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Bears-Ravens draft snafu begs for rules change

Numerous Chicago Bears fans have tried to defend general manager Jerry Angelo in the wake of a failed trade between the Bears and the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the first round of the NFL draft last week. The most popular point Chicago fans have made is that Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome is believed to have done the same thing in 2003 to the Minnesota Vikings.

The problem that Bears fans don't understand is that there's a unique difference between the two situations.

In 2003, Newsome at least tried to call the league to confirm the trade.

In 2011, Angelo admitted that no one from the Bears even tried to call after Chicago agreed to exchange picks.

The upshot of this is that while the Bears and Ravens are unhappy with each other, the situation has exposed a flaw in the NFL's draft procedures by which one team could possibly deceive another team and cause time to expire on a selection. While NFL senior personnel executive Joel Bussert declined to discuss the issue on Thursday, a few team executives said they are concerned about the situation.

"I would hope nobody would ever do that intentionally to screw somebody over, but even accidentally is really bad," an NFC team executive said. "You're talking about people's jobs being on the line. That embarrasses everybody involved. Ozzie is lucky that [Baltimore owner Steve] Bisciotti trusts him so much. For a lot of other guys, your owner might look at you like an idiot even if the other team made the mistake."

At the end of the first round, Baltimore was left holding the bag when Chicago, which was willing to give up a fourth-round pick to move up from No. 29 overall, failed to call in a deal that was agreed upon for the No. 26 overall pick. The clock expired on the Ravens, allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to take wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin before Baltimore subsequently took cornerback Jimmy Smith(notes), the player the Ravens wanted all along. Chicago selected offensive lineman Gabe Carimi(notes).

Angelo apologized after the first round ended for what he called a "mistake" and took harsh criticism afterward. Bisciotti called into question the honor of the entire Bears organization, including the McCaskey family that owns the team. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly urged the Bears to send the Ravens the fourth-round pick but ultimately couldn't do anything because there are no rules governing this particular situation.

In the aftermath of the deal, Bears fans found a Sports Illustrated story from 2003 in which Newsome admitted that he and the Ravens had agreed to a trade with Minnesota to move up from No. 10 overall to No. 7 overall. Baltimore was trying to get ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars, which had the No. 8 overall pick, for quarterback Byron Leftwich(notes).

Just as in the failed deal with the Bears, the clock expired. The key quote, at least from the perspective of fans trying to defend Angelo, was from Newsome. He said at the time: "The deal was not consummated. … A deal is not a deal until I talk to Joel Bussert, and I never talked to Joel Bussert."

Some people have tried to take that as Newsome defending his actions not to call. According to Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne, Newsome tried to call Bussert. The problem was that, at the time, the NFL had only two phone lines to call in to report trades. As Newsome tried to call, the lines were constantly busy. Byrne said after that draft, the league added more phone lines to prevent a repeat of that problem.

After the 2003 draft, Newsome also joked that then-Jacksonville GM James Harris and coach Jack Del Rio tied up the lines so that they could prevent the Ravens from making the deal with Minnesota. When the clock expired on the Vikings, the Jaguars rushed to get their pick in ahead of the Vikings and selected Leftwich. The Carolina Panthers, who had the No. 9 pick going in, then rushed up to select offensive tackle Jordan Gross(notes). Minnesota then picked defensive tackle Kevin Williams(notes) ninth overall and Baltimore selected defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs(notes). In hindsight, the Ravens came out better for not making the deal, but that's beside the point.

In other words, there was no mistake or intent on Newsome's part.

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Angelo (left) and coach Lovie Smith (right) with Carimi.
(AP Photo)

By contrast, Angelo openly admitted the failure of the deal between Chicago and Baltimore was his fault, even though he tried to downplay it as a mistake.

"The only thing I am going to say is they have rules when you do something wrong," Angelo said. "Not when people make mistakes. A mistake was made. No rule was broken, OK, so let's just make that clear here. As I said [last Thursday] night, we made the proper amends from our part and certainly there was no intent other than to do the best we could and it just didn't work out."

Not everyone agrees with Angelo's viewpoint.

"I like Jerry, but what he said is BS. If you gave me your word and didn't even call the league or didn't call me back in time to fix the situation, that's wrong. Dead wrong," the NFC team executive said. "You should pay some penalty. I don't know what it is, but something. I think Baltimore should have gotten the pick.

"Again, this is a high-pressure situation. You can't just say, 'Oh, no harm, no foul.' That could be my job on the line."

One solution to the problem could be that the deadline to report trades might need to be 30 seconds before the actual deadline to make a pick. That would allow a team a chance to make a pick even if the proposed deal fell through.

"That's one way to do it, but this, 'Hey, my bad, sorry' routine doesn't cut it," the executive said. "When stuff like that happens, everybody is on edge. The coaches, the owner, the players, your fans. It's just wrong."