What If? II

<i>(As the Redskins initial pick in this week's NFL draft is in the second round, the 44th overall, the star players of this draft, the cream of the crop, are well out of the team's reach.</i>

Or are they? Is it possible that Steve Spurrier will he just has to have one of those players that will be gone after the first half dozen picks and that Dan Snyder would put together a proposal, sell it to another team, and move up into one of those coveted half dozen slots? If we've learned anything from Snyder's Redskins it's that you should never say never. Over the coming week, Warpath Insiders wonders, "What if?")

In a stunning ruling on the eve of the NFL draft, arbitrator Richard Bloch announced that the Redskins would not have to give the New York Jets their 2003 first-round selection as compensation for signing restricted free agent Lavernious Coles. He ruled that the Jets had failed to tender Coles at an amount sufficient to warrant a first-round draft pick and that the Redskins owed New York their third-round pick instead.

The dispute revolved around the definition of Coles' 2002 pay. In order to get a first-round pick as compensation for losing that free agent the team must tender that player an offer of $1.318 million OR at least 110% of the player's prior year's salary -- whichever is greater. The Jets took Coles' 2002 base pay and determined that 110% of it was less than $1.318 million and tendered him at the set rate.

Bloch ruled, however, that the Jets should have included the "likely to be earned" incentive payouts that Coles achieved in 2002 in their calculations. Since that would have pushed the minimum the Jets would have to offer to get a first-rounder as compensation to closer to $1.5 million, the Jets would get just a third-round pick from the Redskins for Coles.

As the Jets front office rushed to the microphones to deliver their newest installment of Spin City, the Redskins brain trust rushed to their draft room. With no pick until the 44th and no plans to move up more than a dozen slots if at all, the Redskins had spent the past weeks looking closely at just second- and third-tier players. The surprise ruling—Joe Mendes had noticed the error and the team had filed the appeal with little expectation of success—thrust them into a slot where players they hadn't scrutinized or even interviewed would be available.

As the coffee was brewing in anticipation of an all-nighter, Steve Spurrier stared out the window at the artificial turf practice field and the wooded area beyond. Vinny Cerrato, the scouts, and Mendes were pulling out files and cranking up their laptops, but Spurrier kept staring. Finally he snapped to, stood up, and said, "This is stupid."

The astonished room fell silent as everyone waited for Spurrier to go on. "We can't possibly fit two months worth of work into less than 24 hours. We can do one of two things here," the Ballcoach continued as owner Dan Snyder entered to room. "We can take a stab at some guy at number 13 or trade up and take a guy we know is a sure thing."

The logic of Suprrier's argument struck everyone immediately. After a short discussion, it was agreed that next year's first-round pick was untouchable and no starting players would be offered in a deal to move up.

Snyder then started working the phones. The first call went to the Detroit Lions, who held the second overall pick and had their eyes on Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers. The Lions rarely make trades involving draft picks, particularly their first-rounder and were not inclined to make an exception here. The person most relieved to find that out was Mendes, who was trying to crunch the eight-figure signing bonus that Rogers would command under the salary cap and coming up with no livable solution.

Charley Casserly in Houston was next on the list. He would have no part of a deal for his pick, the third overall, that didn't bring at least two other first-rounders. Perhaps it was a bluff, but the Redskins didn't have time to go back and forth, at least not then.

While Snyder was exchanging small talk with Casserly, the phone rang and Chicago GM Jerry Angelo was on the other end, shopping the fourth overall pick. This was the Redskins' last chance to move into the top five as Cincinnati and Dallas, at the #1 and #5 slots respectively, were not taking phone calls from Ashburn. Angelo wanted a first, second, and third for the pick. When Snyder was able to persuade Angelo to make the third-rounder the Redskins' 2004 selection and threw in an '04 fifth, the deal was done. The Bears would send a 2004 sixth-rounder to Washington as well.

Now that the question of where the Redskins would pick was settled, the talks quickly shifted to who they would take. Almost immediately, the focus went to Miami receiver Andre Johnson. Spurrier called the ex-Cane, who he had recruited when the player was at Miami High School. It didn't take long for both of them to get excited about the prospect of Johnson in the Fun and Gun.

Meanwhile, Mendes was on the phone with Johnson's agent discussing the parameters of a contract. After receiving assurances that some guaranteed money towards the back end of the contract would be acceptable in return for a reduced singing bonus, Mendes gave his thumbs-up for the deal.

The brain trust then spent some time studying their later-round selection possibilities before calling it a night at around 3:00 AM. All present headed to their cars except Spurrier, who returned to his office to draw up some plays for his latest prize catch.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins from A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. For details about this unique book, which chronicles all 925 games the Redskins played from 1937 through 2001, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com

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