Thursday, April 22, 2004

NFL Draft Edition

So Eli Manning doesn't want to be drafted by the Chargers, eh? San Diego has the first pick, and most "experts" think Manning will be the first player drafted. If Manning doesn't want to play for the Chargers, I say "too damn bad." That's what the draft is about--the teams select the players, not the other way around. If the Chargers select Manning, he has two choices--he can sign and play for them, or he can sit out a year and go back into the draft next year.

If I were the Chargers, I think I'd draft him out of spite. Of course, a team's first-round pick (and especially the first pick overall) is too valuable to waste on such a move. I doubt he would, but if he did opt to sit out a year, that's a pick wasted, and the Chargers can't afford that. They sucked last year, and they can't waste their first pick.

I heard a possible scenario on the radio yesterday that I think is San Diego's best option. The Chargers can trade the #1 pick to the New York Giants for receiver Ike Hilliard and New York's first-round pick, which is #4 overall. The Giants can select Manning, who they want badly, and who also seems to want to play there. The Chargers can then trade that #4 pick to Cleveland for receiver Dennis Northcutt and the Browns' first-round selection, which is #7 overall. This would give the Chargers two good receivers, and if they still want to draft a quarterback in the first round, Ben Roethlisberger from Miami will almost certainly still be available at #7.

For what it's worth, I think Roethlisberger will be a better pro quarterback than Manning anyway. I've seen Roethlisberger play on several occasions, including twice in person, and he's the real deal. He's far and away the best passer I've seen in person (a list that includes current NFL quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwich). He throws a pretty ball--his spirals are tight, and his passes are on the money, even in the cutting Bowling Green wind. He doesn't get rattled often in the pocket, and he moves pretty well for a guy his size as well. I think Manning's status as the probably #1 pick is mostly dependent on his name. Peyton Manning, Eli's brother, is a hell of a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. I just don't think Eli is nearly as good. His pocket presence and leadership may be similar, and that's big, but I don't think his physical tools are on the same level. Roethlisberger's are, and he's got or will develop the rest.

My main interest in this year's draft lies in another quarterback, BGSU's own Josh Harris. He's projected to go in the third or fourth round, and I'm very excited to see where he ends up. He'll be the first BG player drafted since my afflitiation with the school began in 1997. I think he'll be a good starting quarterback in the league someday, after carrying a clipboard for a couple of years and learning. He was an outstanding college quarterback, and he's got all the tools needed to be great in the pros. He just needs some time and seasoning to learn how to utilize them. His biggest tool is his speed and quickness--he can definitely avoid a rush. He's built like a linebacker, so he's hard to bring down. He's got good arm strength and can make all the throws. He was a bit erratic with his passes in college, but his most important asset, and what made him a hero to everyone who follows BG football, is that he's a playmaker. The kid can just play football, and he's clutch. I was always confident when we needed a big play and the ball was in Josh's hands. I knew he'd make it, and he did. If he can continue that in the NFL, he'll be a star in the long run.

The latest rumor I've heard about Josh has him going to the Browns in I think the fourth round. There are some positives to this. I'd be able to go see him play again whenever I wanted, since Cleveland isn't far at all, and Jeff Garcia would be a good quarterback for him to learn from. Other than that, I'm totally against him going to the Browns. Personally, I hate them, having grown up in the shadow of Cincinnati as a Bengals fan (poor, tortured souls that we are). If Josh ends up there, I'll root for him to do exceptionally well personally, but for Cleveland's defense to be spectacularly bad so that he can succeed and the team can still lose. Beyond my personal feelings, though, Cleveland is just a screwed-up organization right now, and I think it would be better for Josh if he didn't get caught up in that.

Of course, the biggest issue surrounding this year's draft is the issue of Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams and underclassmen eligibility. The current rule is that players cannot be drafted if less than three years have passed since the graduation of their high school classes. This rule was negotiated between the NFL and the players' union, and is included in their Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clarett has taken the NFL to court to get this rule overturned so he can be included in this year's draft, one year earlier than he could be drafted otherwise. This case is currently in the hands of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is expected to make a ruling before Saturday. As it stands now, Clarett can not be drafted. His initial lawsuit resulted in the rule being overturned, at which time he declared for the draft, as did USC's Mike Williams. However, a stay was granted to the NFL by a higher court, putting Clarett and Williams out of the draft. Clarett then appealed to the Supreme Court for an emergency lift of the stay, and Williams filed a separate lawsuit against the NFL. That's where it stands now, and theoretically this will all be sorted out by draft day.

I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, I think Clarett has a right to seek employment. Teams are obviously interested in him, and in other players who are currently "too young" to be in the NFL. This isn't like becoming a doctor, where a certain degree is an absolute requirement. It's an age restriction, imposed somewhat arbitrarily, and which may not entirely be fair.

On the other hand, I think the NFL has a right to determine their own qualifications for employment. The problem here lies in the fact that the NFL itself would not be employing these players; the individual teams would be. We've already seen that a lot of teams have at least some interest in Clarett, so the NFL is restricting their ability to hire him. However, the NFL has to do this in order to protect its own product. Letting these young, underexperienced players into the league will, over time, dilute the quality of play on the field. Look at the NBA. Many players leave college after a year or two to enter the draft, or skip college entirely and go pro right out of high school, and the NBA suffers for it. Teams draft these young players based on "potential," and then essentially pay them to sit on the bench for the first several years to learn how to play. This is not a good thing for the league. The draft is designed to help poor teams get better in a timely manner--this is why bad teams draft first. However, when these teams select "project" players that need a few years of development, it defeats the purpose. They can't step in and help right away. They aren't ready.

Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony have proven that there are exceptions to the rule--sometimes young players are ready to come in and play right away. Sometimes. Not often, though. Even Kobe Bryant didn't come in and start right away. And the NBA is a totally different animal from the NFL. Professional football is a violent, grueling game, and if these young kids come in unprepared, they're going to get mauled. It's just the way it is. I'm sure there are some kids who will be ready before those three years have elapsed (Williams is one, but I doubt Clarett is...he couldn't even get through a full season of college football without missing time for various injuries).

All of this, however, deals with the "rightness" of the rule, and not the "legality." I don't know about that part, not being a lawyer myself. The rule is included in the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, and most stuff I've heard seems to indicate that it will eventually stand up, but who knows? We'll find out sometime between now and noon on Saturday, I would imagine. If it does stand up, look for the NBA to push for an age requirement to enter that league as well.

As a fan, I think rules like this are good for all involved. Including the kids. Sure, it's hard to argue that they don't have a right to be employed if they're good enough. However, "good enough" is a totally subjective assessment. I'm sure if these rules go away that there will be plenty of kids who think they're the best players ever and forfeit their college eligibility in an effort to be drafted, and they're screwed if it doesn't happen. I suppose in America they should have the freedom to screw up their lives, but I think it's better if they don't.

All of that being the case, here's my suggestion for a compromise. If these kids are hellbent on not going to college, let them enter the draft. If they're good enough, fine--they'll get drafted, they'll make the roster, they'll play. However, have a supplemental draft a week or two after the regular draft (they do this now, but it's tied into the following year's draft, which would no longer be the case under my proposal). This draft would be aimed at the younger players, but I suppose anyone could be taken. There would be roster exemptions for players in this draft, so that they could be on the team but not count against the roster limits. These players' pay scales would be limited in some way, as would their eligibility to play in games, and there would have to be some sort of rule governing how long (in terms of years) they would be allowed to be exempt. Short of expecting these players to go to college for a certain number of years, I think this would be the best way to let younger players into the league fairly, without sacrificing the quality of play.

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