Earlier this week, the former Denver Broncos and Warshington Redskeeins tailback Clinton Portis formally retired from the National Football League at the age of 31. A victim of abdominal and groin injuries, Mr. Portis had been released by the Skins in February of 2011 having managed to play in only five of the team’s games in 2010.
Herr Portis’s levity and knack for a good quote always livened up the news cycle. A colorful person on and off the field, Portis will be revered in the nation’s capital for his Method acting in press appearances, originating several memorable characters including, but not limited to: the legendary Coach Janky Spanky, Bud Foxx, Bro Sweets, Dolemite Jenkins, Dolla Bill, Dr. Do Itch Big, Sheriff Gonna Getcha, Prime Minister Yah Mon, Coconut Jones, Choo-Choo, and your correspondent’s favorite, Southeast Jerome. It should not be forgotten that, in addition to making life a bit more interesting for the fans and the media, Clinton Portis accumulated career statistics that will stand the test of time. With 75 touchdowns and and almost 10,000 yards gained from scrimmage (of which 46 TDs and 6,824 yards were for Washington), Portis was a workhorse who established himself in just four fully productive seasons as the second leading rusher in Redskins history.
Had he been given the luxury of even an average offensive line or a quarterback that could establish a passing threat, it is entirely possible that Portis would have eclipsed the Hall of Famer John Riggins’s tallies of 79 touchdowns and 7,472 yards for Them ‘Skeeins. The prototypical Joe Gibbs power runner, Riggins was fortunate to play behind The Hogs, a murderer’s row of man-beasts that regularly humiliated defensive lines for years. So dominant were Jeff Bostic, Mark May, Russ Grimm, George Starke, Don Warren, and Rick Walker that the Redskins at times could just run Riggins right up the middle for a seven yard gain, eight or ten plays in a row, confident that the opposition knew what was coming and yet could do nothing about it.
In light of that, any direct comparison between the two backs is bound to be slightly unfair to Portis, who was always better suited to the dynamic running game created by the Broncos’s offensive line coach Alex Gibbs’s brilliant zone blocking scheme rather than the direct approach favored by Gibbs’s namesake in DeeCee.
His retirement prompted several news articles this week recounting the blockbuster 2004 trade that sent the elite Washington Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey and a second round pick to Denver in exchange for Portis. Each of these articles asked and attempted to answer the important question: Who got the better of the deal?
This is a question that admits of no answer. It is the intellectual cousin of “Is Amurrka the Greatest Nation on Earth?” and other silly parlor games. No self-respecting human should entertain this sort of question, because there is no empirical standard by which to answer it.
Recall that in 2004 Champ Bailey was entering into the final year of his contract and made it clear to the Redskeeins management that he would not be signing another one and would boycott training camp if bestowed with the Scarlet Letter F, the “franchise” tag. Similarly, after racking up 3,000+ yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Clinton Portis was making noises about wanting a new contract in Denver. Most teams would have to acquiesce to this reasonable demand, but the Broncos thought (with some justification) that they could productively plug almost any NFL tailback into that system.
Both parties to that trade rolled the dice, and the only decision that should be questioned was whether, ex ante, the trade was likely to make both sides better off. As highly as the librul sports media thinks of itself, it will never be informed enough to even answer that question, let alone to navigate the uncharted waters of whether one (or both!) teams screwed themselves ex post. Both sides acquired a player that will end his career in the highest echelons of the many thousands of players that have come in and out of the league, but the deal was not sufficient to propel either side to win, or even appear in, a Super Bowl™.
To argue that one side came out better in the deal makes claims about knowing the unknowable: Precisely what would have happened, even probabilistically, to both sides had the trade not occurred? Them Redskeeins might have made a different trade, they might have signed Champ to a new deal, or franchised him, or let him go to free agency and used the cap room to sign a halfway decent quartered back. They might have drafted well with that second round pick, but this is the Redskins we’re talking about so probably not.
Would the Broncos have given Clinton Portis an improved deal? Who knows? His four most productive seasons were comparable to those of Terrell Davis in terms of yards and touchdowns, and if he had been the Broncos’s tailback in 2005 the resulting offensive juggernaut might have won a Super Bowl despite a diminished defense; a precursor to the 2009 New Orleans Saints. Or maybe they wouldn’t have.
THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW.
Editor’s Note: Please see the reaction from co-editor and admitted Broncos Fanboi Magic Sam to this article.