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Draft’s wonders, blunders are greatest draw


The Sports Xchange

As we approach the NFL draft next week, following four months of buildup and endless debate about whether Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota would be the next Peyton Manning — or the next Ryan Leaf — a couple of verities about the process are worth keeping in mind.

First, and probably foremost, is the old truth from the late George Young, the long-time Giants general manager, who was often accused of being too conservative at this time of year but nonetheless knew how to build a winner.

This is my favorite of many lines from George over the years:

“Anytime you think you’re one player away, you’re not.”

There is so much truth in that comment, it’s hard to know where to start in explaining it. So let’s settle for this. How many times have you heard a team say that it just needed (a) or (b) or (c) to reach the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl?

And how many times did that approach succeed?

That thought is worth keeping in mind as we watch what happens with Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota running back. It’s widely assumed that since the Vikings are not Super Bowl contenders, and since Peterson wants out, that Minnesota will find a trade partner. And well, the Vikings might. But as terrific as Peterson was, he’s now a 30-year-old running back coming off a year’s inactivity and carrying a huge contract.

Makes you kind of wonder if Peterson will earn any more Super Bowl rings as a late career vagabond than, say, Randy Moss or Terrell Owens did in recent years.

Just asking.

The poster boy, er, poster team, for wild spending on a single player this offseason has been the Miami Dolphins. Now, there is no denying that Ndamukong Suh is a great player. But he is an interior defensive lineman. I’m sure he will make the Dolphins defense better. But is he as valuable as say a shutdown corner like Derrell Revis or a pass-rushing monster like Justin Houston or J.J. Watt?

It’s worth reviewing how well last year’s major free agent signings panned out and, while defensive end Julius Peppers clearly was a key addition for Green Bay, some of the other highly-touted moves did not succeed quite as well.

Seattle was supposed to miss receiver Golden Tate, who would help Detroit. Yeah, the Seahawks missed him so much they got to another Super Bowl. LeGarrette Blount was to be the power back the Steelers needed. Well, Blount did win a Super Bowl ring. But with New England. And how did that Champ Bailey signing work out for New Orleans? Oh, right. He didn’t make it into the regular season.

Every now and then, we need these reminders that football is not like baseball, that plugging a single player into a needy team doesn’t change the overall equation. There are four teams that have won multiple Super Bowls in this century — New England (4), Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the New York Giants (2 apiece) — and they all operate under a remarkably similar philosophy.

They don’t waste much time or money in free agency.

With the Patriots, Bill Belichick nibbles around the edges for bit players. The Steelers and Giants largely avoid the market. The Ravens, under GM Ozzie Newsome, have decided it’s better to let players leave and stockpile compensatory draft picks than to wade through the detrius of the marketplace.

Something else, of course, ties all four together, too.

They all have a franchise quarterback (although the Ravens managed to win their first Super Bowl without one, but they did have an all-time defense). And that is why Winston and Mariota will be so attractive next week despite the obvious drawbacks. Questions about Winston’s character. Questions about whether Mariota is just a product of a system. Fascinating. And that’s why we all watch.

–Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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