The gamesmanship of the 2004 NFL Draft took a turn Friday that, while predictable, came a little earlier than expected – and could have an effect on what the Vikings end up doing on the first round of the draft.
Prior to Denard Walker being cut, VU cautioned against it, theorizing that the Vikes could move up two or three spots in the first round by packaging Walker, who, thanks to a recent appreciation of shut-down cornerbacks, was a value at $2.3 million to the right team – like, oh, say, the Bengals.
Instead, the Broncos, who made one of the biggest player-for-player trades in recent memory to get cornerback Champ Bailey, swung a deal with Cincy Friday – moving from the 24th pick in the first round up to No. 17 – two picks ahead of the Vikings – while throwing in Deltha O'Neal and a fourth-round pick.
For those who have followed VU's mock draft over its multiple incarnations, two things that seemed to almost be certainties were that the Bengals would take a cornerback at No. 17 and that the Patriots and Cowboys would be vying for the first running back at Nos. 21 and 22. At the time, it worked well for the Vikes – who could pimp Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones out of an extra pick to move ahead of the Patriots if there was a running back they covet over the rest. Now Denver, which gave up Clinton Portis in the trade to get Bailey, sits with the opportunity to take whichever running back – Steven Jackson, Kevin Jones or Chris Perry – they want.
How does that affect the Vikings? They could have traded the No. 19 pick and Walker to move up to No. 17 and the Bengals would have been happy. O'Neal proved himself to be a stiff last year and cost Cincy more than Walker's final three years would have. Let's call that lost opportunity No. 1.
Lost opportunity No. 2 is that the Broncos also need a pass rusher. In the unlikely event that Kenechi Udeze or Will Smith drops to No. 17, the Broncos could opt to bypass running back and take the pass rusher they also desperately need. And for what? O'Neal and a second-day pick.
You have to give the Broncos credit. If they want a running back, they successfully moved ahead of the two teams that are targeting the top RBs available. If they want someone like Will Smith, they have forced the hand of the Cowboys and Patriots with the mere threat of moving ahead of them, burn a pick on a RB and give Smith a better chance to fall to them at No. 17. What Mike Shanahan and the Broncos' draft posse have done is turn up the heat on the how the 2004 draft will shake out. It's brilliant and didn't cost them much.
The sad thing is that there is a high probability that the Vikes could have moved up two spots simply by packaging Walker and the No. 19 pick to move up. Now the Broncos hold the cards and the Cowboys or Patriots either have to move ahead of them to get a running back or play the waiting game. Either way, the Vikes are now out of the equation.
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