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MMQB: The legendary coach is gone, but the 49ers followed his lead on Draft day


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The 49ers were one of the most interesting, yet media-underplayed, teams on draft day. I sensed some Bill Walsh influence in San Francisco's decisions that day, which is funny considering Walsh was in the process of cleaning out his office and saying good-bye the week of the draft. The organization had a big farewell party for Walsh and his former GM, John McVay, two days before the draft.

But Terry Donahue, the new GM (even though he's been there for four years, he's still the new guy to me because he's always had the Walsh shadow on his back), had a draft like Walsh would have wanted. He started the day with eight picks. Three trades later -- two to move up, one down -- Donahue and the 49ers had 10 selections.

More about that in a minute. The thing I wanted to know was what about Kerry Collins, the deposed Giants starter? Wouldn't the 49ers be the perfect landing spot for Collins, with the inexperienced Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey in place to quarterback this team in 2004? Maybe. But it's not happening.

"They [the Giants] called us during the draft," Donahue told me Saturday afternoon, "but we weren't interested. We can't afford Kerry Collins. We're in the process of getting our cap in good shape for the future. Plus, Tim's earned the right to start for us, and we're going to give him that chance."

I don't believe the 49ers should chase Collins, because Rattay has a bright future and you don't want to stunt it now with a guy whose upside we've already seen. Collins is a good NFL quarterback, but he'll never be a great one. Maybe Rattay will be no better, but I really like him. He's the son of a coach, a good leader, and has the respect of his teammates. The 49ers are banking an awful lot on a kid who threw all of 118 passes last year in his first real NFL chance.

But back to Walsh. When I asked Donahue what lesson he'll most take from Walsh now that he's basically on his own, he said: "The one thing he's ingrained in me is if you have a belief in a player, and really feel strongly about him, go get him."

Or, in this case, if you have a belief in a quarterback, don't go get someone who might be marginally better. Follow the belief in the quarterback you have and play him. Good call.

So here were the Niners, sitting at No. 16, hoping against hope that one particular receiver would fall to them: LSU's Michael Clayton. They weren't going to trade up because Donahue thought the cost would be too much, particularly in light of the fact that San Francisco wanted to keep 20 picks in the next two drafts to help the team get younger and more salary-cap friendly. And so when the Bucs, at No. 15, took Clayton, the 49ers thought a bunch of the remaining receivers were clustered together. They favored Oklahoma State's consistent and productive (but not overly athletic) Rashaun Woods. They traded down with Philadelphia, going from No. 16 to No. 28 and picking up the Eagles' second-rounder. Then they moved from 28 to 31 after a deal with Carolina, gaining a fourth-rounder. The 49ers got Woods at 31, guard Justin Smiley with their own second-rounder (good pick -- he was the No. 2 guard on many draft boards), and a huge risk pick, Pitt cornerback Shawntae Spencer, with their low two acquired from the Eagles. "We loved his workout," Donahue said of Spencer, which scares me. One personnel chief I spoke with last week said Spencer had a poor final year at Pitt, doesn't tackle well and only rose up the charts late in the pre-draft frenzy because he runs slightly under a 4.4-second 40. Doesn't do much good if the guy's not a top-notch football player.

Donahue traded up early on day two to pick nose man Isaac Sopoaga, a guy the Patriots really liked until they got Vince Wilfork in the first round. Good value there.

The 49ers are a changed organization. They think about money more than they ever have, and for that reason these young kids have make an impact for San Francisco to have a chance to be any good this year, and in the next two or three. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo never said he couldn't afford a quarterback; if DeBartolo wanted a certain player, he'd find a way to get him. But that's not the world the Niners inhabit now. Donahue must operate differently. He claims to be fine with his situation, and he sure was enthusiastic over the phone. But until his picks start producing, you'll have to forgive Niners fans if they hold their judgment of the picks -- and of Donahue -- in abeyance.

"If Tim Rattay can perform like we think he can," Donahue told me, "and if Kevan Barlow comes through in the running game, we're going to be better than everybody thinks."

I'll be one of the skeptics on this team entering the season, though I do think San Francisco's draft, overall, was good, and I like that the 49ers are taking a chance on Rattay.

"I picked him as the strong safety on my All-Pro team for Sports Illustrated. A couple of the network announcers made fun of the selection. Not the greatest in coverage, etc. But what I had seen was a wild and punishing tackling machine, a guy who lifted the performance of everyone around him. You could see the fire in the whole defensive unit when he led the charge to the ball. I got a letter from [Pat] Tillman and his wife, or maybe she was his fiancée then, thanking me for selecting him. It happens every now and then, but it's unusual." -- Paul Zimmerman in an SI.com column last week, recalling his memories of Pat Tillman as a player and a person.

Lots of draft leftovers, plus a few from hither and yon.

THE MANNING FAMILY CHRONICLES. From Ron Macom of North Pole, Alaska: "What's your feeling on parents getting more publicly involved with where their sons play in the NFL and which agents they sign with?"

