NFL Reacts To Moss Trade At Combine

At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, the reaction to the Vikings trading wide receiver Randy Moss to Oakland varied, but ESPN reporter John Clayton questioned the timing and wondered if the Vikings would seek Moss' replacement with their first pick. One NFL general manager said that No. 7 overall pick is more open now than ever.

At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, there is no shortage of opinions — who's the best player, fastest player, best interview. But the topic broached many times at Thursday's combine session was the trading of Randy Moss from the Minnesota Vikings to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris, the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft and another late-round pick.

Reporters across the country had their takes, and so did a few well-known figures around NFL.

"I think anytime there is a trade, people who do the trades feel it's good for them," Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said. But he then proceeded to talk mainly about what the Raiders got as opposed to what each side got out of the deal.

ESPN's NFL reporter, John Clayton, seemed to echo the more popular sentiment about the trade.

"I don't think they (the Vikings) got their full value, but I don't know if you can get full value with any kind of a trade like that," Clayton said. "Certainly it was better than the 49ers got for TO (Terrell Owens), it's certainly better than Corey Dillon, what the Patriots gave up for Corey Dillon."

What the Vikings got was Harris, a linebacker that has puzzled many around the league, one that most people think hasn't lived up to his potential since being drafted by the Raiders in the first round in 2002.

Harris played both middle linebacker and outside linebacker in Oakland, and he has tried (some would say unsuccessfully) to operate in a 3-4 defensive scheme and then adapt to a 4-3. He has also dealt with two different coordinators in his three years in the league, just like the Vikings' middle linebacker, E.J. Henderson has in two seasons.

In fact, Henderson and Harris are considered similar players by a number of NFL people.

"The problem I have mostly is where does Napoleon Harris fit. The Raiders weren't as fond of him and his play in the last two years, and that's kind of devalued him. I think in many ways they were happy to get rid of him — at least (Oakland owner) Al Davis was happy to get rid of him," Clayton said. "In a lot of ways, I think Napoleon Harris and E.J. Henderson might be very similar players. Most of the thought with the Raiders is that Napoleon is an inside guy, but also too you can see where they (the Vikings) are probably going to place him. He's going to be a strongside guy, which gives him a chance to maybe do some of the pass rush that he was able to do at Northwestern that he hasn't been able to do in the NFL.

"In a lot of ways, he was messed up by 3-4, 4-3, two different coordinators — that obviously held him back. He showed a lot promise in his first year. … If he can at least rebound and play on the strong side, but if he plays in the middle then all of the sudden that puts E.J. Henderson on the bench and I don't think that helps their defense."

Besides Harris, the Vikings received the No. 7 overall draft pick on April 23, and the draft is the main reason 32 NFL teams have converged on the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. They want to poke and prod and test the wares of the more than 300 prospects in attendance.

The Vikings now own the seventh and 18th selections, giving them as much to think about as any team in attendance.

One school of thought has the Vikings hoping to pick one of the top two receivers in this year's draft — Michigan's Braylon Edwards or USC's Mike Williams, who tried to enter the draft last year and was denied because he hadn't been out of high school long enough, according to the NFL rules.

The No. 7 pick is never a sure thing.

"It's always a crapshoot, but this year maybe more than ever," Donahoe said. "There doesn't seem to be consensus by teams on who the top players are. Usually when you come to the combine you have an idea of who the top five to seven people are. I don't know that you know that this year. Obviously with the seventh pick in the draft, you'd figure you're going to get somebody pretty good. Right now, I couldn't venture a guess."

The selection of Williams might be a bigger risk since he hasn't played competitively in a year.

"If you sit out of football for a year, it's really difficult to judge where that player is because you don't have any recent footage to look at him and judge him on a competitive basis," Donahoe said.

Donahoe said the top priority for Williams and running back Maurice Clarett, who also was denied entrance into last year's draft, should be proving to NFL personnel that they are in shape and they've been working hard.

Edwards isn't expected to last until the Vikings' pick at No. 7, but Williams might.

Another option the Vikings have is using free agency to acquire a receiver to replace Moss. Plaxico Burress would be Clayton's first choice, but one NFL talent evaluator said Burress is "half the talent and twice the headache of Moss." That may be why more people think the Vikings will target Williams or Edwards.

