Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Quarterback Tetralogy: Rams To Eagles

by John Turney

When the St. Louis Rams shipped Sam Bradford for Nick Foles and a second-round pick plus a swap of picks this year and a potential conditional pick in 2016 it was the fourth time a talented signal-caller was sent to the City of Brotherly Love. It was an exercise previously tried in 1958, 1973 and 1977 and it led to three of the best quarterbacking performances in Eagles history.

Credit (L) Topps; (R) Digital art by PFJ
Graphic: Pro Football Journal
Part one
In 1958 second-year Rams general manager Pete Rozelle shipped long-time Rams passer Norm Van Brocklin for two players (Buck Lansford and Jimmy Harris) and a first-round draft pick in 1959. The Rams used that pick to take running back Dick Bass, who retired after the 1969 season as the Rams all-time leading rusher and who had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons to his credit.

Thought it was not overnight, Van Brocklin took a team that was a middle-of-the pack defense and a botton-of-the-pack rushing offense to an NFL Championship in 1960 with a victory over Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. The Eagles were 2-9-1 in Van Brocklin's initial season and improved to 7-5 in 1959. In 1960 the Eagles were 10-2 and won it all as Van Brocklin was the NFL Player of the Year and was a consensus First-team All-Pro. Shortly thereafter, Van Brocklin retired and in 1961 took over the reigns as the Minnesota Vikings Head Coach.
Digital art and colorization credit: John Turney
Part two
When Don Klosterman traded 1972 Pro Bowl defensive end Coy Bacon and running back Bob Thomas to the San Diego Chargers for John Hadl (who also played in the 1972 Pro Bowl), it was a rare exchange of  Pro Bowl players that did not happen again until the Redskins and Broncos swapped Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis in 2004. When news of the trade hit the newspapers, it was reported that Rams starting quarterback Roman Gabriel demanded a trade. Klosterman obliged him and it turned out to be one of the most one-sided trades in NFL history.

The Eagles received Gabriel in exchange for Pro Bowl wide receiver Harold Jackson, running back Tony Baker, two first-round choices and a third-round choice. With the picks the Rams chose John Cappeletti in 1974, future Pro Bowl guard Dennis Harrah and guard Dan Nugent.

Gabriel paid early dividends. He took a woeful Eagle team that was 2-11-1 to 5-8-1 in 1973 and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and was voted to the Pro Bowl (along with Hadl). And a couple of missed-field goals cost the Eagles a 7-7 season. That season, the Eagles gave the Minnesota Vikings all they could handle in a 28-21 loss and beat the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 (the Vikings and the Cowboys played in the NFC Championship game that season). The Eagles then started the 1974 season strong, going 4-1 and again beating the Dallas Cowboys. A great goal line stand by the St. Louis Cardinals in the season opener cost the Eagles a 5-0 start.

Then, the following week, the Eagles went on a six-game losing streak. They had a 24-17 lead over the Cowboys in Dallas, but late in the third quarter the Cowboys tied it up and Roger Staubach drove the ball and scored himself for the winning touchdown. After the sixth straight loss, Eagle Head Coach Mike McCormack started youngster Mike Boryla for the final three games, all of which the Eagles won, finishing 7-7.

In 1975 Boryla started the opener but was ineffective and played his way out of the starting job. Gabriel took over and still, the Eagles struggled. Boryla started again, but was benched again in the late Fall and then he got the final two starts of 1975.

The Rams got a lot in the initial trade and then, later, parlayed some of those players into even more picks. For example, they got five seasons from Harold Jackson then traded him to the Patriots for a 3rd round pick and a 4th round pick. They also traded Dan Nugent to the Redskins for a 2nd and 3rd round pair of picks. After six years of service, the Rams sent John Cappeletti to the San Diego Chargers for a 2nd round pick. Tony Baker was shipped to the Chargers for a pick the Rams used to take linebacker Carl Ekern. The string played out even longer, but the minutia is perhaps too esoteric for even Pro Football Journal. Without doubt it was a trade that kept giving for many years.

The Eagles got an excellent season and a quarter out of Gabriel, then not much more thereafter. Gabriel remained with the Eagles through the 1977 season, when he served as the backup for Ron Jaworski.
Credit: Topps
Part three
Jaworski. He is part three of this four-part work. Jaworski played well in the late-1975 season when Rams starter James Harris was hurt. He beat the Steelers in the season finale and guided the Rams to a playoff victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Harris was called upon by Chuck Knox to start the NFC Championship game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles the following week and it didn't sit well with Jaworski. Harris was ineffective in the game and by the time Knox pulled Harris and replaced him with Jaworski the game was out of hand and the Rams lost a blowout to the Cowboys.

The following season the Rams had a merry-go-round at quarterback, with Harris, Jaworski and Pat Haden all starting and all being injured, at some point during the season. Jaworski played the 1976 season with the intent on playing out his option and becoming a free-agent of sorts in 1977. It was nearly two decades before the NFL had true free agency and to become free a player had to play the current season at a salary that was ten-percent less than his prior years' salary. In this case, Jaworski played for $29,700. And even though the Rams had offered him a five-year $700,000 contract, Jaworski made good on his decision. Additionally, Jaworski's future likely wasn't going to last long with the Rams after he flung a beer bottle near the head of general manager Don Klosterman in the team hotel on one of the 1976 road games.

So, after the 1976 season, the Rams traded the rights to Jaworski to the Eagles for the rights to tight end Charlie Young, who also played out his option and wanted a significant raise that the Eagles were not willing to pay. Second-year Eagles coach Dick Vermeil thought he had a franchise quarterback (thought that term was not in the NFL lexicon at the time). Jaworski proved Vermeil right, as the Eagles improved in 1977 and 1978 and were a playoff team in 1979.

In 1980 theEagles  advanced to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders and Jaworski was First-team All-NFC and was voted to the Pro Bowl . Jaworski was effective in the pocket for a handful more years. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the Rams got very little out of Charlie Young, who was not a capable blocker and was never a starter for the Rams. In his three seasons in Los Angeles, Young caught only 36 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns (which would amount to a below-average single season for him).

In 1980 so the Rams did recoup something by trading Young to the San Francisco 49ers for a third-round pick in the 1980 NFL draft and a fourth-round selection in 1983 draft. With the 49ers Young was again the talented pass catcher that he was with the Eagles, which the Rams would have liked to see more of during his stint in Los Angeles.
Credit: Topps
So, in a few years, the time it took Van Brocklin to win an NFL Championsip and the time it took Jaworski to get the Eagles to Super Bowl XV, Eagles fans will see if the Foles for Bradford trade works out and we'll have the denouement of the tetralogy.

1 comment:

  1. ....well written analysis john! additionally the quarterbacks due to their accuracy and expertise in reading defenses helped talented receivers such as retzlaff, mcdonald, carmichael, and jackson to also have productive/oustanding seasons.