The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Unlike most of the blockbuster deals that predated it, the Herschel Walker trade had scope and championship consequences. A few years before free agency became the main mode of player transitions, thus eliminating mass trades, Jimmy Johnson took over for Tom Landry in Dallas and rattled off over 50 in five years, beginning with the deal that sent star running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings. Eighteen picks and players were also involved, the vast majority heading to the Cowboys. So convinced that he was pulling the right strings, Johnson negotiated a $1 million parting bonus for Walker, who had promised teammates he wasn’t agreeing to any trade to Minnesota as rumors swirled around the 0-5 Cowboys in mid-October 1989.
The eventual deal was not well received locally. “The Vikings got Herschel Walker,” Dallas Morning News columnist Randy Galloway wrote. “The Cowboys got nothing more than a huge handful of Minnesota smoke.” All that smoke amounted to a slew of draft picks that produced Super Bowl contributors Alvin Harper, Russell Maryland, three-time All Pro Darren Woodson and running back Emmitt Smith. Walker failed to crack 1,000 yards in his two Minnesota seasons before signing with Philadelphia in 1992.
— Robert Klemko
The Oct. 23, 1989 cover of SI following the Herschel Walker trade.