On this date back in 2003, the Minnesota Vikings, who were coming off of a 6-10 2002 season but had reason for optimism following a season-ending three-game winning streak, were set to pick 7 overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. The Vikings had weaknesses at a lot of positions, as most 6-10 teams do, but appeared to have focused on the defense. That was the speculation as the 7th overall pick approached.
Then, the Vikings were on the clock with fifteen minutes to make their selection. The clock ticked all the way down, fueling speculation that the Vikings might be looking to make a trade. Then, as the clock hit all zeroes, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue approached the podium.
“With the seventh pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select. . .Byron Leftwich, quarterback, Marshall.”
The hell you say? The Vikings were supposed to pick seventh, not the Jaguars. What’s happening here?
And then Tagliabue approached the podium again.
“With the eighth pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select. . .Jordan Gross, offensive tackle, Utah.”
Are you kidding me? ESPN was going crazy, people at the Vikings’ draft party were going crazy, and nobody knew what was going on. Then, it finally happened.
“With the ninth pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select. . .Kevin Williams, defensive tackle, Oklahoma State.”
Nobody knew what the heck had happened and there has been any amount of speculation over the years. Now, Kevin Seifert of ESPN has a look back at that strange day in Vikings history from 20—yes, twenty—years ago.
As many of us had thought, the Vikings were working the phones, talking with both the Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. Ultimately, the Vikings had agreed to a deal with the Ravens that would send the number 7 overall pick to Baltimore in exchange for the 10th pick, a fourth-round selection, and a sixth-round selection. But the league never executed the trade, resulting on the chaos that saw the Vikings (ultimately) get the player that they wanted but winding up with egg on their face in the process.
So, why didn’t the trade go through? According to Ozzie Newsome, who was the GM of the Ravens at the time, he was unable to get in contact with Joel Bussert, who was the NFL’s VP of player personnel at the time.
The price for risking the loss of a coveted player should have been much higher. Ultimately, though, the Vikings had no choice. They reported the deal by phone to Joel Bussert, the NFL’s vice president of player personnel, and assumed the Ravens were doing the same.
They never did. According to the Ravens, their call to Bussert went unanswered.
“The deal was not consummated,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said at the time. “A deal is not a deal until I talk to Joel Bussert, and I never talked to Joel Bussert.”
Essentially, the Vikings did what they were supposed to do and assumed that the Ravens were doing the same. But, for whatever reason, whether intentional or unintentional, the Ravens never called their end of the deal into the league and the Vikings allowed two teams to pass them up in the process.
When all the dust settled, the Vikings clearly got the best of the three players that were drafted among the chaos. Leftwich never really developed into a true franchise quarterback, and while Gross was a mainstay at tackle for the Panthers for a number of years, neither of them were on the level of Kevin Williams over the course of their careers. Williams was one of the best in the league at his position for a solid decade and should absolutely be getting some Hall of Fame consideration. He probably won’t—because, you know, Vikings—but he should.
As a Vikings fan, I would love to see this team “screw up” more picks the way they screwed up the Kevin Williams selection, honestly. Having a guy that’s a dominant force like Williams was in the middle of the defense certainly would be nice.