Aside from the attention the ongoing NFL/NFLPA labor negotiations are receiving there is an intense interest amongst fans and media alike about the NFL Draft in April. While many teams rely heavily on the draft to build out their rosters, there are other methods to successfully obtain players. One such way is through free agency. In fact, there are 14 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who started their playing career as undrafted free agents. The most recent of these players is Class of 2010 inductee John Randle who was signed as a free agent rookie by the Minnesota Vikings in 1990.
Another method of acquiring players is via trades with other teams. A few men on the Hall's all-time roster were traded early in their careers such as Henry Jordan, Steve Largent, Willie Davis and John Elway.
Has a Hall of Famer ever been traded twice before he made a significant impact in professional football?
Yes. Bobby Layne.
Layne was an All-American quarterback at the University of Texas when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1948 NFL Draft. However, his pro career did not start off as he wanted, however, when he was relegated to third string behind future Hall of Fame thrower Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack during his rookie season. He did receive some playing time though. In fact he threw a TD (a 34-yard pass to George McAfee) in the Bears hard-fought 7-6 win against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 14, 1948.
In the end Layne was expendable and the Bears shipped him to the New York Bulldogs for a large, undisclosed sum of cash and two players to be named later. So excited was Ted Collins, the owner of the Bulldogs, about the transaction that he declared the deal as the biggest in the history of the National Football League.
Bobby was instantly handed the ball and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He started every game of the 1949 season. The team he played on, however, was not very good. Layne took a great deal of pounding by opposing defenses and the team limped to a 1-10-1 record and a last place finish in the NFL's Eastern Division. Despite the team's record, Layne showed a great deal of promise in his play, especially in how he exhibited the "never-say-die" playing style that he would become famous for in his later years. Layne's best game in 1949 turned out to be the Bulldogs lone win of the season. On Nov. 6, Layne completed 23 of 39 passes for 333 yards and two TDs against a New York Giants team that at the time had a 4-2 record.
As promising as Layne's play may have been, things again got complicated for him when George Ratterman, a strong-armed quarterback out of Notre Dame who had played three years with the Buffalo Bills in the All-America Football Conference, joined the squad. With two talented quarterbacks on the roster and a running game that ranked last in the National Football League, New York traded Layne to the Detroit Lions for fullback Camp Wilson.
Score one for the Lions on that trade. Wilson never played another down of professional football while Layne went on to lead the Lions to three NFL championships while racking up numbers that ultimately led to his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To this day, he remains the Lions all-time leader in passing yardage.
One of best football quotes ever in my opinion was about Layne (#22 below). His longtime friend and fellow Hall of Famer Doak Walker (#37 in photo below) once admiringly said of his teammate: "Bobby never lost a game. Some days, time just ran out on him."
So when you are watching the NFL draft next month, ask yourself if the next great star on your team will come through the draft, or perhaps he is a diamond in the rough already on another team's roster.
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