- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

NFL expansion drafts sure have changed over the years. Back in the '60s, when the league first started having them, it was like picking at the carcass of a Thanksgiving turkey four days later. Expansion lists tended to be dumping grounds for collapsed stars (Hugh McElhenny, Paul Hornung, Cookie Gilchrist), characters (Alex Hawkins, Billy Kilmer, Wahoo McDaniel) and curiosities (Richard Sligh, the only 7-foot player in pro football history).

Dave Whitsell, a middling safety, got recycled not once but twice in expansion drafts. Ditto Norm Evans, who went on to start at right tackle for the Dolphins in three Super Bowls. Mike Curtis' name once showed up on an expansion list, as did Steve Beuerlein's and Desmond Howard's (just three years after the Redskins took him fourth in the college draft).

My favorite all-time expansion draft was the Saints' in '67. Among their picks were Hornung (who promptly retired), Kilmer (Billy and Bourbon Street probably weren't a good mix), Walter "The Flea" Roberts (a strapping 163-pounder) and Obert Logan (who wore the number "0" for Obert). Is it any wonder the franchise is still recovering?

Yesterday's expansion draft, though, was nothing like that. This was the expansion draft where a handful of free-spending teams were forced to pay for their salary cap sins. Instead of a rummage sale, you had Pro Bowlers such as Tony Boselli, Aaron Glenn, Gary Walker and Jermaine Lewis available, not to mention up-and-comers like Jamie Sharper, Ryan Young and Marcus Coleman. In expansion drafts past, there were few up-and-comers; most of the players' talent assuming they ever had any had come and gone.

That's why there was a smile permanently plastered on Charley Casserly's face every time ESPN interviewed him. The NFL had never had a giveaway like yesterday's and Casserly's Houston Texans were the lucky beneficiaries. Before the draft was 15 minutes old, our old buddy Charley had selected Boselli and Young and filled his two offensive tackle spots for perhaps the next five years. When has an expansion club ever done that?

Casserly obviously is trying to build the Texans in the image of the '80s Redskins. In Joe Gibbs' first season, Bobby Beathard brought in Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby and Mark May and the rest, as they say, is history. Later in the dynasty, Casserly would see Beathard make deals for R.C. Thielemann and Jim Lachey, both designed to keep the offensive line impenetrable.

For the Redskins in those years, it was all about the O-line. Quarterbacks came and quarterbacks went as did running backs but Grimm, Jacoby, May and Jeff Bostic stayed together through four Super Bowls.

Dom Capers never had that kind of line in his first head coaching stint with Carolina (though the club did miraculously reach the NFC title game in his second season). Seven years into their existence, the Panthers have yet to send an offensive lineman to the Pro Bowl or anywhere near it, really. They've always tried to get by with the likes of Matt Elliott, Norberto Davidds-Garrido and, yes, Matt Campbell, who spent last season with the Redskins (and was snapped up by Houston in the expansion draft because of his past history with Capers as much as anything).

But with Casserly calling the shots in Houston, Capers figures to have a better balanced team, one that recognizes the importance of the grunts up front. And assuming Boselli's body holds up, the Texans should be able to provide a much safer workplace for David Carr or whichever quarterback they draft than Capers' last young QB, Kerry Collins, had in Carolina.

When he was hired last week as the Redskins' defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis said the key to success in pro football is "quarterbacks and cornerbacks." Well, Casserly did pretty well in the cornerback department, too, plucking Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman off the Jets' roster. Imagine an expansion club being able to line up, from the get-go, two corners who started for a playoff team the year before.

But then, this was an expansion draft like no other. The Jaguars, Jets and Ravens, desperately over the cap, all but had signs on their front lawns that said, "Take my wife please." The talent those three clubs lost in yesterday's proceedings may well have eliminated them from postseason contention in '02. (Especially when you consider some of the other payroll paring the teams are contemplating.)

One last thought: It was hard not to notice the Texans grabbing Danny Wuerffel, one of Steve Spurrier's quarterbacks at Florida, near the end of the draft. You don't suppose Casserly was trying to tweak his old club, do you? Spurrier is, after all, in the market for a QB or two.

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