Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Updated: April 30, 11:36 PM ET
Cardinals' gain is Leinart's loss
By John Clayton
NEW YORK -- The 2006 NFL draft moved to Radio City Music Hall, but the event was a soap opera.
Musicals are normally funny and whimsical. This draft wasn't. The Texans used business techniques in drafting and signing defensive end Mario Williams over Reggie Bush before the draft even started. Texans fans weren't happy not getting Bush or Vince Young. Bush wasn't happy losing more than $6 million of guarantees.
Titans general manager Floyd Reese had to keep his coaches happy while drafting Young over Matt Leinart. The Bills baffled everyone with their selections. Some players who expected to go high were forced to endure long waits.
Here are the winners and losers.
1. Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan whipped all the critics by acquiring the Cleveland Browns defensive line in 2005 and parlaying those acquisitions into a trip to the AFC title game. This year, Shanahan draws nothing but praise. Instead of drafting wide receiver Santonio Holmes with the 15th pick, the Broncos traded up to the 11th pick to get quarterback Jay Cutler. Then they found the reciever that they needed, trading just a second-round pick to the Packers for Javon Walker. Clearly, they were the biggest winners on the first day of the draft. Shanahan hasn't had any luck drafting receivers, so being able to trade for Walker instead of drafting a reciever was a better move. Getting a veteran as talented as Walker for a second-round pick is a steal. Shanahan set the franchise up well for the short-term and the long-term. The Broncos get Walker for the 2006 season, and they have Cutler as the quarterback of the future.
2. Arizona Cardinals: Normally, the Cardinals are the bad luck team. Twice this offseason they struck gold. They headed into free agency without the intention of paying big money for a running back. But with a surprising $17.5 million increase in the salary cap, the Cardinals were able to sign Edgerrin James. Then, Matt Leinart was gift-wrapped for them at No. 10. Arizona coach Dennis Green rated Leinart among the top five players in the draft. He said the selection was similar to 1999 when Green was with the Vikings and selected Daunte Culpepper, whom he rated as the No. 1 quarterback in that draft. "We really had him ranked as one of the top five players,'' Green said. Green doesn't have to rush Leinart. Kurt Warner is the starting quarterback, and even though Leinart is the most ready to play of the rookie QBs, he has the luxury to sit and learn. Green loves the fact Leinart throws a very catchable ball, and he knows he won't have a problem preparing a left-handed quarterback. After all, Green coached Steve Young.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Acquiring Maryland tight end Vernon Davis was a bigger break for the 49ers than you would expect. Davis is a 254-pound tight end who can run a 4.38. Because quarterback Alex Smith doesn't have the strongest arm, Davis should help Smith as much as Alge Crumpler helps Michael Vick and Tony Gonzalez helps Trent Green. Davis can work the seams, providing easier, more accurate throws for Smith. He could add three to five percent points to Smith's completion numbers. The Packers considered taking him at No. 5 to help Brett Favre, and the Rams tried to trade up to get Davis. Getting Davis will cause changes in the NFC West because teams will have to find bigger, faster safeties to cover him.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Thanks to having 10 draft choices heading into Saturday, the Steelers had the flexibility to use two draft choices -- a third- and a fourth-rounder -- to get Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes. It's those type of bold moves that keep the Steelers among the top teams in the AFC. Sure, they could have sat at No. 32 and picked LenDale White, but as soon as they saw Holmes drop below 15, they knew they could make a move. After losing Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El in the past two years to free agency, the Steelers were close to becoming too thin at wide receiver. With a quarterback as talented as Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers needed to bulk up the talent on offense at the skill positions. Roethlisberger has to be happy adding Heath Miller last year and Holmes in 2006.
5. Tennessee Titans: Give Floyd Reese some credit. He was in a tough situation. His coaches wanted Leinart. His owner wanted him to draft Young. It was a debate that carried into Saturday morning. Reese found a way to satisfy everyone. In Young he got a quarterback back whom he believes will be better than Leinart in two or three years. Young might not do much during his first season, so Reese gave the coaching staff White, a big, bruising running back who can help immediately. It helps that White worked with Norm Chow, the Titans offensive coordinator at USC. The toughest job is ahead, with the likely release of Steve McNair, the team's franchise quarterback for the past decade.
