The window narrowed for the Ravens to trade down from their No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft when the St. Louis Rams completed a deal with the New York Jets for the top overall pick yesterday.
St. Louis, which had the No. 6 selection, was one of three teams along with the New York Giants and Detroit Lions that had been negotiating with the Ravens. In addition to swapping first-round picks, the Rams gave the Jets their third-, fourth- and seventh-round selections. St. Louis is expected to take Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace with the choice.
If the Ravens remain at No. 4, there is a chance that Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware or Southern California defensive tackle Darrell Russell could be available, which would fill some of the Ravens' most pressing defensive needs. The two players are generally regarded as five of the best in college football.
"My present inclination is to stay put, at least to see how it plays out," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "If one of the top people falls into our lap, we'll stay put.
"Pace is spoken for, for all intents and purposes," he said. "The next three players, not necessarily in this order, would be Russell, Boulware and Springs [Ohio State cornerback Shawn Springs]."
Choosing a cornerback in the first round, though, is not a high priority for the Ravens.
"I'm not sold on that proposition; we need a pass rush," said Modell. "That's not our fundamental need. If Springs was there in the fourth slot, we'd have to take that under serious consideration. They [the coaches] would have to sell me on that."
The Ravens had seriously considered trading down to save the team about $1 million in signing bonus, provide them with another draft pick and possibly sign a free agent.
Modell said he spoke with Giants owner and longtime friend Wellington Mara yesterday, and the team still might trade down. But even Modell admitted the possibilities of trading with the Giants or Detroit appeared slim. Detroit wanted to trade with the Ravens to get Springs or Texas cornerback Bryant Westbrook before St. Louis and Seattle, but both of those teams are now picking ahead of the Ravens.
Modell said he would exchange first-round picks with the Giants, but also wanted the Giants' third-round selection. He didn't rule out, though, some possible last-minute deals on draft day. Tampa Bay and Miami both like Boulware, but Modell has said the Ravens would not trade below the 10th slot in the first round. Tampa Bay has the eighth and 16th overall picks in the first round while Miami is at No. 15.
"Our deal with the Giants might be conditional pending on which players are available when we choose," said Modell. "I also have an agreement with Detroit owner Bill Ford, a longtime friend, that neither one of us would do a deal unless we notified each other first.
"We're going to see a lot of jockeying now, a lot of posturing and play acting," said Modell. "We're still in a good position. Our position wouldn't have improved if we had made an earlier deal. We're better off waiting. When teams see a player available on the board, they ask 'how do we get them? Let's call Baltimore.' "
The Jets-Rams trade touched off a lot of speculation and trade rumors throughout the league. Oakland, which has the No. 2 pick and wanted Pace, reportedly has interest in Russell, but might be willing to to flop a first-round pick with Detroit, which has the No. 5 selection overall.
Seattle, with the No. 3 pick, was first believed to have wanted Springs, but now there are reports that the Seahawks' interest has grown in Russell and Boulware.
Ideally, the perfect scenario would be for the Ravens to have to choose between Boulware and Russell.
"That would be a delightful choice," said Modell. "If that was the case, it's an almost absolute certainty that we would not trade down. Russell is a heck of a guy, but we do have some talks going on involving a free agent of significance [Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Tony Siragusa] and we've got Larry Webster coming back. Imagine, Siragusa and Russell playing the tackles with Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary at the ends."
The Ravens coaching staff gets equally excited about having McCrary and Rob Burnett lining up at the ends and Boulware at outside linebacker. The staff has spent a lot of this week trying to convince Modell that Boulware could play in the Ravens' defensive scheme, which is really a 3-4 with a 4-3 look.
The Ravens, as most of the league, rates Boulware higher on the character scale than Russell.
"I've asked several times whether he can can make the conversion to an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense," said Modell. "They think he can, but it will take some re-orientation. That may be an undesirable project."
The Ravens could avoid a trade, not take either Boulware or Russell and still come away with a quality player by taking either outside linebackers James Farrior of Virginia, or Alabama's Dwayne Rudd with their first pick.
Whatever scenario the Ravens choose, they are almost certain to have a solid draft with four selections in the first 64, and fill their needs at outside linebacker, safety, cornerback, tight end, defensive tackle and a running back to give the team an outside threat.
"I think there might be less impact players than normal, but this draft is well stocked," said Ron Wolf, general manager of the Green Bay Packers. "It's a lot deeper than normal, and teams with extra picks in the early rounds can heal fast."
Ravens draft picks
4th pick, fourth player overall
4th pick, 34th player overall
28th pick, 58th player overall-x
4th pick , 64th player overall
22nd pick, 118th player overall-y
4th pick, 134th player overall
4th pick, 167th player overall
31st pick, 194th player overall*
4th pick, 205th player overall
33rd pick, 234th player overall*
35th pick, 236th player overall*
37th pick, 238th player overall*
* -- compensatory selection; x- from Denver; y-from Dallas
Pub Date: 4/18/97