Tandler's Take: Fire, or Just Smoke?

Baseball has its Hot Stove League. NASCAR has what's called Silly Season. The NFL doesn't have a catchy name for the annual barrage of chatter that happens annually in the few weeks prior to its annual selection meeting, but it's just as hot and just as silly nonetheless.

Remember, back in the day, that cloud of hazy smoke that would hang over an event such as a Grateful Dead concert? The atmosphere around the NFL draft is beginning to resemble something just that whacky.

"April Fool's Day is nine days late," Vinny Cerrato said about talk of a proposed trade with the Raiders that would have the Redskins moving up from number five to number two in the draft. Quoted in the Washington Post, the Redskins' Vice President said, "It's normal to contact teams before the draft. Everybody in the league does it at this time. Teams are giving out false smoke signals all the time."

On the same day, the headline in the Post article emphasized the possible trade while the story on the Washington Times, containing essentially the same information, led with Cerrato's denial. What's the average Redskins fan out there to think?

There are a few reasons for all of the buzz other than the immense popularity of the NFL and the intense interest in the draft. One of the very nature of NFL draft deals. While some are completed in advance of the draft, most are made while one of the teams involved is on the clock. It's not until then that the teams involved know exactly what they're trading.

The Raiders, for example, seem certain to trade that second overall pick—almost. Should the team drafting first, the Chargers, not take Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning, Oakland wants to be in position to snap him up. (Before you go thinking that this is a far-fetched possibility, remember that San Diego is the team that took Ryan Leaf and traded away the chance to draft Michael Vick.)

On top of that, the team trading into the spot wants to make sure that its player is still there. In the scenario that prompted Cerrato's comments, the Redskins supposedly covet Iowa tackle Robert Gallery. Should a team move to number one and snatch Gallery away, the Redskins would be stuck with an expensive pick where the best available players are not in positions of need.

Due to the necessity that deals be conducted at the last minute, there is nothing concrete in the days leading up to the draft. In the place of hard news are reports from anonymous team and league sources, speculation and some stuff that was just made up.

Of course, the Internet increases both the number of rumors making the rounds and the speed at which the stories travel exponentially. What used to be speculation being chewed over by a few guys enjoying a cold one after work is now spread to hundreds if not thousands in course of an evening. On top of that, there's the constant pressure for the major sports Websites such as ESPN.com and CBS Sportsline to come up with new content—something posted three or four hours ago is sometimes considered old news. The compressed news cycle demands that stories be published before they're fully developed. This leads to an increase in the quantity of stories and a decrease in the quality of them.

Speaking of low quality, there are also dozens of self-declared draft "experts" with their own Websites out there. At best they serve up rehashes of other reports; at worst they engage in sheer, uninformed speculation and rumor mongering.

To be sure, there was no shortage of smoke being blown by NFL teams prior to the advent of the Internet. Back when the World Wide Web was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye, Redskins GM Bobby Beathard would annually dole out vast amounts false information to the media. In fact, a good way to figure out who the Redskins would draft would be to take a list of prospects and cross off the name of any player that Beathard mentioned in public. Whoever was left had a shot at being picked.

In fact, a search of the Post's archives reveals not one instance of Beathard being quoted uttering the name "Darrell Green" in the weeks prior to the 1983 draft. Green, of course was the Redskins' first-round selection.

One thing is for sure. As Cerrato said "These next two weeks, you can't believe anything you hear."

And, just like at that Dead concert, be careful of how much of that smoke you take in. In both cases it can lead to faulty judgment.

Rich Tandler is the author of the new book Gut Check: The Complete History of Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. The chronicles of Gibbs quarterbacks is just part of this comprehensive book. Read accounts of each games that Gibbs coached for the Redskins, data on every player who played for him and every coach who coached under him, offseason and between-games headlines and much, much more. For details on how to obtain this book, a must-have for any true Redskins fan, go to http://www.GutCheckBook.com

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