NFL No. 1 picks no guarantee

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 PM ET

Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is a quarterbacking stud.

Current Hall of Shamer JaMarcus Russell is a grossly overpaid dud.

When it comes to selecting a player first overall in the NFL draft, you had better hope your pick lands you in the football penthouse, not the gridiron outhouse.

It worked out well for the Indianapolis Colts thanks to Manning, who shrewdly was picked instead of draft bust Ryan Leaf 12 years ago.

Russell and the Oakland Raiders? Not so much.

When the Raiders made the strong-armed pivot out of LSU the first player selected in the 2007 draft, his career immediately was put on hold while he selfishly held out, missing training camp in the process.

The Raiders finally caved in to Russell’s demand, handing him an awful six-year, $62-million US deal, $32 million of which was guaranteed.

How much bang has Al Davis’ dysfunctional franchise received for its buck? Twenty-three interceptions and just 18 touchdowns in 31 games.

With all this ridiculous cash shelled out to the No. 1 pick, teams cannot afford to screw up the selection, both on the field and in the wallet. It’s a fact the St. Louis Rams, the first team on the clock Thursday at New York City’s historic Radio City Music Hall, are quite aware of.

By all accounts, the Rams are expected to call out the name of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. And, given that the Detroit Lions showered 2009 first overall selection Matthew Stafford with a six-year, $72-million pact — $41.7 million guaranteed — Sam The Man, despite missing much of the past college season because of a shoulder injury, is slated to become a rich young man.

The fact that unproven rookies earn such a huge payday without ever having lined up for an NFL snap is ridiculous, an ugly flaw for a league that likes to think of itself as the best in all of pro sports. How can anyone in their right mind justify that Bradford will make more money from his first NFL contract than some Pro Bowl veterans have earned in their entire careers?

But that’s life in the National Football League, where the almighty dollar reigns supreme. Why else do you think that, for the first time, the league will hold the opening round of its draft in prime time?

It’s sheer marketing genius, given the projected huge television audience and amount of ad revenue that will be generated Thursday night. Rounds 2 and 3 will take place Friday night while Rounds 4-7 go Saturday.

Now, thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, there is a chance the first round of the 2010 draft might turn into an intriguing prime time soap opera as well.

While Big Ben was being handed a six-game suspension by commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday for an off-season incident involving a female in Georgia, reports surfaced that the Pittsburgh Steelers are attempting to deal the two-time Super Bowl winner. There were suggestions that the Steelers had contacted both the Rams, who say they are not interested, and the Raiders, who pick eighth.

When asked during a conference call Wednesday if Roethlisberger was being shopped, Steelers president Art Rooney did not deny the idea, opting to play coy instead.

“As we’ve said before, we really can’t answer questions about trades — particularly at this time of year,” Rooney said.

Where there’s smoke, there’s, well, you know. Why else would they have traded for quarterback Byron Leftwich on Tuesday night?

In Pittsburgh, fans have little sympathy for Roethlisberger and his Super Bowl rings. When a local TV station held a recent poll asking if they would cheer for Big Ben this year, 61% voted “No.”

The Roethlisberger affair adds intrigue to a first round filled with other interesting questions.

How far will Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen slide?

How far will Florida quarterback Tim Tebow climb?

How will the Raiders botch their pick, a habit they’ve become experts at?

In a draft top-heavy in offensive and defensive line beef, it will be the quarterbacks who will supply the most suspense.

Including Roethlisberger.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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