quarterbacks in the draft. They didn’t have a fervent belief in any one of them. They did like Manziel. They didn’t want to sell the farm for him.

When the Vikings spent private time with Manziel before the draft at dinner, coach Mike Zimmer was pointed and blunt (which is exactly what Zimmer is) with Manziel. At one point, Zimmer said to Manziel, “I’ve been waiting all my life for this chance. Can I trust you?’’ Manziel said yes. Manziel told Zimmer they would win Super Bowls together. Zimmer loved it. Zimmer wasn’t sure whether he trusted him totally, but he loved it, and he loved the confidence.

So the Vikings wanted Manziel. That is true. But did they want him enough to give the 40th pick in this draft and next year’s first-round pick as well? No. Can’t say that I blame them either.

Now on to your emails following a very interesting draft.

Peter: Why do you think the Houston Texans, with a much higher third round pick than Cleveland, didn’t try to trade up and get Johnny Manziel at No. 22? In addition to what he’d bring as a QB for a team without a difference-maker at that position, his impact on the fan base would have been much more mind-boggling than what’s happened in Cleveland. Plus, he’d have enabled the Texans to cut into Dallas’ overwhelming fan domination in Texas.

— B. West,
Port Arthur, Texas

There’s no question in my mind that Houston wasn’t sold on Manziel. The Texans obviously had an opportunity with the 33rd overall pick to move up into the 20’s to chase Manziel, and chose not to do it. All I can say is—because I have not talked to Bill O’Brien about this—that the Texans had to have a lesser grade on him than others. And after watching O’Brien have the kind of season he had in 2012 using Matt McGloin at Penn State, I think he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt as a developer of quarterbacks to let this play out and see if a very good value pick—Tom Savage atop the fourth round—can be developed into a more accurate pro quarterback than he was in college.

 


How do the players’ jerseys get made so quickly at the draft? It seems like seconds from the time a player’s name is called, he walks out of the green room and commissioner Roger Goodell greets him and hands him a jersey from the team that just drafted him with the name across the back?
 
 

— Steve,
Redmond, Washington

The NFL has jerseys for every team with the number 1 already affixed, leaving only the proper nameplate to be added when a player is chosen. I think we saw either on NFL Network or ESPN over the weekend the way it gets done. There is a machine that can, within a couple of minutes, make the nameplate to be put on the back of the jersey. From the time the NFL is first notified of a selection to the time the player walks on stage in the first round, there is about two and a half to three minutes to get the job done. In some cases, the league may have already gotten wind of who the pick is before the selection period is over, but in some cases the league is working on a tight deadline and just barely makes it. But it’s a pretty cool thing, isn’t it?

 

 
In this week’s MMQB you wrote, “Good for the Dolphins for fining and suspending defensive back Don Jones for being an idiot on Twitter after Michael Sam got drafted.” Regardless of how one feels about Sam’s being drafted or Jones’ tweets, I find it very disturbing that you, of all people, would support fines and suspensions from work for those who publicly express an unpopular opinion. You’re a journalist; is that the standard you want to have applied to your own writing? If you voice an opinion that goes against the popular consensus, should you be fined and suspended from your job for it? Should you be fired, sanctioned, or blacklisted for being on the wrong side of the cultural zeitgeist? Is that really the kind of society you, as a journalist, want to live and work in? Because that’s what your comment would naturally lead me to believe.
 

Steve,
Worcester, Massachusetts

My column is not all facts and figures. My column is also opinions, as you can tell, if you’ve read my column at any point over the last 17 years. My opinion is that I’m glad the Dolphins came down hard on a player for making what I consider to be an intolerant tweet. End of story. It’s Jones’ right to express a demeaning opinion on Twitter. It’s my right to disagree with him and to praise a team for disciplining him. Particularly after what the Dolphins have been through as an organization and the continued intolerance of several players for over a year, a player on Miami’s roster has to be a fool to think the team won’t come out swinging if you come out publicly blasting someone who is gay.

