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Monday, April 14, 2003
Updated: April 16, 4:50 PM ET
 
Vet player for picks involves too many risks
By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Mike Holmgren sat at his desk for what would be a busy week of phone calls. His frustrating year-long negotiations with wide receiver Joey Galloway was over. In front of him were the phone numbers of a handful of teams he targeted for trade talks.

Galloway, one of the game's fastest receivers, wasn't going to be a Seahawk much longer.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder was interested. So was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whom Holmgren developed a friendship with when they worked together on the Competition Committee. Holmgren told Snyder, Jones and others to make their best bids quickly. A new century had begun. It was 2000. Holmgren wasn't wasting any time.

Joey Galloway
Galloway has had just 117 receptions and 10 TDs in three season with Dallas.
Jones' offer of first-round choices in 2000 and 2001 had the right feel to Holmgren. The Cowboys were willing to make that sacrifice for what turned out to be Troy Aikman's last season and last shot at the playoffs. Holmgren, worried about mounting salary-cap problems, felt two years of multiple first-round picks would restock his offense.

As it has turns out so often in these instances, neither trade partner hit the jackpot. The Cowboys strung together three consecutive 5-11 seasons that cost Dave Campo his job. The Seahawks took 2½ years to get their offense rolling and haven't made the playoffs since 1999, Galloway's last season in Seattle.

Unlike baseball, basketball and hockey, the NFL is a team game in which one addition can only make so much of an impact. Sure, Drew Bledsoe brought the Bills instant credibility on offense, but his cost was deferred. The Bills didn't have to surrender their first-round choice until a year later. The price of giving up two first-round choice tends to prevent at team from improving others areas.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Gil Haskell has been on both sides of such trades. He arrived in Carolina a year after the Panthers gave up two first-rounders for defensive tackle Sean Gilbert. The Panthers went from 7-9 in 1997 to 4-12, and Dom Capers lost his job even though he was in the early years of a 10-year contract.

"When I see Mr. Richardson, we still talk about that trade," Haskell said. "I would have never given up two. There was no telling how many years it set back the Panthers. Sean was a good player, but he was not a sacker of quarterbacks. Maybe he would get two tackles a game. It cost the team $50 million."

George Seifert patched the team together for two years with aging veterans, but only finished 8-8 and 7-9 before dropping off the map to 1-15.

Great players are hard to find, so owners, coaches and general managers always will be tempted to make that one blockbuster deal. For quarterbacks, the price might be worth multiple No. 1s, but it's rare for such a quarterback to hit the trade market. Usually, the targets are running backs, wide receivers or a defensive player who can add some pass-rush.

For Jones, the Galloway trade went up in flames immediately. He caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the 2000 season-opener against the Eagles and then blew out his knee in the fourth quarter, ending his season. Doctors surgically repaired his knee, but it was the Cowboys that needed the reconstruction.

Galloway returned the next season, but the dynamics weren't the same. Aikman was gone. The offensive line was aging and losing power. Years of giving big signing bonus money to keep the Cowboys together drained a defense and left it young, small and lacking play-makers. So Galloway returned to an offense that had Emmitt Smith and young quarterbacks.

Since that 2000 season, the Cowboys went from an offense that average 323 yards a game (195 passing) to an offense that hasn't done better than 279 yards a game, a 44-yard drop and Galloway hasn't had a 1,000-yard season yet as a Cowboy.

Perhaps the bigger surprise is how long it's taken the Seahawks to rebuild their offense. The problem for the trading team in these deals is that it sacrifices a unique asset. Galloway was a rare blend of speed and explosion. He was always a threat either on a long pass or a reverse or a return. Few players had his skills in terms of being able to produce touchdowns.

Holmgren used his draft choices well. He went three for four with his 2000 and 2001 draft choices, hitting on halfback Shaun Alexander, wide receiver Koren Robinson and guard Steve Hutchinson but failing on right tackle Chris McIntosh, who developed neck problems that kept him off the field. The Seahawks also maneuvered with first-round trades to acquire quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a young fullback Heath Evans.

But putting the pieces together took time and put pressure on Holmgren's job. In 1999, the Seahawks made the playoffs with an offense that averaged 300 yards a game with Jon Kitna at quarterback. For the next two seasons, Holmgren's young offense dropped into the 290s for total offense, but there was a staggering 27 to 35-yard drop in passing yardage per game.

Seattle's problem was getting quarterbacks in sync with its young receivers. To replace a player like Galloway, you need the draft. Usually, the best receivers are underclassmen. Underclassmen take until the middle of their second year to hit their strides. Holmgren was luckier than most because Darrell Jackson, a third-round choice in 2000, played well from the start. He caught 53 passes for 713 yards as a rookie, but his strength was more in possession routes.

The question you have to ask is whether a player is worth two first-rounders. It's hard to replace them when you are giving them up. Football is the ultimate team sport. It's hard to do it unless you are talking about a quarterback.
Randy Mueller, former Saints general manager

Holmgren got his big-play replacement for Galloway in 2001 in Robinson, but it took until the middle of the 2002 season for Robinson to explode and the offense to finally do the same. As the Seahawks headed into the final two months of the 2002 season, Holmgren had his offense on a roll. Hasselback was confident. Robinson and Jackson were a dangerous tandem. Alexander tended to dance a little too much at the line of scrimmage, but he scored 18 total touchdowns and got his 1,000-yards.

The Seahawks averaged close to 30 points a game down the stretch and finished seventh in total offense averaging 363 yards a game. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, it was their third consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs.

"I think Mike has done it right with the players he's taken, but most guys don't get more than three years," Haskell said. "His picks have been good. I think Koren will be one of the better players in the league. Darrell Jackson has done a great job. During the last eight games, we were really good on offense. We ended up getting Chris Terry at right tackle so we had every hole covered on offense."

Of course, the clock is still ticking on these trades. Jackson is a restricted free agent and might just sign the one-year tender and leave after this season. The problem for both teams in these trades is that luck seems to go against both of them. The Redskins parlayed the draft choices acquired from the Sean Gilbert signing and the Ricky Williams trade to New Orleans to net future picks, but that has only resulted in one playoff season. The Jets took three years to replace Keyshawn Johnson -- who cost the Bucs two first-rounders in 2000 -- but lost the receiver groomed to replace him -- Laveranues Coles -- to the Redskins in restricted free agency.

Even the right moves don't produce instant success. The Keyshawn Johnson trade eventually paid off in a Super Bowl season for the Bucs, but the lack of offense for two years after the deal cost Tony Dungy his job. Johnson got his catches, but the offense still struggled in 2000 and 2001.

The Dolphins traded a first- and a conditional pick for Ricky Williams that ended up being another No. 1 when Williams rushed for over 1,500 yards last season. However, despite Williams success, the Dolphins didn't make the playoffs. Neither did the Saints.

"The question you have to ask is whether a player is worth two first-rounders," said former Saints general manager Randy Mueller. "It's hard to replace them when you are giving them up. Football is the ultimate team sport. It's hard to do it unless you are talking about a quarterback."

In a league that struggles with trades, it's hard to be a wheeler-dealer.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.