Let’s face it trading in the draft is a very tricky proposition, and most times one of the teams involved in the trade gets burned. So today let’s look at what I believe were the four worst draft trades in NFL history.
This trade was probably the biggest panic trade in NFL history. For the first six games of the 1974 season, Jerry Tagge was, without question, the worst starting quarterback in professional football. Green Bay’s 24-year-old passer — the 11th pick of the 1972 draft — had a 36.0 passer rating and had thrown one touchdown and 10 interceptions. Somehow the Packers were 3-3, leading some — including head coach and general manager Dan Devine — to believe that the only thing standing between the Pack and a playoff berth was an upgrade under center.
Two days after Tagge had thrown two interceptions in a 10-9 loss to Chicago, Devine announced the team’s backup, Jack Concannon, would get the start the following Sunday in Detroit. Then Devine pulled the trigger on a trade Packers fans have never forgiven him for. To acquire 34-year-old John Hadl, Green Bay sent the Rams its first-, second-, and third-round picks in the 1975 NFL draft, and its first- and second-round picks in 1976.
Five picks for one tired passer.
In 1973, Hadl had been a hero for Los Angeles. Chuck Knox’s club finished with an NFC-best 12-2 record that season and Hadl posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career (22-11). The Rams were knocked off by Dallas in the playoffs (Hadl completed 7-of-23 passes in a 27-16 loss) and early into the next season, Hadl fell out of favor in Los Angeles.
Still, to team owner Carroll Rosenbloom, trading his popular passer was a risk, regardless of what the other side had offered. “I’ve been heartsick about the Hadl thing all week,” Rosenbloom said after the trade. “It’s a gamble for us. I guess the fans will fire me if I’m wrong.”
Rumors swirled that the Packers had dealt for damaged goods. Some suggested the reason for Hadl’s woes was a bum throwing arm. “Chuck Knox knows my arm’s OK,” Hadl told reporters. “Ask him and he’ll tell you.” Packers fans had already seen the arm up close; Hadl completed just 6-of-16 passes and was benched in a Week Five loss to Green Bay in 1974. The idea the team would trade for him just 10 days later was puzzling.
Rams general manager Don Klosterman used Green Bay’s first-round pick of 1975 (No. 9 overall) to select defensive lineman Mike Fanning, who gave the team eight solid seasons. Klosterman used the remaining picks from the trade to assemble the core of Los Angeles’ secondary for the next few seasons: Monte Jackson, Pat Thomas and Nolan Cromwell (via a trade using another of Green Bay’s picks). With the rest of its picks in those two drafts, Los Angeles shored up its offensive line by drafting OG Dennis Harrah and OTs Doug France and Jackie Slater. These players would be instrumental in the Rams continued playoff success and an eventual appearance in Super Bowl XIV.
The Packers headed in the opposite direction. Hadl guided Green Bay to victory in three of his first four appearances, but the team lost its final three games in 1974 to finish 6-8. Hadl threw two interceptions in each of the final two losses — games decided by seven points or less. The next season, Hadl threw six touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. By 1976, he was no longer welcome in Green Bay. He finished his 16-year pro career as a backup with the Houston Oilers in ’76 and ’77 before retiring.
A day after the Packers wrapped up their 1974 season, Devine announced to reporters he was going to replace Ara Parseghian as the next coach at Notre Dame. He got off easy. His replacement, Bart Starr, was not so fortunate. In nine seasons, he led Green Bay to just one winning record (8-7-1 in 1978) — this from the former field general who had lost only one playoff game in 10 starts.
The deal not only handicapped Starr’s coaching career — it injured Hadl’s legacy. The six-time Pro Bowler is often remembered more for the trade that brought him to Green Bay than for helping Sid Gillman to revolutionize the passing game during their nine seasons together in San Diego.
In 1998, the Chargers had their eye on Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning, so mortgaged the farm to trade for the Cardinals’ No. 2 overall pick. When the Indianapolis Colts took Manning at No. 1, San Diego happily grabbed Leaf at No. 2. But Leaf turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history. The Chargers gave up Nos. 3 and 33 in ’98, No. 8 in ’99, plus WR Eric Metcalf and LB Patrick Sapp.
Things started off ominously for Leaf and the Chargers when he blew off the rookie symposium and was fined $10,000. Later, a number of veterans pranked Leaf by charging a huge meal to his credit card. Leaf took it poorly and reported his teammates to management after he refused to pay it. Junior Seau flattened Leaf in practice, much to the delight of his teammates who offered the captain high fives.
Leaf for his career, if you want to call it that, threw 11 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions and was out of the NFL within three years of being drafted.
After two miserable seasons with identical 6-10 records, Mike Ditka was grasping at straws and flailing about like a drunk who fell off The Riverwalk and into the Mississippi River. He was trying to raise an already sunken ship that he spent the previous two years blowing huge holes in the hull with his own torpedoes. So, he pushed all of his remaining chips to the middle of the table and decided to go “all in” on the 1999 Draft by taking Ricky Williams.
The Saints traded away 8 picks, including two 1st rounders, to the Washington Redskins so they could move up from their own #12 spot in the draft to the #5 spot.
Now this trade was by no means great for the Redskins, Daniel Snyder obviously had no idea what he was doing either. Out of the eight picks, they got Champ Bailey, Lavar Arrington and then a bunch of guys who were never any better than journeymen players. So, in retrospect, this deal was bad for both teams.
Probably the most famous trade in NFL history. When Jimmy Johnson took over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, he set out to build a team in his image. Of course, to do so required sacrifice. In this case, that meant trading away superstar running back Herschel Walker, who had just rushed for 1,514 yards the season before. The Cowboys traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for a king’s ransom of five players and eight draft picks. Dallas turned one of those draft picks into Emmitt Smith and wound up using another on Darren Woodson. And just like that, the Cowboys were well on their way toward crafting a football dynasty that would win them three Super Bowls in the 1990s.
The Vikings before the trade had been a consistent playoff team, and the reasoning was that Walker would put them over the top. Unfortunately for the Vikings that never happened.
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