Sometimes, NFL trades don’t work out. For whatever reason, an NFL team decides to make a move it thinks will produce grand results. Take the 1999 New Orleans Saints. Head coach Mike Ditka wanted Texas RB Ricky Williams in that season’s draft. The Saints sent all of their draft picks that year to Washington to move up and select Williams. Williams didn’t really pan out and was traded three years later.
Then sometimes, NFL trades go exactly as planned. These are some of the best NFL deals that led to some grand results.
1977: Dallas Gets Missing Piece
The Dallas Cowboys had lost two NFC championship games and a Super Bowl in the mid-1970s. The missing piece, they believed, was a capable running back. So, the Cowboys gave up four picks (two first-rounders and two second-rounders) in the 1977 draft to move up to No. 2. Ironically, one of the traded second-round picks was actually traded back to Dallas by Seattle, the team that gave up that No. 2 pick.
With that selection, Dallas took Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett. He would win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and help lead Dallas to a 12-2 record, an NFC East title, the NFC championship, and a victory over Denver in Super Bowl XII. Dorsett would retire second on the NFL’s all-time career rushing chart. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
1985: The Rich Get Richer
Fresh off one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history, the San Francisco 49ers were in need or a receiver. The Niners had just gone 15-1 and beat Miami 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX. They would make a move for a relatively unheard of small-school wide receiver in the ’85 draft.
San Francisco traded three picks – one in each of the first three rounds of the ’85 draft to move from No. 28 to No. 16 in the first round. The 49ers, of course, used that pick on Jerry Rice. He would help San Francisco win three more Super Bowls. Rice was a 10-time NFL first-team All-Pro, a 13-time Pro Bowler, the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year twice, and won a Super Bowl MVP to boot. He’s in the Hall of Fame and is considered by most to be the best ever at his position.
The team the Niners made that trade with? New England. That might be why the Patriots, who won the Super Bowl during the ’85 season, wound up 1-15 five years later.
The Herschel Walker Trade
After Dallas won a Super Bowl after the 1977 season, they got back the following year but lost. Then, the franchise fell apart in the late 1980s. In 1989, Jerry Jones took over as owner, president, and general manager. His first move was to hire Jimmy Johnson away from NCAA national champion Miami. The next one was one of the best in league history.
The Cowboys traded RB Herschel Walker and four draft picks for four players and eight draft picks. Three of the picks were first-rounders. Those three picks turned into Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, and Darren Woodson. Those three players were critical pieces of three Super Bowl titles – 1992, 1993, and 1995 – the Cowboys would win in the early to mid-1990s. Smith would end up the NFL’s all-time career rushing yards leader and in the Hall of Fame. Washington turned one of the Saints picks into Hall of Fame CB Champ Bailey.
Note: Before acquiring the pick that led to the drafting of Williams by the Saints, Ditka and New Orleans offered the same deal to the Cincinnati Bengals, who held the third pick overall. The Bengals declined and selected Oregon QB Akili Smith, who was a complete bust. Cincy would record a .500 record or worse in 15 of 21 seasons prior to the 2022 campaign.