A much-discussed trade that would have sent Denver Broncos star middle linebacker Al Wilson to the New York Giants was severely jeopardized Friday, and perhaps scuttled entirely, when the five-time Pro Bowl performer failed a physical examination.
Two league sources familiar with the trade discussions said that Giants team physicians and front office personnel were concerned by a neck problem discerned during the examination.
Trade talks had progressed to the point where Wilson traveled east to meet with the Giants, and the expectation was that a deal would have been consummated had he passed the exam. It is believed the teams had agreed to most of the principle elements of the trade, with the deal contingent on Wilson's health. Clubs typically include a physical examination in trade agreements.
It is not known what the Giants would have surrendered in the deal. Some reports indicated New York would part with third-year defensive end Justin Tuck, but they were unfounded.
It is doubtful, sources said, that the trade talks will be revived.
Wilson, 29, has missed only three games in eight seasons, never more than one in a given year. He was carted from the field with a neck injury last December after running into teammate and defensive tackle Gerard Warren, but returned to play the following week. He did miss the final game of the season with neck and thumb injuries. He subsequently had offseason surgery to address the thumb injury.
An online search of Wilson's medical history since entering the NFL referred to only two games missed because of any neck injuries.
In the NFL, however, there are no leaguewide standards for physicals, and examinations are totally subjective. Often a team will "fail" a player on a physical, not only because of the medical risk involved, but also because of financial exposure. Wilson has three seasons remaining on his current contract -- at base salaries of $5.2 million (2007), $3.65 million (2008), $5.15 million (2009) and $6.8 million (2010) -- and that could have been a factor in the Giants' decision.
Also, just because Wilson did not pass the Giants' standards does not mean he cannot play for the Broncos again.
A first-round choice in the 1999 draft, Wilson has been the subject of trade speculation for much of the offseason. ESPN.com reported earlier this month that Detroit officials had attempted to acquire Wilson from Denver in the deal that sent cornerback Dre Bly to the Broncos and offensive tackle George Foster and tailback Tatum Bell to the Lions. The Philadelphia Eagles also inquired about Wilson's availability.
But the NFL Network reported this week that the Broncos were discussing the trade with the New York Giants, and the linebacker's agent confirmed there had been negotiations involving his client.
Despite his five Pro Bowl appearances, Wilson is not a high profile defender. But he has been one of the NFL's steadiest playmakers, a tackling machine with 960 career stops, and the rare middle linebacker who can stay on the field for third down and be effective, as reflected in his 21 ½ sacks, five interceptions and 49 pass deflections.
Had he been traded, Wilson would have moved to weakside linebacker in New York, since the Giants already possess a standout middle linebacker in Antonio Pierece. Denver would probably have filled the vacancy created by his departure by moving starting strongside linebacker D.J. Williams, a first-round choice in 2004, into the middle.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.