By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 11:30 am in Oakland Raiders.
Regarded at the time of the NFL combine as perhaps the safest pick in the draft, the financial realities of taking a linebacker with a premium pick could cause Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to take a tumble.
Curry’s agents, which include Octagon’s Mike Sullivan, have already met with the Detroit Lions, who own the top pick.
Having already invested heavily in linebacker Ernie Sims, the smart money still has Detroit making the big splash and taking quarterback Matthew Stafford.
At No. 2, St. Louis is expected to look for the successor to Orlando Pace by taking either Baylor’s Jason Smith or Virginia’s Eugene Monroe.
That brings us to Kansas City, which has probably been linked with Curry more than any other team. Peter King of Sports Illustrated makes a compelling argument of why that probably won’t happen, taking into account executive Scott Pioli’s mode of operation in New England and applying it to his new team.
Because of the money Matt Ryan got from Atlanta last year as the No. 3 pick in the draft, that puts the Chiefs on the hook for a deal which could pay Curry $11 million per season. That’s not “safe” money. That’s the kind of dough which goes to an instant force, a defensive difference maker.
Curry’s combine measurables, college production (the Dick Butkus Award winner) and character are said to be off the charts.
But when it comes to big bucks, sacks pay off even more, and Curry had just 9.5 sacks in his college career. There are no guarantees Seattle, Cleveland or Cincinnati would snag him, either, bringing up the Raiders at No. 7.
Curry could fit in nicely as a strong side linebacker along with Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison. Perhaps he’d be that hard edge to turn things back inside, and be better at shedding blocks and making plays against the run.
But the Raiders typically don’t lavish money on linebackers. Getting Howard in the second round in 2006 and Morrison in the third in 2005 meant they came with reasonable contracts. Howard is scheduled to make $550,000 this year, Morrison $545,000 (he hit an escalator which increased his salary to $1.7 million in 2008.
If the Raiders drafted Curry, who had 226 yards in interception returns and three touchdowns in 2007, he wouldn’t be coming off the field with No. 7 money _ leaving Morrison the potential odd man out when a linebacker comes off the field in the nickel.
Even if available, history says it’s unlikely the Raiders would go linebacker at No. 7. The highest pick used on a linebacker since 1994 is Rob Fredrickson, taken in the first round out of Michigan State. In 2002, Napoleon Harris came at No. 23.
Fredrickson had a solid, unsensational career, and Harris, protected by a veteran defense as a rookie, never became a playmaker with the Raiders or in his subsequent stops in Minnesota and Kansas City.
A look at Raiders linebackers taken in the draft since they returned to Oakland in 1995
2006–Thomas Howard, second round, No. 38 overall. Interceptions dropped off last season, but may be the fastest weak side linebacker in the league. Showed flashes as blitzer although not used much in that capacity.
2005–Kirk Morrison, third round, No. 78 overall. Like Howard, production as a pass defender slipped. The team’s most productive tackler, although critics would note those tackles come too far downfield. The middle linebacker of the No. 31 rushing defense in the league _ he has at least some culpability in that stat.
2004–Cody Spencer, sixth round, No. 182 overall. Didn’t make the Raiders, but has played 49 games with the Titans and Jets, primarily as a special teams player. Now property of the Detroit Lions.
2003–Sam Williams, third round, No. 83 overall. Considered a favorite of Davis, Williams is primarily a special teams player who was brought back on another one-year contract. Never seized the job of strong side linebacker as hoped, with injuries playing a role.
2002–Napoleon Harris, first-round, No. 23 overall. An outside player at Northwestern, his speed, size and intelligence never translated into being a playmaker with the Raiders. Shipped to Minnesota in the Randy Moss trade.
1999–Eric Barton, fifth round, No. 146 overall. Had some productive games as a weak side linebacker. Of the Raiders better bargain picks. Left as a free agent to the New York Jets.
1998–Travian Smith, fifth round, No. 152 overall. Similar to Isaiah Ekejiuba in terms of being a physical presence and a wedge buster on special teams, although without the same sort of smarts and leaderships skills.
1995–Mike Morton, fourth-round, No. 118 overall. Had a brief run as a starter when Mike Jones left as a free agent.
Poll: Who should the Raiders draft with their No. 1 pick? Vote here.