Market crashes for teams looking to deal

NEW YORK -- Kenny Rogers used to preach through song that gamblers have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.

As the NFL draft concluded Sunday, that big rush of air heard throughout draft headquarters was the folding of cards. The trade market was dead. What was supposed be a weekend featuring heavy trade action and player movement turned into a game of "Hold 'Em."

Weeks of speculation and rumors died Sunday. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said franchise defensive end Darren Howard is going to remain with New Orleans even though the Saints have two starting ends -- Charles Grant and last year's first-round choice, Will Smith.

The Redskins pulled former first-round choice Rod Gardner off the trade market after two months of trade discussions and will invite him back into the fold.

Halfback Travis Henry will remain with the Bills indefinitely because general manager Tom Donahoe held to a value that never materialized.

The only player traded during the draft was third-string Browns quarterback Luke McCown, who went to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round pick. There were 16 draft choice swaps, but only two were made in the first round.

On the veteran front, Raiders coach Norv Turner told reporters Saturday night that franchise cornerback Charles Woodson wasn't being shopped and that he expects Woodson to participate in an upcoming mini-camp. When Woodson signed his $10.5 million franchise tender in February, the Raiders issued a statement saying his agent, Carl Poston, must have had a team that wanted to acquire him in a trade. Now, despite Oakland's tight salary cap, the Raiders are proceeding as if nothing had happened.

Perhaps the strangest saga of the offseason is how running backs Edgerrin James of the Colts and Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks couldn't garner a single trade offer even though either one could bring an offense 1,600 rushing yards. Last year, Corey Dillon went to New England for a second-round choice and the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years. James is now off the market because he signed his franchise tender.

Where have all the trades gone?

The answer lies within the quirks of this draft. In some ways, better salary cap management and thinner free agency classes created the potential for more trades. The 2005 draft class was rich on running backs, thin on star players and deep in hard-nosed players, but teams were reluctant to give up their picks.

"Most teams had the same grades on players," Colts general manager Bill Polian said. "It's frightening how long those grades stayed the same. They went through the third round. Because of that, teams didn't want to give up those choices."

Consider the plight of the Seattle Seahawks. They had Alexander to trade and extra choices in the third and fourth rounds. New general manager Tim Ruskell laid out an aggressive plan of trade scenarios starting with the Redskins at No. 9 of the first round.

For months, the Seahawks didn't receive a bite on Alexander, a franchise player with a $6.3 million tender. There were too many good running backs available in the draft and only three teams -- the Bucs, Cardinals and Dolphins -- in the market for one.

Then came draft day. The Seahawks had the 23rd pick. They offered packages including third- and fourth-round choices. Washington wouldn't give up the ninth pick unless Seattle kicked up its offer to include a second-rounder. The Seahawks refused. Most of the teams between the 11th and 18th picks saw more value in drafting players for their front defensive sevens than the Seahawks' offer. So all Seattle could do was watch as 17 backs were taken, including three in the first five and nine in the first day.

At one point, the Seahawks tried to entice teams with a second-round pick in 2006. There was no trade, and in the end, the Seahawks -- who were considering defensive ends Erasmus James and Demarcus Ware or linebacker Thomas Davis -- traded back and settled for center Chris Spencer of Mississippi.

It was a setback for a team that needed to get a pass-rusher out of the first round.

The Saints found that same frustration in their Howard negotiations. Howard's agent, Gary Wichard, negotiated a contract agreement with the Cowboys in the event a trade could be worked out. The Saints wanted a second-round pick and linebacker Dat Nguyen. Bill Parcells didn't want to give up Nguyen. Owner Jerry Jones liked that second-round pick. Once again, no trade.

"There was an abundance of pass-rushers in the draft," Wichard said. "You also have the problems of more teams switching between the 3-4 and the 4-3. In Dallas' case, they never made it clear what defense they were going to be."

The availability of having Ware, Shawne Merriman, David Pollack and James available after the 10th pick -- Dallas held the 11th and 20th picks -- allowed the Cowboys to keep their options open. They left with Ware as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and Marcus Spears, an ideal end in a 3-4.

Howard left Saturday knowing he was going to be a Saint.

"Now, we are going to keep Darren," Loomis said. "We couldn't get a firm offer out of Dallas. No other teams said they would do this or that to get a trade done, and he's too good a player to give away for less value. We'll keep him."

Jim Steiner, the agent for Alexander, knew it was going to be tough getting a trade for his client with so many good backs in the draft. Even though Alexander is in his prime, he's older and he was going to be more expensive than the draftable backs, who were younger and had less wear and tear.

"We know there were clearly several teams that needed backs by the demand for runners at the beginning of the draft," Steiner said. "The demand was there. In the end, the cap considerations of picking up Shaun made it tough. Only about 10 teams could receive his cap number. As you got to Saturday, you knew other teams would have to cut players to get Shaun on their roster. Even though Seattle would have taken a second-rounder or so, no one stepped to the plate."

James' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, came to the same conclusion in the first weeks of free agency. After finding no teams wanting to give up a high draft choice for James, Rosenhaus decided to sign his tender, effectively taking him off the market.

Henry, however, was the one trade that should have happened and didn't. In late February, the Cardinals were ready to make an L. J. Shelton-for-Henry trade. It was a $3 million left tackle for a running back. The Bills wanted more, asking the Cardinals to swap their better position in the second round. Donahoe held firm and thought he would get a trade when the Eagles showed interest. Then came the Bucs.

The best offer was a fourth-rounder from the Eagles. The Bills held to the third. On Friday, the Cardinals didn't return Buffalo's phone calls. Donahoe didn't budge on his demand for more. Like a greedy gambler, Donahoe didn't know how to fold 'em and watched the Bucs, Cardinals and Eagles draft first-day running backs.

Now, he's stuck with Henry, who will probably hold out. Donahoe liked Shelton to a certain degree but Bills coaches didn't. In the end, the Bills didn't get value and have a distraction in Henry, and they might lose him and get nothing in return after the 2005 season, when his contract is up.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.