The Minnesota Vikings closed the book on one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history yesterday by releasing former Pro Bowl running back Herschel Walker.
The Vikings projected Walker as the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle and mortgaged their future for him in 1989, sending the Dallas Cowboys five players and seven high draft choices.
Instead, those draft picks fueled a rebuilding job by the Cowboys and left Minnesota's championship hopes in shambles. The Vikings are 21-22 since Walker's arrival and missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Walker rushed for 825 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. But he was disenchanted with the club's reluctance to make more of a commitment to him and the running game and asked for his release from the Vikings at the end of the season.
Minnesota spent the winter and spring trying to trade him. But faced with a June 1 deadline to make him a qualifying contract offer -- 100 percent of his 1991 guaranteed salary of $1.75 million -- the Vikings elected to put both the trade and Walker behind them.
"I think it's time to move on for both the Vikings and Herschel," Vikings vice president Jeff Diamond said. "This probably gives them a head start to test free agency."
Walker could not be reached for comment, but Tom Condon, one of his agents, said the former Heisman Trophy winner was eager to start anew elsewhere.
"From his perspective, Minnesota was a bad experience," Condon said. "Herschel wants to show people he still has what he's always had."
Atlanta had expressed interest in Walker, a former All-American at Georgia, before the 1992 draft. But the Falcons cooled on a possible deal and wound up selecting running back Tony Smith of Southern Mississippi in the first round.
The acquisition of Eric Dickerson took the Los Angeles Raiders out of the trade market last month, but the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams could have some interest. The Eagles ranked 21st and the Rams 27th in the NFL in rushing last season, and both are in need of a back.
Although it would be ironic if Walker returned to play in Dallas, where he still makes his home, don't look for the Cowboys to pursue him.
"We'll always take a look when a quality player becomes available," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Herschel is a player that can help most teams. But I think we're in pretty good shape at running back right now."
The Cowboys already have enough to show for Walker.
Ten players acquired directly or indirectly for Minnesota players and picks will go to training camp with the Cowboys this summer, including halfback Emmitt Smith, defensive tackle Russell Maryland and defensive backs Kevin Smith and Darren Woodson.
Walker led the NFC in rushing with 1,514 yards in 1988 but he has not been over 1,000 since. At 30, he is now looking for employment with his fourth pro football team.