"Unless they're going to go after Plaxico Burress, then I think that they can get by with concentrating more on defense (in free agency) and then maybe hoping that with the seventh pick Mike Williams or Braylon Edwards is there. If necessary, they maybe have enough ammunition to move into the top five if they need that one receiver to replace Moss. They have the flexibility to do it from seven on up. You figure right now they have a good chance to get Mike Williams. Is he going to replace Randy Moss? No, but they can still be pretty impactful as a team based on what they have."

Clayton sees Braylon Edwards and Burress as very similar plays, both in style and in impact. "The only difference is the wear and tear on Plaxico. And then Williams is a beast, he's 229 pounds. He may not be fast; he's a big receiver," Clayton said. "So I'd say maybe Edwards would be a better fit because he may be able to stretch the field a little bit more."

The Vikings also have the option of not going after any top-flight wide receivers in free agency or the draft, but Clayton doesn't view Nate Burleson as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

Of course, all the talk of Burress, Edwards and Williams would be moot if the Vikings hadn't agreed to trade Moss. The timing of it confused a number of people around the NFL, including Clayton.

"The thing that you wonder about is the timing of it. Obviously, you can't wait until the draft. If you're going to make a deal like this, you have to get it done fast. You have to get it in preparation of the trade deadline, just like Clinton Portis from Denver last year going to Washington. What I'm curious about is, would they have been able to come down here to the combine, see what Washington would have been able to do with the Laverneus Coles situation and maybe prod a little bit more out of them. Maybe they would have found out that the Raiders had more assets, but I don't know that they explored that as much. Atlanta didn't seem to be doing anything; Baltimore took a very passive approach, and so it was probably the best deal that they could do at the time, but why didn't that time take a few more days?"

In fact, a reporter from Atlanta confirmed that the Falcons had very little interest in trading for Moss. Another media type said the Ravens weren't willing to part with defensive stars Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed or Ray Lewis.

Another media type believe the New York Jets might have been willing to dangle defensive end John Abraham, who was tagged a franchise player by the Jets, as trade bait for Moss if the Redskins hadn't been looking for a deal to move Coles, who could interest the Jets.

However, not everything is uncertain surrounding the Moss trade. The Vikings know they got Napoleon Harris, and according to another NFL reporter they are quietly very happy with that acquisition.

Clayton said Harris does have his strong points.

"Northwestern produces pretty good people, and he has a pretty good football mind," Clayton said. "The big thing is that maybe he's been through two years of torture trying to go from 3-4 to 4-3. He doesn't seem to get it yet. He's late for a tackle, missing a tackle. Again, maybe that's more the scheme than anything else, or maybe in the end they played him wrong. Maybe ultimately he is a strongside (linebacker). He just hasn't found it yet. He's kind of regressed. The one thing with the Raiders, everybody has an ego — it's an ego-centered organization, it's an ego-oriented team. That's not bad, that's just what it is."

The Vikings have agreed to say good-bye to one ego. Now they just have to find a way to capitalize on their return on investment.

* Clayton didn't think the Vikings were trying very hard to get cornerback Charles Woodson instead of Harris, as speculated Wednesday. "I think they took the position that they like Harris better than pursuing Woodson or Philip Buchanon. We'll see if that's the right one. It adds another linebacker, but that's still not enough to fix the defense."

* As a few more teams make plans to switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment, Donahoe was asked if it's cheaper to run that style since defensive linemen don't register the big sacks numbers when compared to their 4-3 colleges on the line and may not be able to demand the bigger contracts. "Probably," he said. "But it shifts where you put your money. It might make it more expensive in terms of a linebacker. The whole thing is you have to deal with the cap regardless of what defense you play."

* On the subject of salaries, Harris' contract calls for base-salary payments of $541,000 in 2005, $658,500 in 2006, $776,000 in 2007 and $894,000 in 2008. Moss' contract calls for $7.25 million in 2005, $8.25 million in 2006, $9.75 million in 2007 and $11.25 million in 2008. That means Harris' base salary over the next four years will be $2,869,500 while Moss' will be $36.5 million.

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