I assume, Ron, you're referring to the Mannings and the Winslows. I don't think it's a trend, through I did meet John Navarre's inquisitive dad at the scouting combine a couple of months ago. Look, here's the thing about Archie Manning: He stood up and tried to take the bullet for his kid. Noble, but everyone was going to see through it. My feeling is that this is not a big deal. If six guys have their dads out in front on draft day and the days leading up to it next year, I may see it differently.

TONE IT DOWN, MICHAEL IRVIN. From Hugh Tomlin of Alabama: "Finally someone has made the comment about Michael Irvin's screaming. I e-mailed ESPN last season to complain about his style. He may be knowledgeable -- but who can understand him when he yells and talks so fast? He needs a speech therapist to help him enunciate properly. I thought Ron Jaworski was going to reach through the camera to slap him during the draft."

I like Mike, personally and professionally. But someone needs to rein in that voice.

BEN THINKS I'M A WHINER. From Ben Steinbock of Washington, D.C.: "'Aggravating/Enjoyable Peter King Note of the Week: $2.50 a gallon for gas in San Fran?' Boo-hoo. A quick Web search reveals it's well over $5 in England and over $7 in Bermuda. I'm sure you are driving a hybrid car around, right? I'm sad to see you're joining the rest of America in whining about gas prices. Take the train next time."

OK, Ben. I'll take the train across the United States, ride BART to within three miles of the Raiders headquarters, then walk from there.

REHAN HEARS WHAT HE WANTS TO HEAR, I THINK. From Rehan of Knoxville, Tenn.: "All due respect to your football acumen but a draft expert you are not. You stated on Pardon the Interruption that the Eagles and Bengals had the worst drafts; Mel Kiper gave the Eagles a B and the Bengals an A. Don't you think grades are a little hasty at this point?"

If grades are hasty, why are you crediting Kiper's grades? On PTI, I specifically said it's unfair to grade a team now, but I did say I didn't like the Eagles using their top two picks to deal for a player with a history of weight problems. And I wondered why the Bengals would take a back with a bit of a fumbling history with their first pick when one of the best players on their team the second half of last season was a running back, and when they have other major needs. Also, I do not give grades. I used to, but I realize the futility of grading teams based on reading Kiper's Draft Report -- because that, and the opinions of personnel people in the league, is what I used to base my draft grades on.

A GIANTS FAN IS STILL MIFFED OVER THE MANNING DEAL. From Steve of Chappaqua, N.Y. : "I can't get over the Eli Manning trade, especially considering what you say the potential bounty of trading down might've been. You're basically saying to pick Manning over Ben Roethlisberger, the Giants gave up a two (the Browns') and a three this year and a first and a fifth next year. The Giants could've gotten Virginia Tech center/guard Jake Grove, and had their full set of draft picks for next year. Makes me wonder what might've been. If GM Ernie Accorsi needs to exorcise some Elway ghosts, let him go to a shrink -- don't let him take it out on Giants fans."

Good points, all.

TRACEY THINKS I'M DISSING KERRY COLLINS. From Tracey Graham of Los Angeles: "I saw you on TV today saying Kerry Collins has no chance of being a starting QB option no matter where he lands this year. I wonder why you say that when Collins is a much better QB than the current starters in Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco."

I didn't say Collins doesn't deserve to be a starter. I said I didn't think he'd go anywhere and become the No. 1 guy. He'll have to win that job. Let's go over your teams. Dennis Green has been emphatic that Josh McCown is his starter in Arizona. Ditto Baltimore with Kyle Boller and San Francisco with Rattay. Miami traded for A.J. Feeley. Dallas spent good money and a draft pick on Drew Henson to be its quarterback of the future. Maybe the Cowboys will fish for Collins. I don't know. But I doubt it. I just don't think any team is going to hand him a starting job entering training camp.

WONDERING ABOUT THE WONDERLIC. From Kevin Nickodem of Chapel Hill, N.C.: "Peter, my eighth-grade daughter hit 14 out of 15 correct answers on an NFL Wonderlic sample in the allotted five minutes. The questions are ridiculously easy. This just confirms the stereotype -- football players are walking idiots."

The thing is, football players are given 10 minutes to answer 50 questions. I'm not sure what test your daughter took, but I've taken a Wonderlic sample. Did it a long time ago. I scored somewhere in the thirties. The problem is, some of the later questions in the test are ones that take some time to think about, so we might be talking about apples and oranges. I've never heard of a 15-question Wonderlic test.

1. I think Tim Couch has to swallow his pride, accept the fact that right now no one wants him as a starter, and go to Green Bay. There are worse things in life, lad, than being the heir to Brett Favre.

