By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
No. 2: April 24, 1982 – The Bills trade Tom Cousineau to Cleveland for a first-round draft pick in 1983 (Jim Kelly), a third-round draft choice in 1984 (Rodney Bellinger) and a fifth-round draft choice in 1985 (Matt Darwin).
Tom Cousineau already had played a role in Bills history before this 1982 trade was made. He was the first overall draft pick in 1979, but jumped to Montreal of the Canadian Football League rather than accept what he considered a sub-par offer from Buffalo. Three years later, Cousineau was ready to return to the NFL as a free agent, although the Bills still had his rights.
He first accepted a $2.5-million, five-year offer from Houston, which Buffalo thought was too rich for its blood. Then Cleveland put together an even bigger contract offer that pleased Cousineau even more. The Bills signed the linebacker to those financial terms, and then immediately traded him to the Browns for three draft choices.
Cousineau started for three seasons with Cleveland, and then was waived by the Browns in September, 1986. It turned out Cousineau’s contract was not guaranteed. He spent two years as a backup in San Francisco before exiting football.
In a year, the major payment for Cousineau was identified, as the Bills drafted Jim Kelly with a first-round pick. His arrival was delayed, as he jumped to the United States Football League. But when that league folded in 1986, Kelly came to Buffalo and stayed for 11 seasons. It would be fair to say that he was the most important player in the history of the Bills’ franchise – which made it the best trade in team history. Kelly quarterbacked Buffalo to four straight Super Bowls, and went straight into the Hall of Fame after retirement. It took a while, but that Cousineau pick in 1979 paid a huge benefit for the Bills.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)