The entirety of NFL history- Nay, WORLD history, is a result of things happening. A thing happens, and then another thing, and before you know it things are happening just about everywhere. If you go back to the beginning of time itself, you’ll notice that a thing happened then two; if not for that, we wouldn’t be here today. But as much fun as it would be for us to delve deep into all of recorded history and track every single thing that would inevitably lead to the acquisition of HOF QB Jim Kelly, we don’t have that much time today. I may not be a lepidopterologist, but today we’ll be looking at one particular Buffalo Bills butterfly effect: the O.J. Simpson angle.
The O.J. Simpson Contract Saga
To catch the first butterfly (with a comically large net), we’re going to go back to 1972, when RB O.J. Simpson was initially displeased with his contract. His demand to be the highest-paid player in pro sports history as a 1969 rookie made headlines, and Ralph Wilson inevitably conceded in the hope “The Juice” would be able to give this Bills team some life to begin the Super Bowl era. Simpson was largely ineffective, partially due to HC John Rauch refusing to build an offense around an RB, but broke out in 1972 under second-time Bills HC Lou Saban. His league-leading 1,251 yards made him feel even more valuable than his bloated contract. Thus began an annual back-and-forth with the front office which tainted much of his Buffalo tenure.
With an offense built around him, O.J. Simpson dominated the NFL. He set records left and right and got paid handsomely despite making the playoffs a single time. Once again, O.J. blamed the front office for the state of the team; the same one he kept asking for money. Eventually, despite getting yet another monster contract, O.J. Simpson wanted out. This was perfect for incoming Bills HC Chuck Knox, who needed draft capital to force a rebuild and create a team that was capable of making the playoffs. He pulled the trigger, sending O.J. to San Francisco in what was indirectly one of the most beneficial trades in Buffalo history.
In return for O.J. Simpson, one of the greatest RBs of all time, we received a plethora of draft picks. Those picks turned into:
1978 second round (#38 overall) – DE Scott Hutchinson, Florida
1978 third round (#65 overall) – WR Danny Fulton, Nebraska-Omaha
1979 first round (#1 overall) – LB Tom Cousineau, Ohio State
1979 fourth round (#83 overall) – DE Ken Johnson, Knoxville
1980 second round (#29 overall) – RB Joe Cribbs, Auburn
Tom Cousineau Says “No” to Buffalo
You may see some notable names amongst these, but we’re going to be focusing on the 1979 first overall pick, LB Tom Cousineau. Cousineau was the unanimous top pick in the draft but made it clear that he didn’t want to play in the cold. Buffalo, Green Bay, and a few other destinations were on his no-fly list. So he, like many players during that era, took the bigger paycheck that the CFL offered him to play elsewhere. Taking double the money, Cousineau signed with the Montreal Alouettes and lit the league on fire. He won a Grey Cup and Grey Cup MVP in the 1979 season, but in his third year, he suffered an injury and elected to attempt a return to the NFL.
The Houston Oilers made an offer, which Buffalo matched. Cousineau wasn’t satisfied and stayed on the market until the Cleveland Browns came calling. Cleveland came to terms with Cousineau but Buffalo still owned Tom Cousineau’s playing rights, which the Browns had to acquire. What did they give up? Three draft picks over the next three seasons: (first, second, and third round, respectively). Cleveland’s first-rounder was 14th overall in the 1983 NFL draft, and the Bills needed a QB in order to compete.
“With the 14th pick in the 1983 Draft, the Buffalo Bills select…”
QBs John Elway and Todd Blackledge were off the board. We’d also considered the eventual 15th pick Tony Eason. However, the Bills ultimately chose a certain QB from the University of Miami by the name of Jim Kelly; the man new HC Kay Stephenson wanted. The feeling wasn’t mutual, but that’s a story for another time. While Kay’s tenure was too short-lived to ever see the results of the pick, fans will recognize the impact of this draft pick, and Buffalo Bills butterfly effect, forever.