Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich has a history with the Baltimore Ravens
By Neal Coolong on Nov 14
A trading snafu between Baltimore and Minnesota during the NFL Draft - the second in two years for the Vikings - brought Byron Leftwich to Jacksonville in 2003.
Millions of dollars are spent every year on the product that is the NFL Draft. From scouting to analysts to video to bandwidth, the high-ranking players eligible to be selected are spun around and evaluated inside and out.
It's difficult to get a good idea in real time how each team did in the particular draft, but well after the dust settles, and memories fade, some things can become pretty clear.
The 2003 NFL Draft is a good example of this. The fortunes of two teams were benefited greatly, even if, at the time, it appeared as if a major blunder had occurred.
The draft went pretty much as expected through the first six picks - Cincinnati took QB Carson Palmer, WR Charles Rogers went second to Detroit (whoops), Houston took WR Andre Johnson, the Jets took DT Dewayne Robertson, Dallas took CB Terence Newman and New Orleans went with DT Jonathan Sullivan (another whoops).
Sitting on the clock with the seventh pick, the Vikings were ideal trade partners from a multitude of teams. The target was Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich - the second passer during a multi-year run on MAC conference quarterbacks that included Chad Pennington (2000 to the Jets) and Ben Roethlisberger (2004 to the Steelers).
We may never get the exact truth of what happened, but in a furious 10-minute span, allegations of Vikings indecision, communications failures and general chaos ensued.
The Vikings weren't strangers to this. Selecting No. 7 overall in 2002, the Vikings were alleged to have had their top choice, DT Ryan Sims, taken from them. Dallas and Kansas City agreed to a trade, swapping the No. 6 pick (Dallas's) and the No. 8 pick (Kansas City's). Time on the Chiefs pick had expired, and per draft rules, when the clock expires without a pick, the team selecting after the team on the clock can make a selection.
In this case, the Vikings were drafting No. 7, and since the Chiefs, now owners of the No. 6 pick, hadn't selected, the Vikings were free to choose. The story goes a Chiefs assistant equipment manager literally blocked the Vikings from submitting Sims's name until he got confirmation the trade had been consummated. He then submitted Sims' name for the Chiefs pick.
More on who the Vikings took in a minute.
Back to 2003, The Steelers were on the clock with the seventh pick, and they had a deal worked out with the Ravens, who were selecting 10th. The teams would swap picks, with the Ravens wanting Leftwich. The Vikings claim they called the pick into the league, but no one answered the phone. In the meantime, the clock expired, and the Jacksonville Jaguars jumped ahead of them to take Leftwich, thus killing the deal.
The Vikings weren't prepared to make a pick, because they thought they had just traded it away. In the confusion, Carolina jumped up to take OT Jordan Gross.
The Vikings then submitted their pick, now, No. 9 overall: DT Kevin Williams. Without a deal in place, the Ravens had to settle for DE/OLB Terrell Suggs.
While Leftwich was seen as the franchise passer for the next 10 years in Jacksonville, Gross was an All-Pro in 2008 and has been to multiple Pro Bowls. Williams is arguably the best 3-technique defensive tackle of his generation and Terrell Suggs was the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year, along with going to multiple Pro Bowls himself.
Leftwich was cut by the Jaguars before the 2007 season, losing the starting job to David Garrard. Leftwich ended up in post-Vick Atlanta, and eventually, Pittsburgh in 2008. He left for a brief gig in Tampa Bay, only to end back up in Pittsburgh, where he's been since 2009.
Even more interesting, though, is connected back to the 2002 draft. The Vikings coveted Sims, and were essentially screwed by the Chiefs (not much of a gain for them, as it turns out, Sims was out of Kansas City by 2007, and out of football by 2010). Instead, they drafted OT Bryant McKinnie.
McKinnie is now a reserve linemen for the Ravens after starting at left tackle for them in 2011 and part of 2012.
Not that the Ravens made the greatest decisions after that. They traded their 2004 first round pick and a 2004 second round pick to New England for the Patriots' No. 19 overall selection. The Patriots selected Vince Wilfork with that pick. The Ravens took Kyle Boller.
Now, this and a buck will get you a cup of coffee and a newspaper with better writing than I can give you, but the extremely small world of the NFL is all connected, and it's interesting to see that play out over time.
The Vikings were savaged by the media in 2003, and ended up with one of the best defensive players of his time (I'd be surprised if Williams is not in the Hall of Fame at some point) and the anchor of a great defensive team in that decade. Suggs, the last player taken in the whole affair has had an outstanding career himself, particularly against the Steelers. Even Gross had a decent amount of success.
Leftwich has clearly been the least of three players, but he likely has the chance to bring things full circle with a likely start against Baltimore in Week 11, filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger - who isn't expected to play due to a shoulder injury.