Eagles coach Chip Kelly strode confidently to the podium Saturday afternoon after concluding his second draft. His team added a pass rusher in the first round, a couple of receivers in the second round (including highly touted Jordan Matthews), and finished up by drafting four straight defensive players.
Kelly was asked about how he felt about his team’s draft, and surely, this was his chance to tout the team’s future. The Eagles got the highest-rated players on their board, grabbed some absolute steals in the back end, and found the next building blocks of their franchise, right?
“Honestly,” Kelly said at his news conference, “I have no idea.”
Fair enough. While we can project which teams got better this weekend and which teams got the best steals, the reality is we won’t know for two or three years which teams truly improved during this weekend’s draft.
But there was still plenty of intrigue and fascinating story lines that unfolded during the seven rounds and 256 picks. A look at some of the most interesting angles of the weekend:
■ Quite the weekend for the Cleveland Browns. Thursday was one of the greatest days in franchise history when GM Ray Farmer traded for an extra 2015 first-round pick, took the top cornerback in the draft in Justin Gilbert, then traded up to No. 22 to snag Johnny Manziel. The Browns sold 1,500 new season tickets on Friday, but the celebration was quickly muted when reports emerged that superstar receiver Josh Gordon was on the verge of a one-year suspension for failing another drug test.
Browns fans now don’t know what to think after the team failed to take a receiver in the draft (and traded away the right to take Sammy Watkins). But Farmer still deserves a lot of praise for his first-round wheeling and dealing, and for getting the Browns an extra first-round pick for the second year in a row.
It couldn’t have been easy for Patriots executive Michael Lombardi to watch. It was Lombardi’s deft trade of Trent Richardson for the Colts’ first-round pick that enabled Farmer to pull off his series of moves.
Meanwhile, the Browns are still the clumsy old Browns. ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio explained on Thursday night that owner Jimmy Haslam became determined to draft Manziel when a homeless man on the street recognized Haslam and shouted to him to draft Manziel. If a homeless man cared that much, Haslam reasoned, then Manziel had to be the right fit for the Browns.
This was the same team that also spent $100,000 to commission a through analytical study of all the quarterbacks in the draft. Money well spent.
■ Smart move by the Vikings to jump up to the last pick of the first round (32d overall) to grab quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (they gave up No. 40 and a fourth-rounder). Not only did the Vikings get Bridgewater as their quarterback of the future by trading ahead of teams such as Tampa Bay and Tennessee, but they also worked the system properly.
Because they got Bridgewater in the first round, they now have the ability to keep him under a team-friendly fifth-year option in 2018 if Bridgewater turns out to be a star. If he was taken with the first pick of the second round (33d), Bridgewater would have only received a four-year deal, and the Vikings would have had to decide about his future after three years. Now the Vikings have four, or possibly five, years to develop and evaluate Bridgewater, and at a reasonable price — about $7 million over four years, and a fifth-year option that this year was $14.6 million for quarterbacks.
■ The Patriots spent the draft snagging players for the future — players projected to assume starting roles in 2015 and beyond — and the Bills did the opposite. They put all their eggs in the 2014 basket by trading away next year’s No. 1 pick to move up to No. 4 and get Watkins. They also traded 2015 draft picks to Philly for running back Bryce Brown. Watkins, second-round offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, and third-round linebacker Preston Brown should all start as rookies.
■ The Dolphins filled immediate holes in the first two days of the draft, drafting two offensive linemen (right tackle Ja’Waun James and guard Billy Turner) and receiver Jarvis Landry. But talk about a team that covered the four corners of the earth in search of new players. After taking James from Tennessee and Landry from LSU, the Dolphins’ other draft picks came from North Dakota State, Liberty, Georgia, Montana, Coastal Carolina, and the first player ever drafted from Marist (DE Terrence Fede).
■ The Jets couldn’t help themselves, taking a defensive player in the first round (safety Calvin Pryor) for the fifth straight year — Mark Sanchez in 2009 was their last offensive selection. But they also took several offensive skill position players to get more talent around Geno Smith — athletic tight end Jace Amaro in the second round and two receivers in the fourth (tiny speedster Jalen Saunders and big possession target Shaq Evans). Add returning receiver Jeremy Kerley and free agent signee Eric Decker, and the Jets could have a much-improved offense.
■ We liked the first two picks of the Broncos, another team the Patriots keep an eye on. Their secondary was a weak spot last season, and after signing cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in free agency, they spent the 31st overall pick on talented but troubled Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. And with the 56th overall pick they snagged a receiver that many had pegged for the first round, Indiana’s Cody Latimer. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Latimer is another dangerous weapon for Peyton Manning, joining Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders.
We were a little confused at their refusal to draft a middle linebacker, though. After letting Wesley Woodyard walk in free agency, the Broncos didn’t sign one in free agency, didn’t draft linebackers until the fifth and seventh rounds, and currently only have a couple of journeymen free agents penciled in at middle linebacker — Jamar Chaney and L.J. Fort.