Blog & Tackle: Interesting moves and disinformation

April 28, 2008 | Chris Pika

Depending on who you believe, the Ravens either did or did not offer a trade to St. Louis for the Rams’ selection at No. 2 overall in Saturday’s first round of the NFL Draft, one that reportedly would have put Matt Ryan of Boston College in a Ravens uniform. For those interested in the inner workings of club draft rooms, this is a great example.

The best part of draft weekend for me when I worked for the Saints and Falcons was the amount of intrigue involved in information and disinformation coming out of pre-draft press conferences (or “liar’s luncheons”) and phone calls back and forth between personnel people, especially during the final week prior to the event. I have said this many times: How you know a NFL general manager or head coach is lying the week before the draft? “His lips are moving.”

A great example is this: In his blog on BaltimoreRavens.com, Senior VP Kevin Byrne talked about the process of how the Ravens moved around in the first round to get their guy. He mentioned that there were national media reports that Baltimore was trying to do a deal with St. Louis to get to the No. 2 spot.

One such report actually came today when SI.com’s Peter King, in his Monday Morning Quarterback web column, said: “Shortly after noon (Saturday), Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome offered St. Louis first-, second- and fourth-round picks this year and a third-rounder in 2009 for the Rams’ first-round pick. In essence, to move up six spots in the first round, Baltimore was offering the 38th and 106th pick this year and, say, around the 80th pick next year. Tempting, St. Louis thought. So the Rams called Atlanta, at number three, asking for a second-round pick this year to swap spots. If St. Louis traded with Atlanta, the Rams would pick up a free first-day pick and still get Chris Long. If the Rams traded with Baltimore, they’d lose out on Long, the only legit pass-rusher they liked in this draft.”

King went on to say that the Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron loved Ryan, but also liked Flacco and Henne and that Cameron thinks Flacco might have the traits and the arm to be special, Harbaugh wanted picks for a haul of talent for the new staff to work with and that the Rams turned down the offer about five minutes before the start of the draft.

Now for the intrigue. Byrne said he had been in the Ravens’ draft room and that there was no indication of a deal working between Baltimore and St. Louis. His verdict was that St. Louis leaked the “trade” info to get the Falcons to move one space from No. 3 to No. 2 to secure Ryan and for St. Louis to gather picks.

Two things of interest here: Rams’ VP of personnel Billy Devaney was the former assistant GM of the Falcons until February of this year and King worked from the Falcons’ media area in Flowery Branch and had access to the Falcons’ decision makers (who may have leaked or confirmed the “trade” details given by the Rams). Devaney, knowing his former bosses and some of the Falcons’ early draft plans, probably knew how to push some buttons in Atlanta (see my point about disinformation above).

The way it goes down is much like a poker game. The Rams call the Falcons and say in a nutshell, “Baltimore really wants Matt Ryan and has offered trade terms X. We are interested because Chris Long is our guy, we don’t need a QB and we could use the extra picks. What do you want to do? ” If you believe Byrne’s version, and I do, then the whole thing is a bluff by Devaney to get the Falcons to panic and jump one spot. In the end, Atlanta stood firm and the top three went off the board in the order most expected.

Now, about the “leak” from St. Louis to NFL Network and ESPN. Byrne makes an excellent point in his blog about how the info game is played and how connected reporters figure into the mix, especially on draft weekend:

“And, we do look to the media for information, and reporters are scouted. For example, when we read a reporter from ESPN.com or see someone on TV from ESPN who is giving a nugget about the Patriots likely 1st choice, Ozzie might say, ‘That guy talks with (Bill) Belichick all the time. That’s good information.’ That info then gets filed. And reporters will offer teams information in hopes of getting some nugget that will make them appear brighter. But, this is how confusing it gets. Late yesterday (Friday) afternoon, one of the best known national reporters texted me that he knew ‘almost for a certainty that St. Louis would take Virginia’s Chris Long with the 2nd pick in the 1st round, and that Atlanta would take Ryan.’ Less than a half hour later, a reporter known to all sports fans called Oz to say, ‘You can book this: the Rams are taking Long and the Falcons are jumping up and down because they’re getting Glenn Dorsey (LSU defensive tackle).’”

Byrne continues: “Now, the two reporters who gave us this information are sharing with us in hopes we give some info back that might make them look smarter when they are called upon to talk about the Ravens’ pick. For Ozzie, what does the information mean? These are two well-connected reporters, and they’re giving conflicting information less than 24 hours before the draft. What does Oz do with the info? ‘In the end, there is information overload. It’s conflicting. It can discourage you and it can give you false hopes. We always go back to our board and take the next best player when it is our turn,’ Newsome explained.”

The Rams kept up the charade with a quote from an unnamed St. Louis executive in King’s column. He writes: “It was a really hard decision,” said one of the Ram execs in the (draft) room. “But it was more about our belief in Chris Long and the fact that we thought he was the perfect pick for us more so than anything else. Anybody else but Chris Long, and we’d probably have done it. But when we walked out of the room and made the phone call to Baltimore, we were in 100 percent agreement that it was the right decision.”

Now, do you believe the Ravens’ version or King’s? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle? One thing is for sure, the Ravens have quarterback Joe Flacco and the fruits of the weekend’s work for the Ravens and the other 31 NFL clubs will be seen over the next few years.

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Speaking of Sports Illustrated, there is a cover story about the Colts’ 1958 NFL Championship game victory over the Giants from the perspective of how Baltimore’s Raymond Berry changed the wide receiver position and how his overall preparation — unheard of then, but standard now — helped the modern day game evolve. Read it here. Can you believe it’s been 50 years since the day Baltimore sports came of age?

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