Usually, the big mistakes for NFL teams revolve around the draft. Many a time a team has picked the wrong guy and that makes them suffer over the years. However, trades can be just as damaging to a team. Too often, they make the mistake of thinking one guy can be worth a lot and it costs them big time. The best example is the Minnesota Vikings giving away slews of draft picks to the Dallas Cowboys to get Herschel Walker. Walker failed in Minnesota while the Cowboys used the picks to build the team that won three Super Bowls. Atlanta Falcons fans still grouse over the team giving Brett Favre to the Packers. Trades are done a lot on draft day and quite often can go quite badly.
Many in history are notable but there are a few from the last 16 years that also stand out. In some cases, it’s grabbing someone they think will be a star who doesn’t work out that way. In other cases, it’s giving away a guy who turns out to be a fantastic star with another team. Too many teams have made the mistake of a trade that looked great only to fall apart big time. That’s especially true on draft day when they make deals to move up that blow up in their face. Here is each team’s worst trade since 2000 and show how the NFL is as prone to these mistakes as in any sport.
32 Arizona Cardinals send Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd Round Pick To Philly for Kevin Kolb
When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins, it was expected Kolb would be the starting QB for the Eagles. A standout in Houston, Kolb had difficulty adjusting to the pros, sustaining a concussion in his very first start. Michael Vick took over for most of the 2010 season although Kolb did show some great promise on his own. He also made history as the first QB to be fined for a horse collar tackle.
31 Atlanta Falcons Acquire Ashley Lelie in Three-Team Trade
A good wide receiver at Hawaii, Lelie was drafted by the Broncos in 2002. His best year was 2004 with 54 receptions for 1,084 yards. However, Lelie became dissatisfied with Denver management and clashing with Mike Shanahan. He began to miss various team meetings to anger his coach and make his feelings about his poor treatment known. When Lelie decided to no-show preseason practices, that was the last straw for Denver management. In 2006, the Broncos unloaded him onto the Falcons as part of a three-way deal that also included the Redskins.
30 Baltimore Ravens Trade Draft Picks to Move up for Kyle Boller
Baltimore needed an elite QB for 2002 and eyed Boller, a good player at USC. They then traded up in the draft to nab him, sending a few picks to New England for what they thought would be the great quarterback they needed. While he had a good start, Boller soon ended up being marred by injuries and enduring a mediocre 21-19 record. The Ravens suffered some nasty losses under him as his injuries took their toll to push his stock down.
29 Buffalo Bills Send Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks for Two Late Round Picks
You’d think the Bills would have enough agony as the team who lost four straight Super Bowls. But this ranks among the more painful bits for their fandom. Drafted in 2007 after a great college career at California, Lynch was pushed by the Bills with good play but was hampered by some injuries. Still, he was the most promising guy on their squad, a great runner who seemed ready to push further but his arrest on a weapons charge soured Bills management to him. Thus, with Lynch seemingly on his way down after injuries, the Bills traded him to Seattle for a fourth and fifth-round draft pick.
28 Carolina Panthers Get Rod Gardner for a Sixth-Round Pick
Gardner was a good but not exactly stellar player at Clemson, dependable but hardly what one would call a standout. He was drafted by the Redskins who got four seasons of good play out of him but again not what one would call a future star. Somehow, the Panthers decided he was just who they wanted and thus traded a sixth round pick to get him in the 2005 offseason. Gardner’s run on the team would be forgettable. He was fourth on their depth chart and had barely any playing time at all. In December of 2006, just months after his trade, Gardner was waived by the Panthers and went on to the Packers and later the Chiefs but was out of football by 2007.
27 Chicago Bears Send Kyle Orton, Two First Round Picks and More for Jay Cutler
The Bears thought they were getting the better part of this deal. Cutler had been showing some great stuff in Denver but some thought held back by management. So the Bears’ decision to send Kyle Orton, first round picks in 2009 and 2010, and a third-round pick to Denver for Cutler seemed steep but wise. The issue is how Cutler has performed. If he was just bad all the time, it would be one thing. However, Cutler has somehow managed to balance between being one of the worst quarterbacks in the league and sometimes among the best. He will have games where he throws multiple interceptions and plays terrible but then comes out and have a fantastic victory that makes him seem elite.
26 Cincinnati Trades Carson Palmer for a First Round Pick and a Second Round Pick
The Bengals have been fairly inactive on the trade market, so finding a bad trade since 2000 was pretty tough. This is almost by default. As a Heisman Trophy winner, Palmer went into the 2003 draft with major expectations and the Bengals figured he would be the guy to lead them to the promised land. He seemed to do just that, posting the Bengals’ first winning season in 15 years in 2005 and leading them to the playoffs only for a devastating knee injury to cut his time short. He had some good work coming back but the Bengals still suffered badly and further injuries cut his time down more.
25 Cleveland Browns Move up to Take Johnny Manziel
It’s almost sad to pick on the Browns for mistakes but this one has to be a doozy. Yet it’s understandable as going into the 2014 draft, Johnny Manziel was supposed to be the can’t miss of the entire class. The first Freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel was a great QB leading Texas A&M and at one point, many felt he'd be a potential first overall pick.
