Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington said he was "unbelievably surprised" today when the Detroit Lions used the third overall pick in the NFL's 67th annual college draft to make him their quarterback of the future.
The first two picks in the draft went precisely as predicted. The expansion Houston Texans, with the first overall selection and 13 total picks, went through the formality of selecting Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Earlier this week, Carr had agreed on a contract that could pay him as much as $60 million over the next seven years.
The Carolina Panthers then wasted little time choosing North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers with the second overall pick. The Panthers, 1-15 a year ago after losing their last 15 games, could not afford to spurn a homegrown star with big sack potential who also played on the Tar Heels' basketball team.
Then came Detroit.
For most of the last few months, the Lions had indicated Harrington was intriguing, but with so many needs at other positions after a 2-14 season, they also let it be known they would entertain any and all offers in order to stockpile choices.
The Lions had serious talks with the Dallas Cowboys about trading down to the No. 6 spot, knowing the Cowboys were interested in Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer. Sources said the Lions wanted the Cowboys' first-, second- and third-round picks to trade out of the No. 3 spot and down to No. 6.
But no deal materialized and the Lions drafted Harrington, the hero of a dream season in which Oregon finished No. 2 in the country and won the Rose Bowl.
Lions President Matt Millen insisted Harrington was their man all along. "We have to have stability at the quarterback position, we just have to," Millen said. "It hasn't been here since . . . fill in the blank."
Sources also said today there clearly was a split in the Detroit organization. Millen had favored selecting Jammer, an outstanding cover corner rated by some as the best overall athlete in the draft. Coach Marty Mornhinweg favored Harrington, and team owner William Clay Ford apparently agreed with his second-year coach.
The Lions, who have not had a Pro Bowl quarterback since Greg Landry in 1971, are moving into a new downtown dome next year. Their quarterback, Mike McMahon, has never completed more than 50 percent of his passes, either in college at Rutgers or with the Lions last season. A fifth-round pick a year ago, McMahon showed flashes of ability, but Harrington was considered by many to be of almost equal stature with Carr.
"There's no question the owner intervened," said Shawn Roberts, the agent for Jammer, who went instead to San Diego with with fifth overall pick. "They've got a new stadium, they've got to sell tickets, and that's a lot easier to do with a quarterback than a corner, even if Quentin was probably the best athlete out there."
Harrington had opted earlier last week not to come to New York, with five other top prospects on hand for the first round. There was speculation he had been concerned that his stock might have been slipping, and he did not want to be sweating it out on national TV while waiting to be selected.
Not true, Harrington said today from his aunt and uncle's home in Portland, Ore., where he watched the draft with family and friends.
"I wanted to be at home with all of them to share this moment," he said. "All the reports that said I thought I was slipping in the draft so I didn't show, that had nothing to do with it."
Harrington said that five minutes before the Lions informed him they had chosen him, he had been told by one of his agents that Detroit was "going in another direction. I was just about to sit down with my mom and dad and watch the Lions pick someone else and I got a phone call [from the Lions]. I was shocked. I was caught off-guard, but I'm thrilled to be there."
Harrington said he had been told the Lions had been working on a deal with Jammer's agents. But Roberts denied that was the case and said he never spoke to the Lions on Saturday about a contract for his client.
"Detroit told us not to believe anything we were hearing because they were playing their cards very close to the vest," Roberts said. "They told us they'd be very happy with Quentin, but I told Quentin last night I thought Dallas or the Raiders would try to move up to get him.
"It's pretty obvious Detroit was trying to dangle Harrington out there as trade bait. I don't think they wanted to pay him the kind of money Houston will pay Carr. It's funny, because if they had traded the pick to Dallas [at No. 6], they still probably could have gotten Harrington anyway."
Whatever the case, the Lions' selection was the hottest topic in a first round devoid of much further drama. Certainly, there was none as far as Carr was concerned.
He already has a deal that will guarantee him at least $16 million over his first three seasons and could be worth as much as $60 million over the course of the contract.
"It's something you wait your whole life for," Carr said. His 2-year-old son, Austin, yelled "daddy, daddy" from the back of the room as his father met with the media here at Madison Square Garden. "It's not every day you walk up and get to be the first person chosen. It was special . . . something I'm going to remember for a long time."
Pat Hill, his coach at Fresno State, accompanied Carr to New York and said: "I've never seen anyone quite like him. . . . He's a lot like Brett Favre. He's a scrambling, moving quarterback who makes plays on the run or in the pocket. Every down can be a throwing down if you want it to be.
"I think what Houston did was really terrific. They zeroed in on him early, and they spent a lot of time on him during the season. There will be no rookie holdout. They signed him, and when practice starts, he'll be on the same page as everyone else. It's a very good move."
With the fourth overall selection, Buffalo selected 375-pound Texas tackle Mike Williams, who said he was so nervous before the pick he felt short of breath and had a migraine headache. Jammer went next to San Diego, and said he was thrilled to be heading to the West Coast to play for former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer.
"This is actually where I want to be," Jammer said, a day after saying he would "love" to play for the Cowboys.
"I wanted to get out of Texas. I think it was about time I stepped out and got on my own a little bit. A lot of people thought I'd be in Detroit. A lot of people thought Dallas was going to trade up and I'd be in Dallas. It worked out great for me."