Labriola on the Steelers' history with trades

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Everybody who thought the Steelers were going to make a trade last Tuesday before the 4 p.m. deadline, raise your hand.

• Really? You people in the back must not have been paying attention during history class. OK, we’ll review the history one more time.

• It started back in the mid-to-late 1950s, when Walt Kiesling ended his second go-round as the Steelers coach because of healthy reasons, and Art Rooney Sr. lured former Lions coach Buddy Parker to Pittsburgh with the kind of multi-year contract the Ford Family had no interest in extending to their football coach.

• Parker, who had coached the Lions to three NFL Championships over s six-season span, had an aversion to rookies that bordered on an obsession. And because the Steelers had no general manager and Rooney believed in giving the coach autonomy over the football team – in 1955 he had allowed Kiesling to cut John Unitas without so much as giving the rookie a chance in an exhibition game – Parker soon was running amok.

• Because he wasn’t hired until after the 1957 NFL Draft was held, Parker’s reign of terror began in 1958, and the final remnants were felt in 1965 when he resigned with Dan Rooney’s footprint on the seat of his pants just before the start of the 1965 season.

• In the eight seasons between 1958 and 1965, Parker traded the Steelers No. 1 pick away five times, the No. 2 pick four times, the No. 3 pick six times, the No. 4 pick seven times, the No. 5 pick seven times, and the No. 6 pick six times.

• In 1959 and 1963, the Steelers didn’t have a pick until the eighth round of the draft. By 1963, the Steelers were an aging team that was in rather desperate need of an injection of young talent, and those picks in the draft that year could’ve been used on players such as linebackers Dave Robinson and Bobby Bell, and tight end John Mackey, all of whom are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

• Once Dan Rooney assumed most of the control over football operations, the philosophy of the team changed. The draft would be the Steelers primary method of roster building, and Chuck Noll wouldn’t have been hired in 1969 if he didn’t concur. The franchise came to believe that the way to win championships in the NFL was to take young talent from college and teach those players how to be Steelers, and when four Super Bowl championships over a six-season span came within a decade of Noll’s hiring, when the 1979 Steelers won Super Bowl XIV as the first team to win an NFL title with a roster of completely homegrown talent, i.e., no player on that roster ever played for a team other than the Steelers prior to that championship season, Dan Rooney’s mind was made up.

• Even when a system of free agency tied to a salary cap came to the NFL in 1993, the Steelers didn’t waver. They would dabble in free agency, but the foundation of what they believed did not change. They would build their roster through the draft, and because of that they would treat draft picks as valuable commodities.

• There has been some movement in rounds of various drafts and that movement has cost them some picks, and they have made some trades where they sent a pick to a team in exchange for a pick in a later round, but the Steelers haven’t traded away a pick in the first three rounds of a draft since 1973 when Noll sent a third-round pick in the 1974 draft to Oakland in exchange for veteran defensive tackle Tom Keating. And come 1974 when Noll was sweating out whether John Stallworth was going to last until the Steelers’ pick in the fourth round (he did), Noll vowed never to do that again. And he didn’t.

• The last draft in which the Steelers had traded away their first-round pick was 1967, and there was virtually no way that streak was going to end because of a deadline deal last Tuesday.

• I can understand fans’ interest in trades, and I can see why it would be exciting for their favorite team to make a move at the deadline in an effort to improve, and I know such deadline trades are made frequently in baseball, basketball, and hockey. But football is different from those other sports because of the importance of the offensive or defensive systems a team runs, how those systems can be dramatically different from one team to the next, and the amount of time it can take for a player to learn and then become comfortable with a new system before he’s able to make significant contributions within it.

• The notion of adding a cornerback through a trade, lining him opposite Joe Haden, telling him to cover the receiver lined up opposite him, and then expecting that to solidify an entire defense is naïve. There is more to it than that, and unless the cornerback is Night Train Lane or Mel Blount in his prime before the rules changes, playing that position is more than a one-on-one situation.

• And this just in: there were no Night Train Lanes or Mel Blounts in his prime before the rules changes available via trade earlier in the week.

• The Patrick Peterson stuff was nothing but a rumor. Maybe the player wanted to be trade, and maybe he even asked to be traded, but that’s no different than a teenager wanting the family car and even asking for the family car on a Saturday night. Want and ask is different than get, and the Cardinals were not going to trade Patrick Peterson, partly because where a franchise has to be in order to have a chance to draft a Patrick Peterson is somewhere the Cardinals don’t want to be again in the near future.

• And in terms of defensive backfield help, who actually was traded in deals around the deadline? Eli Apple. I would rather continue working on developing Artie Burns. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? A nice player, but he’s due to become a free agent next March, or about the time he could be expected to have picked up the Steelers’ various schemes involving defensive backs.

• The other names? If they weren’t traded, who knows if they even were on the market, or if their current teams only would’ve been interested in doing a deal if another team got stupid.

• The Steelers believe in drafting their own players and then working to develop them, and so the work on and with Burns will continue. That’s what they did with Blount, even after he was pulled in the middle of the 1974 AFC Championship Game in Oakland after getting smoked by Cliff Branch, who finished the day with nine catches for 186 yards and a touchdown; and that’s what they did with Ike Taylor, who was benched and cast aside by Bill Cowher in 2006.

• That’s who the Steelers are. That’s what they do. Not make deadline day trades and overpay in the process.

• Maybe that can frustrate their fans, but their way of doing business also has treated those fans to more championships than any other NFL franchise during the Super Bowl era.

• History class dismissed.

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