March 21, 2015

1962: Eagles Trade Billy Barnes to Redskins in Four-Player Deal

On March 21, 1962 the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins made a four-player trade, with the Eagles sending HB Billy Barnes (pictured at right) and safety Bobby Freeman to Washington in exchange for C Jim Schrader and CB Ben Scotti.

The teams were in significantly different situations following the 1961 season. The Eagles had been NFL Champions in 1960 and, while they had lost both Head Coach Buck Shaw and QB Norm Van Brocklin to retirement, contended in ‘61 while featuring the league’s most productive offense. The Redskins, cellar dwellers in ‘60, had suffered through a dreadful 1961 season with the league’s poorest attack while compiling a 1-12-1 record. A rookie, Norm Snead, started at quarterback and experienced a rough trial by fire. HB Dick James led the team in rushing with just 374 yards and FB Don Bosseler, once a productive ball carrier, suffered through an injury-riddled season and gained 220 yards.

Washington’s transaction with the Eagles followed the momentous December trade of the rights to first draft choice Ernie Davis, the Heisman Trophy-winning halfback out of Syracuse, to Cleveland for halfbacks Bobby Mitchell, a savvy veteran of four years, and Leroy Jackson, a sprinter out of Western Illinois who had been a first round draft pick by the Browns (and who thus became the first African-American players for the Redskins, along with RB/DB Ron Hatcher, who was drafted in the eighth round and signed before their acquisition). While Davis was a powerful runner (and who tragically never played in the NFL, dying of leukemia at age 23), the Redskins hoped to make good use of Mitchell’s and Jackson’s speed.

Billy Barnes (often referred to with his middle name included as Billy Ray Barnes) was stocky and not especially fast but played with great determination. He had been chosen in the second round of the 1957 NFL draft out of Wake Forest and was selected to the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons. High-spirited off the field but a fierce competitor on it, QB Norm Van Brocklin nicknamed Barnes “the Boiler” because his face would turn red during games. He rushed for a high of 687 yards on 181 carries (3.8 avg.) in 1959 and had his best year as a pass receiver out of the backfield in ’58 with 35 catches for 423 yards (12.1 avg.). His production had dropped in both 1960 and ’61 due to a knee injury and the presence of young halfbacks Ted Dean and Timmy Brown made him available to the Redskins. In five seasons with the Eagles, Barnes rushed for 3421 yards and gained another 1786 yards on 153 catches, scoring a total of 28 touchdowns.

The key to the deal for Philadelphia was Jim Schrader (pictured at left), who filled a need at center, thus freeing up Chuck Bednarik, who moved between center and linebacker, to move back to the defense full-time. Schrader had been a college star at Notre Dame and started 64 straight games at center for the Redskins, garnering three Pro Bowl selections, including one following the ’61 season.

As for Bobby Freeman and Ben Scotti, it was an exchange of defensive backs that were expected to start for their respective teams. Freeman had been a third round draft pick of the Browns in 1955 who moved on to Green Bay in ’59 and was acquired by the Eagles during the 1960 preseason. He was a starting safety as the team went on to win the NFL title that year, and his key interception in a crucial contest against the Giants was a notable highlight along the way. Scotti was undrafted out of Maryland in 1959 and spent three years with Washington. Freeman ended up playing just one more season while Scotti intercepted four passes in ’62, although his performance was uneven and he split time with Mike McClellan. He was released during the 1963 season following a vicious off-field fight with a teammate, DT John Mellekas, and moved on to the 49ers.

Barnes moved into the lineup at halfback while Bobby Mitchell was converted to flanker (with outstanding results). He led the club in rushing with 492 yards on 159 carries (3.1 avg.) while catching 14 passes for 220 yards (15.7 avg.) despite being limited to ten games by injury. It was an adequate performance while Mitchell led the league with 72 pass receptions for 1384 yards and 11 touchdowns. Washington got off to a 4-0-2 start before collapsing during the second half of the season and finishing at 5-7-2 (putting them ahead of the injury-riddled Eagles, who replaced Washington in the cellar of the Eastern Conference with a 3-10-1 record).

While unhappy with his contract, Barnes played another year for the Redskins, with lesser returns, and after suffering an injury during the preseason, was released and missed all of 1964. He was with Minnesota in 1965 and ’66, where Van Brocklin was now the head coach, for his last two seasons. Overall in Washington, Barnes ran for 866 yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and caught 29 passes for 476 yards, scoring a total of nine touchdowns. 

Schrader spent the last three years of his career with the Eagles, starting at center in 1962 and ’63 and then backing up Jim Ringo after the future Hall of Famer was obtained from the Packers in ’64. Knee problems caused his performance to drop off during his time in Philadelphia and he failed to play at the anticipated level.