METAIRIE, La. -- Saints personnel director Rick Mueller bustled into the office of general manager Mickey Loomis 60 minutes before the start of the draft with the same look one would have shortly before unwrapping a birthday present. His eyes were wide with anticipation, hoping Loomis could gift-wrap one of Mueller's top-rated players.
|Rick Mueller, Saints director of player personnel, was at the heart of all the draft action.(AP)|
The two had been furiously working the phones that morning trying to secure a trade, and with each call came additional options. They talked in a secret language, so as not to get ahead of themselves.
"Mickey, I think we can have that one deal with you-know-who if we want to," Mueller said.
"Well, I'm still not sure we won't have something with the other guys," Loomis said.
Downstairs in the draft room, head coach Jim Haslett was working the phones with his contacts, trying to open yet another avenue.
When asked how many scenarios and the number of teams the Saints were considering, Loomis took a few moments before answering -- taking his time to sift through which were smokescreens and which teams actually had trade winds in their draft climate.
"I'd say there are three teams we are still talking to about moving up, and one or two that we would move down with," he said.
For every option, Loomis and Mueller had a contingency. For every contingency, there were other options.
When Georgia Bulldog defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan's name was inscribed on a card and walked to the commissioner's podium later that morning, it marked the fruition of a long, behind-the-scenes trade process.
The following is an exclusive step-by-step chronology of how the Saints settled on a deal with the Cardinals and the near misses they initially traveled through to arrive at the trade.
"Just like all the other teams, we started about a month ago at the owners meetings out in Arizona," Loomis said. "Rick Mueller, Jim (Haslett) and myself all sent out feelers to try to get an idea of who might be willing to make a move with us. We talked to about four or five teams in the top 10, just to find out who might be selling. All the proactive teams nose around at that time."
In other words, Loomis and Co. didn't suddenly awaken Saturday morning and decide to swing a trade. In fact, he had a pair of teams he believed the Saints would make a deal with, neither of which were the Cardinals.
"Over the next few weeks, following the (league) meetings, we zeroed in on Minnesota and as the draft week approached, we thought they were our best chance to do a pre-draft trade," he said. "But as the draft got closer, they didn't want to do a pre-draft deal, they wanted to make a move while they were on the clock."
When the Vikings resisted the temptations of striking a trade before the draft, Loomis shifted to the Cardinals and Bears.
"We looked at what the value of our two No. 1s were and we decided that if we traded up into the top four or five, we wouldn't really need to get anything in return aside from the No. 1," he said. "If we traded with a team in that six, seven or eight range, then we'd need to get something else on the back end. That was very important in any deal we would do with a team outside the top four."
Each pick has a vague perceived value and the subjectivity of each slot strongly varies from team to team.
Each team uses a point chart as a guide in making trades. The Bears' No. 4 pick for example is worth 2,400 points. The No. 5 pick would be for a little less by 100 or 200 points, and the sliding scale continues as such throughout the draft.
As each trade is made throughout the week, including draft day itself, New Orleans' senior football administrator Russ Ball updates the point values made for each trade and distributes them to Loomis, Mueller and coach Haslett.
While some teams adhere strictly to this chart, Loomis prefers to use it as a guide. His chart is bendable. The chart did not dictate he must get something in return in the six through eight slots, but he made the decision to make that a priority.
While the Vikings appeared to be on the backburner, Loomis heard Chicago might be selling the four slot, and thus placed a call to general manager Jerry Angelo. The two discussed a trade that would send to Chicago the Saints' pair of first-rounders for the fourth pick of the draft and volunteered for it to be a pre-draft trade, one of Chicago's stipulations.
"Thursday night I thought we were going to have that deal, because the Jets, who were also talking to him at that time, did not want to do a pre-draft deal in case their guy was not there," Loomis said.
Jets general manager Terry Bradway confirmed the process for SportsLine.com and added his team tried to offer the Bears an additional pick on the condition they wait until the No. 4 pick was on the clock to make the trade.
Regardless, Chicago insisted Friday morning the Jets make a pre-draft deal or else they would move on to New Orleans. Chicago was intent on moving back as they had all along targeted Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, but needed a late first-rounder to select him at.
Eventually, the Jets relented and made the deal with Chicago, agreeing to include a fourth-rounder, but with the stipulation they would only have to part with the selection if they able to land Kentucky DT Dewayne Robertson. If not, the Jets owed Chicago nothing more than the pair of No. 1s.
"Jerry called me Friday morning and told me he got a deal with the Jets," Loomis said. "So, we started things with Arizona."
The Cardinals and Saints discussed several trade scenarios throughout the afternoon, some involving both of the Saints' first-rounders, others involving one first-rounder plus additional picks. Also discussed were different deals involving both No. 1s in exchange for picks and players.
But the sides could not agree, and Loomis left the office the day before the draft believing a deal with the Cardinals was dead.
On Saturday morning, Loomis again got the Vikings on the phone to explore the possibilities of reviving talks. At the same time, Mueller was trying to lay the foundation for a possible move with Jacksonville.
Then came the calls from teams later in the first round seeking a move up. Pittsburgh and Oakland were among four teams Loomis felt he might be able to deal with, if need be.
Perhaps the most interesting plan Loomis had was to make a two-way move. With this strategy, Loomis would have traded the 17th pick plus extra bounty to move up with a team in the top seven or eight. He would have then traded the 18th pick down with the intention of acquiring more than he surrendered in the first trade.
"We called Arizona in the morning again to let them know that when they were on the clock, we would still be interested in doing a deal that was fair to both of us," he said. "We didn't really talk to them much until after the draft started and their turn came up."
Finally, after more excitement from Mueller and more zen-like considerations by Loomis, the two packed up their draft materials and headed to their draft room with little idea how Sullivan would eventually become a Saint.