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  Let the Mind Games Begin
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Think the Dolphins are just going to cut a deal with one guy, slot him in at last year’s top overall salary plus 5% or so, and call it a day?


Think again.


Predictably, Bill Parcells has reportedly opened negotiations with at least two of the top talents in this year’s NFL Draft: Michigan OT Jake Long and Ohio State DE/OLB Vernon Gholston. I say “at least” because these are the two names that have been flushed out by the South Florida media thus far. There could be others.


Of course this is all public now because Parcells wants teams below the Dolphins, teams with their eyes on one of these two premier prospects, to strongly consider making a deal for the Dolphins top pick.


There’s also the desire to have multiple people at the negotiation table in order to get the best possible deal in advance of the April 26 draft.


Smart business, all of it.


But there could be more to it than that. Much more.


See, there’s a specific reason why the given names have been leaked to the media. Parcells knows there are teams within the top 5 that have keen, specific interest in both guys. Oakland, for example, has long been rumored to have their hearts set on Gholston. If true, we’ll find out just how much in love the Raiders are with him. Is it enough for Al Davis to pick up the phone and make a deal with Parcells?


Then there’s the Matt Ryan situation.


As explained by my former colleague at sportsTALK.com, Mike Florio (now of Profootballtalk.com), Tom Condon, who represents Ryan, also represents Jake Long. This puts Condon in a very interesting bind.


“It’s actually a multi-layered conflict of interest for Condon”, wrote Florio. “If the Fins are willing to make Ryan the No. 1 overall pick with a deal equal to or less than the contract paid a year ago to Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Ryan needs to ask himself whether, in the end, he’ll make as much or more if he’s not the No. 1 overall pick.”


“At best, Ryan would otherwise be No. 3.  If the Falcons don’t select him with the third overall pick, he could fall to No. 5 (Chiefs), No. 6 (Jets), or No. 8 (Ravens).  If he gets past No. 8, he likely will make it into the teens. So with the money dropping astronomically once a player falls beyond the top three or four picks, Ryan would be wise to get the best deal done at No. 1.”


The problem, of course, is whether or not Condon is willing to put a client’s interest (Ryan’s) ahead of his own. No doubt the Brady Quinn fiasco from last year, where he lost millions by falling to #22, is still fresh in Condon’s mind given that he is Quinn’s agent. According to Florio, rumor has it that the Raiders tried to cut a deal with Quinn for the top overall pick before settling on Russell. If true, it was a huge tactical blunder by Condon.


No matter the outcome, it is a fascinating play by Parcells. If the end game here is Ryan, it’s a creative way to get the top QB in the draft without overpaying more than otherwise would be the case. This makes Ryan much more attractive as a prospect by reducing the financial risk of drafting a QB first overall.


All of this really gets back to the two fundamental issues the Dolphins began this draft process with. Firstly, that they badly want to trade down. And, second, that they want to minimize the enormous contract, and reduce the associated risk, that the first overall pick would command.


Sure, all of this could be much simpler than is being suggested here. Perhaps the Dolphins are just head over heels in love with Jake Long. There is, after all, a desperate need on the offensive line. Long, together with Vernon Carey, could give the Dolphins stability at Tackle for the next 10 seasons. It would also make sense given that the best two players on offense are running backs (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams) and that a young QB prospect (John Beck or someone else) is likely to be at the helm of the ship in 2008. Young QBs take a bit longer to make decisions, and a franchise left tackle, someone who can hold off a premier pass rusher for an extra fraction of time, can make all the difference.


There’s no question that Jake Long would be a pick that everyone would feel good about, especially if he comes at a lower price.


Again, we don’t know what we don’t know. In the days ahead, we may learn that Marvin Demoff, the agent for Virginia DE Chris Long, is also at the bargaining table. Demoff has a history with the Dolphins, having been Dan Marino’s agent.


In any case, it is clear that the Dolphins aren’t content to just sit back and take their medicine. There’s innovative thinking going on here, and that’s always a smart move.

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