Ron Wolf, Packers Tried to Trade Up for Brian Urlacher in 2000 NFL Draft
The Packers are set to make the fourteenth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft soon. It’s the first time Green Bay has picked from the fourteenth spot in nearly two decades, when they chose tight end Bubba Franks in 2000.
If former general manager Ron Wolf would have had his way, the Packers never would have selected fourteenth in 2000. Instead, they would have traded up in the draft to acquire New Mexico linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Wolf and the Packers front office had Urlacher as the top player on their board. They knew Chicago, set to pick ninth, coveted the linebacker and planned to select him if available.
How Wolf tried to trade up in the 2000 NFL Draft
It’s becoming more common in today’s NFL for teams to swap draft picks on the day of.
All told, the 2000 NFL Draft featured eleven trades in the first round. All eleven, however, were completed prior to the start of the draft. Because the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union had yet to cap rookie contracts, selecting a player high in the first round was also a significant financial risk.
The first overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, defensive end Courtney Brown, signed a six-year, $45 million contract with the Browns. In comparison, Myles Garrett, the first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the Browns.
If a team were to trade up into the top ten nearly two decades ago, they had to be confident they were selecting the right player.
“I know [Urlacher] would have made a difference in Green Bay,” Wolf theorized in a 2005 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. Unfortunately, so did Chicago.
“We knew we had to get in front of Chicago,” Wolf recalled. “We had eight shots to do it. We needed somebody to make a deal. I couldn’t get it done, but I was trying. You don’t mind losing some players, but we worked our tail off to try and pick him, and to have the Bears take him was a double whammy.”
What if the Packers had drafted Brian Urlacher?
Green Bay entered the 2000 NFL Draft with fourteen selections, tied with the Browns for the most in the league. Four compensatory picks – a fourth-round pick and three seventh-round picks – couldn’t be traded.
In an interview with the Journal Sentinel two days before the draft, Wolf seemed resigned to the fact that the Packers would miss out on Urlacher.
“I’m willing to (trade picks),” Wolf said before the draft. “There isn’t really any true ammunition in those picks. But if we do our job, we should come out of here in pretty good shape.”
The Packers front office reportedly spent the most time negotiating with the Baltimore Ravens – who held the fifth overall pick – and the Philadelphia Eagles – who held the sixth overall pick.
Wolf had narrowly missed out on drafting Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis in 1996, and therefore likely viewed a swap with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome to acquire another linebacker as at least somewhat poetic. Baltimore had already acquired the fifth pick from Atlanta and chose to not trade the pick again, instead drafting running back Jamal Lewis.
The Eagles connection was a bit different. That offseason, the Packers lost one of their offensive coaches and rising stars, Andy Reid, to Philadelphia. Now the head coach of the Eagles, Reid held the sixth overall pick. There was familiarity between Reid and Wolf, and the two sides likely discussed a trade. Philadelphia would select defensive tackle Corey Simon.
"We are going to try and get up in there but I don't think anyone is going to listen to us," Wolf said days before the draft. "We are probably going to sit and just pick."
Had the Packers been able to trade up to select Urlacher, it’s likely the Bears would have used the ninth overall selection to draft either running back Jamal Lewis, who went sixth to the Ravens, or running back Thomas Jones, who went seventh to the Cardinals.