READY TO RELOAD
With an on-the-ball off-season, the Broncos are flush with draft
In most newspapers outside Colorado and the Carolinas last week,
the trade between the Broncos and the Panthers was just another
line in Transactions: Denver--Traded QB Jeff Lewis to Carolina
for undisclosed draft choices in 1999 and 2000.
In fact, the deal could turn out to be huge for the Broncos. In
return for Lewis, who had thrown only 19 passes in the NFL since
being drafted in the fourth round in 1996 and who had
reconstructive knee surgery in February 1998, Denver got
Carolina's third-round pick in next month's draft plus a
conditional fourth-round pick next year. If Lewis makes the
Panthers' 45-man active roster during the '99 season, that
conditional pick becomes a third-rounder; if Lewis starts at
least eight games next season, it becomes a second-rounder.
By comparison, when Green Bay traded Mark Brunell, a brighter
and healthier prospect than Lewis, to Jacksonville in '95, all
the Packers got were third- and fifth-round picks. Add this deal
to earlier trades of forgettable offensive linemen Jamie Brown
and Kendall Watkins, and Denver winds up tied with Cleveland for
the richest stash of picks in the '99 draft. The Broncos have
their five original choices plus four more--one in the second,
one in the third and two in the fifth. See how the rich get
richer? Denver will have nine draft picks in the first five
"We've got a lot of ammunition," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan
says. "If we see someone we really want, we ought to be able to
move up to get him."
Even with the uncertainty surrounding John Elway's future--the
Broncos think he will decide by the end of March whether to play
in '99 or to retire--the off-season has been very good for
Denver. The Broncos signed the most talented cornerback on the
free-agent market, Dale Carter, and did so in a cap-friendly
manner. Carter's cap number, $2.6 million in '99, is less than
that of the corner he's replacing, Darrien Gordon ($3.1
million). Also, for the second year in a row the club kept its
coaching staff intact after winning the Super Bowl, with
receivers coach Mike Heimerdinger turning down four offensive
coordinator jobs in the past 25 months.
Nevertheless, it's easy enough to paint a dire picture of life
without Elway. For one thing, it may be folly to suggest that
Bubby Brister could be a championship quarterback. Still, on
paper, at least, he outplayed Elway during the '98 regular
season. (Brister was 4-0 with a 99.0 quarterback rating; Elway
was 10-2 with a 93.0 rating.) Shanahan says he would not be
afraid to enter next season with Brister and second-year man
Brian Griese as his signal-callers. "Bubby's 36, but he hasn't
been hit much in years," says Shanahan, "so he could have lots
of time left."
All of which means that Denver--with or without Elway--should be
as big a favorite to three-peat as any back-to-back Super Bowl
Teddy's Ball Game
SUMMER LEAGUE STILL HOT TOPIC
Insiders at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and NBC, both of
which came up empty-handed in the last NFL television rights
deal, are still bent on starting a summer pro football league,
mostly in non-NFL markets, by Memorial Day 2001. The price of a
franchise is likely to range from $30 million to $50 million,
and corporate ownership of franchises may be allowed. "If
corporations can own franchises, we're interested," says Lee
Corso, the ESPN college analyst who is also director of business
development for Dixon Ticonderoga, a pencil company seeking a
franchise for the Orlando area. "We think it would be a
tremendous marketing tool for us."
But why would this fledgling league fly after so many others
have crashed and burned? "The only alternative league that ever
made it was one with a long-term TV contract [the AFL], which
obviously this would have," says Corso. "That automatically
makes the new league legitimate."
Over A Billion Served
NFL TURNS ITS EYE ON CHINA
Australia will become the ninth foreign country to host an NFL
preseason game when the Broncos and Chargers play in Sydney on
Aug. 8. But the league doesn't intend to stop there. "We tried
to put a game in China in 2000 and couldn't," NFL International
senior vice president Don Garber says, "but I think within the
next three to five years we'll be there."
In addition to exposing a billion Chinese to the game, the
league hopes eventually to sell the rights to televise NFL games
in China. Garber also thinks the six-team NFL Europe league
could be expanded (under a new name) to North America or the
Pacific Rim within five years.
PUSHING THE REPLAY BUTTON
The league meetings kick off this weekend in Phoenix with the
expectation that owners will restore instant replay after a
seven-year absence. The replay proposal that will most likely
gain approval features the coaches' challenge system tested last
preseason--two or three challenges a game for each coach and
decisions rendered by on-field officials using sideline video
monitors--with one notable addition: Even without challenges,
officials will have the latitude to review plays in the last two
minutes of each half.... The Cowboys are seriously considering a
bold personnel move, shifting All-Pro left tackle Larry Allen
back to his natural position, right guard, and installing
mountainous second-year man Flozell Adams at left tackle. They
believe it would make their running game more effective.... If
John Elway retires, ABC would consider making him the third man
in the Monday Night Football booth. One other option for Elway:
becoming a partner with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen in business or
The End Zone
FROM THE STARS TO STAR POWER
Free-agent punter Sean Landeta, 37, recently signed a
three-year, $1.5 million contract with Philadelphia, quite an
upgrade from the last deal he agreed to with a team in that
city. In 1983 Landeta signed with the United States Football
League's Philadelphia Stars for a $250 signing bonus, five
footballs, two pairs of shoes and a salary of $15,500.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Elway's play-or-quit decision is imminent, but whatever the call, Denver will be thinking three-peat.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES James, who ran for 299 yards against UCLA, is headed for the top 10.
Inside the Draft
With the April 17 draft nearing, the gossip is heating up.
Here's the latest.
After a terrific workout on campus last week, Miami running back
Edgerrin James is a solid top 10 pick. Rams coach Dick Vermeil,
who saw the workout, might snag him with the sixth pick....
The Colts, who have the fourth pick, love linebacker Chris
Claiborne of USC....
UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, who scouts said last fall was too
small (6'3/4") and too slow to be a top pick, ran the 40 in 4.74
at the Indianapolis combine last month, faster than two thirds
of the quarterbacks now starting in the NFL. He should be
selected in the middle of the first round....
The Bengals, who have the third pick, are torn between choosing
a two-way star, Georgia cornerback-wideout Champ Bailey; a
quarterback; or trading down with the Vikings....
Packers general manager Ron Wolf, after spending last Thursday
watching videotape, on the '99 draft: "The more I see, the more
I really like it. The quarterback depth is rare--I mean rare.
There are a lot of offensive linemen. I think we'll be able to
replenish some of our lost depth this year." ...
Rising prospects: Arkansas guard Brandon Burlsworth, North
Carolina defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban. Falling: Washington
quarterback Brock Huard, North Carolina cornerback Dre' Bly.