The Biggest Mistake in Buccaneers History: Trading Steve Young

Trading NFL players for draft picks can be dicey. In some cases, like when the Dallas Cowboys traded Herschel Walker for a slew of draft picks, it works out for the team getting the picks. In other cases, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dealing Steve Young, it can backfire spectacularly. Let’s look at one of the worst mistakes in the Buccaneers’ history.

Steve Young’s brief time with the Buccaneers

The Buccaneers took Young with the first overall pick of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft. In two seasons, the quarterback went 3-16. With the Bucs unable to demonstrate patience — as well as not having the staff on hand to coach Young to a better performance — they traded him to San Francisco for second- and fourth-round picks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked to take the University of Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde with the first pick of the 1987 NFL Draft. The young QB replaced Young. 

The rest of Steve Young’s NFL career

After being traded to San Francisco, Young backed up the legendary Joe Montana for five years. It wasn’t until the 1991 season and Montana’s injury that Young got his chance to shine. With Montana out for all of 1991 and most of 1992, the young QB seized the reins and led the team to a record of 17-7.

Young played so well that he forced the Niners’ hand. They traded Montana to the Chiefs in 1993, clearing the way for Young to assume starting duties without controversy in San Francisco. While Montana’s legacy lingered, Young carved out his own Hall of Fame career with the 49ers.

In 1994, he led the team to a Super Bowl championship in 1994. Young was injured for only three games into the 1999 season and then retired. He has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is generally considered the single greatest left-handed quarterback of all time. 

How the Buccaneers fared without Steve Young

The Buccaneers had nearly a decade of futility following the decision to trade Young. It wasn’t until Tony Dungy took over in the late ’90s that the team was able to find some semblance of competitiveness. 

Despite winning a Super Bowl under Jon Gruden in 2002, the Bucs have been unable to find success at quarterback. Their Super Bowl-winning team relied mainly on defense, with Brad Johnson under center as more of a game manager than a passer who could win games.

After many quarterbacks who haven’t panned out — Brian Griese, Chris Simms, and many others — the Bucs now have QB Jameis Winston, the former No. 1 pick. As Winston’s interceptions pile up and his free agency approaches, it seems more likely that Tampa Bay will move in another direction. 

The bottom line? Young is the best quarterback the Buccaneers ever had, even if he didn’t quite play like it when they had him. It’s impossible to tell how their fortunes would have differed, but it’s a lot less likely they would’ve been bad for as long as they were. The other issue to consider is the organizations Young dealt with.

The 49ers were known for their winning ways and player development. It’s possible they had just as big a hand in Young becoming great as he did in maintaining those winning ways. It’s also entirely possible that Young may have continued to flop if he stayed in Tampa, where the franchise’s infrastructure wasn’t nearly as strong.