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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Top of Draft Is Coming Into Focus

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; 11:37 AM

The first couple of picks in next month's NFL draft might be coming into sharper focus, with people around the league becoming increasingly convinced that the San Francisco 49ers will select Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the top choice and the Miami Dolphins will go with Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown with the second selection.

The top of the draft mostly has looked like a jumbled mess to the league's talent evaluators as they have gone through the buildup, from Senior Bowl to scouting combine to pro-day workouts. Teams haven't been able to project their own picks because they've had no idea which players will come off the board first. And while there still are no certainties, it seems that a growing number of clubs now are operating on the premise that Rodgers and Brown will be the top two choices, barring trades that shake up the first-round draft order.

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"That seems to be the sentiment around the league at this point," the general manager of one NFL team said over the weekend, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize any future dealings with the 49ers or Dolphins.

Some teams have Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards as the top-rated player on their draft boards, the GM said. But the sentiment league-wide is that the 49ers, coming off a 2-14 season and without a franchise quarterback in the fold, have little choice but to go with Rodgers or Utah quarterback Alex Smith, and Rodgers appears to have the slight edge.

There also have been rumblings about a possible trade in which San Diego would send quarterback Philip Rivers to San Francisco for the top choice, then the Chargers would use the pick on Edwards. The deal does make some sense, since it would give the 49ers a quarterback -- Rivers -- that most people in the league seem to regard as a better prospect than Rodgers or Smith. And it would give the Chargers, who already have Drew Brees as their starting quarterback, three first-round draft picks on the heels of a 12-4 season. They have the Nos. 12 and 28 overall choices, the higher of which came from the New York Giants in last year's draft-day trade involving Rivers and Eli Manning.

Dolphins Coach Nick Saban has left open the possibility of tailback Ricky Williams returning to the team after abruptly retiring just before training camp last summer. But the Dolphins certainly can't count on Williams, and they desperately need a centerpiece runner. Brown seems to have moved slightly ahead of his Auburn teammate, Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, and Texas's Cedric Benson as the top tailback available with his strong performances in the pre-draft workouts.

Bonus Holding Up Brady Deal

Quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots basically agreed to the major components of a $10 million-per-season contract extension weeks ago. But the deal still hasn't been completed, and that reportedly is because Brady and agent Don Yee have balked at the payment schedule proposed by the Patriots for the deal's $24 million signing bonus. The Patriots reportedly want to make the bonus payable in four installments, while Brady and Yee want fewer.

Brady already is compromising plenty in the negotiations, agreeing to take far less money than fellow quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Michael Vick got in their contract extensions. Manning signed a seven-year, $98 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts last year that included a record $34.5 million signing bonus. Vick signed a 10-year, $130 million extension with the Atlanta Falcons in December that included a record $37 million in total bonus money. Neither Manning nor Vick has appeared in a Super Bowl. Brady has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl triumphs. . . .

The Giants likely will sign veteran offensive tackle Bob Whitfield, an unrestricted free agent who played for Jacksonville last season, in the coming days to bolster their depth at the position. . . .

The Dallas Cowboys, looking for a right tackle for their offensive line, likely will look at two just-released veterans -- Chris Terry, who was cut by Seattle, and Barry Stokes, who was released by the Giants. . . .

The on-again, off-again trade talks between Buffalo and Arizona that would send tailback Travis Henry to the Cardinals and offensive tackle L.J. Shelton to the Bills appears to be on again, and the deal perhaps will be completed in the coming weeks. . . .

Veteran wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, released by Tampa Bay, signed a one-year contract with Seattle late last week. . . . Miami re-signed tailback Travis Minor. . . . Atlanta re-signed safety Keion Carpenter. . . . Denver signed linebacker Keith Burns, a free agent from Tampa Bay. . . . Linebacker Julian Peterson, the 49ers' franchise player, signed the club's tender offer for a one-year contract worth nearly $7.29 million.

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