- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sounds like the first pick in the NFL Draft is burning a hole in Charley Casserly’s pocket. Our old friend Charley let it be known yesterday that the Texans, previously thought to be leaning toward Reggie Bush, might actually trade the No. 1 selection. What the club is trying to determine is whether a Bush in the hand is worth, well, more than the assortment of goodies the top choice usually brings.

“We’ve already had discussions with teams,” he told the Associated Press. “I think there’s value in our pick.”

Where’s Mike Ditka when Casserly really needs him? Mike was the spendthrift who traded Charley the Saints’ entire ‘99 draft (minus their second-rounder) plus their first-and third-rounders the next year for Ricky Williams. And Williams, let’s not forget, was only the fifth pick. Who knows what Iron Mike would trade for the first pick? Maybe two entire drafts — and a case of Levitra to be named later.

Even without Ditka among the bidders, though, Casserly is wise to explore his options — first because Houston is so needy and second because he could still come away with a stud player further down in the first round. That’s how it turned out when he dealt the Williams pick; he dropped down to the 13th slot, traded back up to No. 7 and wound up with Champ Bailey along with the No. 2 selection in 2000 (which his successor, Vinny Cerrato, used to take LaVar Arrington). The Texans should be so lucky.

I mean, suppose Houston settled for Memphis’ DeAngelo Williams instead of Southern Cal’s Bush. Who’s to say DeAngelo, who had an off-Broadway college career similar to LaDainian Tomlinson’s, wouldn’t have an NFL career similar to Tomlinson’s? There’s very little certitude in these scouting reports; it’s more a matter of educated guessing and wishful thinking.

It’s funny. Once upon a time, having the No. 1 pick was cause for celebration. For a bottom-dwelling team and its beaten-down fans, it was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. But now the attitude seems to be: Let’s put the pick on EBay and see what we can get for it. If the Texans do, indeed, divest themselves of the selection, it will be the fifth time it has been traded in the last dozen years — the others being ‘95 (Ki-Jana Carter), ‘97 (Orlando Pace), ‘01 (Michael Vick) and ‘04 (after Eli Manning refused to sign with the Chargers).

Casserly, who always does his homework, can learn plenty from these deals. The first thing he can learn is: You can turn the No. 1 pick into a truckload of lesser picks if you want. In ‘97, for instance, when Bill Parcells took over the Jets, he traded down from first to sixth to ninth and came away with eight players/choices (the best of whom were James Farrior and Jason Ferguson).

So Charley can go that route if he’s inclined — quality for quantity. (The Jets, of course, got better in a hurry, but that had more to do with Parcells than with swapping the top pick.)

Then there’s the Vick deal. The jury’s still out on that one. The Falcons got the quarterback they needed, but the Chargers got Tomlinson and Reche Caldwell. At this point, I’d give the edge to San Diego.

Three years later, the Chargers dealt the No. 1 pick again … and did even better. In exchange for Peyton Manning’s younger brother, the Giants gave them, essentially, Philip Rivers (the fourth pick), kicker Nate Kaeding, ‘05 NFL defensive rookie of the year Shawne Merriman and veteran offensive tackle Roman Oben (acquired with a No. 5 obtained from New York). Also, in case you missed it, the Bolts battered the Giants 45-23 last season.

The price of a No. 1 pick fluctuates from year to year. It’s worth more when the top pick is (or might be) a quarterback, less when he plays another position. All Ki-Jana Carter brought the Panthers was a No. 1 and a No. 2. This year’s draft, though, features Matt Leinart and Vince Young; and if some team has the hots for either, Casserly and the Texans could benefit. Especially since they’re comfortable at QB with David Carr and wouldn’t take Leinart or Young, anyway.

And so Charley is Playing the Game, listening to all offers and hoping somebody gets overcome with quarterback lust. It’s happened before. What did the Chargers give up for Ryan Leaf (the second pick in ‘98) — two players, two No. 1s, a No. 2 and the San Diego Zoo? Ever since, you’ll note, they’ve been sellers of high picks, not buyers.

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