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Cards will take best player

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Posted: Monday, April 18, 2005 6:47 am

The story still makes Arizona Cardinals fans cringe. Rife with concerns about taking a player sixth overall in the 2003 NFL draft, the team traded down with New Orleans to get the 17th and 18th pick.

The intent, with the Cards lacking a pass rusher (forgetting for a second the team could have taken local sackman Terrell Suggs at No. 6), was to draft defensive end Jerome McDougle.

But Philadelphia traded up to snare McDougle at No. 15, leaving the Cards’ decision-makers in a panic. Defensive end Calvin Pace wasn’t rated at the top of the Arizona board, but the team wanted a defensive end.

They reached, and it backfired. Pace will have a hard time making the team this season.

That’s the situation Dennis Green — now coaching the team and making the final call in the draft room — presumably will never let happen.

Green believes in taking the "best player available," a philosophy that helped the top four Cardinals draft picks last season end up as starters.

"I’ve got to go with what (former 49ers coach) Bill Walsh said, ‘What you need is good players when you turn a program around,’ " Green said. "It doesn’t matter what position they play. I could see where all those (drafted) guys would be part of our turnaround players, whether or not they were starters the first year."

In theory, going with the "BPA" sounds good. But it’s not as black-and-white as it first appears.

It’s not a coincidence that when naming the top 10 players in this year’s draft, Green not only names three running backs — Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Cedric Benson — but also three cornerbacks — Antrel Rolle, Adam Jones and Carlos Rogers.

Running back and cornerback just happen to be the Cardinals’ two greatest areas of need. Rogers, for example, doesn’t rate in many top 10 lists. But he has greater value to the Cards than many other teams.

Green also likes to talk about having players with good speed. So it’s not a surprise when a faster player ends up with a slightly higher rating than others on the draft board.

"Our lineup of the top players has taken into consideration our needs," vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "So when we say we are pulling them off the best player available, we’ve already factored in to some degree what our needs are."

Green even headed in that direction in a recent interview session, bringing up the various additions the team has already made to the defensive line.

"You can only make so many moves on defense to improve your front before you say, ‘Well, I think we’re doing real well there now. We do have some other things to look at,’ " Green admitted.

So defensive linemen probably won’t get serious looks by Arizona, unless their grade is simply so much higher than everyone else. Same goes for receiver, where the Cardinals have spent two first-round picks and a second-round pick the past two years.

What the team wants to avoid is a complete disaster just because it was trying to fill a hole.

On a smaller scale, the same thing happened in 2002, when the Cardinals chose defensive tackle Wendell Bryant over cornerback Philip Buchanon. Buchanon had a slightly higher draft grade on the Arizona board, but the desperation to shore up a bad defensive line led the team to pull the trigger on Bryant.

Bryant has been a bust. To be fair, Buchanon has not been much better for the Raiders — he wants to be traded from Oakland — but it underscored the reach factor.

"We all have had players who have been first-round picks who don’t want to be the best and don’t become the best," Green said. "We have also all had players that were drafted in the seventh round and climb up. (The draft) becomes crucial.

"Free agency is not a chance to make up for (draft) mistakes. Mistakes are mistakes. They hurt you."

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