2. I think I simply can't believe that no team thought it was worth it to make a contract offer to restricted free-agent running back Correll Buckhalter. Big, big mistake. The restricted free agent, who re-signed with Philadelphia a few days ago, still has the ability to be a 1,300-yard rusher in this league. Stunning. And other than the cost of signing him -- maybe $2.7 million a year, to prevent Philly from matching -- the only price to pay would have been a fourth-round choice. Silly. Wasteful.

3. I think the Jets have one year to get it right or Woody Johnson's going to start firing people.

4. I think one of the funniest post-draft activities has been watching the football planet rip the stuffing out of the Cowboys for passing on Steven Jackson. Two points: Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Philadelphia had running back needs entering this draft -- and all were picking near the middle of round one -- and each passed on Jackson. Twenty-four teams, in all, passed on him. And the Cowboys did acquire a first-round pick in 2005. Do I think Jackson is better than Julius Jones? Yes, I do. But do I think Jones plus a first-round pick in 2005 is equal value for Jackson? No ... I think it's better value. I like the deal.

5. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I understand that Fox needs to promote its new show with Max Kellerman. I do not know Kellerman. But it would be a good idea, Fox people, if you did not promote him as the All-knowing Man Who Has an Important Opinion on Everything in Sports, because America barely knows who the heck Max Kellerman is. Could he please enter our radar screens before Fox promotes him as the edgier Bob Costas?

b. So Pedro Martinez wants to be a free agent. I'm all for that. Nothing against Pedro. As a very interested follower of the Red Sox I'm appreciative of everything he's done for the franchise. But he talks and acts like the Red Sox owe him the highest-paid-pitcher-in-baseball mantel for life because that's what he is now. My two cents: Pitchers who throw 92 mph, down four mph from his usual peak, who have his build and have been a workhorse for was many years should be made to wait until the end of the year before a team has to sign them. I hope he stays in Boston. But to act like the Red Sox should pay him $15 or $17 million a year, or whatever he wants, with as many questions as there are about him right now is absolutely ludicrous. Theo Epstein's doing the right thing by shutting up and not getting in a war of words with his miffed star. Reminds me of how the Pats are handling the Ty Law thing.

c. Montclair (N.J.) High Softball Note of the Week: You're lucky I didn't make this the lead of the column. Montclair's first win over neighboring Bloomfield since 1997 -- a three-hitter with 10 Ks for senior southpaw Mary Beth King (the Montclair Times called her "a crafty southpaw," which I think is just about the biggest compliment you can give a portsider) -- last Wednesday at Pulaski Park in Bloomfield was one of the biggest wins of her life. The final: Montclair 1, Bloomfield 0. The story got nice play in Tony Soprano's morning read, the Star-Ledger, and the girls got a free celebratory team dinner at IHOP out of it. Calling some of the recent grads and their parents was as fun as the game was nerve-wracking, because we've seen so many ugly losses at the hands of the rival Bengals. "The curse has been lifted!" crowed Mary Giannetti, mom of former shortstop and Mary Beth teammate Kaitlin, who's now at Johns Hopkins.

d. Sopranos alert! Don't read on if you haven't yet watched this week's episode. Young Finn, it's been very nice knowing you. Get in line for your whacking, son, from the creepy Vito. And Meadow, this could be the termination point between you and the old man.

e. Coffeenerdness: I'm getting to be a pretty big fan, because of car trips in southern New England recently, of Green Mountain coffee, especially the darker roasts. It's underrated on the national coffee scene.

6. I think it won't take long before Kevin Johnson is Boller's go-to guy in Baltimore.

7. I think the defensive rookie of the year in the NFL will be Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the 64th overall pick. How's that for one out of left field? Watch this guy penetrate.

8. I think I can answer why the Giants didn't just trade down with Cleveland on draft day when it became apparent that the Chargers were trying to dump Eli Manning on them. I'm amazed how many e-mails I've received on this topice, and how many fans I've met in Jersey the past week who question the acumen of Ernie Accorsi re: the Manning deal. Apparently, many of you wonder why the Giants didn't pick up the free second-rounder from Cleveland by trading down from four to seven, then trade Philip Rivers to San Diego from No. 7. I explained Accorsi's reasoning briefly last week, but a couple of factors were at play here. The Giants didn't trust that some team drafting fourth, fifth or sixth would sit by while the Chargers were dangling Manning. They weren't certain that Cleveland might not swap its pick for Manning. San Diego was not going to trade from No. 1 to No. 7 with Cleveland unless the Browns paid a sick ransom and swore they would take Manning. Because San Diego did not want to land in Manning in Oakland, which drafted second overall.

9. I think the toughest thing for Giants second-round draft pick Chris Snee, the father of Tom Coughlin's grandson (with Coughlin's daughter, Katie), is going to be overcoming the perception that he could be a snitch. Harsh, but that's a fact of life. Are his mates going to be comfortable unloading on the old man around Snee when he's going to be having holiday dinners with Coughlin?

10. I think Emmitt Smith really has to want to add a few more yards to his all-time record to consider coming back to football as a backup to Marcel Shipp.

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