Eight years ago, the Steelers traded Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a 5th round pick. The trade news broke late on Sunday night, and by Monday morning the story had been confirmed. The Steelers generally don’t trade high-profile players, and this move was one of the biggest of the Kevin Colbert era. With no other players involved, the trade was simply Holmes to the Jets for a 5th round pick (#155 overall). This trade was yet another upheval in an offseason of uncertainty. The 2009 season had seen the Steelers suffer through a 5-game losing streak then win their last 3 only to miss the playoffs in a 4-way tiebreaker with the Jets, Ravens, and Texans. The 2010 offseason got off to a rocky start with the Steelers firing Offensive Line coach Larry Zierlein and Special Teams coach Bob Ligashesky. That was followed by the news that Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in a nightclub bathroom in Milledgeville, GA. The District Attorney was investigating the case and had not yet made an announcement by the end of business on Friday, April 9. By the time the weekend ended and the work day started on Monday, April 12, the Steelers had traded away a former first round draft pick and Super Bowl MVP for a 5th round pick.
But out of this tumultuous offseason came a Super Bowl run in 2010. Ben was initially suspended 6 games, which was then reduced to 4, and the Georgia District Attorney decided there was not enough evidence to pursue charges against him. As luck (or fate) would have it, the Steelers and Jets would meet in the 2010 AFC Championship Game. But the fallout from the Santonio Holmes trade would extend farther than the 2010 season. In fact, the Steelers used that trade to acquire the best receiver in the National Football League.
The Steelers traded Holmes on the evening of Sunday, April 11 and less than 24 hours later the NFL announced that Holmes had been suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for violations of the substance abuse policy. It was later reported that the Steelers had been willing to release Holmes outright but made the deal to trade him to the Jets instead.
The 2009 season had also seen a sharp decline in the Steelers secondary. This was partially due to Troy Polamalu missing 11 games and Tyrone Carter being forced to start. With Ike Taylor and William Gay as the starting corners, the Steelers fell from the top-ranked passing defense down to 16th. The Steelers had a need to improve their secondary, but also had a number of holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball, which is where they focused early in the 2010 Draft. They used their first round pick on center Maurkice Pouncey out of Florida and their third round pick on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from SMU. The Steelers had 4 picks in the 5th round of the draft, the pick they had acquired for Holmes and two compensatory picks. After selecting Tennessee offensive lineman Chris Scott with the 151st overall pick, they received a trade offer for the 155th overall pick. The Steelers traded the 155th overall pick that they had received for Holmes to the Arizona Cardinals, who used it to select Fordham quarterback John Skelton. In return, the Steelers received veteran cornerback Bryant McFadden (a former Steelers 2nd round pick) and Arizona’s 6th round pick (#195 overall).
New York Jets received: WR Santonio Holmes
Arizona Cardinals received: QB John Skelton
Pittsburgh Steelers received: CB Bryant McFadden, WR Antonio Brown
Holmes would have his best season for the Jets in his suspension-shortened 2010 year. He had 52 catches, 746 yards, and 6 TDs. After the season he signed a 5-year, $50 million deal with New York and only appear in 31 games over the next 3 seasons before being released. His final NFL season came in Chicago in 2014 where he had 8 catches over 9 games. In 2017 he officially retired as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
John Skelton lasted 3 seasons in Arizona. He became a starter during his rookie season in Arizona and had a 2-2 record, throwing for 662 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. In 2011 the Cardinals acquired Kevin Kolb to be the starting quarterback, but Skelton took over after Kolb was injured and went 5-2, throwing for 1913 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 INTs. He was named the starter before the 2012 season but was injured in Week 1. The 2012 Cardinals were a quarterbacking disaster, flipping between Skelton, Kolb, and 6th round pick Ryan Lindley. Skelton finished the year with a 1-5 record, throwing for 1132 yards, 2 TDs and 9 INTs. Skelton was released after the 2012 season and bounced around to a few other NFL rosters but never appeared in another game.
In the 2010 season, McFadden immediately stepped in and improved the Steelers secondary. He started all 16 games and had 2 interceptions and 10 passes defended. He lost his starting job to William Gay the following season and was released after a 2011 year where he had only 1 pass defended in 13 games.
Antonio Brown is a 6-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro. He broke the Steelers record for receptions and receiving yards in 2014 then broke his own records again in 2015. Since 2010 Brown has the most First Team All-Pro selections of any wide receiver. The only receivers to be selected to more Pro Bowls than Brown during his career are Larry Fitzgerald and AJ Green. Brown has accumulated 733 receptions, 9910 yards, 59 receiving touchdowns, 5 return touchdowns, and 1 passing touchdown. While Brown may not have had an immediate splash impact as a rookie, we can not forget his helmet catch to set up the game-winning score against the Ravens in the 2010 playoffs.
