Investigation Into Marcus Thomas Swayed Broncos GM
By Andrew Mason, DenverBroncos.com
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(CBS4/DenverBroncos.com) ENGLEWOOD, Colo. The sun had barely escaped from the horizon on the eastern plains of Colorado in the post-dawn hours of Aug. 29, but Ted Sundquist was not in the mood for a tranquil ease into a Sunday morning offseason routine.
The Broncos' general manager began that day -- the second of the 2007 NFL Draft -- by arriving at the club's headquarters and resuming the quest he commenced the night before, dialing one team after another, searching for a deal that would allow the Broncos to trade into the middle rounds and select before its next scheduled pick in the sixth round.
"I got in an hour early on Sunday and started calling and went through every single team until I got to 121, when Minnesota finally said yes," Sundquist said.
"I tried not to get too overextended. I'd have about four or five (at a time). I'd call when they were on the clock, as well, when I could see where they were at, and then I'd go right down the row. There were a couple of teams that had multiple fourth-rounders; I caught them on the front side and they said, 'Nah, I don't think so,' and I said, 'I'll see you on the second one.' Then we got back around and Minnesota was willing to do it.
"I called every single team and offered them the exact same thing that Minnesota took at the end of the fourth round and nobody would take it. (Other teams) had their players they wanted. Or, they weren't willing to move themselves out of the third round for next year's third-rounder. They still wanted the player, so what you saw were trades where teams would move back five or six spots in exchange for a fourth."
As it turned out, Sundquist said, the swap with the Vikings was timely if the Broncos were going to select Marcus Thomas, whom they had targeted to acquire since they selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Ryan Harris with the 70th overall pick.
"Marcus Thomas was going to be picked at 122 (a selection held by the Dallas Cowboys)," Sundquist said. "We had been told that."
If the Broncos had been able to retain the No. 86 selection that was dealt to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the trade to move up and pick Jarvis Moss in the first round, Thomas "probably" would have been Denver's second third-round choice.
THE COST OF THE TRADE
Eyebrows of draft observers arched at what the Broncos yielded in order to pick Thomas. It wasn't so much the sixth- and seventh-round choices that caused the stir, but the decision to send a third-rounder to the Vikings in the trade, moving the Broncos down to a pair of first-day selections next year.
At Head Coach Mike Shanahan's press conference following the Thomas selection, Shanahan was asked whether the package of picks was a "steep price to pay."
"It's not a very steep price to pay unless he is not with our program two weeks from now," Shanahan said.
Days later, Sundquist remained nonplussed by the notion.
"The 'steep price to pay' thing, once again, I'm baffled by, 'Why?'" Sundquist said. "It's too steep of a price if we end up picking in the top five of each round. But when has that happened in the life of most of our fans?"
Not since 1983.
"To me, when you identify a player that you feel like can come in and contribute to your football team now, I'm not going to sit and wait and say, 'It's too steep a price,' because there's this fictional ghost player in the third round next year that we could take -- and no one knows who that player would be," Sundquist continued.
"Is that guy (a 2008 third-rounder) going to have as big an impact on your football team as Marcus Thomas would have in '07? You have to ask yourself that. You don't know who that player is."
And on the Broncos' draft board, Thomas -- in terms of talent -- was close to first-round target Justin Harrell.
"Here's a guy who we feel may be as talented as Justin Harrell," Sundquist said.
The often-chronicled, character-based reasons why Thomas' draft stock descended from the first round down into the middle rounds meant the Broncos had to engage in a scrutinous investigation of Thomas' background before deciding whether he was worth a mid-round flyer.
"I think that due diligence was done in our interviewing of the player, our interviewing of people who coached and mentored this player and disciplined this player over the four years at Florida," Sundquist said.
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING AND ANALYSIS
"I can assure the fans that it wasn't groupthink, that it wasn't about hearing what we wanted to hear," Sundquist said of the internal discussions that the Broncos brain trust conducted as they dissected Thomas' reume and decided whether to prioritize him on the draft board.
"I'll be honest with you -- when we first talked about this, I, the general manager, was not real happy with the scenario -- that this guy was one of the senior leaders, had an opportunity, blew his opportunity and let his team down," Sundquist said. "I spoke up during the meetings about that, and it bothered me -- it bothered me quite a bit.
"But as we dug deeper and deeper into what the real circumstances were surrounding what went on, I became more comfortable with the risk that we were taking versus what I felt like we were getting from Marcus as a football player both on and off the field, and his leadership ability. You ask those guys down there (at the University of Florida) who the leader of that team was -- it's Marcus."
But the Broncos' investigation went deep, contacting anyone they could find with even a passing connection to Thomas -- past and present coaches, football support-staff personnel, professors, instructors. Their primary scouts in the region are director of player personnel Jim Goodman and his son, scout Jeff Goodman; both are Florida alumnae, and Jim Goodman was on the Florida staff from 1989-90.
"The area scouts, when they go into the university, it's their responsibility to speak to as many different sources as they possibly can about the character of any player," Sundquist said. "We're not searching to find what we want to find; we're searching to find the truth. Then we have to make the final decision as to whether we want to 'take that risk' or bypass that risk."
Shanahan also coached on the Florida staff from 1980-83.
"Our ins with Florida when it comes to getting to the bottom of some of these (character) questions are as good or better than anybody in the league," Sundquist said.
The Broncos then supplemented that research by interviewing him at the Scouting Combine, bringing him to Dove Valley for a pre-draft visit, and scouring for information, even studying the video of his Combine press conference. No stone was left unturned.
"Our visits weren't publicized. There was a reason for that," Sundquist said, "but he was brought in here for a visit."
"As it became clear (Thomas) could help us, then we went back and rechecked and maybe we went to some other sources and talked to some other people, but it was as thorough a job as we've done," Sundquist said. "There's a gamut of other things that we use with regards to testing and things like that, and this kid is very, very high on those charts.
"We battled this darn thing out and talked about it and went back. Even after we had done the initial interviews, we went back and talked to more people and asked them, 'Really - what is going on here?'
"I got swayed to where I was willing to take the risk. Initially, I said, 'Guys, no.'"
But Sundquist proved malleable and open to the notion that Thomas could atone for his past problems.
"We're comfortable with the decision we made," he said.
What else are they going to say? Man, I wish we still had that 3 in 2008?
Come 2008 and we have some ammo to move up, down, grab more picks, whatever..well still be damn pleased with that extra pick..The Rick made a nice coup for the team..
"Wheres my money? I'm getting tired of you ducking me, man. Where's my money?"
Stewie from "Family Guy"
Art imitating life..