Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book Review: The Draft

Confusingly enough, there were two books released last year about the NFL draft entitled The Draft, the first a work of nonfiction by Pete Williams, and the second a novel by Wil Mara. I plan to read Williams' book this offseason and review it here, but this particular review is about the Mara novel.

A methodological point on book reviews: my general view is that basic synposes of one sort or another of books are available in many places, most notably in the Amazon listing to which I inevitably link. Thus, as in my review of Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps, I'll launch into my observations on the book in my own disquisited way. Unless necessary to the plot, or I want to pad my review, I won't say much about what happens.

In The Draft, the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Ravens lose their star starting QB to a car accident in early April. Naturally, their backup stinks, so they need another QB. Nearing the cap, they have to look to the draft. And, lo!, at the top of the draft, there's the best QB to come along in a generation available #1 overall. But! you can't have both the QB of the future and your current QB on your roster. Which will the Ravens GM choose? Will he go with the meh backup and run for the future, when he'll have cap problems, or will he try to win with a rookie?

As a football fan and somebody who knows more than the casual fan about the salary cap, there are several things that bugged me about the book. First, the Chargers, who hold the #1 pick in the draft, are looking for players in a trade. Now, the cap implications of trading players can be gargantuan, with bonus acceleration. For a team like the Ravens to acquire players from other teams, then trade them to the Chargers could be prohibitive, both for the Ravens in terms of trading away much of their current roster and for their trade targets. There are very good reasons you see almost no marquee players traded in the NFL--it's just too expensive to do so. Second, the struggle Mara poses between keeping the injured QB and drafting the new one is a false one--the rookie QB has to fit into the designated rookie portion of the salary cap, while the current QB counts against the overall cap. Thus, there'll be absolutely no problem keeping both QBs for the current season. The real problems would come in the second year of the rookie QB's deal, when some sort of guaranteed bonus not able to be paid in the first year because of the rookie pool amount would be due. Given the Ravens are self-described as being in cap hell the next year, adding a #1 pick-type bonus would exacerbate the problem. Further, the injured QB was signed by the Ravens a couple years earlier in free agency because it was a bigger deal and longer than the offer given by the Broncos (the other team seriously interested in the #1 overall pick, and the Ravens' playoff rival). Cutting him this year would result in a major cap acceleration because of the bonus, a situation Mara barely mentions once, but doesn't deal with in detail. There are some other niggling things, like the Ravens' GM offering to do the trade in June so the cap hit can be spread out (draftees can't be traded for a year), the Broncos' GM making underhand payments to an out of favor Ravens front office employee to spy, a player hiding an injury and taking drugs illegal to treat it, calling the ESPN personality Mike "Terico," and the silly saga of the 733t UDFA rookie who's the secret son of an NFL legend, but I'm too tired to think about those.

The blurbs are nice, and from real NFL people (even if they are Mara's primary sources), but the novel just ain't that. Maybe worth a library rental if you're a devotee, but I can't even recommend that. Life is too short to read bad books.

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