We like to point out how draft busts often hurt a team's overall development. For the most part, that's always true. But sometimes, in the end, a bust can actually become a benefit for a team. Jack Thompson, the third overall draft pick in the 1979 NFL Draft ended up being a complete bust, but it actually ended up helping Cincinnati because Ken Anderson, who started feeling healthy again, regained an elite focus that would eventually lead to a couple of amazing seasons.
Much of the Bengals Super Bowl XXIII roster came from the 1984 NFL Draft, including one highly drafted holdout that may have poured the cement for the team's successes in the late 80s. Let's quickly go through the draft. Bruce Kozerski, named as an alternate in three Pro Bowls ('88, '89 and '90), started 138 games in 12 seasons for Cincinnati. Bruce Reimers started 64 games, primarily as an offensive guard for eight seasons. Linebacker Leo Barker was one of the team's linebackers in nickel packages for eight seasons, until 1991. Brian Blados, somewhat of a disappointment as the team's third first round pick that year, only started 60 games. Drafted in the third round, running back Stanford Jennings career is highlighted with a 93-yard touchdown return in Super Bowl XXIII for Cincinnati.
Then there was Boomer Esiason, drafted in the second round as the 38th overall pick. Most of you sort of remember him.
But who is this holdout, this first round draft selection in the '84 NFL Draft that actually made the Bengals better by not signing with the team? That player was Arizona linebacker Ricky Hunley. A first consensus All-American linebacker in '82 and '83, Hunley was introduced into the college hall of fame in '89.
This August 15, 1984 New York Times article writes, updating the lengthy holdout that seems to be the status quo in the NFL.
Hunley, a linebacker from Arizona, has missed a month of training camp and, through his agent, Howard Slusher, has reportedly been seeking as much as $500,000 a year in a package that would include an expensive car, insurance policies and real estate as well as cash. In announcing the team's refusal to negotiate a deal with another club, Mike Brown, assistant general manger, said, ''While this will cost the Bengals a draft choice, we prefer to pay this price instead of setting a precedent whereby a player can force our club to trade him by holding out.''
Eventually the Bengals did trade Hunley's rights to the Broncos for three draft picks, which ended up being Tim McGee ('86 first round pick), David Fulcher ('86 third round pick) and Greg Horne ('87 fifth round pick).
After not signing with the Bengals, forcing the organization into sacrificing their seventh overall selection in the '84 NFL Draft, you have no choice but to call Hunley a bust. Yet, the Bengals benefited greatly for it. Hunley, who could be argued as a bust for the Broncos as well, even though he started two Super Bowls, went on to have an average career in Denver, playing four seasons before joining the Cardinals and Raiders to close out his career in '90.
In return for the trade, the Bengals received draft picks and selected players who would become major contributors during the team's Super Bowl run in '88.
Ironically, Hunley returned to Cincinnati in 2003 as a linebackers coach for rookie head coach Marvin Lewis, where the two met in Washington in '02. Lewis was forced to fire Hunley after five seasons after the defense continued to rank as one of the worst in the league. Admittedly, it seemed somewhat unfair to fire a coach that had to deal with so many season-ending injuries at the position, but there you have it.