Looking at the side-by-side statistics, since the Santonio Holmes trade in 2010, he played 43 games for the Jets with 146 receptions, 228 yards, and 16 TDs. For the Bears he had 8 catches for 67 yards in 9 games. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s calculations, Holmes’ time after Pittsburgh had an Approximate Value of 17.
Skelton played in 20 games, had a 53.2% completion percentage, threw for 3707 yards, 15 TDs, 25 INTs, was sacked 47 times and lost 4 fumbles. He had a career quarterback rating of 63.0 and a career Approximate Value of 4.
McFadden’s two seasons in Pittsburgh after the trade saw him play in 29 games (17 starts) and have 81 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 sacks. His Approximate Value for those two seasons was 8.
Holmes and Skelton combined to play in 63 games over 8 total seasons with a cumulative Approximate Value of 21. McFadden played 29 games over 2 seasons with an Approximate Value of 8. Antonio Brown has appeared in 115 games (88 starts) over the last 8 seasons with an Approximate Value of 92, the highest of any player from the 2010 Draft.
Eight years later, it certainly seems like the Steelers came out on top of this trade. At the time, however, not everyone felt that way. Even a few years after the fact people thought the trade was bad.
The award for the dumbest trade this off-season goes to the Steelers for trading Santonio Holmes to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick! Smh
— Lyric's Mommy (@718_301_Chica) April 12, 2010
im still smh'ing over this santonio holmes trade from the steelers. FOR A 5th ROUND PICK?!?! what is goin on in this world??
— Nakia’s Bantu Knots (@GemoftheOcean) April 12, 2010
Dear #Steelers, What a dumbass trade?!! Santonio Holmes for a 5th rounder from the Jets!!? Just to be punitive?? While Roethlisberger walks?
— Hashim (@HashimMiles) April 12, 2010
Steelers trade Santonio Holmes for 5th round draft pick. Didn't he help them win the super bowl? I just don't understand these GM's.
— Michael J. Ravenclaw (@momentai) April 12, 2010
are the steelers crazy??? why would you trade santonio holmes???
— cequan miller (@hersheyz10) April 13, 2010
Haha yea they're screwed. RT @FNRoleModel: Steelers: "hey Jets, can we take that trade back for santonio holmes?"
— Justin (@boogeydakid) May 11, 2010
Steelers sent Santonio Holmes to the jets smh no matter the case u dnt trade tht kind of player
— Kalief Browder (@TilWeOverdoze) July 1, 2010
steelers gak'd on that Santonio Holmes trade… GAK!
— The Steely Brothers (@poemcees) August 17, 2010
Why did the Steelers trade Santonio Holmes?
— Jacquees (@Jacquees) January 17, 2011
I wonder if the Pittsburgh Steelers are regretting that Santonio Holmes trade at the moment?
— Iain Liddle (@IainLiddle) January 17, 2011
This final drive will be the reason that The Steelers were wrong to trade Santonio Holmes.
— nihilist andys (@TimDevine) February 7, 2011
One of the worst things we did as #Steelers in our history I think was trade Santonio Holmes.
— Alexandria MACQueen. (@Mz2euceBOSS) June 5, 2011
April 12 2010 – Steelers trade Santonio Holmes to Jets for 5th round pick. How'd that work out?
— The_Lutfi (@The_Lutfi) September 12, 2011
By the way Steelers, I still can't imagine why you chose to trade Santonio Holmes
— Aaron (@DemonAlcohol) October 18, 2011
I bet the #Steelers are wishing they had that Santonio Holmes trade back. I sure would if I were them. The guy is a playmaking machine!!
— Craig B. Brissell (@3DMESPORTS) November 6, 2011
@steelers you guys always trade away out best receivers! Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders like wtf -.-
— Wakanda Ting Is That? (@DreMacsAMillion) September 8, 2014
Dumbest trade I've seen since the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes for a 5th round pick
— J.P. (@j_payton01) September 18, 2013
The Santonio Holmes trade is still one of the worst in NFL history. A lot of those guys smoke weed Holmes just got caught #steelers
— Dyl (@dylan__mitchell) January 10, 2013
Remember when the Jets fleeced the Steelers on the Santonio Holmes trade?
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 10, 2014
Of course, there were also opinions on the other end of the spectrum.
Santonio Holmes trade was the best thing to happen to the Steelers since drafting Ben Roethlisberger
— Nick Curran (@Nick_en_fuego) February 8, 2012
The trade of Santonio Holmes ended up greatly increasing the Steelers Super Bowl chances.
— Josh Gelfand (@JoshtheCooler) January 17, 2011
Hindsight on trades and roster moves is always 20/20. Sometimes, as in this case, they work out. Sometimes they do not. This is an important thing to remember as we get closer to the 2018 NFL Draft. At the time a certain move is made, it may not look like the most prudent decision, but in the long run it may actually work out for the best.
Header Image courtesy: New Pittsburgh Courier