Skip to main content
Original Issue

Inside The NFL

In perhaps his last draft with Washington, G.M. Charley Casserly
had a day to remember

Last Saturday, as the Redskins prepared to trade themselves into
the strongest position of any team in the draft, Washington
general manager Charley Casserly dialed up club president John
Kent Cooke and explained the deals he had working. "Charley,"
Cooke told him, "we need to do what's best for the franchise in
the long run."

What cruel irony. This off-season has been a rewarding one for
the Redskins, yet the team's three architects--Casserly, Cooke
and coach Norv Turner--still sit like lame ducks waiting to find
out who the Skins' next owner will be. New York real estate
mogul Howard Milstein nearly bought the team from the estate of
Cooke's late father, Jack Kent Cooke, early this month, but
Milstein withdrew his loan-heavy $800 million offer when it
become apparent that NFL owners would reject his bid. The
younger Cooke's $680 million offer remains on the table (and may
be increased), but he'll probably be trumped again by outside

Had his bid been accepted, Milstein planned to clean house, a
move that would have been tough to criticize. Turner is 32-47-1;
Casserly, Washington's G.M. since 1989, has lorded over six
straight teams that missed the postseason.

Casserly has also presided over some awful drafts, but he's in
the midst of his second consecutive productive off-season. In
February he traded a 1999 first-round choice and two other picks
to the Vikings for quarterback Brad Johnson, giving Turner the
accurate passer he has sorely lacked since the team's misguided
drafting of Heath Shuler in 1994, Turner's first season. Then,
having stolen two first-round picks, in 1999 and 2000, from the
Panthers last year as compensation for the signing of holdout
defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, Casserly traded twice early in
Saturday's draft and ended up not only with the player he
coveted, Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, but also, among other
picks, with an additional first-round choice in 2000, giving
Washington a total of three next year.

Still, it's been a strange, and strained, off-season around
Redskin Park. In late February, Milstein was allowed to appoint
an ad hoc general manager, former 49ers director of player
personnel Vinny Cerrato, to work in concert with Casserly.
Cerrato wanted an office at Redskin Park. Cooke said no, so
Cerrato set up shop in a hotel five miles away. "Every time we
were considering a free agent," Casserly says, "I had to remind
myself to copy some tapes and send them to Vinny. It was
uncomfortable, but I told Vinny, 'This isn't complicated. Either
you're going to be here or I'm going to be here. We have to do
what's best for the Redskins.'"

Which is what Casserly did in the draft. Last Saturday morning
Casserly, who had the fifth pick, set up a tentative deal with
New Orleans, which was choosing 12th and looking to move up to
take running back Ricky Williams. The teams would swap
first-round selections, and the Redskins would get the Saints'
other five choices in this draft, plus a first- and a
third-rounder next year. But that deal was contingent on
Washington's pulling off another trade, with the Bears, who had
the seventh pick. Casserly got that done, sending Chicago
third-, fourth- and fifth-round choices this year along with a
third-round pick in 2000. After everything fell into place, an
amazed Casserly said, "We got our guy, and we've got three ones
next year."

Yes, the Redskins now have three first-round picks in 2000, but
who will make those selections remains to be seen.

Edge to Edgerrin

The most ascendant star of the draft was 20-year-old running
back Edgerrin James, the surprise fourth pick. When Indianapolis
chose the 6-foot, 216-pound James--a slippery inside runner with
good speed, excellent hands and significantly less wear on his
tires than Ricky Williams--AFC East rivals New England and Miami
were crushed.

The Patriots had offered four high draft picks, including the
20th and 28th selections, to Washington in an attempt to move up
to fifth. The Dolphins had dangled most of this year's picks and
next year's first-rounder to jump from 24th. "We had a scenario
where we'd trade up twice, to Baltimore at 10 and then to
Chicago at seven," Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said last Saturday
night. "That's how badly we wanted him. Peyton Manning with
Edgerrin James. Two great, young players together.
Unfortunately, they're in our division."

The night before the draft Johnson had tried to trade for
Marshall Faulk, the Pro Bowl back whom the Colts had dealt to
the Rams last Thursday. St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil said no
thanks. Finally, on draft day, Johnson traded out of the first
round and took Mississippi State's James Johnson with the 39th
pick, passing on troubled but talented McNeese State runner
Cecil Collins. "Such a high risk," Jimmy Johnson said of
Collins, who has been dogged by off-field problems. But on
Sunday, with the stakes not as high, Johnson did take Collins
with the first pick in the fifth round.

Pressure Points

A minute after disappointing a city that had screamed for him to
draft Ricky Williams, first-year Eagles coach Andy Reid
telephoned quarterback Donovan McNabb, the player the team had
taken with the second pick. "Hey," Reid told McNabb, "understand
one thing: You're the man, and this city will love you as time
goes on."

The campaigning for Williams in Philadelphia was feverish and
continued long after the Eagles had made it clear they planned
to take a quarterback with their first pick. When Reid was
introduced at a recent Flyers game, the crowd booed him and
chanted, "Rick-EE! Rick-EE!" Last Thursday the city council
voted on a resolution for the club to draft Williams. The
measure failed. A day later Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell went
on sports talk radio station WIP to campaign for Williams.

McNabb seemed unconcerned about the poor reception he initially
received from Eagles supporters. "If you make plays and the team
wins, the fans will be fine," he said after arriving in
Philadelphia late last Saturday. "I don't worry about the fans."

Another first-round pick who is sure to get an earful from the
home crowd if he doesn't live up to expectations is Ohio State
linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. Coming off a disappointing junior
year, Katzenmoyer dropped to No. 28, where New England selected
him with the last of the four draft picks it was awarded as
compensation for the Jets' signing of coach Bill Parcells in
1997. None of the other players the Pats drafted with the
Parcells payoff--running back Sedrick Shaw (1997 draft), guard
Damon Denson ('97) and wideout Tony Simmons ('98)--have made an


Arizona had a heated debate in its war room over whether to take
Ohio State wideout David Boston or BYU tackle John Tait with the
eighth selection. The Cardinals settled on Boston, then tackle
L.J. Shelton of Eastern Michigan fell into Arizona's lap with
the 21st pick. When was the last time you heard this? The
Cardinals should be the favorite in the NFC East.... Southpaw
quarterback Cade McNown, who wore number 18 at UCLA, will don
number 8 with the Bears. "Three great lefties--Mark Brunell,
Steve Young and Carl Yastrzemski--wore 8," McNown said. "That's
the number for me."... Poor Akili Smith, chosen third, is bound
for Cincinnati, where high draft choices (David Klinger, John
Copeland, Dan Wilkinson, KiJana Carter, Reinard Wilson) go to
die. On Monday the Bengals cut last year's incumbent
quarterback, Neil O'Donnell. They'll play Jeff Blake while Smith
learns the system.

The End Zone

If the Saints were so hot for a running back, why were they
interested only in Ricky Williams and not Edgerrin James? When
he met James at the NFL scouting combine in February, New
Orleans coach Mike Ditka didn't think much of James's handshake.
"Like shaking hands with a dead fish," Ditka said last week.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The Redskins got Bailey, the player they wanted all along, and a few extra picks to boot.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Arizona added a deep receiving threat when it drafted Boston.