In baseball everyone remembers bad trades like the 1990 deal where the Boston Red Sox traded future star Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for aging setup man Larry Anderson. But the NFL has also seen its fair share of one sided trades throughout the league’s 90-year existence. To name a few doozy’s that some fans will want to remember and some forget: Cowboys trading RB Herschel Walker (along with 1 other player and picks) to the Vikings for 4 players and 8 picks including 3 first-rounders that led directly to Dallas winning 3 Super Bowls, Colts trading future Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams for 2nd and 5th round picks in the 1999 draft and the Redskins trading underachieving DT Sean Gilbert to the Carolina Panthers for first round picks in 1999 and 2000.
But after the 1-year anniversary and almost half of the 2009 season being completed, I am ready to add the infamous 2008 trade deadline deal that sent receiver Roy E. Williams from Detroit to Dallas to the “One-sided NFL Trades” list. The trade’s details were Williams (along with a 7rd pick) to the Dallas Cowboys and 1st Rd, 3rd Rd, and 6th Rd picks in the 2009 NFL Draft going to the Lions. At the time of the trade in October of 2008, a lot of fans and media thought that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had swung a great deal for a possible No. 1 receiver and purchased some “T.O Insurance”. But as the weeks on the NFL calendar pass, this trade is looking more like a colossal mistake by Dallas.
Throughout the 2008 season, the Cowboys were growing tired of inconsistent aging receiver and lockerroom pariah Terrell Owens so Williams looked like the perfect motivational tool and possible replacement wrapped up in a 6’3, 215 package. The Cowboys beat-out NFC East division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the race to grab Williams and Jones even handed the “perceived” superstar a brand new five-year contract extension worth $45 million, including more than $20 million guaranteed. On his trade to Dallas Williams, who was a high school and college star in the state of Texas, said “I’m more happy to be a Dallas Cowboy than when I got my first bike”. He added with a huge smile, “Going from 0-5 to 4-2, you can’t ask for anything better than that”.
It seemed like a great plan by the Cowboys to slowly acclimate Williams to their playbook and quarterback Tony Romo for the remainder of the 2008 season, then unleash him as their featured receiver in 2009, once Owens was jettisoned. But the 27-year old former Texas Longhorn has proven to be an even bigger pain in the rear than Owens (averaged 78 catches, 1196 yards, and 13 TDs in 3 years with Dallas), because he has not produced on the field. Of course everyone tacked Williams’ pedestrian 2008 numbers (19 catches for 198 yards, and 1 TD in 10 games and 7 starts) and being a non-factor as the Cowboys narrowly missed the playoff to a steep learning curve.
But after spending over a year with the Cowboys including mini-camps, OTAs, training camp, and practices, Williams looks worse than ever. He looks tentative in traffic, has dropped too many passes (just 12 catches on 30 targets — 40% catch rate), looks uninterested at times, and clearly has lost the confidence of a few of his teammates, namely Romo. Through 6 games, Williams has 12 catches for 230 yards and 1 TD, which is nowhere near a featured receiver’s production. In his defense, Williams has not been the same since being “blasted” over the middle (ribs) in the Cowboys 17-10 loss to Denver in Week 4. But the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league and surprisingly for the Cowboys it has been formerly little known small-school receiver Miles Austin that has risen to the occasion of replacing T.O than big-ticket receiver Williams (career numbers: 262 catches for 3,884 yards and 29 TDs over a 6 years).
Austin has been one of the 2009 NFL season’s best stories rising from tiny Monmouth (NJ) College to making the NFL as a special teamer then finally getting his shot this season. The tall (6’3) and fast (4.4) receiver burst on the scene in a Week 6 win over the Chiefs producing 10 catches for a franchise record 250 yards and 2 TDs (both 50-yard plus bombs). Austin saved the Cowboys’ hides with a 60-yard tackle-breaking game-winning TD reception in overtime and became the 10th player in NFL history to record at least 10 catches, 250 yards and two touchdowns in a game. Austin then proved the Chiefs’ game was no fluke as he looked like the second coming of Cowboys hall of famer Michael Irvin in a Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons (best six catches for 171 yards and 2 TDs). Out of nowhere Austin and his eye-popping numbers (21 catches for 502 yards, 23.9 ypr average and 5 TDs) have moved former starter Patrick Crayton to the bench. And almost everyone watching the Cowboys would agree that Austin and not Williams is Romo’s number #1 passing option. Heck…many would argue that Williams is behind tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett too at this point.
For the Cowboys’ sake, hopefully Williams is just having a tough time learning to be the go-to-guy on a team that expects to win. But for now his 1-time Pro Bowl player — 82 catches for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006 for Detroit — is looking like he will never achieve that status again or be an impact player. This season Williams’ production has slipped to averaging 2.4 receptions and 46 yards per game, which is astronomically down from his career highs of 5.6 and 81.9 in 2006. If Williams doesn’t turn it around soon, he will join former Cowboys trade flameout WR Joey Galloway in the Cowboys annals as another receiver that Jerry Jones traded for with high expectations, but got little in return.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)