March 9, 2011

1977: Eagles Trade Charle Young to Rams for Ron Jaworski

On March 9, 1977 the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams traded the negotiating rights to disgruntled players who had played out their options and were looking to change teams. Charle Young, well-established as a top pass receiving tight end in Philadelphia, was swapped for Ron Jaworski, caught in the glut at quarterback in LA.

Jaworski (pictured at right), just short of his 26th birthday, had been chosen by the Rams in the second round of the 1973 draft out of Youngstown State. He found himself competing for playing time with, first, John Hadl, and then James Harris and Pat Haden during his four years in Los Angeles. “The Polish Rifle” started a handful of games, including a NFC Divisional playoff game win over the Cardinals. Jaworski was injured in ’76, and dropped to the number three spot behind Haden and Harris as a result (Harris was also dealt away during the same offseason, while an over-the-hill Joe Namath was brought in).

The 6’2”, 195-pound quarterback refused a five-year, $700,000 offer to stay with the Rams, hoping for a better opportunity elsewhere. While he had entertained offers from other clubs (technically, he was a free agent), Eagles Head Coach Dick Vermeil assured Jaworski of an opportunity to start. Vermeil, having completed one season in Philadelphia, was not satisfied with holdover quarterbacks Mike Boryla, who suffered from inconsistency, and Roman Gabriel, once an outstanding player but now clearly on the downside of his career. He was familiar with Jaworski from when he was offensive backfield coach with the Rams in 1973.

“We are very excited about obtaining the rights to Ron Jaworski while at the same time
we are disappointed about having to give up the rights to Charle Young,” Vermeil said following the completion of the trade.

Charle Young had been an All-American at Southern California and was one of Philadelphia’s two first round draft picks in 1973 (the other was OT Jerry Sisemore). He had an immediate impact, catching 55 passes for 854 yards and receiving NFC Rookie of the Year honors from UPI as well as consensus first-team All-Pro recognition. It was the first of three straight Pro Bowl seasons as Young followed up with an NFC-leading 63 receptions for 696 yards in ’74 and 49 for 659 yards in 1975. However, the team went a combined 16-25-1, and Head Coach Mike McCormack was replaced by Vermeil. Young caught just 30 passes for 374 yards in 1976.

The 6’4”, 240-pound Young was as outspoken as he was talented – from the day he was drafted, he made clear that he considered himself to be an elite player. He also tinkered with his first name throughout his stay in Philadelphia, which evolved from Charles to Charlie, Charli, and Charle.

The contract negotiations with the Eagles were going badly, and it was apparent that the brash tight end was looking to move elsewhere. “I want to play for a warm weather franchise,” Young said. “I'd like to play on natural turf and I'd like to be with a contender.”

“Charles Young would give us an added dimension as both a wide receiver and tight end,” said Chuck Knox, head coach of the Rams, following the trade. “I coached him in the Pro Bowl and I'm delighted we've acquired the rights to a player of this quality.”

In going back to Los Angeles, his college town, Young was clearly getting his wishes granted. However, the result was not what he anticipated. The Rams were a run-oriented team, and Terry Nelson emerged to move ahead of Young on the depth chart. The former All-Pro caught just five passes in 1977, and a total of 36 in three seasons in LA.

Jaworski, meanwhile, developed along with the Eagles under Vermeil’s guidance. He passed for 2183 yards in 1977, completing 48 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a club that went 5-9. In 1978, Jaws completed 51.8 percent of his throws for 2487 yards and broke even with 16 TDs and interceptions apiece. The Eagles were 9-7 and claimed a wild card spot for their first foray into the postseason since 1960. In ’79, Jaworski’s yardage total was 2669 and he had more touchdowns (18) than passes picked off (12) as Philadelphia improved to 11-5 and another wild card playoff berth. 1980 saw the Eagles win the NFC East with a 12-4 record and advance to the Super Bowl (a loss to the Raiders). Jaworski led the NFC in passing (91.0 rating) and threw for 3529 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and received the Bert Bell Trophy from the Maxwell Club as NFL MVP.

Things did get better for Young – and worse for Jaworski. Young moved on to the San Francisco 49ers in 1980 and again became a starting tight end. He caught 37 passes for 400 yards and five TDs during the 1981 season that culminated in a championship. He played the last three years of his career for the Seahawks (1983-85) and ended up with a career total of 418 catches for 5106 yards and 27 touchdowns. While he never achieved All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition after leaving Philadelphia, he was a serviceable player who contributed to a Super Bowl championship.

The Eagles went out in the first round of the playoffs in 1981 and dropped to 3-6 during the strike-shortened ’82 season, after which Vermeil resigned. The team slid back into mediocrity, with organizational problems aiding the descent.

Jaworski stayed with Philadelphia through the 1986 season, when he finally was forced to give way to Randall Cunningham. Tough and durable, he started every game of his first seven years in Philadelphia until sidelined by a broken leg suffered 13 games into the ’84 season. By the time “The Polish Rifle” left, to finish his career with a year apiece in Miami and Kansas City, he had set team career passing records that would not be broken until Donovan McNabb’s tenure at quarterback, including attempts (3918), completions (2088), yards (26,963), and touchdowns (175).