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Mike Vandermause column: Best, worst Packers trades

May 29, 2014
 
General manager Ron Wolf found a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre at the bottom of the Falcons' depth chart.
General manager Ron Wolf found a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre at the bottom of the Falcons' depth chart. / File/Press-Gazette Media
The Packers acquired reserve running back Ahman Green from Seattle in 2000. He went on to become the Packers' all-time leading rusher with six 1,000-yard seasons in his first seven years with the team. / File/Press-Gazette Media
Packers coach and general manager Dan Devine was behind three of the five worst trades in Packers history, including a trade for aging quarterback John Hadl that cost the Packers two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and a third-rounder. / Press-Gazette Media archives
Fuzzy Thurston (63) was the Packers' starting left guard for seven seasons and earned All-Pro honors in 1961. / Press-Gazette Media archives
The Packers traded their first-round draft pick in 1986 to San Diego for cornerback Mossy Cade. Cade started 19 games over two seasons for the Packers before landing in prison on a sexual assault conviction. / Press-Gazette Media archives

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2014 marks the 40-year anniversary of the worst trade in Green Bay Packers history.

Dan Devine’s desperate, idiotic giveaway of five high draft picks to the Los Angeles Rams for over-the-hill quarterback John Hadl in 1974 will go down as the single-worst personnel decision in Packers history.

At the time, Devine had no interest in the Packers’ long-term future. Instead, he was more concerned with finding a short-term fix that might help save his job as Packers head coach and general manager.

RELATED: What if Packers had chosen Paterno over Devine?

The Packers were skidding toward their third losing season in four years under Devine, whose job security was on shaky ground.

So under the cloak of secrecy, Devine mortgaged the Packers’ future by trading two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a third-rounder to the Rams for a washed-up, 34-year-old quarterback.

It was an unspeakably selfish move by Devine that left the Packers organization in shambles. Hadl started 19 games over two seasons for the Packers and posted a 53.2 passer rating with nine touchdown passes and 29 interceptions.

Before the Packers could fire Devine following the 1974 season he jumped ship to take the University of Notre Dame job.

RELATED: Should Bart Starr have coached longer?

His boneheaded trade was the low point during a losing drought that dragged on for nearly a quarter century, starting in 1968 when Vince Lombardi departed as head coach and finally ending in 1991 when Ron Wolf took over as general manager.

A quarterback also was involved in the best trade in Packers history, orchestrated by Wolf in February 1992 when he dealt a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for third-string quarterback Brett Favre. It was the focal point of the Packers’ transformation from NFL doormat to perennial playoff contender.

GALLERY: Brett Favre with the Packers

Trades are much less common in today’s NFL but they once served as major factors in the Packers’ success or failure. What follows is a subjective look at the five best and worst trades in franchise history.

THE BEST

1. Wolf was convinced Favre could become a franchise quarterback despite a rocky and unproductive rookie season in Atlanta. The shrewd general manager’s intuition was spot-on and proved to be the single-biggest factor in the Packers’ Super Bowl triumph five years later.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks don’t come around often, and for Wolf to find one on the bottom of someone else’s depth chart is remarkable.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt it was the best trade this franchise ever made,” said former Packers president Bob Harlan, who hired Wolf. “It gave us a quarterback who gave us (a) world championship. He made us exciting again. He made us elite again. And we’d been looking for that for a long, long time in Green Bay.”

2. Receiver A.D. Williams spent one forgettable season with the Packers in 1959, catching one pass for 11 yards. Incredibly, Williams was all Lombardi had to give up in a 1960 trade with the Cleveland Browns for defensive lineman Willie Davis, who became a five-time All-Pro player and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Williams finished his three-year NFL career with 15 catches for 190 yards, making it one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history.

3. One year before fleecing the Browns in the Davis trade, the Packers landed defensive tackle Henry Jordan for the mere price of a fourth-round draft choice. Jordan started on all five of the Packers’ championship teams in the 1960s, earned five straight All-Pro berths (1960-64) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

4. Wolf’s keen eye for backup talent on other teams didn’t stop at the quarterback position. He traded cornerback Fred Vinson in 2000 to Seattle for reserve running back Ahman Green, who immediately started in Green Bay and became the Packers’ all-time leading rusher with six 1,000-yard seasons in his first seven years with the team. Injuries shelved the career of Vinson, who never played another NFL game after the trade.

5. Fuzzy Thurston was the Packers’ starting left guard for seven seasons under Lombardi and earned All-Pro honors in 1961. He was acquired in 1959 from Baltimore for veteran linebacker Marv Matuszak, who after the trade spent three seasons with the Colts and three more years in the AFL.

THE WORST

1. The Hadl trade was consummated in the middle of Devine’s final season in Green Bay by a man making one last-ditch effort to save his hide.

Devine never consulted with the Packers executive committee or team president Dominic Olejniczak before making the trade.

“I think it was a desperation move on his part,” said Harlan, who worked in the Packers’ front office at the time. “He knew if he went to the executive committee it would not pass.”

The trade guaranteed the Packers years of misery as they attempted to dig out from the ashes left in Devine’s wake.

“He felt he had to win and win in a hurry, and it just totally backfired,” Harlan said. “It was a devastating move.”

2. Devine threw away two more second-round draft choices to the Miami Dolphins in a 1973 trade for quarterback Jim Del Gaizo, whose numbers were worse than Hadl’s in Green Bay. Del Gaizo started two games, completed 43.5 percent of his passes and had an abysmal 30.9 passer rating.

3. The Packers traded their first-round draft pick in 1986 to San Diego for cornerback Mossy Cade. It was not one of head coach Forrest Gregg’s finer personnel moments. Cade started 19 games over two seasons for the Packers before landing in prison on a sexual assault conviction. He never played again.

4. John Jefferson was a dynamic receiver who produced 1,000-yard seasons in each of his first three years in the league in San Diego, so his trade to the Packers in 1981 was seen as a major boost to a Green Bay passing offense that already featured James Lofton, Lynn Dickey and Paul Coffman. While Jefferson wasn’t terrible, he averaged only 37 catches for 563 yards in four seasons with the Packers. Those modest numbers didn’t justify the steep price coach Bart Starr paid: a first-rounder, two second-rounders and receiver Aundra Thompson. Losing those draft choices is one reason the Packers became deficient on defense and Starr lost his job.

5. Devine’s never-ending shopping spree for quarterbacks cost the Packers yet another high draft pick (third round) in 1971 when he acquired Zeke Bratkowski, then 40 years old, from Minnesota. Bratkowski started one game for the Packers that season. By the time Devine’s four-year reign of incompetence ended in Green Bay, he spent a staggering three first-rounders, four second-rounders, two third-rounders, one fifth-rounder and one sixth-rounder on the following quarterbacks: Hadl, Del Gaizo, Jerry Tagge, Jack Concannon, Scott Hunter, Dean Carlson and Bratkowski.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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