If you’ve played fantasy football, you’ve likely traded players at one time or another. Those trades either propelled your team to championship glory or they had disastrous results when a player you traded for underperformed, got injured—or suspended—and was out for the season. Although not as frequent nor as sexy as fantasy football trades, the NFL is no different with trades and resultant impact. However, NFL trades involving veteran players, draft picks and combinations thereof can have significant impact on franchises, setting them up or setting them back for years, if not decades.
Ask the Minnesota Vikings if they want a do-over with their trade for Hershel Walker that brought Dallas a bounty of picks in the early 1990s. Would the Atlanta Falcons liked to have seen what could have been with Brett Favre still in town? Likewise for the New Orleans Saints who sold the farm to the Washington Redskins for the opportunity to draft running back Ricky Williams. Would the Redskins like to give those picks back given their inability to capitalize on their draft haul? Invariably, NFL trades have winners and losers.
Today’s NFL landscape is loaded with trade winners and losers. A few teams come away from a trade with an embarrassment of riches while many get a handful of players who contribute little to nothing. Many teams will claim to make moves based on team need, however, all teams need—and want—a surplus of great players. Retrospection on what could have been is a combustible flux of draft projection, player attitude and luck for all involved. The following list highlights several of the most lopsided NFL trades involving current players. Lots of birds and horses on this list!
15 LeGarrette Blount (RB) for Everett Dawkins (DT) and Jeff Demps (RB)
In 2012, running back Doug Martin’s breakout season made LaGarrette Blount expendable—somewhat. However, there’s a fine line between expendable and serviceable in the volatile world of NFL running backs. The Bucs would ship Blount to the New England Patriots for running back Jeff Demps and a 2013 seventh round pick (229th overall). Tampa Bay packaged the 2013 pick with a six round pick (196th overall) to the Minnesotta Vikings for their six round pick and selected—wait for it—a back-up running back, Mike James. James is still with the team buried on the depth chart while Demps is no longer in the league. On the other hand, Blount established himself as an Indianapolis Colt killer in both the 2013 and 2015 playoffs as well as the Patriot’s workhorse back while collecting a Super Bowl ring.
14 Alfred Morris (RB) for Donovan McNabb (QB)
The Minnesota Vikings looked for an answer at the quarterback position in 2011. The Washington Redskins had a questionable solution in an aging Donovan McNabb—who had been demoted to the third string. The Redskins traded McNabb to the Vikings for a six round pick (173rd overall) in the 2012 draft. Steal, right? What was a projected dream team pairing with Adrian Peterson turned into a night-terror as McNabb was benched in favor of back-up Charlie Ponder. McNabb would not play football again. And that 2012 draft pick? The Redskins selected Alfred Morris who ran away with the starting job in 2012, posting 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Morris averaged 1,033 rushing yards and five touchdowns for the next three tumultuous seasons with the Redskins until signing with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.
13 Haloti Ngata (DT/NT) for Kamerion Wimbley (LB)
In the 2006 draft, the Baltimore Ravens moved up a spot in the first round by trading their first round (13th overall) and sixth round picks (181st overall) to the division rival Cleveland Brown’s for their first round pick (12th overall). Baltimore selected defensive tackle Haloti Ngata while Cleveland selected linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley led the lowly Browns in sacks for three of the next four years until being traded to the Raiders for quarterback Colt McCoy in 2010. Ngata, on the other hand, anchored the defensive tackle and nose tackle positions helping to propel Baltimore to perennial playoff appearances and an eventual Super Bowl victory during the 2012-2013 season. Now a Detroit Lion, Ngata has added five Pro Bowls and two All Pro selections to his resume as well.
12 Jay Cutler (QB) for Tye Hill (DB) and Claude Wroten (DT)
Quarterback Jay Cutler draws the ire of many. However, he’s consistently drawn that ire. The St. Louis Rams might have experienced consistency at the quarterback position and wouldn’t have set their franchise back—for years--had they kept their 2006 first round pick (11th overall) and selected Jay Cutler. However, St. Louis traded that pick to the Denver Broncos—who selected Cutler—for the latter’s first round (15th overall) and third round picks (68th overall). The Rams looked to beef their defense, figuring that Marc Bulger was their quarterback solution. St. Louis would select defensive back Tye Hill and defensive tackle Calude Wroten. Hill played sparingly for three seasons and Wroten was released after violating the league’s substance abuse policy three times. Bulger regressed and St. Louis was forced to choose another unpredictable quarterback—the oft injured Sam Bradford.
