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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

Backup Plan
Packers sub quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could be the x factor at
the top of the draft

Heard the one about Packers backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's
being the key to how the top of the 2001 draft shakes out? Here's

San Diego, which has the first pick, will probably take Virginia
Tech quarterback Michael Vick, who continued to impress the
club's coaches and staff last weekend at the NFL scouting combine
in Indianapolis. It appears that the only way the Chargers will
pass on Vick is if someone blows them away with an offer of two
or three very high draft choices. The one team with that
ammunition is Seattle, which owns the seventh and 10th picks in
the April 21 draft. The Seahawks' coach is Mike Holmgren, who was
the Green Bay coach when the Packers took a sixth-round flier on
Hasselbeck in 1998. Holmgren is smitten with Hasselbeck, and
Seattle is in dire need of a quarterback.

Holmgren, however, is investigating other possibilities as well.
He has told the Rams not to trade backup Trent Green without
talking to him and will take a hard look at Elvis Grbac if the
Chiefs release him in a cost-cutting move this week. But a source
with knowledge of the way the Seahawks are leaning says Holmgren
is most interested in Hasselbeck because he knows Holmgren's
system and has shown Brett Favre-like coolness under pressure,
albeit in limited preseason and regular-season trials. "Pretty
incredible," Hasselbeck said last Saturday of the speculation.
"Especially considering that a couple of years ago the Packers
would have traded me for a roll of athletic tape."

With seven weeks left before the draft, it is a time of grand
posturing--as Green Bay and Seattle showed at the combine.
Holmgren thinks Hasselbeck's market value should be what
quarterback Mark Brunell's was in 1995. Brunell, 24 and entering
his third year as a Green Bay backup after being a fifth-round
pick, had thrown 27 pro passes when the Packers traded him to the
Jaguars for third- and fifth-round choices. Hasselbeck, 25, is
entering his fourth year, and he's thrown 29 NFL passes.

However, Packers coach Mike Sherman, who is adding the general
manager's title to his name with the pending retirement of Ron
Wolf, told Holmgren he's had a feeler of a first-round choice for
Hasselbeck. (A Green Bay source says it's from Miami, which holds
the 26th selection.) Holmgren told Sherman, who worked under him
for three seasons in Green Bay and Seattle, that he should take
it because that's more than Hasselbeck's worth. "What's the
difference between Matt now and Mark Brunell when we traded him?"
Holmgren asked Sherman.

"Different times," said Sherman, meaning more teams are shopping
for quarterbacks.

"Different times?" Holmgren said. "They're exactly the same, and
Brunell was worth a three and a five. How can Hasselbeck be worth

Holmgren says it's highly unlikely he will enter the draft
without two first-round picks, but he still could deal the
seventh or 10th selection for two or three high picks, and ship
one of those to Green Bay. Then there's Vick. Holmgren wasn't
blowing smoke when he left a Friday-night meeting with the
quarterback saying he was impressed by the cold confidence of a
player he thinks will be a great pro.

A prediction: Because Seattle is 15-17 in Holmgren's two
checkered seasons as coach and he has to get off to a fast start
this year, Holmgren will not pursue Vick and will find a way to
pay the piper for Hasselbeck. That's because Hasselbeck will come
cheaper in total compensation and/or base salary than will Vick,
Green or Grbac and, most important, as Hasselbeck said, "If there
were a game in Seattle tomorrow, I'd be ready to play."

New Coach's Welcome Note
Bills Can Read It And Weep

A day after he sent a letter by overnight mail to each of his
players, new Bills coach Gregg Williams sat in an Indianapolis
hotel restaurant and, between bites of French toast, said with a
wry smile, "I expect to get quite a few calls from players in the
next few days." In the letter he wrote about how excited he was
to be a part of the Bills' tradition but also how he expected the
players to jack up their commitment level.

The Bills had a putrid 41% rate of participation in their
off-season conditioning program last year, in part because many
players don't want to live in Buffalo year-round. Williams wrote
that he expects every player to attend the 16-week
regimen--strength and conditioning work four days a week, with his
pet program, nutritional training, as part of the deal--beginning
on March 12. "I expect the fat guys to report a week early," he
said. "I don't like fat guys."

A Bills source says Williams is particularly miffed by the
underachieving and overweight offensive line. That group attended
only 27% of the off-season workouts in 2000. "I wrote lengthy
personal notes at the bottom of quite a few of the letters, and
some were pretty blunt," said the 42-year-old Williams. "I'm also
taking every excuse from the players. We'll provide day care for
their children. We'll feed the players breakfast and lunch every
day. We'll break the program into three five-week segments and
fly the players in and out at team expense. We're installing an
attacking defense and the West Coast offense. We need to hit the
ground running."

Top of the Draft
After Vick, Who Knows?

A year ago the first four players chosen in the 2000 draft were
certain to be defensive end Courtney Brown, linebacker LaVar
Arrington and tackle Chris Samuels, in some order, followed by
wideout Peter Warrick. This year, after Michael Vick, it's
anybody's guess. The Cardinals, Browns and Bengals, respectively,
follow San Diego at No. 1, and all three teams left the combine
with their first picks still up in the air.

Michigan wideout David Terrell is the consensus second-best
player, but Arizona would rather address its offensive or
defensive line. Cleveland will almost certainly go wideout or
running back, but the Browns are behind in draft preparation
because new coach Butch Davis has had to focus on the free-agent
market. Cincinnati, with holes throughout its lineup, would be
wise to pick a monster tackle (either Kenyatta Walker of Florida
or Leonard Davis of Texas) to give quarterback Akili Smith a
fighting chance.

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/ALLSPORT Hasselbeck has thrown only 29 NFL passes, but he knows the system that Holmgren will run in quarterback-challenged Seattle.


The free-agent signing period opens on Friday, and the biggest
bank-breaker will surprise you: Bills defensive end Marcellus
Wiley, who figures to get a deal averaging $7 million a year,
including a $13 million signing bonus. The Eagles, Cardinals and
Steelers are the top contenders...

After Wiley departs, Buffalo will target Titans free agent
defensive end Kenny Holmes, who had a better season than Jevon
Kearse in 2000...

Quarterback Brad Johnson will be pursued by the Ravens, Dolphins
and Bucs. Baltimore will probably be the most aggressive, but
there's a potential hang-up: the difference between what coach
Brian Billick thinks Johnson is worth ($6 million a year or so)
and what the front office wants to pay (much less)...

Slowed by shoulder and ankle injuries, Mississippi's Deuce
McAllister rushed for only 582 yards in 2000, crippling his
hopes of becoming a Top 5 pick. He says he got a clean bill of
health from orthopedist James Andrews in January and has been in
a shoulder-strengthening weight program for two months...

Looking for a back with better receiving skills, the Browns are
unlikely to make an aggressive bid for Bengals running back
Corey Dillon...

The Steelers, who passed on Chad Pennington, the top quarterback
in last year's draft, are interested in the second-rated
quarterback this year, Purdue's Drew Brees...

Climbing on the draft board: Ohio State cornerback Nate Clements,
a 5'11" cover specialist with 4.4 speed in the 40, and Miami
wideout-returner Santana Moss, who impressed scouts at the
combine with his burst and quickness.