Herschel Walker trade
The Herschel Walker trade was the largest player trade in the history of the National Football League. This deal on October 12, 1989, centered around sending running back Herschel Walker from the Dallas Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings. Including Walker and a transaction involving the San Diego Chargers, the trade eventually involved 18 players and draft picks. At the time of the deal, the Cowboys were one of the worst teams in the league, trading away their best player, while the Vikings believed that Walker was the missing piece they needed to make to a Super Bowl run. Thus, Minnesota originally felt that they got the better end of the deal. Instead, the Cowboys used the draft picks acquired in this trade to get the players they needed to help them win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the Vikings did not make a Super Bowl appearance with Walker.
In his book, Greatest Team Ever: The Dallas Cowboys Dynasty of the 1990s, author Norm Hitzges chronicled the Herschel Walker trade. Four games into the 1989 season, Jimmy Johnson, then head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, came up with the idea to trade Walker while on a morning jog with his staff. Johnson felt the Cowboys were so terrible that only a blockbuster trade could help them. He briefly considered trading wide receiver Michael Irvin to the Los Angeles Raiders, but Raiders owner Al Davis essentially talked Johnson out of the trade by saying, "You sure you want to do that? Who is going to catch passes for you?" Johnson felt that Walker was the only remaining bargaining chip they had.
A number of teams contacted the Cowboys when they announced that they would trade Walker. The New York Giants expressed interest, but the trade would have been unfavorable for Dallas since both teams were in the NFC East division. The Atlanta Falcons entered into negotiations, but eventually pulled out over fear of Walker's future contract demands. The most serious offer came from the Cleveland Browns.
Johnson stated, "[The Browns] offered us a player, a couple of future number one draft picks and three number two draft picks." The Cowboys felt this was a favorable offer, but they also felt that if another team were to enter the discussion, then they could generate a bidding war and thereby get even more compensation. Jimmy Johnson and team owner Jerry Jones decided to contact other clubs to generate buzz and create leverage. Johnson contacted Minnesota Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn. Johnson told Lynn that he was going to trade Walker to Cleveland that afternoon, and that if Minnesota would like to trade for Walker, then it would cost them "players, draft picks, conditional picks, and provisions", giving Lynn a deadline of 6:30 p.m. Lynn, feeling Walker was the missing piece to a Super Bowl run, faxed Johnson that he was interested, and soon after negotiations ensued. In order to get Walker to agree to a trade, the Cowboys paid him a $1.25 million "exit bonus".
The initial proposal
In the basic terms of the initial proposal, Dallas agreed to give Herschel Walker and three draft picks to Minnesota. In return, the Cowboys would get from the Vikings five players, three draft picks, and conditional picks attached to each of those five players should he be cut by Dallas before February 1, 1990:
|To Dallas Cowboys||To Minnesota Vikings|
Darrin Nelson forces a three-way trade
One of the players that was originally sent to Dallas, Darrin Nelson, refused to report to the Cowboys. Dallas then agreed to trade Nelson to the San Diego Chargers for their fifth round pick in 1990, which the Cowboys promptly sent to the Vikings. In total, this revised trade involved 18 players and draft picks (the new transactions with San Diego in bold):
|To Dallas Cowboys||To Minnesota Vikings||To San Diego Chargers|
Dallas makes another deal to keep the conditional picks
The Vikings had originally assumed that they got the better end of the deal, but not knowing at the time, Head Coach Jimmy Johnson was interested only in the draft choices and not the players. At a press conference after the trade, Johnson bragged that he committed "The Great Train Robbery", but was criticized by various sports writers such as Randy Galloway of The Dallas Morning News.
Johnson waived Stewart in November 1989, then told his coaches to not start either Solomon, Howard or Holt, signaling to the rest of the league his intentions. Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn eventually made another deal, letting the Cowboys keep the three players and all the conditional picks.
Aftermath and legacy
Dallas used Minnesota's picks over the succeeding years to make trades with other teams around the NFL. The picks acquired in those were then used to draft players such as Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, and Russell Maryland. These players would help the Cowboys win multiple Super Bowls. In other words, the trade of Walker to the Vikings contributed largely to the Cowboys' success in the early 1990s. For this reason, ESPN.com lists it as the 8th most lopsided trade in sports history.
|Pick acquired by Dallas||Dallas' subsequent transactions (partial list)|
|Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1990|
|Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1990||
|Minnesota's 6th round pick in 1990|
|Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1991|
|Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1991|
|Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1992||
|Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1992|
|Minnesota's 3rd round pick in 1992||
Meanwhile, the 1989 Vikings were eliminated in the Divisional Playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl XXIV champion San Francisco 49ers. And Minnesota still has not made a Super Bowl appearance since losing to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI. Seventeen years later, the trade was still an easy target for satire: one ESPN columnist, assessing the impact of free agency on the NFL, noted that it had almost entirely replaced significant trades and by doing so "took away one of the greatest shortcuts to becoming a Super Bowl champion: fleecing the Vikings."
|Pick acquired by Minnesota||Player selected|
|Dallas's 3rd round pick in 1990||TE Mike Jones|
|San Diego's 5th round pick in 1990||WR Reggie Thornton|
|Dallas's 10th round pick in 1990||WR Pat Newman|
|Dallas's 3rd round pick in 1991||WR Jake Reed|
The trade was detailed in an ESPN 30 for 30 film, "The Great Trade Robbery".
The ultimate irony to this trade is that the Cowboys picked Walker back up in 1996 for very little money, where he would finish out his career.
- Brock for Broglio
- White Flag Trade
- Eric Lindros trade
- Ricky Williams trade
- List of largest National Football League trades
- "The Herschel Walker Trade". Viking Update. 1999. Archived from the original on 2008-10-10. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
- "The NFL's Largest Trade". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
- Hitzges, Norm; St. Angelo, Ron (2007). Greatest Team Ever: The Dallas Cowboys Dynasty of the 1990s. Nashville, Tennessee: Rutledge Hill Press. pp. 25–26. ISBN 1-4016-0340-8.
- Wulf, Steve (October 8, 2014). "The run that birthed Dallas' dynasty". ESPN.