While trades among NFL teams don't always work out, it certainly did for the Jets in 1991, when they acquired veteran free safety Lonnie Young from the Arizona Cardinals. He couldn't have been happier. Not to mention, more surprised.
"(Veteran free safety) Erik McMillan had been to at least two Pro Bowls, and so I was a little puzzled," Young said. "But as soon as I came into the building and met (defensive coordinator) Pete Carroll, he tossed me a tape and told me to take a look and tell him what I thought. He said, 'We traded for you for a reason and we'll give you a good opportunity to compete for a starting position.' I certainly welcomed that challenge.
"It was just a very different experience in every way. I had a good experience with the Cardinals, but when I got to the Jets, I just felt like we were close. I thought our team was more explosive. I felt like this team was on the rise. And we really were."
After making the playoffs for the first time is six seasons in 1991, the following year was painful for the Jets who went 4-12. And for Young, it was painful – literally.
"We were in Buffalo (to play the Bills in Week 14) and I picked up a fumble, got tackled, and tore my ACL, MCL, and TCL," Young said. "I went through a rigorous recovery process and before I came back, Pete Carroll called and said, 'We've got to find somebody to do some of the stuff that you were doing for us.'
"He mentioned Ronnie Lott and a couple other safeties that were available in free agency. Because of my injury, it really opened the opportunity for Ronnie to finish his career as a New York Jet."
Guided through a strenuous rehabilitation by the Jets' training staff, Young made his way back out onto the field in Week 8 of the 1993 campaign, and picked up where he left off.
"I came back and played very well," Young said. "And, in fact, my first play on the field, I got an interception against the Dolphins."
As excited as Young was to be playing again, that feeling didn't last too long into the offseason when Carroll called to say things weren't going to be the same.
"I felt like I played really well when I came back, I made some big plays. I felt like I was pretty much 100 percent," Young said. "Pete just told me openly that this wasn't going to be the same situation that I had with Erik McMillan, where he said, 'Hey, you take three snaps. Let Erik take three snaps. And whoever makes the most plays, will play.'
"He told me it wasn't going to be an open competition between me and Ronnie. At that point, I decided that I'd been a starter my whole career and I'm not ready to be anybody's understudy."
And so Young became a free agent.
"After the first game that season, I hadn't signed with anybody and was contemplating retirement," he said. "And then I got a call from the Chargers because a backup safety got in trouble and was arrested. They released him and brought me in for a workout. I stayed there for the year (and helped San Diego win the AFC title and play in Super Bowl XXIX against San Francisco)."
Following the Conference Championship season with the Chargers, Young ricocheted back to the Jets. But with 3-13 and 1-15 records, the next two years in New York were anything but championship-like.
How did Young and his teammates keep their confidence?
"We all had a job to do as professional athletes. And every week you go out and you feel like you can win the game," Young said. "That is really what carried us from week to week. And the more games we lost, the harder we worked to get our first win. Nobody wants to be on the roster of a 0-16 team. We all really wanted to win every week, and we felt like we could win every week."
Originally chosen in the 12th round of the 1985 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, Young beat the odds, took a sip of water, and beat them some more. Young played in the NFL for 12 seasons, which is four times the average length of a player's career in the league.
"When I was a kid, there was two things I really wanted to do," Young said. "I knew I wanted to play pro football. I didn't know if that would actually happen, but I was going to do everything I could to give myself an opportunity to. And when football was over, I wanted to always be a businessman."
The wrecked knee in 1992 reminded Young of the second point of his plan.
"The injury scared me because it was such a bad injury, my career could have actually been over," he said. "I started thinking about football and life and life after football. So I got into the McDonalds owner-operator training program and ran two restaurants."
It turned out that Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, and Happy Meals, weren't his thing, and Young got back into the NFL in a different capacity – as a college scout.
Originally with the Jets, he'd also work in the scouting departments for the Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens, winning Super Bowl XLVII.
"(Eighteen years as a scout) was an excellent experience. It was good to be back in the game and get a chance to look at the game from a completely different perspective," Young said. "I left the Ravens a year ago to go back into business for myself as the owner/operator of a staffing company called PrideStaff."
Still searching for talented people who don't necessarily have to be timed in the 40, Young and his wife, Melanie, are franchisees whose territory includes Glendale and the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area.
"We are doing quite well even during these turbulent times. We've been able to put a lot of people to work and help a lot of companies who are struggling to get people at different pay rates," Young said. "I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people restart their life in a lot of cases. And I also like the idea of the relationships that we build with the people in the community as well as our clients. That gives us a lot of satisfaction.
"I was in a store one day, and a young lady came up to me and said, 'I don't know if you remember, Mr. Young, but you got me a job at such and such place. And I'm now the manager.' Those kinds of stories keep us coming to work every day."