11 Reggie Nelson (DB) for Jarvis Moss (DE)
The Denver Broncos were in covet mode during the 2007 draft. The object of their desire was defensive end Jarvis Moss out of Florida. The Broncos moved up in the draft to take Moss by trading their first round (21st overall), third round (86th overall) and sixth round pick (198th overall) for the Jacksonville Jaguars first round pick (17th overall), leaving Denver with only four picks in the draft. Moss would prove a bust, playing little and recording only 3.5 sacks during four seasons as a backup. Jacksonville selected Moss’ Florida teammate, defensive back Reggie Nelson who provided serviceable production during the first few years of Jaguar tenure. Jacksonville used the remaining Denver picks to beef up both sides of their line with Uche Nwaneri (G) and Derek Landri (DT) as well as a punter in their challenge for the AFC South in 2007.
10 LeSean McCoy (RB) for Kiko Alonso (LB)
In 2015, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly shipped running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. At 26-years old, McCoy was coming off two productive seasons under Kelly’s offensive scheme. Believing his own hype and looking to unload McCoy’s salary, Kelly looked for other options at running back while beefing up the Eagle defense. Kelly got his man, Kiko Alonso, who was coming off an ACL injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season. Alonso would re-injure his ACL in the second game of the 2015 season and play sparingly thereafter. The Eagle run game suffered, even with established backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews toting the ball. The new-look Eagles fell to 7 – 9 and Chip Kelly was fired before more bloodletting occurred. To tip the trade scales further, Alonso was traded in the offseason making the Eagles the surefire loser of this trade.
9 Antonio Brown (WR) for John Skelton (WR)
The Arizona Cardinals were hot for quarterback John Skelton during the 2010 NFL draft. They were so hot on him they packaged a deal containing defensive back Bryant McFadden and their six round (195th overall pick) for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fifth round (155th overall) pick. The fifth round is not a bad spot to pick up a backup quarterback by any means. However, when you compare the Cardinal’s pick to Pittsburgh’s selection—wide receiver Antonio Brown—hindsight runs amok. John Skelton wished that he had Antonio Brown paired with Larry Fitzgerald as injuries to Derek Anderson and later Kevin Kolb forced him into starting action. He compiled eight wins and nine losses as a starter throwing 15 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over three brutal seasons of back-up work. As for Antonio Brown, what’s there to say about the four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All Pro selectee who’s in his prime?
8 Richard Sherman (CB) for Mikel Leshoure (RB)
The Detroit Lions were in the zone during their 2011 draft! They nabbed defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the first round and wide receiver Titus Young in the second. Still hungry for seconds, the Lions traded their third, fourth, fifth and seventh round picks to the Seattle Seahawks for their second, fifth and seventh round picks. In turn, the Lions selected running back Mikel Leshoure with their newly acquired second round pick. Nestled in Seattle’s plunder was its fifth round pick (154th overall) pick of corner back Richard Sherman. The outspoken Sherman has done okay for himself with 29 career interceptions, three Pro Bowl nods, three All Pro selections and a Super Bowl ring. Conversely, Leshoure tore his Achilles during his rookie season and played one full season thereafter. He was released in 2013, further adding to the Lion’s 2011 draft misery given Fairley’s inconsistency and Young’s off-field issues.
7 Julian Edelman (WR) for Derek Cox (DB) With a Catch!
The New England Patriots were busy during the 2009 draft, already having traded several picks with the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens. The by-product of those exchanges culminated in a trade of their third round pick (73rd overall) to the Jacksonville Jaguars who provided their seventh round pick (232nd overall) and a 2010 second round pick (44th overall) in return. The eager Jaguars selected defensive back Derek Cox while the Patriots selected wide receiver Julian Edelman. Cox would enjoy adequate success for the Jags and then retire after five seasons. Edelman would provide a substantial return on investment later in the Patriots’ postseason endeavors. However, it was the 2010 second round pick that provided the fireworks. It was a packaged in a deal to the Oakland Raiders where New England plucked tight end juggernaut Rob Gronkowski.
