One week before the 1987 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded away a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Steve Young to the San Francisco 49ers. This allowed one franchise to maintain their run of dominance, and another their run of mediocrity. We’ll let you guess which is which.
This was knee-deep in the Bucs era as the “Yucks” and new head coach Ray Perkins was looking to turn that around. During this time the Buccaneers were always desperately trying to find that one magical player that would turn everything around. Hanley felt the team needed to draft Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde with the number one overall selection in the 1987 NFL Draft to turn the ship around. He also felt he needed to trade the athletic, and sometimes erratic, Young. We know how that turned out for both franchises, but what if the Buccaneers decided to stick with Young? Let’s dive in.
With Testaverde no longer being an option for the Buccaneers with Young staying put, they instead go with the next best player on the board who in reality went number two overall, Cornelius Bennett. Bennett would be a huge addition to a porous defense that fit perfectly into the Buccaneers’ 3-4 scheme at the time.
This is significant because Bennett in reality was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, and after they couldn’t agree on a deal shipped him to the Buffalo Bills in a three-team deal that also included the Los Angeles Rams that landed the Colts Eric Dickerson. With Bennett in Tampa, this doesn’t happen.
If we want, we can even take it a step further and say that it’s the Buccaneers that end up with Dickerson for Bennett. The Rams wanted to stick it to Dickerson for his griping about money and send him to NFL Siberia, and the Bucs certainly qualified as that at the time.
So now that leaves the Bucs with Steve Young and Eric Dickerson, two future Hall of Famers in reality. However we’re not in reality, we’re in this alternate reality where the Bucs are still the Yucks. We mentioned how the Buccaneers always wanted to find one or two players that would fix everything, and trading for Dickerson would certainly qualify as that.
The fact of the matter is this. The Buccaneers roster was so devoid of talent, and Ray Perkins was, well, Ray Perkins, the careers of Young, and Dickerson’s don’t go nearly as well as they did in reality. Dickerson still has a few good rushing years left in him, but Young’s legacy is that of a blip on the NFL scene as opposed to an all-time great.
Meanwhile, the 49ers, without Young to trade for as a backup plan for Joe Montana, instead to look at the draft. Bill Walsh decides to draft a University of Michigan quarterback who would eventually become the coach of the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh to be Montana’s understudy. In reality, he went one pick later to the Chicago Bears.
The 49ers still eventually move on from Montana for Harbaugh, and even with Harbaugh learning from Walsh and Montana, he still didn’t possess the same natural athleticism and accuracy as Young. The 49ers as a result lose to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1994 NFC Championship, who go onto win four straight Super Bowls in the decade. Young spends the majority of his career in Tampa Bay as a good, but not great quarterback without ever getting the proper guidance of learning under the legendary Walsh and Montana, or the motivational monkey on his back.
So to recap, had the Buccaneers held onto Steve Young, he goes down in the history books as a solid starting quarterback, but nothing more. Eric Dickerson is a Buccaneer with far fewer career rushing yards, and the Cowboys win four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s.
Let us know which “what-if” scenario in Buccaneers history you’d like us to explore next.