The "Great Trade Robbery" and other regrettable moves
The time leading up to the NFL’s trade deadline is a sleepy window compared with that of other pro sports, but the league has still seen some eye-popping, franchise-altering deadline exchanges. And perhaps with the deadline getting bumped back from Week 6 to Week 8 in 2012, we might see more movement before this year's November 1 cutoff. As the September swap involving Sam Bradford proved, sometimes necessity compels teams into motion.
Of course, between salary cap constraints, the fact that it’s still relatively early and few teams want to sell at this point -- not to mention the difficulty of bringing a player into a new system midseason and getting him up to speed on the fly -- there’s a general reticence to shake things up at the deadline. The league has also seen some major cautionary tales where teams have sold the farm for a big prize -- in a different era when running backs were kings, not fungible committee-mates. We take a look at those backfired deals and more below.
Sporting NewsSporting News via Getty Images
The trade: Bengals QB Carson Palmer to the Raiders (2011)
Palmer’s relationship with the Bengals organization had soured the point where he wanted out and threated to retire if the team did not accede to his trade demands, which it did not. So, he sat out and "retired," and the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in anticipation of that. But when the Raiders starting quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a collarbone injury after leading the team to a 4-2 start, the playoffs-seeking squad pursued Palmer and Cincinnati ultimately agreed to sent the disgruntled QB to Oakland for a first-round pick in 2012 and a second rounder in 2013.
The aftermath: Palmer falls flat in Oakland
The Raiders won four of the nine games Palmer started and finished the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs. The next season went worse as the Raiders fell to 4-12. Meanwhile the Bengals started Dalton from the beginning of the 2011 season, reached the playoffs at 9-7 and acquired key contributors with the picks: RB Gio Bernard and CB Dre Kirkpatrick. The Raiders split with Palmer after just a season and a half and traded him to the Cardinals in April 2013.
Thearon W. HendersonGetty Images
The trade: Lions WR Roy Williams to the Cowboys (2008)
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys felt the team needed another major receiving threat to elevate their offense to world-beater status, so they set their eyes on a man who played his college ball at Texas, Detroit Lions former first-round pick Roy Williams. As the deadline approached, Cowboys agreed to send their 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round draft pick to Detroit in return for Williams.
Drew HallowellGetty Images
The aftermath: Big disappointment in Big D
That’s a lot of gravy to give up for one player, and what's worse is Williams never meshed with the Cowboys offense and saw a major dropoff in the production he provided in Detroit. Williams caught only 19 passes in the 10 games he played in Dallas in 2008 and caught only 75 combined with 12 touchdowns over the next two seasons after Dallas released troublesome wideout Terrell Owens after the 2008 season. Williams did not become the No. 1 receiver Dallas had bargained for -- especially given that it signed him to a lucrative new contract after the trade with $26 million guaranteed.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
The trade: Cowboys RB Herschel Walker to the Vikings (1989)
The story goes that former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson was out jogging, thinking of ways to jumpstart a struggling Cowboys team devoid of talent when it dawned on him that a trade involving 26-year-old superstar running back and physical freak Herschel Walker might return a roster-altering haul. Johnson put out feelers before the deadline and ultimately found a giddy trade partner in the Minnesota Vikings.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
The aftermath: Subtraction by addition in Minnesota
For a few minutes, the Cowboys looked like buffoons for trading away a star in his prime. But in return they got five solid players, a boatload of draft picks and conditional draft picks that they turned into centerpieces and key contributors on their Super Bowl teams, including Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and five-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson. Minnesota suffered not only the loss of five players, draft picks and the supply of young talent, but the team’s chemistry suffered and the Vikings’ offensive system using split backs as opposed to the I-formation didn’t best suit Walker’s talent. "We were in a great position (in 1989), just poised for a lot of success," former Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan recalled. "And it all kind of came crumbling down. That trade (nicknamed "The Great Train Robbery") set us back in a negative position for a number of years."
Getty ImagesGetty Images
The trade: Rams RB Eric Dickerson to the Colts in a three-team deal (1987)
After setting the rookie rushing record with 1,808 yards in 1983 and establishing himself as the league’s top running back, Dickerson wanted to get paid like it. But L.A. was unwilling to renegotiate his contract, and when the relationship became untenable, the Rams explored trading the star and found a willing partner in the Indianapolis Colts with then-28-year-old Colts GM Jim Irsay (son of then-owner Bob Irsay) pulling the strings on a three-team deal that also involved the Buffalo Bills. The trade was somewhat complicated but essentially cost the Colts the rights to linebacker Cornelius Bennett (who became a star for the Bills), their first- and second-round picks in 1988, a second-rounder in 1989 and two veteran running backs.
The aftermath: Short-term gain, long-term misery in Indy
It was good for the Colts and Dickerson initially. ''Believe me, the contract I got [from Indianapolis], I won't renegotiate" Dickerson said. "It's very fat.” The 27-year-old (pictured with Bob Irsay) rushed for 112 yards per game in the nine contests he played for Indy that season and helped the Colts reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
And he led the league in rushing in 1988 with 1,659 yards and turned in another Pro Bowl campaign in 1989, but then the Colts went downhill and bottomed out as Dickerson rushed for only 1,213 yard combined in 21 games over the 1990 and 1991 seasons, that latter of which the Colts suffered through with a dismal 1-15 record. Dickerson wanted out and got his wish with a trade to the Raiders. Meanwhile, the Rams re-stocked their roster with young talent and got 1,212 yards of rushing from Greg Bell, one of the players acquired from Buffalo in the deal.
Rams QB John Hadl to the Packers (1974)
The Packers are an esteemed, well-run franchise, but that wasn't the case in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1974, seeking to punch up the offense that was suffering from very poor quarterback play as the deadline approached, Green Bay shipped a franchise-altering load of draft picks for the Los Angeles Rams’ 34-year-old QB John Hadl: its first-, second- and third-round choices in the 1975 draft, plus a first and second-rounder in 1976. Amazingly, Hadl had lost his starting job with the Rams after lackluster performance in a loss to the Packers just nine days earlier.
Focus on SportGetty Images
The aftermath: A two-decade tailspin in Green Bay
"We had a lot of discussions," former Packers head coach Dan Devine said. "We were thinking about Archie Manning of the Saints, too. But John became available and we needed to do something at this point." What they did is handicap the team in future years for a QB at the twilight of his career. Those '74 Packers finished the season 6-8, and Devine then left to take the Notre Dame head coaching job. His successor Bart Starr presided over mostly losing teams, no thanks to the loss of those picks. Hadl himself couldn’t quite believe how much his services commanded. "When I got over the shock of being traded by the Rams, which was a total surprise to me,” Hadl later said, “I was sort of flattered by the price I had brought.” That price sent Green Bay into a losing spiral that continued until Brett Favre arrived almost two decades later.