 

 

Peter, I don’t understand your point re: Ryan Mallet. Of course we don’t know anything about this kid, because when would he have a chance to play? Printing his stats is meaningless—of course his QB rating is 5. When did he play? Name a time when he should have played? What were Aaron Rodgers’ stats his first three years under Brett Favre? Did he play? Did he start?

Brandon,
Boston

Here’s my point about Ryan Mallett, and it’s a simple point: Anyone who thinks Ryan Mallett should be the answer at quarterback for Houston (or any team) is sadly mistaken. He’s been in the NFL for three years and done absolutely nothing other than hold a clipboard. My response about Mallett was not to criticize him as a player; it is to say that no sane person would trade for him and believe he’ll automatically solve your team’s quarterback problem. I realize he was a tempting prospect in 2011 out of Arkansas. He may well be a very good NFL quarterback. But I certainly wouldn’t pay much for him, and if I brought him to camp all I would do is hope that he could compete for a roster spot and push the starter.

 

 

Thank you for the well-written piece on the drafting of Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams. While the drafting of Sam has seen support from many perspectives, one seems to be missing: the bridge that Sam has created for gay sons and their sports-loving fathers.

Like many young sons, some of the easiest and earliest connections I made with my father were through sports, either by participation or by rooting for our (his) favorite teams. Sports were always ready as a convenient topic for conversation and could be used as a shortcut to other worldly issues. This connection can change when a father learns his son is gay. Sports, the NFL in particular, became a refuge, giving my dad comfort that whatever gay “stuff” might be swirling around in the rest of the world (including his son), it wasn’t a part of football.

Talk Back

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Then, to quote George Costanza, Michael Sam was drafted and “worlds collided”. In one draft pick, the walls that my father used to partition gay people from the NFL experience were torn down. It was never really enough to say there were always gay players in the NFL, we just didn’t know it. With the visible drafting of Sam, now there was proof, and now the NFL belonged to everyone, including gay football players, gay fans and gay sons.

It is not a comfortable change for many, and some people with blinders on will refuse to see it, turning away, hoping Sam gets cut and is out of their NFL as soon as possible. For the larger majority, including my father, they will slowly ease their grip on the game of football and acknowledge that it is now shared with a larger audience. That all gay sons across America now root for the St. Louis Rams is just a coincidence.

— Guy,
Silver Spring, Maryland

You’re saying there will be a new bridge and a positive bridge between some fathers and sons when the fathers find out their sons are gay. As a society, I think that’s one of the things that we should hope for as a result of Michael Sam being drafted and trying to make it in the NFL as an openly gay man. I don’t know if you saw this last month, but Troy Vincent, one of the top NFL executives, said that he played with six closeted gay players during his NFL career. By closeted, I mean they refused to come out to publicly through the media, but it was well known within the walls of their locker rooms that they were gay. And those teams, from all appearances, handled it mostly appropriately. The NFL belongs to everyone, and Michael Sam is already changing how people view the league.

 

 

My suggestion is to award the draft to the loser of the Super Bowl. This would give both cities a takeaway from the game and spread the draft’s glamour throughout the league. Just a thought.

— CB

Well, I’m not sure that the most profitable way for the league to move the draft around is to award it by any regular means. I think it would be better for interested cities to bid on it and for the league to use it as a way to spread it around to as many different franchises as possible. I believe, for instance, that having the NFL draft in Jerry Jones’ stadium in Texas would be an absolute hoot. Jones would roll out all kinds of red carpeting to make it a Texas-sized event. It would be great. The draft would be just as good in Chicago, in Seattle, in Denver, in Washington—everywhere. I hope it’s not long before the league parcels it out to cities that would put on great shows with the draft in town. But I would also be in favor of the New York area not getting the draft with any regularity, seeing that it has been in New York forever.

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