April 17, 2013

1978: Dolphins Trade Freddie Solomon to 49ers for Delvin Williams

On April 17, 1978 the Miami Dolphins dealt WR Freddie Solomon, safety Vern Roberson, and first and fifth round draft picks to San Francisco for RB Delvin Williams.

 “It was a stiff price to pay, but a lot of clubs were interested in Williams,” said Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula. “Williams is a complete back. He has the track record to show he can be a breakaway back. He is a fine pass receiver coming out of the backfield, which interested us a great deal.”

The 6’0”, 197-pound Williams (pictured above) had 2966 rushing yards for his career thus far, including 1203 in 1976. He was drafted by the 49ers in the second round out of Kansas in 1974. The Niners had four picks in the first two rounds and, looking to upgrade the running game, also took a halfback, Wilbur Jackson from Alabama, in the first round. Jackson got more attention initially and Williams ran the ball just 36 times for 201 yards as a rookie. However, Jackson had injury problems in ’75 and, with greater opportunity, Williams emerged to rush for 631 yards while averaging an outstanding 5.4 yards per carry and caught 34 passes for another 370 yards. Jackson was shifted to fullback and became part of an outstanding tandem with Williams, who ranked second in rushing in the NFC in 1976 and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Williams had lesser numbers in 1977, dropping to 931 rushing yards with a 3.5-yard average, significantly lower than the 4.9 yards per carry of ’76. The acquisition of RB O.J. Simpson from the Bills, a San Francisco native, rendered Williams expendable and set the stage for the trade with Miami.

Freddie Solomon, at 5’11” and 185 pounds, had also been a second-round draft pick, taken by the Dolphins in 1975. A quarterback in college at Tampa, he was considered to be an outstanding all-around athlete entering the draft and was viewed as a prospect at several positions. Shula hoped he could be the replacement at wide receiver for the great Paul Warfield, who had departed for the World Football League, across from Nat Moore. He made more of an impression as a kick returner while catching 61 passes for 973 yards and five touchdowns. He did show promise, particularly in his second year, and had punt return touchdowns of 79 and 50 yards and a 90-yard kickoff return. In one 1976 game, gained 252 all-purpose yards. But Shula indicated that Solomon was not going to start for the Dolphins in ’78 due to the emergence of Duriel Harris, who had moved into the lineup.

“The writing has been on the wall for the last couple of weeks,” said Solomon. “There have been rumors in the newspapers and I thought that something was going to happen.”

Vern Roberson came to the Dolphins undrafted in 1977 and intercepted one pass as a reserve safety. He lasted one season with the 49ers, again picking off a pass and also recovering two fumbles. The first draft pick San Francisco received was used to take Dan Bunz, a linebacker from Long Beach State, and the fifth-round choice went for DB Bruce Threadgill out of Mississippi State. Bunz spent seven seasons with the Niners while Threadgill lasted one year as a reserve defensive back and quarterback before moving on to the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

Williams proved to be an outstanding fit in Miami’s offense in 1978. Although slowed by an injury late in the season, he ran the ball 272 times for 1258 yards (4.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns and caught 18 passes for another 192 yards. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and was also chosen to the Pro Bowl. The Dolphins, who had missed the postseason in the three previous years, qualified for an AFC Wild Card spot with an 11-5 record.  He played two more years for the Dolphins with less spectacular results, however. In 1979 the offense as a whole was less effective even though the club won the division title with a 10-6 tally. The return of FB Larry Csonka took carries away from Williams – the 33-year-old Csonka ran the ball 220 times for 837 yards while Williams had just 184 rushing attempts for 703 yards.

Csonka was gone in 1980 but Williams declined further as he ran for 671 yards on 187 carries and, while he pulled in 31 passes for 207 yards, young Tony Nathan was far more productive as a receiver out of the backfield with 57 receptions for 588 yards and five TDs. It was the end for Williams in Miami and, other than a brief appearance with Green Bay in 1981, the end of his career as well. With the Dolphins, Williams gained 2632 rushing yards and 13 TDs, most of which came in his big first season, and had 70 catches for 574 yards and one score. For his overall career, he ran for 5598 yards, caught 152 passes for 1415 yards, and scored a total of 39 touchdowns. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl and received All-NFL recognition in 1978 alone.

Meanwhile, the 49ers were a dreadful 2-14 club in ’78. Both O.J. Simpson and Wilbur Jackson went down with injuries and Solomon saw some action at quarterback as well as wide receiver. Solomon (pictured above) did lead the club in pass receiving with 31 catches for 458 yards. San Francisco went 2-14 again in 1979, but with a new head coach and general manager, Bill Walsh, installing a pass-oriented West Coast offense, Solomon’s numbers improved to a team-leading 807 yards on 57 catches (one behind RB Paul Hofer) with seven TDs, and would likely have been better had he not worn down in the late going.

In 1980, the team began the improvement that would lead to much better results during the Walsh era and while Solomon was a productive receiver and deep threat, with 48 catches for 658 yards and eight touchdowns, Dwight Clark emerged on the other side with 82 receptions for 991 yards. Solomon also regained his form as a punt returner, averaging 11.0 yards on 27 returns that included two TDs. The 49ers exploded into a championship team in 1981 and Solomon played his part in what was his most productive year in the NFL. He had 59 receptions for 969 yards and a 16.4-yard average gain, his best since his second year with the Dolphins, while scoring another eight TDs. He also performed well in the postseason, catching 16 passes in three games and scoring touchdowns in the NFC Divisional playoff win over the Giants (he also gained 107 yards) and in the narrow NFC Championship victory over Dallas (although it was Clark scoring the winning TD on a play in which Solomon was the primary receiver).

Solomon lasted another four years with the 49ers. While pushed by Mike Wilson and track star Renaldo Nehemiah, his receptions declined but he was still an effective deep threat and his average gain increased, with a high of 21.4 in 1983. He had a career-high 10 touchdown receptions in ’84, on 40 catches with an 18.4-yard average. His last season, 1985, was the first for his illustrious successor, Jerry Rice (who he mentored). In eight years with San Francisco, Solomon had 310 catches for 4873 yards (15.7 avg.) and 43 touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 34 receptions for 537 yards and six TDs. While he never received All-NFL or Pro Bowl recognition, Solomon proved to be a good fit in Bill Walsh’s offense and earned two Super Bowl rings along the way.