Billick better hope that Mike Tice doesn't coldcock him at the next league meettngs. Everyone hates this prima donna-and it'll get worse after today. Still, the Vikings should have knwoen they were dealing with a snake, even if he worked as the Vikings' OC just a few years ago.
A bird in hand ...
Ravens reflect on their first-round draft's good luck
Posted: Saturday April 26, 2003 7:22 PM
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Swiveling in his leather chair in his upstairs corner office at the Baltimore Ravens team complex, Brian Billick couldn't get over his luck Saturday afternoon.
First it was bad, then it was good, and finally -- at least from Baltimore's perspective -- it was stupendous.
"It's been a hell of a day already," said the Ravens' pumped up head coach, still riding high on a serious post-first round adrenaline rush. "Unbelievable. I couldn't have imagined it going like this."
Who could have? In a frenzied burst of first-round wheeling and dealing, the No. 10 Ravens did the following:
Came within a completed phone call of trading for the draft rights to the quarterback they coveted most -- Marshall University's Byron Leftwich.
Watched as time ran out -- unbelievably -- before they could seal that deal with No. 7 Minnesota, a turn of events that looked likely to doom any chance of their taking a quarterback in the first round.
Recovered quickly to make falling Arizona State pass rusher Terrell Suggs their pick at No. 10, a no-brainer according to their draft board.
Then got back on the phone and worked their way up from No. 41 in the second round to New England's No. 19th overall pick, in order to pick the quarterback -- Cal's Kyle Boller -- that most draft experts had paired them with long ago.
Baltimore had to plunk down some significant draft capital in order to get Boller -- sending its second-round pick, plus next year's No. 1 to New England -- but the Ravens did so without reservation, thrilled to be able to land two of the top 10-rated players on their draft board in one dizzying 10-pick span.
Where others will see risk, giving up their No. 1 in 2003 for a quarterback who was rated in the middle third of this year's draft, the Ravens see reward.
"We spent next year's No. 1 to get a guy who was ranked 10th on our board this year," Billick said. "What's that worth? Unless we wind up in the top 10 of next year's draft -- and we think we're going to a better team than that -- we can live with that price. This building is pumped. We've added to our offense and our defense, and we've got a quarterback we can build around."
No matter what you think of Baltimore's wild and wooly first round, know this: The Ravens entire day would have turned out differently had the NFL splurged for the call-waiting feature on the four phone lines it had installed at league draft headquarters at Madison Square Garden.
Yep, in this age of advanced technology and wireless communications, a busy signal was the key to Baltimore's draft.
Only the Ravens inability to contact NFL senior director of player personnel Joel Bussert in New York -- the league official on hand that teams have to report their trades to -- kept Baltimore from completing the deal for Minnesota's pick.
Here's the important points of the story behind Saturday's memorable Phonegate:
With the Vikings' 15-minute window for their No. 7 selection down to 30 seconds or so, Baltimore and Minnesota struck a trade. The Ravens would move up from No. 10 to 7, giving Minnesota their fourth and sixth-round selections this year. Nobody disputes that version of events.
But then things got wacky. The Vikings called in their end of the trade to the league, but the Ravens, with the seconds dwindling, couldn't get through to Bussert. Minnesota's clock expired, the Vikings were forced to pass on their pick, and Jacksonville rushed to submit its card, drafting Leftwich.
With the player they intended to draft at No. 7 gone, the Ravens told the Vikings their deal was off and prepared to select Suggs. After Carolina took Utah offensive tackle Jordan Gross, Minnesota jumped back into the draft at the No. 9, selecting Oklahoma State defensive end Kevin Williams, the player they had targeted at the No. 10 spot.
That's when the recriminations started.
"The trade was done with more than 30 seconds left," Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski told SI.com on Saturday. "We definitely pushed it timewise, but then Baltimore couldn't get in touch with the league. What you do is call and verify the trade and then turn in the card. Why was the league's phones ringing busy? I don't know. They have four lines open for that kind of communication. But once we had the deal with Baltimore, we assumed it was done."
Vikings head coach Mike Tice went further, faulting Baltimore for the trade not getting executed. "I'm pissed," Tice said. "It doesn't look good after last year [when the Vikings also had trouble turning in their first-round card in a timely fashion], but it wasn't our fault."
And now for Baltimore's version: "The deal wasn't consummated," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "The deal is not a deal until I talk to Joel Bussert and I never talked to Joel Bussert. ... The key thing is, up until I talk to Joel Bussert, it's not a trade."
Asked if the deal got as far as him attempting to contact Bussert as the clock expired, Newsome said, "Yes, it did. But I was not able to get a hold of Joel."
Later, Newsome acknowledged that "we were up against the clock when I was trying to call the league," adding tellingly, "Some of the best deals I've made are the ones I never made."
Tickled by the eventual outcome of the deal that didn't happen -- namely, getting Suggs and Boller in the first round, rather than just Leftwich -- Billick was in no mood to look back at what might have been, or accept any blame.
"Fault? For what?" said Billick, when told what Vikings officials were saying about the trade. "They said they got the player they wanted. We got the player we wanted, plus. Sounds like life turned out pretty good."
Sources with both teams say the Vikings were shopping the No. 7 pick to three teams during their 15 minutes of infamy: The Ravens, Jaguars, and Patriots. It came down to Minnesota jumping back and forth between Baltimore and Jacksonville, pitting the two teams that were fighting for the right to draft Leftwich.
Officials in Baltimore believe that the Jaguars had no interest in dealing with the Vikings, but wanted to keep Minnesota on the line in an effort to keep the pick and Leftwich away from Baltimore. In other words, the Jaguars were trying to run out the clock on the Ravens, a goal they apparently realized.
"It was [Jags head coach] Jack Del Rio talking to Tice, throwing out different options and keeping the Vikings on the line," said a source with the Ravens. "The Vikings waited too long. Ozzie kept telling Tice, 'Mike, you're running out of time, you're running out of time.' But they kept bouncing back and forth, negotiating with both of us. It was pretty shrewd by Del Rio."
And there's even more back story to this one. In Minnesota, Tice and Brzezinski were pressured by Vikings owner Red McCombs to get out of the No. 7 slot, trading down in an effort to save money in terms of signing bonus. With only Minnesota interested in making Williams a top 10 pick, the Vikings wanted to drop down several notches and take the Oklahoma State standout in a cheaper slot.
As is, Minnesota is expected to try to pay Williams as the No. 9 pick, rather than the No. 7 slot that the Vikings originally held. The difference in the size of the signing bonuses could be as much as $3 million. Given the financial considerations that Minnesota had, Vikings officials were grudgingly willing to accept just a fourth and sixth-rounder from Baltimore in exchange for their pick.
"It was a lousy deal, but we felt like we had to take it," a Vikings team source said. "We had other things to consider."
Said Seattle general manager Bob Ferguson of Minnesota's self-inflicted drop from No. 7 to No. 9: "Well, they wanted to trade down, but that's not the way to do it. In 28 years of doing this, I've never seen anything like it."
Almost the same could be said for the Ravens, who walked away ecstatic that their deal with Minnesota was aborted.
"There was disappointment when the deal didn't happen, because of the combination of missing out on Leftwich and that it meant we weren't going to pick Boller at No. 10," Billick said. "Part of me, as excited as I was about getting Suggs, was like, '[Shoot], we liked both of these quarterbacks so much and now we're not getting either one.' Because it didn't look likely that we could get back up into the first round for Boller."
On a day when the unlikely kept happening, Baltimore was happy with its every move. Most of all, the one it didn't make.