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Money makes or breaks this year's NFL draft

Offensive tackle Jake Long, a standout at Michigan, could be the first pick in the draft. But if Dolphins vice president Bill Parcells doesn’t like the deal, he and the team might look elsewhere.

Getty Images (2007)

Offensive tackle Jake Long, a standout at Michigan, could be the first pick in the draft. But if Dolphins vice president Bill Parcells doesn’t like the deal, he and the team might look elsewhere.


Proving that everything truly is about the money, it seems as though dollars, not talent, will determine who is drafted No. 1 overall by the Dolphins.

Team vice president Bill Parcells appears to be ready to take a stand against the escalating signing bonuses of top picks. Miami has been negotiating with Michigan tackle Jake Long for more than a week, hoping to come to terms on what the team considers a reasonable deal before the draft. If that doesn't happen, the team will attempt to determine whether any of the other top candidates are willing to make contract concessions for the right to be the top pick.

This likely is a precursor to a bigger story. There is growing support in league circles for a rookie salary cap that would attempt to end the astronomical salary guarantees for top picks (see JaMarcus Russell's $29-million in guarantees from the Raiders last season).

"It's an important point that, as part of our discussions on the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and the significant dollars that are being committed to players, we do want to look at," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "I think it's important to our veteran players personally. As a veteran player, you've proven your performance on an NFL field, and that should be rewarded. When you see players come in that have not played in the NFL and it's unclear as to whether they will be able to play at a certain level in the NFL, I think that's a fair point."

A rookie cap has been in place in the NBA for several years, and veteran players have benefited as a result. The average salary in the league exceeds $5-million. You can be certain Goodell will get plenty of support from the league's franchises that often stake future salary-cap stability on the potential of rookies.

"In the first round, that's where you can really get messed up," Carolina coach John Fox said. "You're paying that guy like a future Hall of Famer, and he's not played a down yet. Those are the busts that hurt you because there are a lot of financial ramifications."

Where's the QB? Although it remains to be seen who will be this year's top overall pick, there seems to be universal agreement it won't be a quarterback.

That's a bigger surprise than you might think. In eight of the past 10 drafts, a quarterback has been the top pick. Since the Colts nabbed Peyton Manning first overall in 1998, only a pair of defensive linemen (Courtney Brown in 2000 and Mario Williams in 2006) have unseated quarterbacks at the top.

That's not at all a suggestion that each of those guys picked No. 1 was worthy. The 49ers' Alex Smith was a No. 1 pick in 2005 but hasn't lived up to that billing. And perhaps one of the most dubious No. 1 picks in memory, David Carr, was the top pick in 2002, going to Houston. I'm guessing the Texans didn't envision him being the Panthers' third-string quarterback just five years later.

State of the state: Remember the days when players from Florida schools dominated the first round? That likely won't be the case this year.

There's a chance that only two Florida players will be drafted in the first round: defensive end Derrick Harvey of Florida and USF cornerback Mike Jenkins.

Miami's Kenny Phillips, a safety, and Calais Campbell, a defensive end, are on the bubble and could sneak into the first round. Meanwhile, Florida State doesn't have a single player projected to go in the first round.

If only two state players go in the first round, it will be a stark contrast to recent years. In the past six drafts alone, 32 players from Florida schools have been selected in the first round, including an NFL record six from Miami in 2004.

Chad Johnson, unplugged: Bengals receiver Chad Johnson tried to clear the air last week when he repeated — quite emphatically — that he wants to be traded and won't be reporting for workouts or camps.

Whether the Bengals have any intention of granting his wish remains to be seen (they maintain they have no plans to trade him). If and when they do, there are a couple of reasons they might be able to stomach a deal.

For one, the $8-million salary-cap charge that would result from trading or releasing Johnson isn't as bad as it looks. If a deal were struck after June 1, for example, the impact can be spread over two years. A deal could even be done now if the Bengals designated Johnson a "June 1" transaction, which is possible. According to some estimates, that would result in a manageable cap charge in the neighborhood of $3-million for 2008.

And if the Bengals do part ways with Johnson now, they're immediately off the hook for his $3-million 2008 base salary and reported $4.75-million in 2009 salary and bonuses.

So who knows? Maybe Bucs general manager Bruce Allen should make the call.

Money makes or breaks this year's NFL draft 04/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 12:46pm]
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