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Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

NFL executives were fooled by Leaf

Newly retired quarterback was seen by some as equal to Manning back in winter of 1998

July 28, 2002

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In the winter of 1998, NFL personnel executives were divided on who would be the better pro quarterback: Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. Either way, they were sure to go 1-2 in that year's draft.

The Indianapolis Colts, picking first, took Manning, leaving Leaf to San Diego. The Chargers had traded two players and two draft choices to Arizona to move up one spot for the second pick to make sure they could get one of the "can't miss" QBs.

Manning has repaid the Colts by becoming one of the league's best players.

At the time, the Chargers sounded just as happy to get Washington State's Leaf.

"He's the future," San Diego owner Alex Spanos said. "Quite frankly, this man will solve all our problems for the next 15 years, and I told him that."

Instead, Leaf created more problems, alienating everyone from general manager Bobby Beathard to teammates and fans. And he didn't come close to performing like a franchise quarterback or even a decent second-stringer.

Leaf didn't show up Thursday at the Seattle Seahawks' camp and told the team he was retiring not that he had much of a chance to make the roster anyway behind Trent Dilfer and Matt Hasselbeck.

Career stats: 25 games, 21 starts, 317 completions in 655 attempts, 3,666 yards, 14 touchdowns, 36 interceptions. Add it all up and it comes out to a dismal quarterback rating of 50.

Leaf's failure really isn't unusual.

In the last decade, first-round quarterbacks have failed often: Rick Mirer (also drafted No. 2 overall), Heath Shuler, Todd Marinovich, Dan (Mark's Brother) McGwire.

But Leaf's on-field failures were exacerbated by his obnoxious conduct.

During one training camp with the Chargers, he had to be restrained by teammates after he confronted a heckler and threatened him. He was suspended without pay for four weeks for shouting obscenities at Beathard.

He also got into arguments with reporters and finally alienated his teammates for good by being caught on the golf course after saying his right wrist was too sore for him to practice or play.

How divisive was Leaf? When Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison was asked at the start of last season's training camp if he could identify the team's best offseason move, he replied without hesitation:

"Getting rid of Ryan Leaf."

Leaf then signed with Tampa Bay, letting everyone know he was a new man.

Bucs coach Tony Dungy praised Leaf's attitude, but he was cut before the regular season after going just 7-of-19 for 81 yards in exhibitions. He signed on with Dallas, still complaining of a sore wrist, but the results weren't much better: 45-of-88 with one TD, three interceptions and a 57.7 rating.

When the Cowboys made it clear that Quincy Carter was their QB of the future, then signed Chad Hutchinson, Leaf was gone again.

He certainly could reappear.

So when Leaf's right wrist heals (if it does), expect some other team on his doorstep with a contract, hoping he matures and translates raw ability into NFL success.

Happens all the time.

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