I'm currently in the process of finally reading Bill Polian's book. In one of the many chapters Polian is going on and on about building the Buffalo Bills (which is a fair amount of the book) he brings up the Eric Dickerson trade.
Or as he calls it, the Cornelius Bennett trade.
In 1987, the Colts had the second pick in the draft. The Buccaneers had the first pick, and used it on Vinny Testaverde. The Colts' pick was a pretty easy choice. Bennett was far and away considered the top linebacker in the draft and the Colts grabbed him.
As a side note, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had Brian Bosworth been available in the regular draft.
Anyway. The Colts drafted Bennett, but were unable to sign him. This led to the massive trade involving the Colts, Rams, and Bills.
Really, this trade all came down to money. Dickerson wanted a new contract with the Rams, and Bennett wanted more money than the Colts were willing to give him.
But what if the Colts could have signed Bennett?
For starters, I think it's safe to say the Colts don't acquire Dickerson. While it still could have been on the table, it would have been a challenge for the Colts to come up with the picks and players without a third team. The Bills were only in the trade to get Bennett, so it's doubtful the Colts move any other big names in order to secure more picks.
So we'll say Dickerson doesn't come to Indy (more on him later though).
It's doubtful the Colts go 9-6 and win the division without an offensive star. Yes, the team was 3-3 before the trade, but I think, even with Bennett, a roughly .500 record is probably the ceiling for this team. Let's say they finish 7-8, for the sake of this article.
Here's where things get interesting. Without the trade, the Colts now have a first and second round pick in the 1988 draft.
In the first round, the Colts would have picked right around 14 (depending on how the tie breaker with the also 7-8 Bills went). That would have put them in the ballpark of getting Gaston Green, whom the Rams took to replace Dickerson. Let's say the Colts (who we assume are looking for a running back) select Green in the 1988 draft.
Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the best pick as Green really only had one good season in the NFL.
In the second round, the Colts would then pass on the running back whom the Bills selected, Thurman Thomas. However, let's say (I like to believe at least) in the second round, the Colts are out to improve their defense.
They would have been in position to grab inside linebacker Ken Norton Jr to compliment Bennett on the outside.
At this point, the Colts actually could have had a pretty good defense heading into 1989. The offense, not so much. Without any real offensive playmakers, I can't quite see the Colts at 8-8 in 89, but instead at 7-9.
While this bumps up the Colts draft position a little, I (unfortunately) think they still select Rison in the draft to give them some sort of weapon on offense.
While I would like to think this all changes the 1990 draft, I'm not so sure. A chance to trade up for hometown hero Jeff George is too good of an opportunity for the Colts. With a better defense could the Colts have been better with George? Maybe. But probably not.
Maybe I'm not giving enough credit to a potentially very good defense in the late 80s and early 90s for the Colts. I just can't see the team being better off in this scenario.
The only way would have been the team completely tanking away the 1988 season, putting them in position to grab Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, or Derrick Thomas (and hopefully not Tony Mandarich). That could have changed the direction of the franchise.
Also, I did mention that I would go on a quick tangent about Dickerson and where he ends up if not Indianapolis. Now, I'm basing this off of Polian's book, but I think Minnesota.
Polian mentions that the Vikings tried to get in on the trade, but were too late, and didn't have the ammo to make it happen. As he writes, not getting Dickerson fueled the Vikings to trade for Herschel Walker. And if that happens, well that could be a long road that changes the entire 90s in the NFL, if Dallas doesn't have the picks to build their dynasty.
As for the Colts, I think in the long run, they still end up roughly where they are now. Things might have been a bit worse in the late 80s than they actually were, but not much. The team still gets George, still makes the playoffs in 1995, and still gets Peyton Manning.
For the Bills? Well, they still make some Super Bowl runs. In fact, since in this scenario Dallas doesn't build it's juggernaut, I think Buffalo even wins a Super Bowl. Maybe two. But they don't go to four in a row.
As for Bennett? Instead of signing with the Colts in the late 90s, he would have been in Indy during the prime of his career, as opposed to at the end of it. But he certainly doesn't make it to four straight Super Bowls (five total) if he signs with the Colts initially.