The trade the Bengals refused that would’ve turned around their franchise
The Cincinnati Bengals could soon be looking at rebuilding the roster, or at least they should if they have another lackluster season under Marvin Lewis. If the team decides to do so, chances are they will not get offered a ‘rebuild-friendly” trade package the New Orleans Saints tried to give them back in 1999. It wasn’t just friendly—it was insane and whoever decided to turn the trade down should have been fired on the spot.
What was it? Well, the Saints, for some crazy reason, back in 1999 were willing to offer the Bengals nine draft picks. They offered all of their picks in the 1999 Draft, their first-round picks in 2000 and 2001, and a second-round pick in 2002. All that for the No. 3 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
“It was a generous offer, but we felt now is the time to get the quarterback. We’ve been saying that all along,” then-team President Mike Brown said (via Geoff Hobson of the Cincinnati Enquirer).
Mike Ditka, who was the Saints coach at the time, was a little surprised they were turned down: “I don’t know how anyone could have turned us down,” Ditka said (Cincinnati Enquirer). “But if you’ve got a guy you want, no deal is good enough.”
As luck would have it, the Bengals took Akili Smith with the No. 3 pick, a guy who ended up being a bust. The Saints found the Washington Redskins open to taking all their 1999 picks in exchange for the No. 5 pick where they selected Ricky Williams.
Williams flopped in New Orleans. But he did eventually go on to become a productive running back when he wasn’t suspended for repeated drug violations.
Could the trade have really made a big difference to the Bengals? Absolutely and not just because we now know Akili Smith was a bust. With the number of picks they would have gained, they could have brought in a number of young playmakers. If they selected the right ones, they could have become competitive quicker than they did.
But instead of multiple playmakers, they decided to go after Akili Smith. Then again, if they hadn’t taken Smith, it sounds like they were high on Cade McNown. So, they may have been in trouble either way.