Compliments of the megatrade last March that netted the Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams, the dredlocked power runner who led the league in rushing in '02, the franchise didn't have a first-round choice in last year's NFL draft and won't have one this year either.
The Tampa Bay Bucs personnel staff could have stared at the walls, or played 18 holes at one of the nearby courses during the 2002 first round, and the same will be true in two weeks. The Bucs, of course, surrendered two first-round picks to the Oakland Raiders in the deal that brought them head coach Jon Gruden.
Ricky Williams cost the Dolphins two No. 1 picks and Miami still failed to reach the playoffs.
But ask Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt or vice president Rick Spielman about the wisdom of surrendering a couple of first-round picks, even for a veteran the pedigree of Williams, and the Miami football brain trust insists that, even with its draft cupboard nearly bare now, it harbors no regrets.
In the wake of Tampa Bay's victory in Super Bowl XXXVII three months ago, Bucs ownership all but gloated over the swap that landed Gruden for them, and finally landed the team the championship for which it had been poised for several seasons. "We got the right guy," said Bucs vice president Joel Glazer.
And so, Dolphins executives insist, did they.
Truth be told, the original Miami-New Orleans trade involving Williams called for the compensation in this year's draft to be a fourth-round choice. But that pick escalated to a first-rounder when Williams went over 1,500 rushing yards in 2002, triggering a clause that enhanced the original 2003 fourth-round selection.
Little matter since, even with the annual December death spiral that cost the Dolphins a playoff spot last year, the Miami organization is pretty confident that Williams will be an offensive centerpiece for the foreseeable future and that he was well worth the gaudy price tag.
"In terms of yardage alone, Ricky had one of the best seasons in history, and there's no reason he can't do that again," Wannstedt recently noted. "He is exactly what we needed for how we want to play. I always said that if he hit that 1,500 yards, and we had to give up the other first-round pick, it would be worth it. I'll never second-guess what we did in that trade."
Looking back on some of the notable trades in which a club swapped away its first-round pick or multiple first-rounders in exchange for a veteran, that sentiment might earn Wannstedt membership in a relatively small fraternity.
The so-called "art of the deal" has been anything but aesthetic where trading first-round choices is involved. Not since Monty Hall was negotiating with an audience dressed in clown suits have so many deals soured.
Generally speaking, the history of such deals has not been kind to the clubs that surrendered their first-round choice, and the failure rate is just one of the reasons there are so few trades of that ilk consummated in the league. In a league where salary cap restraints have made it even more important to add younger players with fixed salaries over a period of 4-6 years, the high-round draft choices have become the NFL equivalent of commodities on the futures market.
Just as there are no sure things when juggling pork futures or frozen orange juice, the track record in trades where No. 1 draft choices were traded for players is spotty, and that assessment is a generous one. Indeed, there have been a few such deals in which the results were disastrous.
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