Jets coach Bill Parcells' signing restricted free-agent running
back Curtis Martin away from the Patriots last week showed a
brazen disregard for New England's front office. Certainly New
England never should have put itself in the position to lose its
second-most-important player, after quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
But the upshot of the deal is that Parcells, who defected from
the Pats to the Jets a year ago, has no respect for New
England's ability to mine talent without him.
Combining their compensation for Parcells' departure with the
draft choices they received for declining to match New York's
offer to Martin--a six-year, $36 million contract--the Patriots
have the Jets' first-, second- and third-round picks in the
draft this month, plus a first-round selection next year. In
effect Parcells has handed his chief rival for AFC East
supremacy--and a two-time defending division champion--a chance
to reload with 10 picks (including New England's own) in the top
three rounds of the next two drafts.
Would Parcells have given Dolphins coach and general manager
Jimmy Johnson such draft-day largesse? Never. Even New England
vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier, who oversees his
team's draft, believes Parcells was questioning his
organization's drafting prowess. "I thought exactly that when
the offer sheet for Curtis came in," Grier said last Saturday.
"I don't think there's any bad feeling between Bill and me, but
there's definitely something between Bill and our organization."
The backdrop: Parcells and Grier combined on a superb 1995 draft
(cornerback Ty Law, linebacker Ted Johnson, Martin and center
Dave Wohlabaugh). But the following year Parcells and Grier were
at odds over whom to select with the No. 7 pick. Parcells wanted
defensive help, Grier wanted wideout Terry Glenn. When owner Bob
Kraft sided with his personnel man, Parcells seethed. Less than
10 months later, after leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl,
Parcells walked away.
With total control of the selection process for the first time
last April, Grier, a New England assistant coach and scout since
1983, had an uneventful draft, with only nickelback Chris Canty,
a first-round selection, becoming a regular contributor during
the season. All nine players chosen in the '97 draft remain on
the roster, but in addition to Canty, only running back Sedrick
Shaw, a third-round pick, is expected to have an impact in '98.
Now the Patriots have lost Martin, who led the AFC in rushing as
a rookie, with 1,487 yards, and ran for 1,152 yards his second
year and 1,160 more last year, even though he missed all or part
of six games with a torn abdominal muscle that required
The good news for the Patriots is the strength of the draft. New
England holds the 18th, 22nd, 51st, 53rd, 80th and 82nd picks.
"They have almost the same opportunity the Cowboys had after the
Herschel Walker trade [to the Vikings in 1989]," says Rams pro
personnel director Charlie Armey. "This is a top-heavy draft,
really strong through three rounds."
"You judge a draft by the strength of the offensive and
defensive lines, and they're both good," adds Bucs director of
player personnel Jerry Angelo. "On the offensive line, as many
as 12 will come out of the draft and be rank-and-file NFL
starters or better, and that's very good."
The Patriots' top priority is a running back, but New England
would have to pay dearly to move into position to take Penn
State powerback Curtis Enis, most likely bound for the Bears at
No. 5 or the Rams at No. 6. Florida's big, fast Fred Taylor or
Georgia's productive Robert Edwards--the Patriots called agents
for both last week to arrange visits--may fall to No. 18. "New
England's still the most talented team in our division," the
Dolphins' Johnson says. "They didn't have Martin the last month
of last season, and they beat us twice."
Grier says he feels no pressure picking impact players in the
first three rounds. Armey, who worked with Grier in the New
England scouting department until moving to the Rams last year,
believes him. "Bobby's not the kind of guy who succumbs to
pressure, even when things are hot," Armey says. "The pressure
will not deflate this man."
It had better not. Grier holds the future of a playoff team in
Carolina Free Agents
WHO'S MINDING THE STORE?
The Panthers have turned into the Raiders of the NFC West,
desperadoes stopping at nothing to right their ship. Carolina
has agreed to terms with two free agents not among the top five
at their position--cornerback Doug Evans and defensive tackle
Sean Gilbert--on contracts totaling $70 million, assuming the
Panthers reach a deal with the Redskins for Gilbert's rights.
Evans had three interceptions with the Packers last season and
has never been to the Pro Bowl, yet he was given a five-year,
$22.5 million contract. Gilbert got the most lucrative deal ever
for a defensive player--seven years, $47.5 million--even though
he has appeared in only one Pro Bowl (1993) and sat out the '97
season because Washington designated him as its franchise player
when he became a free agent after the '96 season. Last month
Gilbert was unsuccessful in his bid to have the franchise tag
removed, so any team that signs him must give the Redskins two
first-round picks or agree on some other form of compensation.
At week's end Carolina and Washington were at an impasse.
DOLPHINS WILL KEEP IT SIMPLE
On the charter home from the Dolphins' feeble 17-3 wild-card
playoff loss at New England in December, Jimmy Johnson sidled up
to Dan Marino and said, "Looking back, I wish we'd changed the
offense when I first got here." After watching his offense
sputter for two years, Johnson finally decided that changes were
in order. About six weeks later he fired longtime Miami
offensive coordinator Gary Stevens and replaced him with running
backs coach Kippy Brown, then instructed Brown to put in the
same ground-oriented offense that Norv Turner installed in
Dallas in '91.
"What we're doing now is better suited for today's football,"
Johnson said last week. "You can learn it much faster. The
terminology's simpler. Today you pick up a free agent, and he
has to play right away. Same with rookies."
OUT OF THE DARKNESS
At their annual meeting last week in Orlando, owners voted to
ban tinted eye shields on helmets. The league cited safety
concerns, saying players who sustained head and neck injuries
risked further damage because medical personnel couldn't look at
their eyes without removing their helmets.... Foreign country of
the week: The Steelers and the Falcons will play an August
preseason game in Morgantown, W.Va., Pittsburgh's first
exhibition in the Mountain State in 30 years. "We're holding an
American Bowl game in West Virginia," said Steelers president
Dan Rooney.... Good news for the Broncos, who expect to hear in
May whether John Elway will be back for a 16th season.
Quarterback of the future Jeff Lewis, a third-year man who had
major knee surgery last month, will be ready for the start of
training camp.... During debate on instant replay at the
meetings, Bengals president and anti-replay leader Mike Brown
said, "We're like a bunch of cows. You know what cows do when
they've got nothing to do, which is most of the time? They chew
their cud. That's what we do every off-season about replay."
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. WORKHORSE Martin ranks third in the league in carries over the past three years, with 958. [Curtis Martin in game]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Fred Taylor running with football]
RUNNING HOT AND COLD
With the NFL draft fast approaching, coaches, scouts and
front-office personnel are conducting their final checks on
prospective picks. Here are six players of note whose stock has
risen or fallen dramatically since the start of the year.
PLAYER POSITION SCHOOL HEIGHT WEIGHT
Brian Griese QB Michigan 6' 2" 212
Smarts, sufficient arm strength lift him from probable
seventh-round pick to a second
Fred Taylor (above) RB Florida 6 feet 226
Moved into top 15 after running a 4.35 40--on grass--in a workout
Scott Frost S Nebraska 6' 2 3/4" 219
Quarterback trying new position; showed great speed, tackling
ability in all-star games
Michael Myers DT Alabama 6' 2 1/2" 285
Slow (5.15 in 40) and, after getting kicked off Tide in '97,
there are character questions
R.W. McQuarters DB Oklahoma State 5' 9 1/2" 193
Poor man's Deion Sanders is missing one critical Deion element:
Tavian Banks RB Iowa 5' 9 1/2" 198
Half step too slow and not big enough to be an every-down NFL back