Gearing up for the 2004 Draft

From the Maurice Clarett court case to the feud between the Manning family and the San Diego Chargers, there's no doubt this year's NFL Draft has been loaded with story lines. Now, the day is finally here. And given what's already happened, you'd expect there would be a lot of wheeling and dealing going on today and Sunday as teams move up and down to acquire the players they covet.

First and foremost is the Chargers-Manning situation.

Eli Manning, the presumptive No. 1 pick has told the Chargers, owner of said pick, he will not play for them and will sit out the season and re-enter the draft next year if they take him.

Is it posturing on his part? Maybe. But you have to realize Manning isn't hurting for money. It's not beyond reason to think he could sit out the year.

The Giants and Browns have offered deals to the Chargers to move up, with New York wanting Manning and Cleveland coveting offensive tackle Robert Gallery.

Friday night the Giants upped their offer of their No. 1 pick (4th overall), quarterback Kerry Collins and a second rounder. That could be enough to get the deal done.

If that happens, Cleveland may ship its No. 1 pick (7th overall) to Oakland for the second pick. The Browns would include disgruntled receiver Dennis Northcutt and their second round pick. Oakland would move down and look at Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as a future replacement for aging Rich Gannon. If the Browns work out a deal with the Chargers, you can bet Al Davis will grab Manning in a heartbeat.

Across the bay from Oakland, the San Francisco 49ers, who own pick 16, have also been busy working the phones. The 49ers have spoken with Philadelphia, who would like to move up from No. 28 to grab running back Steven Jackson of Oregon State, and Dallas, which also covets the bruising runner. The Cowboys own the 22nd pick.

If Northcutt doesn't wind up in Oakland, he could find his way to AFC West rival Denver, who would gladly take the young wideout off of Cleveland's hands for a third or fourth-round pick.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who own the 11th pick, are hot for North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers and have spoken with the Detroit Lions about the possibility of moving up to grab the NCAA's second all-time leading passer.

The Steelers could also trade down with a team looking at cornerback Dunta Robinson of South Carolina (Minnesota or Denver) or Roethlisberger if he's still on the board (San Francisco). Pittsburgh would then take massive right tackle Shawn Andrews of Arkansas.

Those Tim Couch to Green Bay rumors continue to persist and the deal could be consummated today, with the Packers getting their eventual replacement for Brett Favre. The only thing holding up the deal at this point is Couch re-working his contract to fit under the Packers' salary cap.

St. Louis signal-caller Kurt Warner could also find a new home today, especially if the Rams select Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman in the first round. New Bears head coach Lovie Smith is a big Warner fan and Warner would give Smith a nice option should Rex Grossman not work out. Remember, Grossman was drafted under the previous administration's watch.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, may part ways with talented strong safety Donovan Darius, who has worn out his welcome with the Jaguars. A mid-round draft pick could be all it takes to get the big hitter.

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