Ownership situation could complicate Rams’ draft

ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft has been signed prior to his official selection the past two years and three of the previous four.

Bradford could become the Rams' QB of the future.
(Tony Gutierrez

Don’t expect that to happen this year unless the St. Louis Rams trade that selection.

With the Rams’ ownership situation in the air and unlikely to be resolved until May, it’s hard to see St. Louis immediately investing the type of guarantee money required to lock up the No. 1 guy. Since 2006 when defensive end Mario Williams(notes) got $26.5 million guaranteed after signing with the Houston Texans before the draft, there’s been a tremendous increase in deals for the top selections with Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes) getting $41.7 million guaranteed as the No. 1 pick last year.

A source with the team said that he doesn’t envision the organization having an unusually difficult time getting a pre-draft deal done with the top pick. However, he also said that completing a deal before the selection wasn’t necessary.

At least one outsider disagrees.

“There are too many moving parts in this situation, a deal is not getting done,” said a source close to the situation.

Shahid Khan has a reported bid of $750 million to buy the team. The purchase is still being vetted by the NFL and wasn’t formally discussed at the owners meetings this week. What that means is that as much as Khan might want to have some influence over who the Rams take at No. 1, he really has no say at this point.

Current minority owner and billionaire Stan Kroenke, who has strong ties to St. Louis, holds the right to match any offer on the Rams. The problem for Kroenke is that he also owns the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that the league was unlikely to relax its rule on cross-ownership for Kroenke if he decides to buy the Rams.

Ultimately, this means that any leverage play by the Rams against whoever is the No. 1 pick is limited, at best. One theory goes that Khan and the Rams could tell whoever the No. 1 pick (presumably Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford) is that he can take $30 million guaranteed or face going back in the draft next year and being forced to take a lesser deal.

Interesting theory, but don’t expect that to happen. The history of the draft is that players almost always hold the leverage (except if you’re an out-of-shape Andre Smith(notes)) against teams. The notion that the Rams and a new owner could let the No. 1 overall pick slide through their fingers, particularly if that player is a potential franchise quarterback, is pretty improbable to consider.

Yeah, a billionaire spends a good chunk of his net worth to get into the NFL and his first action is to not sign the No. 1 overall pick? Don’t think so.

The only thing that is less likely is that the current Rams majority owners will be given a blank check to sign that player by either Khan or Kroenke before the draft’s first round on April 22.

If the Rams are unwilling or unable to keep up with the escalating scale for the No. 1 pick, they lose the leverage that goes with being able to talk to multiple players to get a deal done. While the assumption is that Rams will ultimately take Bradford, they can’t even attempt to bluff Bradford by saying they are willing to take either of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh.

That leverage tends to help get deals done quicker. In 2006, Houston used that leverage against Reggie Bush(notes), subsequently taken No. 2 by the New Orleans Saints, on defensive end Mario Williams to get a deal done before the draft. If Williams hadn’t gone No. 1, his likely destination would have been No. 4 to the New York Jets, costing him millions.

In 2008, that leverage allowed the Miami Dolphins to get a deal done with offensive tackle Jake Long(notes) well before the draft. In 2009, it had a minor impact on quarterback Stafford signing early with Detroit.

By contrast, the Oakland Raiders didn’t use that leverage to its advantage and failed to get quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes) signed before the draft. That failure was exacerbated when Russell held out and missed all of training camp. Since that initial holdout, Russell’s career has been a running joke around the NFL.

Compare that with Williams, Long and Stafford. Williams and Long have both become Pro Bowlers. Stafford showed promise in his rookie season. Enough said.


Game-day vision

A focal point for Commissioner Goodell has been what he terms the “game-day experience” for fans who attend games in-person.

“The issue for us is we are our own competitor in that sense,” Goodell said. “High-definition television and RedZone, all of those things do make it attractive to watch on television.”

Goodell (left) and Ross talk prior to the Dolphins’ season finale vs. the Steelers.
(Steve Mitchell/US Presswire)

With that in mind, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has made his fellow owners an offer for free use of what he calls “Game Day Vision.” It’s a hand-held television that allows fans sitting in a stadium to watch other games and replays of the game they are attending.

The Dolphins offered the devices to 5,000 season ticket holders last season and the device was tried in Washington and Seattle in 2008. This time, Ross, who bought the company that invented the device, is offering each team 5,000 devices for free to give to fans at the discretion of the teams.

“It’s all right in front of you,” said former Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson, a longtime friend of Ross from when the two were in the USFL. Peterson is helping Ross promote the device to other owners. “It’s the cutting edge … the league has to continue to enhance the game-day experience or people will stay home and watch on high-definition TV.”

Eventually, Ross and the NFL are hoping to sell the devices to fans who want the chance to watch multiple games and keep track of information such as fantasy football stats all while watching from the stadium.

While that may seem distracting to purists who are interested in the game itself, Goodell said that audience is disappearing.

“Everyone is multitasking here,” Goodell said. “Kids are consuming three or four different media at once. That is the future. … We all now, through technology and these various advancements, are getting the chance to experience things we never experienced before on an immediate basis. We can’t ignore technology.”

Belichick stumps for Tebow

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is good friends with Florida coach Urban Meyer, so take this with a grain of salt. However, Belichick gave what seemed to be an earnest and clearly strong endorsement of quarterback Tim Tebow with the draft a month away. In particular, Belichick was impressed with Tebow’s effort to change his throwing motion.

“I think it’s obvious in the last six weeks, his mechanics, he has worked on them,” Belichick said. “They’ve improved, which is a credit to him. He’s very coachable and he works very hard. Whatever he feels he needs to do, he’ll work very hard at it … athletically, he tested very well at the combine, which you could tell on the field.”

Tebow has been one of the most debated players in recent draft history because of his previously awkward throwing motion, overall success and cult-like following.

“My sense of Tim Tebow is that if you asked him to play nose [tackle], he’d play nose. I think he’s that kind of kid,” Belichick said. “Whatever you ask him to do, I think he’d do. I don’t know what a team would do with him but I think he’s a really interesting player. He’s had a great career, it speaks for itself … he’s had tremendous production, they hardly ever lose. He’s pretty good. There’s a lot to like.”

This and that

Both New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees(notes) have signed book deals for this offseason. Payton’s book could be particularly interesting, including some strong criticism of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.

Having mentioned Peterson, it should be noted that he has put his house up for sale in Kansas City and his wife is currently working on the new baseball stadium for the Marlins in Miami. That’s sure to feed the rumor mill that started in 2008 that Peterson would eventually take over as Dolphins president when Bill Parcells leaves.

For all those people who worry about the future of the game in 2011 when the collective bargaining agreement expires, just chill out for at least another 10 months. As Goodell said this week: “The best thing I can say is we are still at a very early stage. Let’s allow the collective bargaining agreement to continue. We are in the first quarter here. We are in an uncapped system now and we’ll continue to negotiate. Hopefully we’ll all be able to figure out the right way to structure something so it works for everybody and we can reach a fair agreement for the players and the game.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010