Last Saturday a plump old fellow sporting a string tie walked
into a crowd of Cardinals fans who had gathered at Rockin' Rodeo
in Tempe to watch the NFL draft on a huge TV screen. The 2,500
attendees rose as one.
In the 10 years since he moved the Cardinals from St. Louis to
Arizona, owner Bill Bidwill has received few standing ovations.
Not that he has deserved many. After relocating the team, he
priced many fans out of Sun Devil Stadium with the highest
average ticket price in the league. He has delivered exactly
zero winning seasons. He has failed in his bid to get a new
The 67-year-old Bidwill, however, is finally on the rise in the
estimation of Cardinals fans. In February 1997 he handed
football operations to street-smart scouting veteran Bob
Ferguson, and on day one of this year's draft, Bidwill was wise
enough to turn away bids for the No. 3 pick, including a
tempting 11th-hour offer from the Cowboys. Arizona used the
choice to take Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth, the
closest thing to Bruce Smith the league has seen since Smith
came out of Virginia Tech 13 years ago. Now, after an
uncharacteristically productive off-season, the Cardinals seem
poised to contend in the NFC East for the first time since new
return threat Eric Metcalf's dad, Terry, carried the mail for
Don Coryell's Cardiac Cards in St. Louis. "With what they've
done," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said last Saturday night,
"they've gone from an also-ran to a contender pretty quick."
Aside from throwing $2.75 million a year at so-so free-agent
guard Lester Holmes, Arizona, which went 4-12 last season, has
upgraded its roster, at running back (1,000-yard rusher Adrian
Murrell, acquired in a predraft trade with the Jets, replaces
Leeland McElroy as starter), third receiver-return man (Metcalf,
brought in by a March trade with the Chargers, supplants Kevin
Williams) and left defensive end (Wadsworth takes over for Brad
Ottis). The Cardinals re-signed defensive tackle Eric Swann for
the relative bargain price of $5 million a year and committed to
quarterback Jake Plummer, the former Arizona State star whom the
Cards stole in the second round of the '97 draft.
"Getting Jake last year was the key to everything," says the
47-year-old Ferguson, who worked for the Seahawks, Cowboys,
Bills and Broncos before landing with the Cardinals. Having
Plummer on board enabled Arizona, which originally had the
second pick, to ignore quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan
Leaf, trade down one spot and still get Wadsworth. To swap
places with Arizona, the quarterback-desperate Chargers gave up
two players (Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp), a
second-round choice this year and next year's No. 1. Who knows?
If San Diego, with Leaf learning on the job, struggles mightily
and hands the Cardinals a top five pick next April, Arizona may
end up with a chance to grab the franchise back they've been
seeking for years, Ricky Williams of Texas.
Of course, no four-win team addresses all its weaknesses in one
off-season. The offensive line still looks leaky--Plummer was
sacked a league-high 5.2 times per game in 10 appearances last
year--and there are holes at linebacker and safety. But the
defensive front should be the NFL's best, with Wadsworth and the
athletic Simeon Rice on the outside and 300-pound tackles Swann
and Mark Smith (six sacks in 1997) in the middle. "I want to go
out and prove I'm a Bruce Smith-type player," Wadsworth said on
Saturday from his family's home in St. Croix. "If I am, then
this line ought to be able to go out and wreak havoc. And with
Jake running our offense, this team's going places."
If Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had had his way, Wadsworth would
have gone to Dallas. On the day before the draft, Jones proposed
this swap: the Cowboys' first-round selections in 1998 (the
eighth pick) and '99, plus a second-rounder this year, for
Arizona's top choice. "I'm convinced that some of the best
trades are the ones you don't make," Ferguson said on Saturday.
"You don't get a chance to pick the Bruce Smiths, the Deion
Sanderses very often--maybe once every 10 years. Plus, you think
I want to hand Jerry Jones the Super Bowl again? That's what
we'd be doing by trading him Wadsworth."
In 1987 Ferguson, then the Bills' director of pro personnel,
persuaded Buffalo coach Marv Levy to trade three high draft
choices and running back Greg Bell for the rights to linebacker
Cornelius Bennett. On Saturday, however, Ferguson was prepared
to leave blood--his own--on the walls of the Cardinals' war room
if trade talks for the No. 3 pick heated up. "They could fire me
tomorrow," a drained Ferguson said at the end of the day, "but
that's how I have to do it. I know we've got this team headed in
the right direction. We've got two first-round picks in 1999, a
local quarterback icon, an excellent coaching staff and young
players dying to win."
