Though it's still only five weeks old, the NFL's 2013 regular season is shaping up as a bumper year for midseason moves, what with the Trent Richardson blockbuster trade in Week 3, and the recent deals that sent the likes of Jon Beason, Eugene Monroe and Levi Brown to new teams. But nothing moves the needle in the NFL like a quarterback transaction, as born out by the weeks-long saga of Josh Freeman that continues to unfold.
His tempestuous tenure in Tampa Bay ended when the Bucs released him last Thursday, and Freeman became part of the Minnesota Vikings' jumbled quarterback situation four days later. (Does the football cliché about having two starting quarterbacks means you really have none also apply to three?)
What can we expect in terms of short-term impact from the relatively rare occurrence of a onetime starting quarterback changing teams in the midst of a season? History says not much, although there have been some exceptions to that rule. Here's a quick look at some No. 1 quarterbacks who have changed uniforms during the regular season, and what those moves wrought for the rest of the year:
1. Bobby Layne, traded from Detroit to Pittsburgh, Week 3 of 1958 season
Just think how many hours ESPN would invest in dissecting every last detail of this legendary deal if it went down today. A future Hall of Famer elected to Canton in 1967, Layne had been part of three NFL championship teams in Detroit, and yet was sent to the lowly Steelers in October 1958 in exchange for third-year Lions quarterback Earl Morrall and two draft picks.
Pittsburgh was 0-2 when it reunited the 31-year-old Layne with ex-Detroit head coach Buddy Parker, and the always colorful quarterback helped spark a turnaround in the Steel City. Layne finished 7-2-1 in his 10 games as the Steelers' starter, with Pittsburgh's 7-4-1 record that season earning the team its first winning record since 1949 and a third-place (non-playoff) finish in the NFL's Eastern Conference.
Layne's 2,510 yards passing ranked second in the league that season, and his 17.6 yards per completion and 8.7 yards per attempt were tops in the NFL. The Steelers, however, never really got over the hump with Layne at quarterback, going just 27-22-2 with him as a starter from 1958-62 and not making the playoffs until 1972. The Lions arguably fared much worse, of course, as Layne famously cursed them with a 50-year championship drought on his way out of town. The "Curse of Bobby Layne'' is thought to be a hoax, but then again, Detroit is just 1-11 in the playoffs since he left for Pittsburgh, and still have never made the Super Bowl.
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2. Bernie Kosar, released by Cleveland, signed by Dallas, Week 11 of 1993 season
This one made all the papers. Kosar, the beloved long-time Browns starter, got unceremoniously whacked by third-year Cleveland head coach Bill Belichick after a Week 10 loss to Denver and was quickly snapped up by the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys. Dallas gave Kosar a one-year, $1 million deal to help replace hobbled starter Troy Aikman (hamstring).
Kosar signed on a Wednesday morning, practiced with the Cowboys Wednesday afternoon, and by Sunday was relieving Jason Garrett in the first quarter against Arizona, after Garrett had started in place of Aikman. Kosar, playing for one of his former collegiate coaches, Jimmy Johnson, had some magic left in his arm that day. He led the Cowboys to two long touchdown drives and a fourth-quarter field goal march, helping Dallas to a 20-15 home-field victory and its seventh win in a row.
Kosar got his only start as a Cowboy the next week in Atlanta, but Dallas lost that game and Aikman returned to the lineup in Week 13 (which happened to be that snowy Thanksgiving Day loss to Miami of Leon Lett infamy). The Cowboys went on to finish 12-4 and win their second consecutive Super Bowl ring. It would prove to be the only championship team Kosar played on in his 12-year NFL career. He moved on to Miami in 1994, and ended his career as Dan Marino's backup for the next three seasons, never again earning a victory as a starter in the NFL.
3. John Hadl, traded from Los Angeles Rams to Green Bay, Week 7 of 1974 season
Packers fans remember this disastrously ill-fated move, which probably ranked as the Hindenburg of NFL trades until the Herschel Walker deal came along in 1989. But I'm sure it sounded like a good idea at the time. Hadl had been a prolific passing star in San Diego throughout the AFL era, and then turned in an All-Pro season in his first year with the Rams in 1973, leading L.A. to the playoffs and being named the NFC's player of the year. But he started poorly in '73, lost his starting job to the Rams' exciting young backup, James Harris, and got shipped off to the Packers in late-October.
