With the annual NFL Draft on the horizon, it brings to mind some maneuvering that paid huge dividends for all involved, while others just didn't pan out for any teams or the players who were traded.
PITTSBURGH -- Among the most intriguing involved the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams in 1996 that forever linked running backs Jerome Bettis and Lawrence Phillips. But those two players couldn't be more different.
The Rams selected the Nebraska tailback Phillips with the sixth overall pick, and then they traded bruising third-year back Bettis and a third-round selection to the Steelers for a second-rounder that year and a fourth-round pick in 1997. The Steelers used that third-round pick to take Arkansas linebacker Steven Conley, while the Rams selected Washington tight end Ernie Conwell in the second round and TCU guard Ryan Tucker in the fourth round the next year.
Conley was athletic and could run like a deer, but he was tall and thin and couldn't play off blocks too well. He started just one game in three NFL seasons that spanned 21 games. During 16 contests in 1997 with the Steelers, Conley had four sacks and an interception, but his career was largely forgettable.
Conwell lasted 11 seasons and finished with 203 catches for 2,188 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Rams and New Orleans Saints. He had 25 or more catches on four occasions with 38 and four scores each in 1997 and 2001. Tucker played 12 years in the league with the Rams and Cleveland Browns and started 102 of 134 career games. So, both had solid NFL careers.
Phillips, however, played three forgettable NFL seasons for three different teams, as the Rams traded him in 1997. He tallied 1,453 yards and likely had more off-field problems and arrests than his 14 touchdowns. Bettis ran for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns and capped a stellar 13-year career with a Super Bowl win in 2005. He has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame the past few years and should be voted in soon, which would be well-deserved.
When lists are made concerning the NFL Draft, this transaction generally is considered among the worst in the league's history, at least as far as the Rams are concerned. The Steelers couldn't have been happier about the deal. They received the power back that they coveted, one that quickly became a fan favorite and top locker-room guy as well. Phillips was an underachiever on the field and a mess off it, a pattern that began with the Cornhuskers.
Phillips was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and eventually suspended in 1995 at Nebraska. After an uneven rookie season with the Rams, he refused to attend a team meting and practice and was cut. Later that year, after being signed by Miami, he assaulted a woman in a nightclub and was cut by the Dolphins. After spending time in NFL Europe, Phillips signed with the San Francisco 49ers. He missed a block on the field on blitzing cornerback Aeneas Williams, who drilled Niners quarterback Steve Young. That hit resulted in a career-ending concussion for Young and career suicide for Phillips.
During an Arena Football League season with the Florida Bobcats in 2001, Phillips was released after leaving the team without telling the head coach. There was some success the following season in the Canadian Football League, as the Montreal Alouettes won the Grey Cup. But he was cut the following season during training camp for insubordination.
Things got progressively worse for Phillips after football. In 2005, after getting in an altercation with some teenagers after a pick-up football game in Los Angeles, he drove his car into three teens. After his arrest, it was learned that Phillips was already wanted by the San Diego police for two alleged domestic abuse altercations involving a former girlfriend and the LAPD already wanted him for a similar incident. Phillips girlfriend claimed that he choked her unconscious during one of those incidents.
The following year, Phillips went on trial for felony assault with a deadly weapon. He got lucky and had two counts of child abuse and one count of leaving the scene of an accident dismissed from court, but the trial was continued. And in 2009, it was resolved. Phillips was sentenced to 31 years in prison for the attack on his girlfriend and hitting the three kids with his car.
So, the Steelers hit the jackpot with Bettis, while the Rams were busted and didn't get their franchise back until trading for Marshall Faulk three years later.