Jimmy Johnson pulled off a flurry of successful trades that allowed him to take the Cowboys from 1-15 in 1989 to back-to-back Super Bowl champions in 1992-93. Johnson's success during that era was the main reason why the 78-year-old former coach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend.
While his trade prowess is the stuff of legend, Johnson recently revealed a blockbuster that he regrets not pulling the trigger on during his nine seasons as an NFL coach. Johnson, who coached the Dolphins for four seasons following his five-year run in Dallas, had the opportunity to acquire one of the best quarterbacks in league history heading into the 1998 draft. Ironically, the quarterback Johnson and the Dolphins would have acquired received his gold jacket and bronze bust on the same weekend Johnson received his.
"It would have taken my entire draft board, but I could have made a trade to move up to get Peyton Manning," Johnson revealed on "The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz". "In fact, I talked to Peyton and Archie about it this weekend."
When asked to elaborate, Johnson declined.
"That's all the details I can give you," he said. "I probably gave you too much already."
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The Colts ultimately selected Manning with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. The Dolphins, who were coming off of a 9-7 season and a wild card loss to the Patriots, selected running back John Avery with the 29th overall pick. The Dolphins' best pick of the '98 draft was cornerback Patrick Surtain, a second-round pick who carved out a successful 11-year career (his son, also a cornerback, was selected by the Broncos in the first round of this year's draft).
Had Johnson executed a trade with Indianapolis, Manning would have started his career with Dan Marino, the quarterback who became Manning's favorite player after his father retired after the 1984 season. The NFL's all-time career passing leader at the time of his retirement, Marino turned 37 shortly after the start of the 1998 season. The Dolphins went 10-6 that season (that included a thrilling come-from-behind win over Manning's Colts in Indianapolis) before getting drubbed by the defending (and eventual champion) Broncos in the divisional round 38-3.
Marino had one last signature performance in the following year's wild card win over Seattle before getting pulled in the first half of his final game, a 62-7 loss to the Jaguars in the divisional round. Johnson retired from coaching for good two days later. And while the Dolphins would make the playoffs each of the next two seasons (they defeated Manning and the Colts in the 2000 wild card round), their lack of a franchise quarterback was ultimately their downfall. Miami fans are hoping that Tua Tagovailoa can be the Dolphins' first franchise quarterback since Marino.
We'll never know what would have happened had Manning ended up in Miami, but things certainly ended up well for him in Indianapolis. After a turbulent rookie season that saw his team win just three games, Manning led the Colts to a 10-win turnaround in 1999. The Colts endured just one more losing season with Manning, who in 2006 helped lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl since moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis.