The Saints, especially Mike Ditka, coveted Ricky Williams and traded all of their draft picks in 1999, as well as two picks in 2000, in order to move up two spots in the draft to acquire him. This has been and will continue to be talked about as one of the worst trades of all-time, but was it really? The evidence of what actually happened paints a very different story. This trade was more about drafting ineptitude than it was about building a dynasty for any of the teams involved.
Ricky Williams was one of the most hyped running backs coming into the league in 1999, after rushing for 2,327 yards with 29 touchdowns and winning the Heisman trophy as a member of the Texas Longhorns. Mike Ditka was the most enthralled with the young runner, as he saw him as the next Walter Payton, and made it clear ahead of the draft that he was willing to trade all of the Saints picks to obtain Williams. That was a lot of talk, but when the draft began Ditka made the bold move as the Saints and Redskins made a blockbuster trade.
Iron Mike Ditka followed through on his vow, and made a deal with the Redskins, trading them their six picks in the 1999 draft, as well as their first and third round picks from the 2000 draft. Here is how it looked on paper, and wow what a haul for moving up just two spots in the draft.
New Orleans received the #5 overall pick in the 1999 draft from the Redskins and draft Ricky Williams. The Redskins received the following picks: #12, #71, #106, #144, #179 and #218 from the 1999 draft and #2 and #64 overall picks from the 2000 draft. At the time the trade was executed the analysts named the Redskins the winner for all that they were able to gain in this trade, but what followed was some of the dumbest moves ever made.
The Redskins, now loaded with draft picks, set their sites on getting Champ Bailey with their first round pick, which was now the 12th overall. Unfortunately, the Redskins did not feel that Bailey would fall to them at the 12 pick, so they went all New Orleans Saints and unloaded four of the picks they acquired from the Saints and sent them to the Bears for the right to move up from 12 to the seventh pick, where they drafted Champ Bailey. The Bears received the #12, #71, #106 and #144 in the 1999 draft from the Redskins along with a third round pick in 2000, but the Skins were not done dealing yet.
Washington then contacted the Denver Broncos about the #165 pick in the 1999 draft, and they acquired it with the final two picks of the 99’ draft from the Saints, #179 and #218. So, while Washington received eight picks to move back seven spots, they then traded six of those picks to move up twice in the draft. So let’s now look at what each team was able to do with their multitude of draft picks, and determine whom the winner was.
The Saints gave up eight draft picks and walked away with Ricky Williams. Williams would play for the Saints for three seasons, before being traded to Miami. In those three years Ricky ran for 3,129 yards with 16 touchdowns, while adding another 1,431 yards and six scores on 197 receptions. Those are good numbers, but what Williams did in his first two seasons in Miami left New Orleans fans scratching their heads. #34 ran for 3,225 yards with 25 touchdowns, and another 714 yards on 97 catches with two more scores. He was named 1st team all pro in 2002 with 2,216 yards from scrimmage, while leading the league in rushing with 1,853 yards. The best years of Ricky’s career did not happen in New Orleans, and Saints fans were disappointed, but did the other teams do any better?
The Redskins, who received all the picks, may be the case study in how to take a good thing and turn it into a bad thing. The Skins had an extra seven picks, but they ended up trading six of those to draft just two players, Champ Bailey and Derek Smith, a tackle from Virginia Tech. Champ Bailey proved to be a good pick by Washington and he was the player that lasted the longest with the team that drafted him. Champ played for Washington for five years, and was named to four Pro Bowls during that time, but at the end he wanted out of Washington and was traded to the Broncos for Clinton Portis. After giving all those picks away in 1999, Washington decided to hold onto the two picks from the 2000 draft that they got in the deal. The first pick was the second overall pick in the draft, linebacker LaVar Arrington. Arrington would play for Washington for six seasons and was named to three Pro Bowls, but his career was cut short by injuries. The final player drafted with a pick from the Williams trade was Lloyd Harrison, a defensive back who was taken with the #64 overall pick in the third round. Harrison played one year with Washington and registered no stats. This brings us to the team that scored a bounty of the Saints picks through the Redskins, the Chicago Bears.
The Bears entered this draft with many needs, quarterback being first and foremost on their list, but the Bears were not going to trade up to get hometown hero Donovan McNabb, and instead made a huge deal with the Redskins to trade down from 7 to 12 for four draft picks. What the Bears proceeded to do, was show how to make an embarrassment of riches look like an embarrassment.
Chicago grabbed the fifth quarterback off the board, Cade McNown, with the 12th pick. McNown only played with the Bears for two seasons, and had a marvelous 3-12 record as a starter with 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions thrown. The next pick in the deal was a third round pick, the #71 overall, and the Bears selected wide receiver D’Wayne Bates. Bates was totally ineffective for Chicago playing three seasons with the Bears, totaling 15 catches for 221 yards and one score. The Bears then selected linebacker Warrick Holdman with the Saints 4th round pick, #106, who played for the Bears for five seasons. He was the most productive player the Bears got in this trade, but only had 278 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his five years. The final player drafted because of this trade in 1999 was linebacker Khari Samuel with pick #144 of the 5th round. Samuel played two years with Bears totaling 10 tackles in that time. In the 2000 draft the Bears selected the final player from this deal, tight end Dustin Lyman with pick #87 in the third round. Lyman was not an offensive threat with 37 catches for 278 yards and three scores in five years with the team. While the Bears traded down and received a lot of picks, they showed that volume does not guarantee positive results.
The final team involved in this draft day deal was the Denver Broncos. This was the most minor of all the deals, as the Broncos traded the #165 pick in the 1999 draft, which the Redskins used on tackle Derek Smith, who never played a game for the Redskins. The Broncos received a sixth and seventh round pick in exchange and drafted tight ends Desmond Clark with pick #179 and Billy Miller with pick #218. Clark would play in the league for 12 seasons, but lasted only three with Broncos posting 79 catches for 910 yards and nine touchdowns. Billy Miller was totally ineffective playing two years with Denver posting six catches for 66 yards.
So in the end what seemed like one of the biggest blockbuster trades ever made turned into a pile of poop for the four teams involved. The Saints at least got production from Ricky Williams, but they also got a win loss record of 20-28 during his years as a Saint. The Redskins did get some great production from Champ Bailey, but by no means was it the kind of return on they expected when they got the eight picks from the Saints. The Redskins failed with their picks, but not as bad as the Bears. Chicago seemed to be in the right place at the right time, but all those picks mean nothing when you have a general manager who goes 0-5 on those picks. The Broncos got a tight end out of the deal, but it was only Desmond Clark, so not really a win there either. With all of these teams, and their scouting departments they took 12 picks and turned them into basically 2 or 3 players that were worth anything. Nicely done guys.
The history of this trade proves that there are many general managers, and teams, that have no idea how to draft a winning team no matter how many picks you give them. The Saints gave away their draft for Williams, but it is hard to call them a loser in this exchange, as the other teams netted zero from all of those picks. At least we will always have Dikta in a tuxedo and Williams in his bridal dress for the worst wedding couple of all-time.