24 Dallas Cowboys Get Joey Galloway for Two First Round Picks
Jerry Jones has made numerous mistakes in his tenure as owner and GM of the Dallas Cowboys but this one was a doozy. Needing a speedster to help the team out, Jones decided to trade up two first round draft picks for Galloway from the Seahawks. Like so many of his ideas, this blew up in Jones’ face as Galloway never got that hot in Dallas and failed to be the major runner expected. Meanwhile, Seattle used that first pick to get their hands on Shaun Alexander.
23 Denver Broncos Trade a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th for Tim Tebow
He seemed to be the next big thing. A two-time National Champion at Florida, Tebow was a highly sought after commodity, winner of the Manning Award and everyone believed he was going to be a winner. Denver believed it, giving up three draft picks for the chance to get Tebow in 2010. At first, it looked terrific as Tebow had a sensational 2011 where he led Denver to several comeback victories and the playoffs with the media believing they had the next Elway on their hands. But as soon as his star was rising, he had several harsh losses and complaints that he was taking too much time throwing the ball and not playing as well as he could.
22 Detroit Lions Acquire Mike Thomas for a 4th Round Pick
The Lions are, of course, infamous for the terrible trade of Bobby Layne who supposedly “cursed” the team to never win for 50 years. That bad luck has followed them since in a variety of bad deals and this is one of their biggest. Thomas had been a good player for Arizona, setting PAC-10 records for interceptions and was drafted by the Jaguars. He had some good games, including a key victory over the Texans but nothing of particular note.
21 Green Bay Packers Swap Matt Hasselbeck for Draft Picks
To be fair, it’s not like the Packers suffered much in the 2000s. They had Brett Favre, after all, and even after trading him off to the Jets, they still had Aaron Rodgers to aid them. However, the trade of Hasselbeck is still something notable. The QB had shown nice potential as a backup when taken in 1998. But the Packers still decided to trade him and a first round draft pick to the Seahawks in exchange for a first and third-round draft pick. Hasselbeck excelled in Seattle, as he became a three-time Pro Bowler turning the Seahawks around and leading them to the playoffs, including Super Bowl XL.
20 Houston Texans Give Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets for a Late Round Pick
Their history isn’t as large as other teams so it’s tricky finding a bad trade for Houston. However, this does have to rank pretty high among their poor choices. Having already played for the Rams, Bengals, Titans and Bills, Fitzpatrick came to Houston with some experience. He soon boosted himself with a fantastic win over the Titans with a franchise record six touchdowns and no interceptions. An injury ended his season early but he was still fantastic and looked to be just the QB the Texans needed. Which was why it was baffling that they decided to ship him to the Jets in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
19 Indianapolis Colts Swap a First Round Pick for Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson went into the 2012 draft considered one of the best-running prospects imaginable. His tenure at Alabama had earned him two National Championships and so the Browns were eager to grab him. However, he was limited in his play and didn’t rise up as well as expected. Still, the Colts were eager enough to trade a first-round draft pick to grab Richardson thinking he would be a terrific player.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars Trade Up To Get Blaine Gabbert
Given their history of losing seasons and thus higher draft picks, you’d think the Jaguars would have come up with a winner by now. But the team continues to suffer thanks to various management blunders. This has to rank among the biggest as Jacksonville had a high spot going into the 2011 draft and so traded up with Washington to give first and second round picks in exchange for the chance to grab Gabbert. Considered a high QB prospect, the guy seemed to have the ingredients to be just the prime QB Jacksonville had long needed.
17 Kansas City Chiefs Lose Tony Gonzalez for a 2nd Rounder
It’s rare a team can make such an error with a veteran player but the Chiefs sure made one here. Drafted in 1997, Gonzalez had done a good job as tight end with some Pro Bowl appearances. He was hampered by injury and his stock with the team was falling, even as he set the record for most yards by a tight end, he was seen by Kansas City management as a hindrance to their long-term plans and not willing to pay what he wanted.
16 Los Angeles Rams Trade the Farm for Jared Goff
True, it’s still early so it may be a bit much to cite this among the worst. But if Herschel Walker taught us anything, it’s that no one man is worth so many picks. That’s exactly what the Rams did when they decided to inaugurate their first season back in Los Angeles by giving away two first round and second round picks to get their hands on Goff, a man whose tenure at California included being 0-9 against all their in-state rivals. He’s not terrible and has had a few good games but has also struggled a lot and openly acknowledges his own problems in press conferences.
15 Miami Dolphins Confuse Fans by Trading for Daunte Culpepper
The Dolphins have had their ups and downs from AFC champions to being in the cellar. Their choice to nab Culpepper in 2006 looked to be a stroke of genius. The man had come to Minnesota and quickly turned the Vikings around all the way to the NFC Championship. A knee injury curtailed his success later but he still had lots of promise and so Miami felt it was worth any price to get him. They chose to ignore his part in the infamous boat cruise scandal and the tiny fact Culpepper hated Miami and traded a second round pick to get him.
