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|Byron Leftwich might have been a Raven if the Vikings didn't run out of time on the clock.|
Five years ago, during the first round of the NFL Draft, the Ravens and Jaguars had the Vikings on the phone, with both Baltimore and Jacksonville trying to make a trade to move up so they could select quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Neither deal got made, but the talks dragged on so long that Minnesota's 15-minute time limit expired and two teams jumped in and made their picks ahead of the Vikings -- including Jacksonville, which was able to choose Leftwich, without having to give anything up.
At the time, teams had 15 minutes to make their first-round choice, 10 minutes in the second round, five minutes in subsequent rounds.
Under changes in the draft procedure that take effect this year, those time limits have been reduced -- it's now 10 minutes in the first round and seven in the second round. The final five rounds remain the same, except that the third round will take place on day two instead of at the end of day one.
The changes -- here's a shocker -- were made so the telecast of the draft would be more compelling, with some dead time eliminated. Teams now have less time to dither and dicker over their picks, although there is some feeling that much of what went on in the past was strictly for show, anyway.
"You basically know who you're going to pick and they wait for three minutes to turn the card in," said Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore general manager.
But then you have a situation like Minnesota-Jacksonville-Baltimore.
Solution? They'll have to start trade talks earlier.
"We didn't lop off the last five minutes of the 15-minute period. We lopped off the first five minutes," said Joel Bussert, the NFL's senior director of player personnel and the man who verifies draft-day selections and trades.
Translation: Deadlines tend to force the action, whether it's after 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 15 weeks.
"It's kind of like doing (contracts) with rookies," said Brian Billick, the former Baltimore coach. "You go for three months and do nothing, and try to get it done the day before camp starts. So it will accelerate (the trade talks)."
In recent years, the draft had become an exercise in tedium, particularly as teams became unwilling to trade up for very early picks because of salary issues. Last year, the first round lasted longer than six hours, a record, and an average of more than 11 minutes per team. Even though few trades were likely, it didn't stop most teams from using most of their 15 minutes.
"I just think this will be faster-paced for the fans, the people watching it," Newsome said.
For many years, no team was more active in draft-day trading than the 49ers, particularly when the late Bill Walsh was in charge. But even with all the maneuvering -- Walsh's great draft in 1986 was made possible by six trades -- they rarely had to push the time envelope.
"Generally speaking, it was fairly cut and dry as to exactly what you're going to do," said George Seifert, who succeeded Walsh as the San Francisco coach. "With the amount of organization and people and man-hours that goes into it, (you generally) have all those things pretty ironed out."
Nonetheless, there have been some notable cases of teams running into the time limit, besides the Vikings.
Here are some of them:
Minnesota 2003: The Vikings, with the seventh overall pick, wound up choosing ninth and got defensive tackle Kevin Williams, so it worked out okay for them even without a trade. Jacksonville, which was supposed to pick eighth, got Leftwich as the seventh player, and Carolina, No.9 in the order, raced in to choose offensive tackle Jordan Gross with the eighth pick.
To their credit, Billick and Newsome never denied they really wanted Leftwich. Instead, picking 10th, they wound up with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, now a two-time Pro Bowl player, and made a later trade that enabled them to choose quarterback Kyle Boller with the 19th overall selection.
In 2003, Minnesota finally agreed to a trade with Baltimore with 30 seconds remaining on the Vikings' clock, but Newsome couldn't get through to Bussert on the phone and the time expired. Procedures have been streamlined since then to make sure the calls get through; the Ravens credited Jacksonville GM James (Shack) Harris with stalling the deal so that he was able to get Leftwich without making a trade.
"Shack's pretty shrewd," Billick said.
Dallas/Oakland 1989: The Raiders wanted to deal with the Cowboys at the start of the second round so they could choose guard Steve Wisniewski, but couldn't get it done in time. Instead, Dallas drafted Wisniewski and immediately traded him to the Raiders, and still got the player it wanted, defensive end Rhondy Weston, in the middle of the third round. (A mistake for Dallas because the Raiders, obviously, wound up with the better player, but don't fret because Dallas pulled in a nice bounty, anyway in that draft: Troy Aikman, Mark Stepnoski and Daryl Johnston).
A repeat of the Wisniewski move, at least for a high pick, is much less likely today because of ramifications from the rookie salary cap (although the Chargers and Giants were able to work out the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers swap in 2004). A team gets the rookie cap limit for where it drafted, even if the player is traded immediately.
A similar incident occurred with the Cowboys in 1991, when they drafted defensive tackle Kelvin Pritchett 20th overall and immediately traded him to Detroit.
Kansas City 2002: As time was expiring on a Dallas pick (No. 6 overall), the Chiefs finalized a trade. Time actually ran out, and Minnesota, No. 7, could have jumped in, but did not. Kansas City still got its man, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, but the Vikings, choosing next, got a better player, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Then, of course, there are surprises which catch teams unprepared when their turn comes, and Seifert said that happened to the 49ers in 1990, his second season as coach. San Francisco, choosing 25th, coveted running back Rodney Hampton, but the Giants, picking 24th, took him.
"We didn't think anybody was going to take him," Seifert recalled. "That kind of threw us into a tailspin, and I remember that being kind of hectic and going down to the wire."
While there is sure to be squawking from some quarters that the league is putting the interests of the fans and television ahead of the teams, many of those who have been involved with the draft don't see it really having a significant effect on teams.
"I don't think it makes any difference at all," said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' former player personnel chief. "It's like when we made the trade with Seattle (to draft Tony Dorsett). We made the deal two weeks prior to the draft (contingent on Dorsett still being available, and he was)."
"I think everybody applauds it," added Billick. "I always equated it to what an airline pilot said on a flight from New York to Los Angeles -- six hours of boredom punctuated by three minutes of absolute terror on either end."
Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.