Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of arguably the most lopsided trade in NFL history, shipping five players and what turned out to be six draft picks for Herschel Walker – a trade that was wrong on so many levels.
Much of the discussion will center on how the trade turned the Cowboys from one of the worst teams in the league to one that brought home three Super Bowl titles in four years.
What won’t be discussed as much is the impact the trade had on the Vikings. That seems to get lost in history, as neutral observers focus more on how the Cowboys built a dynasty thanks to getting rid of its best player.
Perhaps no general manager in NFL history got fleeced like Mike Lynn did. And wasn’t because of the original trade that was made, it was about the fine print.
If you go back to the day the trade was made, Cowboys fans were livid about it because. At face value it appeared to simply be a five-for-one trade with one first-round pick going to Dallas. However, where the trade became such a debacle was how Lynn structured the deal.
Each of the five players traded – linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard, cornerback Issiac Holt, running back Darren Nelson and defensive end Alex Stewart – all came with draft pick designations assigned to them if they weren’t on the Dallas roster in 1990.
It was that component that made the trade so absurd. Over the years, Jimmy Johnson has confessed that he had no intention of keeping any of the players. What was supposed to be draft compensation to Dallas was the five players and the first-, second- and sixth-round picks of the 1990 draft. However, conditions were put on the deal that if any of the five players weren’t on the Cowboys roster, they had conditional picks assigned to them, which ended up being a first- and second-round pick in 1991 and first-, second- and third-round pick in 1992.
The result was that the Vikings, who traded for Walker, fell to mediocrity, because from 1989-92 they didn’t have a first-round draft pick and traded away their own second-round picks for three of those years.
From the front office standpoint, it was one of the most embarrassingly ridiculous trades ever made. Not only did Lynn set himself up for failure, but his ignorance to understand that he was giving Dallas a free look at the players (except Nelson, who refused to go to Dallas and was subsequently traded to San Diego) for the rest of the 1989 season, he was oblivious to the fact that these were role players for the Vikings who didn’t have commensurate actual value to a new coach looking to bring in “his guys.”
In the end, the results were so one-sided that it has become the benchmark by which all horrible trades are measured. The Vikings made a “Super Bowl or bust” move and it backfired. They made the playoffs in 1989, but got blown out 41-13 by the 49ers in the first round. In the next two seasons, the Vikings had a record of 14-18 and Jerry Burns was cut loose as head coach.
It took the Vikings a long time to fully recover, even though Dennis Green brought the team back to the playoffs in 1993. The lack of first-round picks never gave the Vikings the elite core talent to choose from – just the opposite of the Rick Spielman approach of stockpiling first-round draft picks.
When Sunday comes, Walker’s name is going to be uttered more times than he said it himself in interviews. But if you’re a Vikings fan with a memory (or dignity), you may want to skip it and wait until noon to tune into the game against the Lions. In the hours leading up, the Vikings are going to be universally mocked once again 25 years later.