- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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NEW YORK -- The NFL draft opened with the 49ers ignoring the financial consequences and drafting Utah quarterback Alex Smith and it ended with former Ohio State halfback Maurice Clarett hitting a little bit of a lottery by going in the third round.
Smith goes to the 49ers demanding more than Eli Manning's $45 million contract from a year ago. Clarett enters on a more humble basis, going three or four rounds higher than expected. It was a day in which first-round trades were surprisingly few (two) and winners outnumbered losers.
• Dallas Cowboys: Coach Bill Parcells was the clear big winner in the draft. He bulked up his front seven with the additions of linebackers Demarcus Ware and Kevin Burnett and defensive end Marcus Spears. Combine that with the free-agent signing of nose tackle Jason Ferguson, and the Cowboys have the flexibility to go to a 3-4 defensive scheme or stay in a hybrid 4-3. The key was getting Ware as the pass-rusher. The Cowboys were getting the word out they were taking Shawne Merriman, who ended up going a pick later to San Diego. But Ware is a Charles Haley-type talent who can be a pass-rusher from the four-man line and a pass-rushing linebacker in the 3-4. He was one of the most unique defensive talents in the draft. Spears is the ideal end for a 3-4 scheme -- a big, strong 300-pounder with some playmaking ability. Burnett is able to play inside or outside linebacker.
• Minnesota Vikings: This couldn't have worked out any better for Mike Tice and the Vikings. They got the speed receiver they sought in South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson and a right defensive end in Erasmus James of Wisconsin. Williamson will start out in packages as a deep threat because he is so good at running straight ahead downfield. James will be a pass-rusher from the right side of a defensive line that is loaded with talent. They have three first-rounders on the line -- James and Kenechi Udeze at ends and Kevin Williams at defensive tackle. Throw in free-agent signing Pat Williams at nose tackle and this might be one of the top three defensive lines in the game. They also may have found the long-term replacement for David Dixon in the second round with Marcus Johnson from Mississippi.
• Cleveland Browns: New general manager Phil Savage did it the Baltimore way -- he stayed patient and he made solid selections. By being patient, Savage didn't call the Dolphins, who were trying to fleece an extra pick out of them to trade up to No. 2 and take wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan. He didn't rush the selection of quarterback Charlie Frye of Akron and ended up getting one of the steals of the draft in the third round. Brodney Pool was a low first-round talent drafted in the second round at free safety. Savage is changing seven starters on defense, but he knows he can't rush things. Edwards and Frye are the future. Pool will jump in as a starter. It's a great start.
• San Diego Chargers: The plan was to use one of the first-round choices on offense and another on defense. Plans change when things work out better. The Chargers got the pass-rusher they were hoping for in Shawne Merriman of Maryland and then pulled out the best nose tackle in the draft in Luis Castillo of Northwestern. In the second round, the Chargers added to the receiving corps with Vincent Jackson. Jamal Williams is one of the league's best nose tackles, but the Chargers lose when he's out of the lineup with injuries. As Williams goes, so goes the defense. Having Castillo there gives the Chargers a one-two punch in stopping the run. Merriman will add sacks, and that will take pressure off the cornerbacks in passing situations. Jackson upgrades the team at wide receiver. The help in the defensive front seven came a lot cheaper than trying to go for a veteran defensive end such as Simeon Rice.
• Philadelphia Eagles: Like the Patriots, the Eagles have the luxury of looking ahead. Though they could have used a tackle to help them if Tra Thomas shows some age because of concerns about his knee, the Eagles draft solid, good players who can be groomed into future starters. That strategy worked a couple years ago when they drafted cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown and safety Michael Lewis. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson was a smart move because Corey Simon is on a one-year franchise tag and Hollis Thomas wants to be traded. Reggie Brown is the wide receiver who can take over when they move Freddie Mitchell. Matt McCoy is a linebacker brought in for depth, which was needed after the release of Nate Wayne. Too bad the Eagles couldn't have used their third-round choice to get Travis Henry, but they feel they got a good back in Ryan Moats. Henry for Moats, though, might have made this one of the top two draft days.
• Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks were victims of circumstance. Timing is everything and their timing was all wrong. They found that out when they tried to trade halfback Shaun Alexander during an offseason that featured the best running back draft in years. Drafting No. 23, the Seahawks tried to be aggressive in trade talks, but they hit the stingiest first round for trades in recent memory. The plan was to offer a third- and fourth-rounder to move up to get Erasmus James, Demarcus Ware or Thomas Davis. Nobody bit on the trades. They tried to offer a second-rounder in 2006 to entice teams. Nobody wanted to move, so the Seahawks traded back to take center Chris Spencer. General manager Tim Ruskell loves USC middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, but the second round might have been a little early. In the third round the Seahawks got David Greene to groom as a backup quarterback.
• Buffalo Bills: The Bills held on to Travis Henry too long in trade talks and didn't get value. They hoped to get Arizona, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia to give them at least a third-round choice. But all three teams got their backs in the draft. The Bucs took Cadillac Williams. The Cardinals opted to take J.J. Arrington in the second round rather than offering a third-round choice to the Bills. The Eagles took Ryan Moats. The Bills selected good players -- wide receiver Roscoe Parrish and tight end Kevin Everett. But they still didn't get help for their offensive line.
• Denver Broncos: Organizationally, the Broncos, like the Cowboys last year, profited by making a bold trade. No one can question the move to get a No. 1 and No. 4 in 2006 from the Redskins along with a third-round choice by giving up their No. 1 pick. But taking three cornerbacks is a little shaky and does nothing to help their other units. The Broncos were obviously looking to the future by taking cornerbacks Darrent Williams, Karl Paymah and Domonique Foxworth. At best, only one will break into the nickel spot this year. Their special teams might be better, but the Broncos didn't do enough for this year. Then they made matters worse by ending the first day of the draft by selecting former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. At this juncture, Clarett seems more like a practice squad player than a back ready to step in and make an impact. The Cowboys sacrificed some of the 2004 season by looking ahead to 2005. The Broncos plan to go to the Super Bowl every year. While this draft may be great for 2006, what about 2005?
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.