Green Bay sent five picks to the Rams -- its first-, second- and third-round picks in 1975, and first- and second-rounders in '76 -- and then watched as the 34-year-old Hadl hit the wall, and hit it hard, in a career sense. Hadl wound up playing in eight games for the Packers that season, going 3-3 in his six starts, with three touchdown passes, eight interceptions and a woeful 48.4 completion percentage. Green Bay finished 6-8 and third in the NFC Central, while the Rams sailed to a 10-4 mark and another NFC West title. Then L.A. got to reap the benefits of all those extra draft picks, leading to the rich getting richer.
If anything, Hadl was worse in 1975, tossing 21 interceptions to go with his six touchdown passes in 13 starts for the Packers, who were a last-place, 4-10 club for rookie head coach Bart Starr.
4. Craig Morton, traded from Dallas to New York Giants, Week 7 of 1974 season
That's right, the same day the Hadl deal was consummated, the Cowboys sent their onetime Super Bowl starter (a 16-13 loss to the Colts in Super Bowl V) to the division rival Giants, in exchange for a 1975 first-rounder that turned into Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White, plus a '76 second-round selection. (Ironically, Morton, as the Broncos starter three years later, would get manhandled by White and Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin in Denver's Super Bowl XII loss to Dallas. But we digress.)
Having lost his starting job in Dallas for good to Roger Staubach in 1973, Morton was wasting away as a Cowboys backup. But that had to still be preferable to the pounding he took in New York. He went 1-7 in eight starts as a Giant in 1974, throwing three interceptions with no touchdown passes in a loss to visiting Dallas -- of all teams -- in his New York debut. The Giants hit rock bottom at 2-12 that season, and things didn't get much better in Morton's final two years with the team (5-9 in '75 and 4-10 in '76). He went 8-26 as the Giants starter overall and absorbed a mind-boggling 99 sacks in his 34 games with New York. Morton's late-career Super Bowl trip with the "Orange Crush''-led Broncos in 1977 no doubt only added salt to the Giants' wounds.
5. Carson Palmer, traded from Cincinnati to Oakland, Week 7 of 2011 season
What, you thought all the monumental mistakes involving quarterback moves midseason were made long ago? Hardly. Less than two years ago, the 4-2 Raiders panicked after starter Jason Campbell was lost to injury and shipped their 2012 first-round pick and a 2013 second-rounder to the Bengals in exchange for the disgruntled Palmer, who was sitting out the season after vowing to never again play in tiger stripes.
Raiders soon-to-be-one-and-done head coach Hue Jackson labeled the deal "the greatest trade in football,'' which goes a long way toward explaining his one-year tenure in Oakland. Jackson had cut the deal shortly after the death of long-time Raiders owner Al Davis, when there was a clear leadership void in the organization. (Some would say that void had existed for a while in Oakland, and perhaps still does.)
Palmer, as you know, didn't deliver the Raiders that playoff berth that Jackson saw as his ticket to long-term job security. He played in Oakland's final 10 games, starting nine of them, but went just 4-5 and started throwing pick-sixes like his name was Matt Schaub. Oakland finished 8-8 that season, Jackson was fired and Palmer floundered again in 2012, going 4-11 in 15 starts for a 4-12 third-place team in the AFC West. The Bengals? They haven't missed the playoffs since Palmer stopped playing for them.
6. Steve Walsh, traded from Dallas to New Orleans, Week 4 of 1990 season
Granted, we're pushing it here a little bit with Walsh, who was Troy Aikman's second-year backup in Dallas when the Cowboys sent him to the Saints in exchange for New Orleans' first- and third-round picks in 1991, and a second-round selection in '92. But that's a major haul for Dallas, and it speaks to how respected Walsh was at the time. After all, Walsh had quarterbacked the University of Miami to a national championship with Jimmy Johnson in 1987, and had been a first-round pick by the Cowboys in the '89 supplemental draft.
Walsh had started five games as a rookie in 1989 in relief of the injured Aikman, and picked up credit for Dallas' only win in that dreadful 1-15 season. New Orleans was 1-2 before Walsh arrived in '90, starting the immortal John Fourcade at quarterback. Walsh quickly won the No. 1 job, going 6-5 in his 11 starts for the mediocre Saints, but helped them secure an NFC wild-card berth at 8-8 -- just the second postseason appearance in New Orleans team history.
But those were the glory days for Walsh as a Saint. He hung around long enough to start a total of 19 games in three seasons (10-9 record), but eventually got beat out for the No. 1 job by Bobby Hebert. For New Orleans, the deal was a lot to give up for the honor of a .500 season and a first-round NFC playoff loss to Chicago in 1990.