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What if the Bengals had accepted the Saints’ trade offer in 1999?

The Saints were very motivated to get Ricky Williams in the 1999 draft. They ended up trading away one of the biggest hauls for a draft pick ever, a haul that the Bengals passed up, but what if they accepted it?

Akili Smith

SB Nation recently embarked on a new video series looking at what would have hypothetically happened if a major event in NFL history had gone differently. It is tilted “If ____, then ____.”

The first in the series surrounds none other than the Cincinnati Bengals! But, it’s certainly not the best of memories that this video reflects upon.

In this video, the subject is: If the Bengals accepted the Saints’ 1999 draft trade offer, then they’d have a dynasty.

Hypotheticals are always fun except for when they torture your very soul. In this one, however, I take exception with a few things, although it is still very well thought out. I’m just more going to give my perspective on why things may not have ended up with so much sunshine and rainbows. Maybe this was something simpler than the Bengals accepting a deal they should have never questioned.

The 1999 draft was a bit silly and infamous for a few reasons. The first reason obviously being the Ricky Williams trade orchestrated by then Saints head coach Mike Ditka, who you might recognize as a person ESPN thought was worth of paying to give his opinion on football.

This was also the year that the new Browns were installed into the NFL, and they kicked off their journey for a quarterback with Tim Couch. The Colts ended up getting Edgerrin James with the fourth pick, but the best pick in the top five was ironically booed by fans, which was Donovan McNabb at pick No. 2. The Saints picked Williams with the fifth overall pick after trading with Washington.

Of course, the Bengals passed up the opportunity to move back to the Saints’ 12th overall pick in exchange for nine of New Orleans’ draft picks in order to take the quarterback they thought was the best at the time: Akili Smith.

Washington pounced on the trade though, and they received the Saints’ first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-round pick in the 1999 draft, as well as the Saints’ first and third-round pick in the 2000 draft. We obviously know now that the extra first-round pick ended up being the second overall pick in 2000.

This brings me to my first real issue with the logic. If this was the difference between ending up where Cincinnati is now and a dynasty, then why didn’t Washington turn into a dynasty?

Well. Washington did mismanage their picks. They actually ended up trading off quite a few of them, but to act like this deal would have created a better defense doesn’t seem right. Of course, the Bengals were fools not to take this deal. If this was offered to any team now they’d take in a heartbeat.

I’m just not sure a team who selected Smith with the third overall pick is a team I’d trust to make good draft choices. LaVar Arrington would have been an obvious choice though, which I’m sure would have helped the team having a great duo at linebacker.

Flashing forward to the Drew Brees pick. People forget that Brees didn’t hop right out of the gate as a star quarterback. In his first three seasons with the Chargers he threw 29 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. When people hear Brees’ name, they think he has always been as good as he has been with the Saints; but he didn’t really play well until his fourth season after the Chargers already drafted Philip Rivers to replace him. Considering also that Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh didn’t exactly take off quickly either, it is hard to say Takeo Spikes would have stuck around after the 2002 season despite getting Arrington, who was easily one of the best linebackers of his generation.

Would it be enough to save Dick LeBeau’s job? It is hard to say, but that is more of a concern than it was glossed over as being. Yes, the 2001 draft was amazing, but it really took a couple of seasons to develop those stars.

It is also a little funny that it’s not mentioned whether Corey Dillon stays or goes. I guess his career did really nosedive following the 2004 season when he got his ring with the Patriots, but he was a huge deal at the time.

Really what I’ve been leading to is maybe the difference between the Bengals becoming a dynasty or not didn’t depend on the 1999 trade. It may have been more up to chance than anyone knew at the time.

Let’s say history unfolded how it did: the Bengals draft Smith, Dick LeBeau gets fired and is replaced by Marvin Lewis who drafts Carson Palmer. The Bengals make it to that glorious 2005 season, but the thing that halted any Bengals success for years to come was a rolling Kimo Von Oelhoffen crashing into Palmer during the Bengals’ Wild Card matchup against the Steelers.

People forget that Palmer was viewed as one of the best quarterbacks of the time prior to that injury. He was right up at the top, below Peyton Manning and Tom Brady type players at the time. That 2005 Bengals team was a great team, and it was clear Palmer wasn’t the same guy after that hit. I’m not sure Brees lining up to take that hit instead of Palmer would have changed anything.

What derailed that team was losing their quarterback. It wasn’t like Palmer choked that game away. Imagine if the Bengals won that game and we didn’t have to hear about how the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in forever. It could have changed the mindset of the team for years to come.

The Bengals didn’t need a Brees or Arrington to become a Super Bowl team. They needed a healthy Palmer.

What do you think?