March 18, 2012

1994: Rams Trade Jim Everett to Saints

The Los Angeles Rams, who had paid a big price in players and draft choices in 1986 to obtain QB Jim Everett, dealt him to the New Orleans Saints on March 18, 1994 for a seventh-round draft choice. Everett and the Rams had suffered through three difficult years after appearing in the NFC Championship game following the ’89 season. He was benched for a time during ’93 and was nearly cut outright by the team after the season.

It was a long fall for a player who had come out of Purdue with great promise. Originally drafted by the Houston Oilers in the first round of the ’86 draft (third overall), Everett was traded to the Rams after the season had begun when a contract couldn’t be worked out. The price was DE William Fuller, G Kent Hill, 1987 and ’88 first round draft choices, and a 1987 fifth round pick. It seemed worth it to the Rams, a good team that had suffered regularly due to instability at the quarterback position. The 6’5”, 212-pound Everett seemed like the sort of player who could change all of that, especially when he tossed three touchdown passes in his LA debut.

The strike-interrupted 1987 season was a difficult one for the Rams. In the midst of it star RB Eric Dickerson was traded to the Colts, putting even more of the burden on Everett. Head Coach John Robinson, used to a ground-oriented offense, brought in Ernie Zampese as offensive coordinator to bring the young quarterback along and install a new aerial attack that relied on quick timing patterns. LA finished strong as Everett got the hang of the new system and it set the stage for a breakout year in ’88.

1988 and ’89 were the high points for Everett with the Rams. He led the league in touchdown passes in each season (31 and 29, respectively), had his two best passer ratings (89.2 and 90.6), and passed for 3964 yards in ’88, followed by a career-high 4310 in 1989. LA went to the postseason both years, going 10-6 and losing in the Wild Card round and then 11-5 and climbing to the conference title game in 1989. Everett was also helped by the steady play of All-Pro WR Henry Ellard and, especially in ’89, the emergence of deep threat WR Willie “Flipper” Anderson, plus veteran TE Pete Holohan.

However, the seeds of Everett’s downfall were sown in the 1989 postseason. Following a fine clutch performance in an overtime win over the Giants, Everett looked bad in a dreadful 30-3 loss to the division-rival 49ers in the NFC Championship game. One play stood out in particular when, in a third-and-ten situation in the second quarter, he appeared to panic and went down without being hit. To be sure, Everett had plenty of company in looking bad against the eventual league champions – the defense was injury-riddled by the time the Rams faced the 49ers – but previously regarded as a tough competitor, the “self-sack” engendered second thoughts on that score.

Everett still went to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career in 1990 as he fell just short of a second straight 4000-yard passing season (3989) and tossed 23 TD passes. However, the Rams sank to 5-11 and the questions regarding his toughness under pressure grew louder. It got worse in ’91 with LA collapsing further to 3-13 and Everett tossing more interceptions (20) than touchdown passes (11) while being sacked 30 times. John Robinson was replaced as head coach by Chuck Knox (back for his second stint in LA) and while the quarterback’s performance was better, the Rams were still only 6-10. But a fourth straight losing season in ’93 (5-11) in which Everett failed to complete half of his passes and lost his starting job to backup T.J. Rubley caused the team to part ways with the 31-year-old veteran.

As for the Saints, they were coming off of an 8-8 season in 1993, a disappointing result after making it to the playoffs the previous three years and starting out at 5-0. QB Bobby Hebert had been allowed to depart following the ’92 season and 34-year-old Wade Wilson took his place, with mixed results. Under Head Coach Jim Mora, New Orleans had finally become a contender, but depended on its solid defense more than the conservative offense, and had failed to win a postseason game.

Everett signed a two-year contract and agreed to a lower salary in order to play for the Saints (Wilson, whose salary was worth $4 million against the cap, was waived and re-signed for a lesser amount).

“This is the most exciting time of my life since getting drafted,” said an enthusiastic Everett. New Orleans had worked out several free agent quarterbacks and negotiated with Philadelphia QB Bubby Brister for a week before making the deal for Everett when the Rams agreed to a lower draft choice in return.

For the first year, Everett performed well (a club-record 64.1 % completion percentage and 3855 yards plus 22 TD passes and just 21 sacks). The offense was adjusted to his benefit and the receivers, led by wideouts Michael Haynes and Quinn Early, were adequate. Unfortunately, the running game was mediocre, the defense slipped, and the Saints dropped to 7-9.

The record was the same (as were the weaknesses) in 1995 despite another solid season from Everett, who passed for 3970 yards and 26 touchdowns, against 14 interceptions. But the quarterback and team collapsed in ’96. Everett’s production dropped across the board, he tossed more interceptions (16) than TD passes (12), and the Saints were 3-13. Mora was gone before the end and his successor for 1997, Mike Ditka, chose to bring in new quarterbacks. Everett was let go - he played one last year for the San Diego Chargers, throwing just 75 passes in four games.

Overall with New Orleans, Everett completed 61.0 % of his passes for 10,622 yards and 60 touchdowns with 48 interceptions. However, the team went just 17-30 in his starts and the questions about his competitiveness and toughness (despite his durability) were never fully quieted. An on-air scuffle with talk show host Jim Rome in 1994 only highlighted the issues. In the end, a promising career fell short of expectations despite a fair number of accomplishments.