6 Robert Mathis (DE) for Glen Earl (DB)
The Houston Texans could get a pass given they were in their second year of existence. But they won’t. The Texans traded their 2003 fifth round pick (138th overall) to the Indianapolis Colts for their 2004 fourth round pick (122nd overall). Had the Texans stood firm they could have selected defensive end Robert Mathis like the Colts did. Instead, the Texans opted to draft defensive back Glenn Earl, who would only play three seasons. Mathis went on to be a premiere pass rusher with the Colts, garnering five Pro Bowl selections, one All Pro nod and won a Super Bowl ring. Likewise, he is still the all-time leader in forced fumbles and is currently knocking on the door of 130 sacks for his career. Houston could have used Mathis as they were annually ranked in the bottom for NFL team defense until J.J. Watt’s arrival in 2010.
5 Eric Weddle (FS) for Four Draft Picks!
Surely a team getting four picks for one is going to get a return on investment, right? The second round pick (37th overall) in the 2007 NFL draft bounced between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets until finding its way to the Chicago Bears. In turn, Chicago parted with the pick to the San Diego Chargers for a whopping four picks: a second (62nd overall), third (93rd), fifth (167th) and a 2008 third rounder (90th overall). In the end, the Bears landed a backup running back who had a total of 72 carries and three injury burdened players, one who never took the field. However, the Chargers looked like geniuses selecting safety Eric Weddle. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro produced 19 interceptions and 847 combined tackles for the Chargers from 2007 to 2015 until singing with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016.
4 Earl Thomas (DB) for Alphonso Smith (DB)
The Denver Broncos were a glutton for draft punishment, not having learned their lesson with Jarvis Moss in 2007. Denver parted with its 2010 first round pick (14th overall) for the Seattle Seahawks’ 2009 second round pick (37th overall) during the 209 NFL draft. Denver overenthusiastically selected defensive back Alphonso Smith even with the slew of coverage talent in the round such as Jairus Byrd, Mike Mitchell and William Moore. Smith performed terribly in his first year and was traded to the Detroit Lions during his second year. In the 2010 draft, Seattle selected safety Earl Thomas with their pick acquired from Denver. Five Pro Bowls, three All Pro nods and one Super Bowl ring later, Thomas is considered by many the best safety in the NFL.
3 Alshon Jeffery (WR) for Isaiah Pead (RB) and Rokevious Watkins (OT)
When one considers that the Rams haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2008 (Torry Holt), the imbalance of this 2012 trade of picks is pretty damning. Looking to move up, the Chicago Bears sent their second round (50th overall) and 5th round picks (150th overall) to the then St. Louis Rams for their second round pick (45th overall) that was received by trade with the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams selected scat back Isiah Pead and offensive tackle Rokevious Watkins with their pick surplus. Boom! A walk-off, right? Not when Watkins was released as a rookie for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and Pead—a third stringer—only lasted three seasons with the team. As for the Bears, they selected wide receiver Alshon Jeffery who’s averaged 1,120-yards receiving and seven touchdowns as a starter. Jeffery has yet to reach his prime.
2 Jahri Evans (G) and Hollis Thomas (DT) for Max Jean-Gilles (G)
During the 2006 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles essentially swapped picks for the offensive line. Looking to move up, the Eagles sent veteran defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and their fourth round pick (108th overall) to the Saints for their fourth round pick (99th overall). The Eagles selected guard Max Jean-Giles while the Saints selected guard Jahri Evans. Giles would struggle with his weight and recurring injuries and eventually retire after four seasons. Meanwhile, Evans bolstered a Saints offensive line that enabled quarterback Drew Brees to put up Super Tecmo Bowl stats en route to the team’s Super Bowl victory in 2009. Evans would go on to collect six straight Pro Bowl nods and four straight All Pro selections from 2009 to 2014.
1 Vince Wilfork (NT) for Kyle Boller (QB)
The quarterback starved Baltimore Ravens got their man in the 2003 NFL draft—and that man was California State quarterback Kyle Boller. The Ravens sent the New England Patriots their second round pick (41st overall) and their 2004 first round pick (21st overall) for New England’s first round pick (19th overall), which was used on Boller. Boller was thrust into the starting position and resultantly pummelled. He would sputter along for two injury plagued seasons until being replaced by Steve McNair and then rookie Joe Flacco, after McNair’s release. New England used their 2004 pick on nose tackle Vince Wilfork. With hundreds of forced double-teams, two Super Bowl rings, five Pro Bowls and one All Pro selection, it’s safe to say New England got the better end of the deal!