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Friday, August 5, 2011
Start an NFL team from scratch

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

The NFL's frenetic free agency window made MLB's recent trading deadline look like a night of bingo at the nursing home. The NFL was nuclear fission, MLB the cold stove league.

But what if we could take it a step further? OK, more than a step. I'm talking about total free agency.

Robert Kraft
Robert Kraft's Patriots have been among the most successful teams of the past decade.

Every team's roster is blank. Every owner's suite is unoccupied. Every general manager's office is empty. Every head coach's film room is unused.

You have the No. 1 overall pick in the Total Free Agency Draft. Who do you take?

Owner

I know who I don't want. I don't want to be within a Six Flags of Daniel Snyder. His solution to everything is to hose down problems with money. It doesn't work that way -- not that he's figured that out yet. Then again, he's only owned the Washington Redskins since 1999.

I don't want Mike Brown. If you put Brown in charge of Apple, the Harry Potter franchise or Augusta National -- three of the all-time can't misses -- he'd figure out a way to drive each into a ditch. If the NFL ever does a seminar for prospective buyers, its PowerPoint presentation should include a mug shot of the Cincinnati Bengals owner with the caption, Whatever he does, do the opposite.

And I don't want Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Anybody who openly romances a head coach candidate (Jim Harbaugh) while his actual head coach (Tony Sparano) still has a parking space at the team complex is the ownership equivalent of a Palmetto bug.

Meanwhile, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots is the most respected owner in the league. So you couldn't go wrong there.

The Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, is as solid as the steel and concrete pilings at Heinz Field.

The Atlanta Falcons' Arthur Blank is a keeper.

Even Crazy Jerry of the Dallas Cowboys is worth serious consideration. Why? Because Jones thinks big, does big, sometimes wins big, often fails big. But at least he tries.

My No. 1 pick: Steve Bisciotti of the Baltimore Ravens.

Bill Polian
Bill Polian has been NFL executive of the year six times.

It's this simple: he gets it. He's smart, decisive and has some blue around his collar.

General manager

I could make a respectable case for Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome, Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert, the New Orleans Saints' Mickey Loomis, the Green Bay Packers' Ted Thompson, the Kansas City Chiefs' Scott Pioli and the New York Jets' Mike Tannenbaum. And there are three or four others right on the fringe of Best Of consideration.

But none of these guys is better than my No. 1 pick, the Indianapolis Colts' Bill Polian.

Head coach

The easy choice is the Patriots' Bill Belichick. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with easy. I'll take Belichick, too.

But if Hoodie were to retire today and pursue a career in, say, stand-up comedy or infomercials, I'd have no problem taking the Steelers' Mike Tomlin or the unemployed Jeff Fisher.

Player

We can rule out a punter, which means the Colquitt family is out of luck.

No placekickers, even though the league's top 14 scorers last year used only their feet.

No safeties, though I'd take the Steelers' Troy Polamalu with the first pick in a Hair Club For Men draft.

No cornerbacks because the last thing Nnamdi Asomugha needs is more pressure on him. Luckily for him, Philadelphia Eagles fans have a long history of patience and measured, constructive criticism.

No linebackers, unless someone can show me the next Lawrence Taylor.

No defensive linemen, though I wouldn't want to block Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh for a living.

Aaron Rodgers
Win now? Aaron Rodgers can do that.

No wide receivers because as the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith (46 receptions, two TDs) discovered last season, you can't score unless someone can throw you a spiral.

No tight ends, but it's nothing personal.

No running backs, though I'd pay cash money just to watch the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson or the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson jog to the mailbox.

No offensive linemen, but I might make an exception for Dolphins OT Jake Long.

Which means the No. 1 pick will be a quarterback. Duh.

And that can only mean one person: Brett Favre.

Wait, he's retired? Sorry -- habit.

The Over-30s: the Patriots' Tom Brady, the Colts' Peyton Manning, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Eagles' Michael Vick.

The Under-30s: the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Falcons' Matt Ryan, the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford and the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers.

The Still In College: Stanford's Andrew Luck.

If I had to pull one of these names out of a helmet, I could live with any of them. More important, I could win with any of them.

Luck could have been the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Instead, he wants to live his age and be Joe College for another year. I applaud his decision. So do the gawd-awful Buffalo Bills, who will probably finish with the fewest wins this season.

If I'm building a team for the future, I'm taking Luck or Bradford. But I'm not. I'm selfish. I want to win before the Redskins' Snyder sues another alternative newspaper. I want to win before the players realize that the owners won the latest CBA negotiations.

So I'm taking Manning. He's dissected more defenses than high school biology students have dissected frogs. And he's the first quarterback who wants less money. Now all I have to do is the same thing the Colts need to do: find a dependable left tackle.

And if Manning's surgically repaired neck is a problem, then I reserve the right to replace him with Rodgers.

My column, my draft, my rules.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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