NFL draft can be balancing act
Part of the job of a draft decision-maker for an NFL team is to evaluate the present draft by considering the team's salary cap, youth, health and future, former Titans general manager Floyd Reese writes.
From 1999 to 2003, the Tennessee Titans won 56 games, making them the winningest franchise in the NFL for that period. In these five years, the Titans had two 13-3 seasons and four seasons with at least 11 wins while making two AFC championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.
The core of the Super Bowl team was young and healthy, and it included key players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and secondary. After the Super Bowl appearance, the emphasis was on keeping the team together to continue to make a run at a championship. To do this, we dealt with escalating salary-cap issues by continuously redoing contracts that had big cap numbers, allowing us to maintain the roster.
Of course, we knew that ultimately we were just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Because of this reality, we decided to make it very clear that we intended to extend our years of excellence in the hope that we could bring home a Super Bowl trophy, but eventually we would have to pay the price. Every year there were discussions that involved either continuing the successful run or lessening talent to correct the cap.
In 2003, the team enjoyed another playoff year with 12 wins and 20 of the 22 starters would be returning in 2004. Little did we know that the 2004 season would be disastrous, with injuries at almost every key position, including quarterback. It was at this point that we realized it was time to pay the piper.
After the 2003 season, the personnel department immediately began gearing up for the draft. For the Titans, there were a number of factors that were very important regarding this particular draft. We needed to provide ourselves cap relief while adding a core of players that would bring in youth, health and depth. In addition, we would have to purge veteran players to eliminate their cap numbers.
After the top of the first round passed in that draft, we found ourselves unimpressed with the later first-round choices. We had entertained a number of calls from different teams around the league, but the call from Houston was intriguing. The Texans were interested in making a significant draft-day trade. Ultimately, we made the decision to trade our 27th overall (first round) selection and our 159th overall (fifth round) selection to Houston for their 40th overall (second round), 71st overall (third round), 103rd overall (fourth round) and 138th overall (fifth round) selections. We felt that dropping 13 spots to gain picks in the second, third and fourth rounds was a good deal for the Titans. This trade gave us 13 selections for the 2004 draft, the most for any franchise that year.
We selected the following players for the Titans: projected starting tight end Ben Troupe, projected starting defensive tackle Randy Starks, backup defensive end Bo Schobel and starting offensive guard Jacob Bell.
Two tight ends were selected in the 2004 draft before the Titans picked Troupe with the 40th overall selection: Kellen Winslow (sixth overall) and Benjamin Watson (32nd overall). Since these players were drafted, Troupe has had more receptions and played in more games than Winslow or Watson, despite being injured and having a career-low 13 receptions in 2006. Although there are obviously other circumstances involved, especially with Winslow and his off-the-field accident, the facts and production remain.
As a decision-maker, part of the job is to evaluate the present draft by considering the team's salary-cap situation, youth, health and future. It is also vital to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of each draft and where you can find the most value. The trade with Houston allowed us to better situate ourselves regarding quality of player, but it also gave us substantially more selections. Looking back, the Titans' 2004 draft is an excellent example of how teams are forced to draft according to their current situation.
Former NFL general manager and coach Floyd Reese will contribute frequently to ESPN.com.