The 27th anniversary landed on Saturday of the memorable moment between former Colts G.M. Bill Tobin and longtime ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper. Roughly a week before that, the player Kiper believed the Colts should have taken shared with Ryen Russillo a story that, if true, makes the entire Tobin-Kiper kerfuffle moot.
Quarterback Trent Dilfer told Russillo that the Colts didn’t draft Dilfer because his agent, Mike Sullivan, had informed the Colts that Dilfer would not sign a contract with Indianapolis.
“I didn’t go to the Colts because my agent told them I would sit out the year and I would then be the Panthers’ first pick in their first year,” Dilfer said. “So that was the whole Mel Kiper, General Manager argument on ESPN that gets shown every year. They couldn’t pick me at five instead of Trev Alberts because we said I wouldn’t play. So I always try to defend the Colts that way. And I regret it because I could have played with Marshall [Faulk] for a long time.”
It’s unclear how long Dilfer would have played with Faulk. First, Faulk spent only five years with the Colts, before being traded to the Rams. Second, Dilfer may not have been the quarterback for very long in Indianapolis. In Tampa, he threw 17 touchdown passes against 43 interceptions during his first three seasons. This means that the Colts still may have been in position to take Peyton Manning four years after the Dilfer draft, even if the Colts had taken Dilfer.
Dilfer, who later threatened to sit out the 1994 season and re-enter the draft in a contract squabble with the Buccaneers, explained that his agent didn’t believe the Colts were a viable destination for Dilfer.
“There’s a lot of history between agents and GMs,” Dilfer said. “There’s a lot of opinions on the direction franchises are gonna go, and you kind of have to trust them. . . . He was convinced that the Colts were going nowhere, that this was a bad situation to be in, even with Marshall Faulk gonna be there it wasn’t enough. He was convinced that that was a bad spot, and convinced me and my family that that would not be the best spot for us and that Tampa would be better one pick later.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Dilfer actually would have sat out a full season and re-entered the draft. It’s rare that players make this threat before the draft, and it’s even more rare that they act upon it. Also, maybe the Colts wouldn’t have taken Dilfer regardless of his vow to boycott the team.
The Tobin-Kiper fight almost didn’t happen for an entirely different reason. Dilfer told Russillo that, as of the night before the draft, Washington had decided to take Dilfer, not Heath Shuler, with the third overall selection.
The next morning, someone (it wasn’t Dan Snyder; he hadn’t bought the team yet) decided to take Shuler instead. Dilfer said that the surprise caused his wife, who was looking for houses in the Washington area, to start crying. Other family members scrambled to ensure that TV cameras wouldn’t see her reaction to the announcement that Shuler was the pick at No. 3.
But for that unexpected, last-minute decision by Washington, TV cameras never would have captured Kiper’s reaction to the Colts not taking Dilfer, and the even better reaction by Tobin to Kiper’s comments. So, basically, we’ve finally found a good reason for Washington’s decision to draft Heath Shuler.