In the span of a week we’ve seen two franchises sell their souls and plenty of draft capital to position themselves for a starting quarterback. This despite neither Jared Goff nor Carson Wentz being a no-brainer like Andrew Luck or Matt Ryan. The Rams and Eagles were dripping with so much desperation they sold the farm to roll the dice. Now both teams are sitting on a foundation of dynamite and the neighborhood kids are playing with matches.
The history of trading baskets of draft picks (and players) to go get that guy is ugly. Every team fancies itself as “one player away” from greatness (except the Browns, who finally seem to understand they are 53 players away from the playoffs). When executives though, have acted on that instinct it has almost always blown up in their faces.
We know the most obvious: The iconic Herschel Walker trade. It remains the hanging, neon “Do Not Enter” sign because it helped create a dynasty in Dallas, while simultaneously ripping up a playoff team in Minnesota. Walker not only cost the Vikings a number of players that helped them reach the NFC Championship two years earlier, he was a complete bust. The explosion and power he showed in college and the USFL? It never fully materialized in the NFL. So the Cowboys got a bedrock for greatness, the Vikings got a glorified kick-returner.
The next biggest disaster was Washington’s trade for the right to select RG3. Griffin cost three first-round picks and a second-rounder. Had the Rams done better with those selections we could be discussing this like the Walker Trade since RG3 flamed out quickly in D.C. But even if the Rams didn’t make the most of those opportunities, it stripped Washington of the necessary high-end talent to support its supposed franchise quarterback.
Trading away commodities for college unknowns has almost never worked out. How about the devastating Ricky Williams trade? The Saints gave away an entire draft class (six picks in ’99) and a 1st and 3rd a year later to get the Texas running back. Mike Ditka got fired after a 3-13 campaign, and the Saints only got three years out of Ricky (but multiple press conferences with him wearing a helmet).
It usually goes badly even when you’re trading a collection of picks for a known commodity. In 1987 the Colts needed relevancy and a ground game. So they traded for disgruntled (and future Hall of Fame running back) Eric Dickerson. He looked gorgeous in that classic horseshoe and white goggles, but the Colts gave away multiple first-rounders and second-rounders for him. Indianapolis made only one playoff game in his 5 years.
The Bears gave up two 1st-round picks and a third for Jay Cutler. Chicago has made the playoffs only once with him in seven seasons. The Dolphins gave up two 2nd-round selections for Brandon Marshall. He lasted two contentious years there. Carson Palmer would’ve been remembered as the punchline behind another terrible Raiders deal had he not resurfaced with the Cardinals. Oakland gave up a first and a second for just two years of Palmer. The ROI when giving away a bucket of picks is historically awful.
There obviously are a handful of deals that worked in moving up to get that guy. But it’s usually when the cost isn’t out of control. The Falcons grabbed the dynamic Michael Vick in ’01 from the Chargers, but only gave away a three and a five to do it. The Giants got a two-time Super Bowl MVP in Eli Manning, but only gave away a first, a third, and a fifth. The Broncos nabbed legendary John Elway for a first-rounder and lineman Chris Hinton.
In a salary cap era of sky-rocketing quarterback prices, draft picks have become all-too-valuable resources. Rookie contracts (i.e. cheap labor) are one of the only ways to construct a balanced roster with $20M a year signal-callers. So high picks are precious gems to not-so-precious GMs, and cost too much to acquire. That means thirty-three years ago you could get Elway for one measly selection (and he was a consensus franchise guy). For Goff (the presumed top pick next week) the Rams coughed up next year’s first, two seconds, and two thirds. And he’s nowhere close to the lock Elway was.
In the modern media age scrutiny is intense. Coaches and GMs are on the hot seat almost immediately. Skepticism and second-guessing are omnipresent. Teams are under more stress to win immediately and stave off the wolves. So collecting big, shiny objects for the fan-friendly quick fix while nervously looking over your shoulder has become all-too-common. It happened again with the Rams and Eagles. History tells us it’ll be bust, not boom for both.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.