Johnson: Trades were only way to turn Cowboys into winners

Talk of Fame Network

When you talk about the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, you start with former coach Jimmy Johnson. He's the guy who built the team, he's the guy who coached it and he's the guy who swung the deal that turned a league doormat into a model franchise that won three Super Bowls in four years.

We're talking, of course, of the Herschel Walker trade -- a brilliant maneuver that 25 years ago netted the Cowboys seven draft picks and five players. But it did more than that. It set the table for a future dynasty -- with standouts like Russell Maryland, Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Kevin Smith becoming Cowboys because of that deal -- and made the Cowboys the most important and powerful team in the NFL.

"I made the trade for the picks," Johnson told the Talk of Fame Network's weekly radio show. "I didn't want the players. I knew for the long haul I wasn't going to keep the players. As it turned out, I was able to work a deal where I kept three players, and they helped us for a couple years during the transition. (But) they were not really part of our Super Bowl team. I actually made the trade for the picks.

"People don’t understand (that) back then wasn't a lot of trading going on. I knew I had to do something to jump-start our team. Had we gone the old NFL way of draft a player wherever your pick might fall and try to build a team that way, we weren't ever going to get there. So I had to do something. I had to take the one player that everybody in the league wanted -- our only Pro-Bowl player -- and trade him for the picks so I could build that team."

While the Walker deal planted the seeds for future success, it was another, less celebrated move that Johnson made to turn the Cowboys into a powerhouse -- and that was his 1992 acquisition of San Francisco pass rusher Charles Haley, now a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Haley, who won two Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, would go on to win three more with Dallas.

"What I had some of our players do ... they called players on the 49er team," Johnson said. "I had our assistant coaches call the assistant coaches on the 49er team. And, to a man, all of them said, 'He was a smart player, he was a great player, he had a passion for the game and he would work. The only problem was he had some problems with the authority at times. I knew if he was a smart player that loved the game ... that had a passion for it ... I could reason with him, and we could work through problems.

"And we had a couple of run-ins, but, for the most part, he's one of my favorite players to have coached," said Johnson, "and he was the missing part with that pass defense ... He was the missing piece of the puzzle to get us to the Super Bowl."