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Trade wins

GMs play it close to the vest when it comes to crafting a deal that can make or break a team


Addicted to Texas hold 'em? Time to fold 'em.

Time to play a real man's poker game.

Try swapping your drug-addled wide receiver to the so-called "smartest man in football" for his second-round pick - and do it with a straight face. True to his team's larcenous name, Raiders owner Al Davis once snookered Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard into that dirty deal. Or, try bluffing Davis into surrendering his best run blocker for your unpopular, overrated, second-string quarterback. Beathard pulled off that slick piece of payback.

And, if your DNA is truly tinged in Vegas neon, trade your 1,500- yard-a-year running back for a game-changing cornerback. One of football's boldest gambles goes "all in" today as former Broncos star Clinton Portis returns to Invesco Field at Mile High for the first time since Denver shipped him to the Redskins for Champ Bailey.

Within a long season that marks even longer careers, this afternoon's matchup will, for a time, decide whether the Broncos' honchos - coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Ted Sundquist - are trading-table pigeons or roster sharks. Blockbusters can forever build a football man's reputation, or rip it to shreds. High stakes, indeed.

"There is a rush there," Sundquist said. "These steals, where you give up a seventh-rounder who turns into a Pro Bowl player for somebody else, a lot of times that just doesn't happen. To get something, you're going to have to give something."

That takes risk. It takes a willingness to live with your personnel busts. And often, it takes a bit of slippery gamesmanship.

"A lot of it," Beathard agreed, "is poker."

The art of the NFL deal is built on five simple rules, according to interviews with four current and former general managers.

1. Never reveal your hand.

Portis was electric in his two Denver seasons, running for 3,099 yards, ringing up 31 touchdowns and ruffling Shanahan's lock-step environment by wearing a championship boxing belt on the sideline and by unleashing a volcano of verbal smack.

"I know they didn't like him in Denver," Beathard said of the backroom chatter on Portis. "Not a great worker or anything like that. They didn't feel like they were losing anything by getting rid of him."

If Shanahan and Sundquist were quietly queasy about Portis' character, they certainly didn't tip that feeling when talking trade with Washington.

Beathard, called the game's "smartest man" by Howard Cosell, donned that same poker face in 1988 when Oakland sought his big-armed quarterback, Jay Schroeder. He seemed perfect for the owner Al Davis' long-ball attack. What Oakland didn't know, Beathard said, was that Schroeder's 4,109-yard season in 1986 had gone to his head.

"He went to the Pro Bowl and that was the end of Jay Schroeder. He opened Jay's All-Pro Restaurant. He wasn't going anywhere with us," Beathard said.

"We brought in Doug Williams (as quarterback in 1987) and Doug had charisma, Doug had leadership. The guys didn't want to follow Jay. Al loved Jay. He called me and called me and called me for Jay."

Which leads to the next trading-block maxim.

2. Be patient and beware of "the wear down."

Anyone who has stepped onto a car lot knows this ploy. The dealers talk and chatter. They offer you coffee and cake. They borrow your car keys to examine your trade-in vehicle. They keep you around to break you down.

Davis called Beathard every day for weeks, asking about Schroeder. Some calls came in the middle of the night.

Beathard kept Davis on the line for about six months.

In March 1988, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs declared Schroeder virtually untouchable. Despite the team's private feelings for the quarterback, the Redskins weren't budging. At least, not until Davis gave them Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jim Lachey.

"Al called and called. I would say (to Davis), 'We can't. We can't get rid of him.' All that kind of posturing," Beathard said. "We had to have Lachey. And he wouldn't do that."

But by September, Washington had Lachey and more - several conditional draft choices. Davis got Schroeder, who played five years in Oakland but never again topped 3,000 passing yards.

What finally broke the stalemate?

"We didn't really have to trade Jay," Beathard said. "I guess they needed somebody."

3. Be ready to walk away.

It worked for Washington in the Schroeder deal.

It guided Miami in 2002 when the Dolphins were trying to pry running back Ricky Williams from New Orleans, said former Miami general manager Rick Spielman.

"It's like any negotiation - there's a certain premium you're willing to pay, a certain price," Spielman said. "That's the hardest part, to take the emotion out of it."

Dave Wannstedt, Miami's coach at the time, said he believed Williams could be the line-pounding runner the Dolphins needed to complement their rugged defense. But as trade talks dragged on, Miami insiders chatted often about not overpaying for Williams, Spielman said.

"It's like, you see that Ferrari sitting in the showroom. You're going to pay X. It costs Y. You take it for a test drive. Now, do you have enough discipline to walk away?" Spielman said.

In the end, the Dolphins used a conditional draft pick to hedge their bets. Williams cost Miami a first-rounder in the 2002 draft, plus a No. 1 pick in 2003 based on Williams' performance. (He gained 1,853 yards rushing.)

Of course, Williams later skipped the entire 2004 season, which tainted the deal. Spielman resigned a year later.

4. Dig deep, ask questions.

It's a lesson Spielman now repeats with authority.

"Just like when you're car shopping: Take in the medical history, the off-field history, substance abuse, everything," Spielman said.

That includes tapping sources inside opposing teams.

"Every once in a while, you run across somebody you can trust," Beathard said. "They're not going to give away secrets. But they'll tell you, 'Don't take this guy."'

Unfortunately for Beathard, no one in Oakland whispered those words when he traded a second-round pick to the Raiders for wide receiver Malcolm Barnwell in 1985.

"We tried and tried to find out everything we could and never got to a point where somebody said, 'He's got a problem,"' Beathard said. "We made the trade. Barnwell came in and, oh my God, he was strung out on everything."

One year later, Barnwell was out of football, convicted of cocaine possession.

5. Be ruthless.

This week, Gibbs and Shanahan offered flowery assessments of the Portis-Bailey trade, noting how each player is helping his team. In public, general managers and coaches often say they want "the best deal" for both sides.

That's bunk, said former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf.

In private, general managers want to beat the other guy.

"I was only worried about helping my team," said Wolf, whose landmark deal was plucking backup quarterback Brett Favre from Atlanta for a first-round draft pick.

"If I got the worst of the deal, so what? If the other guy I traded went off and helped the other team, I didn't really care. I was just trying to better my team."

Biggest trades of all time

Denver Post staff writer Bill Briggs breaks down the biggest blockbuster trades in NFL history, and analyzes who had the edge in each swap.

No. 1


After an 0-5 start in 1989, Dallas traded RB Herschel Walker and three draft picks to Minnesota for DB Issiac Holt, RB Darrin Nelson, three other players and eight draft picks.


Dallas. The Cowboys used the picks to land a 1990s Super Bowl core: Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson and Kevin Smith.

No. 2


On Halloween 1987, Los Angeles traded RB Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis in a three-way deal that brought the Rams two running backs and six draft picks while Buffalo got LB Cornelius Bennett.


Buffalo. Dickerson amassed 5,194 yards with the Colts, less than half of his career total. Bennett, a five-time Pro Bowler, anchored the Bills' rise to perennial Super Bowl contender.

No. 3


Atlanta dealt the fifth overall draft pick, two more high-round picks and WR Tim Dwight to San Diego for the top overall choice in 2001, QB Michael Vick. The Chargers chose RB LaDainian Tomlinson.


San Diego. Tomlinson has scored in a record 16 consecutive games and gained 6,349 career yards. Vick ran

for 902 yards last year, but his career passer rating is 77.3. Jake Plummer's is 73.3.

No. 4


Denver shipped G Chris Hinton, the fourth pick in the 1984 draft (eventually G Ron Solt), QB Mark Herr-

mann and $1 million to Baltimore for the rights to QB John Elway.


Denver. Hinton became a seven-time Pro Bowl player, but Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls - and two Lombardi Trophies.

No. 5


Minnesota dealt QB Fran Tarkenton to the New York Giants in 1967 for two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Five years later, the Giants sent Tarkenton back for QB Norm Snead, two players and two picks.


Minnesota. The Vikings grabbed offensive linemen Ron Yary and Ed White with the draft picks, then played in three Super Bowls with Tarkenton.

No. 6


Denver traded RB Clinton Portis to Washington in 2004 for CB Champ Bailey and a second-round pick.


Denver. Portis has gained 1,578 yards in 18 games with Washington. And Bailey's five Denver interceptions include a season-saving interception return for a TD against San Diego this year. But the Broncos used the draft choice on Tatum Bell, who has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in spot duty. That's better than Portis. :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: (In SPOT DUTY?) Spring had more int last seson than Champ has total as a bronco, and hasn't been burnt like Champ..... oh wait :doh: Denver paper :rolleyes:

No. 7


In the only trade of quarterbacks in their prime, Washington sent Norm Snead (and DB Claude Crabb) to Philadelphia in 1964 for Sonny Jurgensen (and DB Jimmy Carr).


Washington. In seven seasons with Philly, Snead passed for 3,000 yards just once. Jurgensen spent 11 years with the Redskins, earning four Pro Bowl nods.

No. 8


The Chicago Cardinals traded RB Ollie Matson, a five-time Pro Bowl player, to Los Angeles for two running backs in 1959, two offensive linemen and three defensive players.


Chicago. The player infusion helped the Cardinals rise from 2-9-1 in 1958 - the year before the deal - to 6-5-1 by 1960. Matson, meanwhile, declined rapidly as the Rams went 11-39-2 during his four seasons.

No. 9


Minnesota traded WR Randy Moss this past offseason to Oakland for LB Napoleon Harris and a first-round pick, WR Troy Williamson.


Oakland. Neither team is winning, but Moss has tallied 19 catches and two touchdowns while Harris has no sacks and Williamson has nine catches and two touchdowns.

No. 10


Tampa Bay dealt four draft picks - two first-rounders and two second-rounders - and $8 million to Oakland for head coach Jon Gruden.


Tampa Bay. Oakland's picks have sputtered. Gruden helped the Bucs win the 2003 Super Bowl - over Oakland - in his first season.

Staff writer

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I'd still say Denver got the edge to this point. We did overpay. Just bout everyone says it should have been the Broncos sendiht their 2d not the Redskins. That said it did work out for both teams. Both Bailey and Portis were successfully replaced.

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