The NFL’s largest trade

History Published on : 10/14/2009

On October 13, 1989, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings were involved in a blockbuster deal that remains the largest trade ever made in National Football League history.

The Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker, twice a second team All-Pro selection, along with three draft choices (a third and tenth round choice in 1990 and a third round choice in 1991) to the Vikings. In return, the Cowboys received linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard, cornerback Issiac Holt, and defensive end Alex Stewart. In addition to the players, the Cowboys received Minnesota’s first, second, and sixth round pick in 1990; first and second round pick in 1991; and first, second and third round draft pick in 1992. Dallas also received running back Darrin Nelson from Minnesota who they promptly traded to the San Diego Chargers for a fifth round choice in 1990. This pick was then sent to Minnesota. In all, the trade involved 18 players (actual players plus draft picks).

The masterminds behind the deal were Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson. Both men were new to the scene in Dallas after a 29-year reign by Coach Tom Landry and General Manager Tex Schramm.

The trade sent shockwaves through the Cowboys locker room and initially received negative criticism from the media for the lack of on-field talent in return. The important keys of the trade for Johnson and Jones, however, were not the players but the draft picks. As it turned out, the trade provided a nest-egg of talent that catapulted the Cowboys’ turnaround from a 1-15 mark in 1989 to three Super Bowls in a four-year period in the early-to-mid 1990s.


Some of the draft picks obtained by the Cowboys in the turned into such key players like running back Emmitt Smith, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, linebacker Kevin Smith, and safety Darren Woodson.

(Based on number of players or draft choices involved)
18—October 13, 1989—RB Herschel Walker from the Dallas Cowboys to Minnesota. Dallas also traded its third-round choice in 1990, its tenth-round choice in 1990, and its third-round choice in 1991 to Minnesota. Minnesota traded LB Jesse Solomon, LB David Howard, CB Issiac Holt, and DE Alex Stewart along with its first-round choice in 1990, its second-round choice in 1990, its sixth-round choice in 1990, its first-round choice in 1991, its second-round choice in 1991, its first-round choice in 1992, its second-round choice in 1992, and its third-round choice in 1992 to Dallas. Minnesota traded RB Darrin Nelson to Dallas, which traded Nelson to San Diego for the Chargers’ fifth-round choice in 1990, which Dallas then sent to Minnesota.

15—March 26, 1953—T Mike McCormack, DT Don Colo, LB Tom Catlin, DB John Petitbon, and G Herschell Forester from Baltimore to Cleveland for DB Don Shula, DB Bert Rechichar, DB Carl Taseff, LB Ed Sharkey, E Gern Nagler, QB Harry Agganis, T Dick Batten, T Stu Sheets, G Art Spinney, and G Elmer Willhoite.

15—January 28, 1971—LB Marlin McKeever, first- and third-round choices in 1971, and third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-round choices in 1972 from Washington to the Los Angeles Rams for LB Maxie Baughan, LB Jack Pardee, LB Myron Pottios, RB Jeff Jordan, G John Wilbur, DT Diron Talbert, and a fifth-round choice in 1971.

12—June 12, 1952—Selection rights to Les Richter from the Dallas Texans to the Los Angeles Rams for RB Dick Hoerner, DB Tom Keane, DB George Sims, C Joe Reid, HB Billy Baggett, T Jack Halliday, FB Dick McKissack, LB Vic Vasicek, E Richard Wilkins, C Aubrey Phillips, and RB Dave Anderson.