It was nice to see at least a
little something go right for the Cleveland Browns. At the Scouting
Combine in Indianapolis on Friday morning, Cleveland won the coin flip
over Tampa Bay that assured them the third pick in this year’s college
draft. Of course, they should have had the third pick without
the coin flip since Cleveland had lost to Tampa Bay during the regular
season, but nothing’s ever as it seems in the NFL. Hence the coin
But whether Cleveland actually
won anything in that coin flip remains to be seen once draft day comes
and goes. It may be, for example, that with differing needs Cleveland
and Tampa Bay weren’t going after the same players anyway, at least
in the first round. But more importantly, it will come down, as
it always does, to how good Cleveland’s scouting really is.
That’s the scary part.
But the truth is having the third
or fourth selection hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference, except
in the amount of guaranteed money the “winning” team will have to
pay to sign the player. Looking at salary and bonus figures of the
third and fourth round draft picks over the last several years, the
third pick can expect a minimum of $1 million more in guaranteed money,
even if the overall salaries are similar. Remember, in the NFL
contracts are rarely if ever guaranteed. Thus, ignore the reported
value of the contract and focus instead on the contract’s length and
the amount of guaranteed money as the length determines over how many
years the bonus will hit the salary cap. Because most first round
contracts run five or six years, even a $1.5 million dollar difference
in guaranteed money, prorated over those five or six years, is relatively
meaningless from a cap standpoint.
But because a team has either
the third or fourth pick, it is absolutely critical that it not make
a mistake. Reviewing all third and fourth round draft picks since
1990, there have been many great players selected. There also
been some noteworthy busts. Here is the breakdown since 1990:
In 2004, Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald
and the Giants took then traded, Phillip Rivers. In both cases,
there is little question that the two look to live up to their status.
But 2002 is a much different story. Both Detroit, with Joey Harrington,
and Buffalo, with tackle Mike Williams, whiffed badly. Williams
is out of the league and Harrington is a back-up in Miami, although
he played well in spots this last season. Still, it is hardly
an accident that Detroit and Buffalo still are struggling. When you
miss big, it comes back to haunt you. That’s certainly the case with
Cleveland and Gerard Warren, whom the Browns selected third in 2001.
On the other hand, Cincinnati selected Justin Smith with the fourth
pick that year and he remains an important part of that team and one
of the few Bengals that hasn’t been arrested. In fact, the Bengals
just designated Smith as their franchise player.
Although there are a number of
third and fourth pick busts, perhaps none is bigger than Akili Smith
with the Bengals in 2003. But in the end it turned out fine for
the Bengals as they ultimately ended up with Carson Palmer, a superstar
quarterback. The Browns had no such luck, unfortunately.
That year they took Tim Couch number one that year and while he flamed
out like Smith, the Browns haven’t found their Carson Palmer, not
even close. Among the other notable busts with the third pick have been
Andre Wadsworth, a defensive end selected third by Arizona in 1998 and
Heath Schuler, a quarterback selected by Washington in 1994.
Perhaps most interestingly, there
actually have been a few less draft busts with the fourth pick than
the third and, conversely, there have been a few more great players
drafted fourth than third since 1990. Among the more notable fourth
round picks have been Ferguson (2006); Rivers (2004); Edgerrin James
(1999); Charles Woodson (1998); Peter Boulware (1997); Jonathan Ogden
(1996) and Willie McGinest (1994). The most notable of the third
round picks are Young, Fitzgerald and Steve McNair, although there are
several other decent third round picks as well.
The mock drafts conducted thus
far have the Browns selecting anyone from JaMarcus Russell to Joe Thomas
to Brady Quinn to Calvin Johnson to Adrian Peterson, any of which would
be decent choices for different reasons. But the reality is that until
the Browns and the other teams sign a few free agents starting next
week, it will be hard to peg their draft plans.