NFL Nation: 1997 NFL draft

Tony Gonzalez and what might have been

January, 22, 2013
With Tony Gonzalez leaning toward retirement after 16 NFL seasons and 1,242 receptions, I turned back the clock in my mind to 1997, the year San Francisco tried to draft the tight end from California.

The 49ers were in a wheeling and dealing mode in that 1997 draft. They came away with three players -- Jim Druckenmiller, Marc Edwards and Greg Clark -- after trading away all picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.

"While they rated [Jim] Druckenmiller as the best player available at the 26th pick, the 49ers tried to trade up for Miami's No. 15 in order to take Cal tight end Tony Gonzalez," John Crumpacker wrote at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Alas, Kansas City moved up to 13 in a trade with Houston and tabbed the Golden Bear."

Alas, indeed.

Druckenmiller would play in six NFL games, starting one. Edwards, a fullback the team envisioned in the Tom Rathman mold, started 82 of the 134 regular-season games he played. Clark, a tight end, started 39 of the 55 games he played.

As for Gonzalez? He has 237 starts in 254 games and ranks second to Jerry Rice on the NFL's list for all-time receptions. His total for receptions is 50 percent greater than the career total for any tight end. Shannon Sharpe is second with 815 receptions.

The chart ranks 1997 draft choices by most Pro Bowl appearances. Two NFC West players, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, made the list. Also in 1997, the Arizona Cardinals drafted cornerback Tommy Knight with the ninth overall choice.

The Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams cannot be sure what they'll get from the picks they agreed to exchange Friday night.

It's safe to say the Redskins' ability to position themselves for a potential franchise quarterback drove up the price St. Louis commanded for the second overall choice.

The first chart shows what Oakland paid when moving up from 10th to second in the 1997 draft for defensive tackle Darrell Russell.

The Raiders paid far less than the Redskins gave up for the second pick in the draft this year, a pick Washington is expected to use for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. In 1997, Oakland acquired the second and 166th picks from New Orleans for the 10th, 39th and 107th picks, plus receiver Daryl Hobbs, who had six career touchdown receptions and would play only 14 additional games during his career.

Also in 1997, the Rams acquired the No. 1 overall choice from the New York Jets for the sixth, 67th, 102nd and 207th picks. That is far less than the Redskins paid for the second pick this year, but there was no quarterback atop the 1997 draft. The Rams took left tackle Orlando Pace that year.

The second chart shows what the Redskins will pay for the second pick this year. For trading purposes, a first-round pick next year equates roughly to a second-rounder this year. It's not like the Rams acquired three 2012 first-rounders.

Still, Washington becomes the first team since at least 1980 to give up three first-round picks while moving into the top five picks in a draft, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But as the football adage goes, virtually no price is too high for a franchise quarterback. The Rams think they have one already in Sam Bradford. That was a primary reason they were willing to deal the second pick this year.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. sees this as a win-win trade Insider for Washington and St. Louis. He sees Cleveland as a big loser for failing to land the second pick despite having at its disposal selections more valuable than the ones Washington traded, starting with the fourth overall pick. Griffin seemed to fit the Mike Shanahan offensive profile better than the Mike Holmgren/Pat Shurmur profile, however. That made the Redskins a more likely trading partner, I thought.