Detroit Lions should fear Matthew Stafford trade becoming another Bobby Layne bomb

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
 
| Detroit Free Press

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When Matthew Stafford asked the Detroit Lions for a trade shortly after the season ended, it set in motion a fascinating and unpredictable process that has been repeated for decades throughout the NFL.

A star veteran quarterback is traded and both teams try to capitalize.

Sometimes, that beautiful mystery takes years to play out before it’s clear which team won the swap. Sometimes, it’s immediately evident.

Here are some notable examples of throughout NFL history of teams trading a star veteran quarterback, and a look at how they panned out.

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Rams trade Norm Van Brocklin to Eagles

The trade: Norm Van Brocklin was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Los Angeles Rams as one of the NFL’s purest passers over nine seasons. But he locked horns with intense coach Sid Gillman and briefly retired after the 1957 season. He changed his mind but made it known he didn’t want to play for Gillman. Before the 1958 season, the Rams traded the 32-year-old Van Brocklin to the Philadelphia Eagles for a first-round pick (running back Dick Bass) and two players: offensive lineman Buck Lansford and defensive back Jimmy Harris.

The result: Brocklin made the Pro Bowl in 1958-60, his final three NFL seasons, and led the Eagles to the 1960 NFL championship. Lansford and Harris didn’t play long for the Rams, but Bass was a three-time Pro Bowler over 10 seasons.

The judgment: The Eagles won this trade hands down. Coach Buck Shaw knew he needed an established star quarterback to turn around a team that hadn’t won a division title in nine years. He gave Van Brocklin control of the offense and in three seasons, he hit the jackpot.

The Rams went 8-4 in 1958 and 2-10 in 1959, which was Gillman’s last year with the team before he left to be coach and general manager of the AFL’s San Diego Chargers. The Rams didn’t make the playoffs again until 1967.

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Vikings trade Fran Tarkenton to Giants

The trade: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Fran Tarkenton was tired of strict and stubborn coach Norm Van Brocklin, so he wanted out of Minnesota and demanded to be traded after playing six seasons and making two Pro Bowls for the Vikings from 1961-66. In 1967, the Giants gave up a whopping two first-rounders and two second-rounders for the 27-year-old scrambling wizard.

The result: Tarkenton was great with the Giants and made four Pro Bowls from 1967-71. But the Giants never made the playoffs or won more than nine games in a season under Tarkenton.

The Vikings used their picks on Hall of Fame right tackle Ron Yary and four-time Pro Bowl guard Ed White, who helped Minnesota to their four Super Bowl appearances under Bud Grant. The Giants traded Tarkenton back to Minnesota in 1972 and he made three more Pro Bowls in his final seven seasons while leading the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances.

The judgment: The Vikings won this trade hands down, but in the strangest of ways. They traded away their star quarterback and Van Brocklin also resigned before the season, paving the way for Grant’s hiring and a great run of playoff success.

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Patriots trade Jim Plunkett to 49ers

The trade: How about a trade involving a No. 1 overall pick? The Patriots drafted Jim Plunkett with the top pick in 1971 out of Stanford. But he struggled in five mediocre-to-bad seasons.

The 49ers thought they were a quarterback away from returning to the playoffs and decided to spend wildly on Plunkett, a Bay Area favorite who had won the Heisman trophy down the road at Stanford, but lost his starting job to Steve Grogan in 1975. Nevertheless, the Niners in 1976 sent a whopping three first-rounders, a second-rounder and quarterback Tom Owen to the Pats for Plunkett, who was 29 that season.

The result: Plunkett struggled and lasted two seasons with the 49ers, going 11-15 with 22 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He was released after the 1977 season. The 49ers didn’t make the playoff again until 1981, when Joe Montana led them to the Super Bowl title.

The Patriots used their draft bounty to select quality players like cornerback Raymond Clayborn, a three-time Pro Bowler, longtime center Pete Brock and safety Tim Fox, who made one Pro Bowl. The Patriots made the playoffs in 1976 with Grogan, who also led them to the playoffs in ’78 and ’82.

The judgment: The Patriots paddled the 49ers in this deal. Plunkett ended up winning two Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders, but he couldn’t find success under coaches Monte Clark and Ken Meyer.

Bengals trade Carson Palmer to Raiders

The trade: Another ill-fated acquisition of a No. 1 overall quarterback for a Bay Area team. This time it was the Raiders who got stung.

Carson Palmer was unhappy after seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and asked owner Mike Brown for a trade after a 4-12 finish in 2010. Brown refused and Palmer essentially sat out the start of the season.

Oakland was 3-2 in 2011 when starter Jason Campbell suffered a serious collarbone injury. The Raiders traded a 2012 first-round pick (cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) and a 2013 second-rounder (running back Giovani Bernard) for Palmer, 32 that season.

The result: Palmer didn’t pan out in Oakland. He was 8-16 in two seasons and coach Hue Jackson was fired after going 8-8 in 2011. Kirkpatrick and Bernard turned out to be solid players who helped lead the Bengals to a string of five straight playoff appearances that started in 2011.

The judgment: The Bengals don’t win playoff games, but they certainly won this trade. Brown stuck to his guns by not releasing Palmer or trading him for poor value, and got two longtime contributors in exchange for a disgruntled star who was trying to make demands.

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Lions trade Bobby Layne to Steelers

The trade: Of course, no account of a potential Lions quarterback trade would be complete without the Lions’ infamous trade of one of their franchise’s most successful players.

Layne was 31 in 1958 and coming off a season-ending surgery during the Lions’ 1957 championship season. He reportedly had a power struggle with coach George Wilson, who had quarterback Tobin Rote on the team. Wilson traded Layne in October 1958 to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Earl Morrall and two draft picks: 1959 second-round guard Mike Rabold and 1960 fourth-round defensive tackle Roger Brown.

The result: Layne was reunited with former Lions coach Buddy Parker in Pittsburgh in 1958. He went 7-2-1 and made the Pro Bowl in ’58 and ’59. Layne never returned to the playoffs and retired after the 1962 season.

The Lions went 4-7-1 in 1958 under Rote. After they went 3-8-1 in 1959, Rote was released. Morrall never panned out with the Lions, but was the NFL MVP in 1968 and was part of three Super Bowl championship teams with the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins. Rabold played only one season for the Lions but Brown was fantastic and made five Pro Bowls in seven seasons.

In the 24 seasons after Layne was traded, the Lions made one playoff appearance in 1970. And they’ve won just one playoff game, in the 1991 season, since the trade.

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The judgment: This just about completes the circle for two Highland Park quarterbacks who played for the Lions and were eventually traded. The big difference is Layne was a Hall of Famer who helped the Lions win three NFL championships and never wanted to leave, while Stafford has set every record but failed to win a single playoff game in three trips to the postseason, and has asked for a trade.

In the immediate future, the Layne trade looked like a draw. Layne made the Pro Bowl with the Steelers in 1958 and ’ 59, but never reached the playoffs again. The Lions got Roger Brown of out the deal. But history has judged this trade harshly for the Lions, who continue to struggle as Layne’s curse endures and enters its eighth decade.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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