6. New York Jets: The smartest thing the Jets did was resist the temptation to trade up to No. 2 and get Bush. Of course, the Saints helped by making the price so high that it was impossible for them to make the move. Though it might have bored Jets fans to not get Bush or Leinart, the Jets made good football decisions. D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are a great start toward rebuilding the Jets' offensive line. They drafted Kellen Clemens to develop at quarterback. That all would have been lost if they packaged two extra picks to get Bush. The Jets have a lot of needs. A lot of Jets fans left after the first round because they were bored, but sometimes it's better to do things the right way.
1. Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona: Had he turned pro after his junior season, Leinart might have been the first pick in the 2005 draft. Even now, most would considered him a higher-rated player than 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the first pick in the 2005 draft. Financially, this is a disaster for Leinart. Smith received $20 million in guarantees. Leinart goes into a slot that last year paid $13.5 million -- total -- over the five-year contract. Because he's a quarterback, Leinart will get a premium, and he could get around $6 million to $8 million in guarantees. Green told Leinart that he was getting a gift from heaven in getting a quarterback this good at 10. While Leinart says he doesn't regret coming back for his senior year at USC, he wasn't able to cash in with his extra year in college.
2. Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans: Give Bush credit for being a good sport. He congratulated defensive end Mario Williams for beating him out for the No. 1 pick in the draft. He didn't blast the Texans for not taking him with the first pick. Still, Bush was clearly a big loser in this draft. With all the stories circulating about his family's living accommodations, Bush clearly was in spin control heading into draft week. He needed to agree to a deal to make him the No. 1 pick. When the Texans offered an 8 percent increase over Alex Smith, the top pick in 2005, Bush should have shown more willingness to take it. Williams grabbed the Texans' offer like he was taking down a quarterback and registered a big sack. He got $26.5 million in guarantees while Bush will be lucky to get $20 million from the Saints. He needed to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, and he fumbled it by not getting a deal done.
3. Buffalo Bills: The Bills were in a great spot at No. 8. They had at least two teams -- Denver and Minnesota -- calling up offering draft choices to move up. Those teams were looking for quarterbacks. The Bills could have worked a deal with the Eagles, who were considering a move to No. 8 to take a defensive tackle. Taking a safety, Donte Whitner, at No. 8 instead of accepting one of those deals just wasn't a good value. Sure, maybe they weren't getting offers that matched the trade value chart, but wouldn't it have been better to move down and get anything extra. They would still have been able to get Whitner. The Bills feared losing Whitner to the Lions, who didn't get Michael Huff at No. 9. That wasn't going to happen because the Lions were taking linebacker Ernie Sims if they didn't get Huff, who went to the Raiders. The Bills went a little too conservative.
4. Green Bay Packers: They didn't get great value for Javon Walker, only getting a second-round choice instead of two seconds, which they were demanding Friday. While A.J. Hawk was a great choice to help the defense, the Packers didn't do much to help Brett Favre. They didn't get tight end Vernon Davis, but that's OK. Hawk rated higher on most draft boards than Davis. The Packers had a decent second-round for the future in getting tackle Daryn Colledge and wide receiver Greg Jennings, who might take some time to make impact. But this is Favre's last year, and he is committed to making the best out of the season. As it has been the entire offseason, the Packers haven't seized the moment.
5. USC: First, they lose to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Now, they lose to Florida State, Ohio State and NC State in the draft. While the Seminoles had four defensive players in the top 19, the Buckeyes had five first-rounders, and the Wolfpack had three, the Trojans saw a number of their players slip. Bush negotiated himself out of being the first pick. Leinart went No. 10 to Arizona. Character questions must have played into Winston Justice's drop into the second round. White didn't go in the first round and became a bargain in the second for the Titans. Plus, USC still has to deal with the aftermath of all the alegations swirling around Bush and his family.
6. Claude Wroten, DT, LSU: He was the only position player who failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting combine. Though many thought he had first-round potential, the positive test combined with an offseason arrest caused his stock to drop.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.