RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The National Football League will conduct its annual draft of college players tomorrow and Sunday in New York City. Steve Inskeep spoke to our own very keen observer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In the minds of some fans, this event is as big as the season itself. Commentator John Feinstein has been following the excitement.
John, good morning.
Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Sportswriter): Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Lots of speculation about this year's draft.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Unbelievable how much there's been. And I think a lot of it has to do with, as you said, the fact that the draft has almost become a separate sport through the last ten or 12 years.
But also you've got two Heisman Trophy winners in this draft: Matt Leinert who won it two ears ago at Southern Cal, and then Reggie Bush, his teammate, who won it last year. Throw in Vince Young, from Texas, whose team beat Leinert and Bush's Southern Cal team in the Rose Bowl, and you've got people wondering, Who's going to drop? Who's going to be high? Who's going to be low?
Leinert would have been the number one pick last year. There are people saying now he could drop as low as the number seven pick.
INSKEEP: Is there betting on the draft? And also these virtual game-playing on the draft the way there is on the regular season?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: You know, I wouldn't be surprised if there's betting. There are certainly mock drafts held all over the country on computers and in newspapers. The cover of Sports Illustrated this week was the first five picks in their expert's mock draft.
It seems as if half the people working in sports media these days are "NFL insiders," quote unquote, and the amazing thing about it is they all talk to the same six general managers and come up with 27 different versions of what's going to happen in the draft.
INSKEEP: Now, whoever gets drafted, in whatever order, they're going to join an NFL that is under a new collective bargaining agreement.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah. You know, there was almost unrest in the NFL this off-season, for the first time in almost 20 years, since the owners broke the union back in 1987, when the players crossed the picket line during the strike back then. And it looked as if the players at least were rattling their sabers, saying if we don't get what we want, we're going to seriously considering go out in another year when the collective bargaining agreement is over.
Eventually they reached an agreement where they got more revenues, but of course there's still not guaranteed contracts. A player can still be cut and not be paid at any time going forward. And that, in the NFL, remains the only major professional sports league in this country that is that way.
And then once the bargaining was over and the new contract was signed, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that he's going to retire this summer after 16 years, so they're now looking for his replacement.
Of course, I don't think that's a big deal, Steve, because the NFL essentially runs like a Swiss watch. You or I could be the commissioner.
INSKEEP: Maybe not me. But in any event...
Mr. FEINSTEIN: I think you could! And it might pay almost as much as you're making.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Let's move on. You were talking about contracts. Of course there are the stars whose contracts expire and they become free agents. What's happening on that front?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, the story that made the most noise, of course, was Terrell Owens, who was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles last year, because in spite of his brilliance as a wide receiver he was simply making everyone in the organization crazy, signing with the Dallas Cowboys, and of all people Bill Parcells, the ultimate disciplinarian in football. And everybody is wondering how that marriage will work, whether Owens' presence will make the Cowboys back into a contender. They missed the playoffs last year.
There's been all sorts of movement, especially in that Cowboys division, with the Washington Redskins going on their annual spending spree and the New York Giants ironically signing the Redskins star linebacker Lavar Arrington.
And then of course the big move of all in many people's minds is the move that wasn't made: Brett Favre of the Packers deciding this week to come back and play quarterback for at least one more year.
INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein, author of Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL, and a future candidate for commissioner.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.
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