For a three-year stretch in the mid-2000s, the Dolphins rostered three All-Decade defenders. Eighteen years ago Friday, Miami brought in Junior Seau to start on its Jason Taylor– and Zach Thomas-led defense.
On April 16, 2003, the Dolphins finalized a trade that brought Seau over from San Diego. It took only a conditional draft choice for the Dolphins to acquire the 13-year Chargers starter, who was 34 at the time of the trade. (That pick ended up becoming a fifth-rounder in 2004, which turned into future LaDainian Tomlinson backup and Falcons Pro Bowler Michael Turner.)
The 2003 offseason brought considerable change for the Chargers, who said goodbye to Seau and Rodney Harrison. While these two would end up teammates again in New England, Seau took a three-season detour. The Dolphins brought Seau over to join a defense that had ranked fourth in 2002; it ranked third in ’03, which turned out to be Seau’s best Miami season.
A Chargers first-round pick in 1990, the San Diego native became the greatest defender in franchise history. Seau ventured to 12 straight Pro Bowls from 1991-2002 and was a first-team All-Decade performer in the 1990s. The USC alum was the best player on the Bolts’ Super Bowl XXIX team, pairing elite tackling skills with pass-rushing ability that allowed him to put together three seven-sack seasons despite not working as a pure rusher. The Chargers, however, moved in a different direction in 2003, allowing Seau to seek a trade. The Bolts paid Seau around $2MM of a $2.7MM roster bonus, which was due the day before the trade was finalized.
Seau started 15 games for the ’03 Dolphins. He posted 96 tackles (12 for loss) and three sacks that season, a 10-6 Dolphins campaign that ended with the team just missing the playoffs. However, the Dave Wannstedt-run team could not generate momentum coming out of the season. The Dolphins started 1-9 in 2004 and fired Wannstedt. Seau battled through injuries — a pectoral tear in 2004 and an Achilles malady in ’05 — and was only able to log 15 games in that span. Prior to joining the Dolphins, Seau had not missed more than three games in a season.
The Dolphins released Seau in 2006, and he retired soon after. However, the Patriots pulled him out of retirement and used him as a starter in 2006. Seau played four more seasons, becoming one of the only NFL defenders to enjoy a 20-year career, before retiring for good in 2010. Tragically, Seau died by suicide in 2012. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2015.