MITCHELL GETS A MESSAGE
Best non-Randy Moss story on draft weekend? Easy: the Lions'
warning to disappointing $5 million-a-year quarterback Scott
Mitchell that 1998 will be a produce-or-you're-gone season.
Detroit sent third-, fifth- and sixth-round selections to Miami
for a late-second-round pick that it used to take unheralded
Charlie Batch of Eastern Michigan. Batch, a 6'2", 217-pounder,
completed 247 of 434 passes for 3,280 yards and 23 touchdowns
last year for a team that finished 4-7. "I'd never heard of
Charlie Batch when the off-season began," says new Lions
quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. "But I evaluated all the
quarterbacks coming out, and Charlie came out as one of the top
two or three."
Mitchell, who signed a four-year, $21 million deal in 1997, has
played erratically during his four seasons in Detroit. He looked
lost during a wild-card playoff defeat by the Buccaneers in
December, completing just 10 of 25 passes for 78 yards. Yet
Mitchell, who has never been good at taking blame for his
shortcomings, still sees himself as a victim. "It doesn't matter
what I do or don't do," he said before the draft. "I guarantee
this: If we won the Super Bowl, there'd still be people who'd be
SKINS ROLL DICE, COME UP BIG
In 48 hours last week, the mood in the Redskins' war room went
from hope to disappointment to euphoria. The compensation for
signing another team's franchise player is two first-rounders
(unless another deal can be struck), and when the Panthers
agreed to terms last month with Washington's franchise player,
defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, the Skins hoped to get Carolina's
first selection (No. 14) and a lower pick.
But the Panthers refused to fork over their 1998 No. 1. They
gave the Redskins a choice: Carolina's second-rounder this year
and its first-rounder in '99, or its first-round picks in '99
and 2000. Either way, Washington would be without a
first-rounder in '98. That was because the Skins had already
sent first- and third-round selections to the Bengals as
compensation for signing Cincinnati's franchise player,
defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson.
Last Thursday, Washington general manager Charley Casserly opted
for the pair of first-round choices. "This franchise will be
here for a long time," Casserly said, "and two ones give us a
chance to control each of the next two drafts."
Much to their surprise, the Redskins found their top-rated
player at a need position, Oklahoma tight end Stephen Alexander,
available when their turn came midway through the second round.
In the third round Washington took productive UCLA tailback Skip
Hicks, who ran for 39 touchdowns in the past two seasons. Look
for Hicks to challenge injury-plagued Terry Allen for playing
time. "Looking back," coach Norv Turner said after round 3
ended, "we wouldn't change a thing."
Trades That Weren't Made
JAGUARS, SAINTS, COULDA, SHOULDA
The Jaguar under the most pressure in training camp could be
rookie safety Donovin Darius of Syracuse. Why? Jacksonville went
into the draft looking for a running back and had the
ammunition--the ninth and 25th picks--to get the premier
prospect, Penn State's Curtis Enis. By giving up their two
first-rounders, the Jaguars could have moved into the Bears'
spot, at No. 5, and taken Enis.
Instead they stood pat, choosing Florida running back Fred
Taylor with the ninth pick and Darius with the 25th. Taylor had
fallen out of favor with, among others, the running-back-starved
Rams (who drafted sixth) because of his inability to hold on to
the ball. He fumbled 24 times in 38 games as a Gator. Darius was
the Big East defensive player of the year in 1997, but
effectively giving up the 25th selection for a chance to get
Enis instead of Taylor seemed like a no-brainer.
The Raiders so badly wanted the seventh pick, which they were
likely going to use to take Marshall wideout Moss, that they
offered the Saints two second-rounders this year and their
first-rounder in 1999. New Orleans declined and took San Diego
State tackle Kyle Turley. Although he is a good prospect, Turley
doesn't have as much value as the three draft choices that New
Orleans could have acquired.
BAGGAGE AND ALL, CHESTER A CHIEF
Good luck to the Chiefs in trying to get defensive tackle
Chester McGlockton to play hard for 16 games. He never did
during six seasons with the Raiders. After the Dolphins dropped
out last week as the bidding approached $6 million a year, one
NFC general manager called Miami director of football operations
Bob Ackles and said, "Congratulations. Getting out of that
auction was the best thing you've ever done."
The End Zone
HEADACHES ARE NO PROBLEM
Former coach Jerry Glanville broke an ankle and four ribs last
Saturday when he crashed during a stock car race at Phoenix
International Raceway. Upon being told that hospital officials
wanted to do a CAT scan on his brain, Glanville said, "Oh, you
don't have to do that. I don't have a brain anyway."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO THE MAN Sold on Plummer, the Cardinals didn't have to shop for a quarterback in the draft. [Jake Plummer in game]