14 Minnesota Vikings Trade Star Receiver Randy Moss for Napoleon Harris and Picks
Moss entered the NFL under a bit of a cloud due to some rather infamous personal issues. He made it clear he wanted to play for Dallas, his favorite team but they passed on him so he was drafted by the Vikings. Moss had a terrific career in Minnesota, breaking out to be one of the most exciting players of his era. Despite some clashes with coaches and a high price tag, Moss was clearly the best offensive weapon Minnesota had and was a huge star beloved by the fans.
13 New England Patriots Trade For Chad Johnson
Given how they’ve become a true dynasty since 2000, you can’t really criticize the Patriots for making any truly dumb moves. When you have Tom Brady, the need for elite receivers really doesn't exist. Still, it's good to throw even the NFL's best QB a bone ever now and then. The Pats felt they would do that by trading for Chad Johnson for a fifth round pick and a sixth round pick. The price tag was small, but Johnson's production in New England plummeted. He had trouble understanding the Pats' playbook and as a result, did not see much playing time.
12 New Orleans Saints Give Away Willie Roaf for Basically Nothing
With a nickname like “Nasty,” it’s no wonder Roaf was known for his hard play. He had a great career at Louisiana Tech with his hard hitting style and a fantastic blocker. Drafted by the Saints, Roaf did good work keeping them going even as they had some rough seasons overall. He was named to seven Pro Bowls, the 1990s and 2000s All-Decade teams and a highly awarded Saints player. Yet after suffering a knee injury in 2001, New Orleans decided Roaf’s time was done and so traded him to Kansas City for a conditional draft choice.
11 New York Giants Get Rid of Jeremy Shockey for Two Picks
A standout at Miami, Shockey earned fame for the go-ahead touchdown catch that helped Miami beat rivals Florida State. He got major flack for an interview slamming the idea of gay players in the NFL that may have lowered his stock but the Giants took a chance anyway. He did a great job as a pass-catching tight end, although he was hampered by injuries and thus had to sit out the Giants’ victory over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Reportedly, Shockey and management had a falling out with Shockey not happy about his pay and wanting a better deal. Thinking he was too much of a hassle with his off-field attitude, New York traded him to the Saints for second and fifth-round draft picks.
10 New York Jets Pay a Hefty Price for Mark Sanchez
Oh, the Jets. Who else could make what looked to be a fantastic deal only to have it turn into a laughingstock? After just one season at USC, Sanchez entered the NFL draft despite how his own college coaches warned he wasn’t ready for the NFL. Despite that, the Jets gave up three players, a first and a second round draft pick to get this youngster, thinking he was just the guy to help them top the Patriots. For every good game Sanchez had, he provided something else like five interceptions against the lowly Bills.
9 Oakland Raiders Give Up Jon Gruden for Two Firsts and Two Seconds
It’s tempting to list Oakland giving away Carson Palmer to the Cardinals in time for Palmer to have the best seasons of his career. But Gruden is something else. Under four seasons, he rebuilt the Raiders into a powerful team who made the playoffs, returning to their glory days dominating other AFC teams. Yet somehow, management felt he just wasn’t right and so he was shipped out on a huge deal involving the Bucs, giving two first and second round draft picks for Gruden to take over in Tampa Bay. Gruden immediately retooled their offense and spiced up the defense, transforming the longtime NFC jokes into a major powerhouse who finished 2002 with a 12-4 record. As the topper, the Bucs ended up pulling off one of the biggest Super Bowl blowout wins ever by defeating the favored Raiders for their only championship.
8 Philadelphia Eagles Trade LeSean McCoy For Kiko Alonso
We now get to the reign of terror that was Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. While Kelly initially had success, leading the Eagles to a pair of 10-win seasons, once Kelly got full control over the team's personnel, things spiraled out of control. As far as actual trades though, we'll got with Kelly trading star running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso.
Kelly was essentially trying to build a roster to play similar football to how his Oregon Ducks played in college. Alonso being a former Duck is probably what landed him in Philly. While Alonso was a Pro Bowl caliber player in Buffalo, he struggled in Philly's system and had injury woes.
Meanwhile, trading McCoy led to the Eagles replacing him with DeMarco Murray, a terrible fit for Philly's system. Kelly hurt the Eagles big time in such a short span.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers Cut Limas Sweed
Really, the Steelers don’t have many really stunningly bad moves in the last 15 years in terms of trades. Their drafts aren’t too bad overall and they’ve enjoyed massive success with their Super Bowl victories. However, the 2008 draft class is recognized as the Steelers’ worst of the last decade and a half. They did a lot of trading with teams to try and adjust their place but it didn’t work as they ended up with some terrible picks. The top one would have to be Sweed, a promising player for Texas hampered by a bad injury which made him go all the way down to 53rd before he was picked.
6 San Diego Chargers Trade Two Picks for Jacob Hester
5 San Francisco 49ers Trade Alex Smith To KC
Another case of a deal that seemed so great but has now blown up in everyone’s faces. Jim Harbaugh had really turned the 49ers around by the 2012 season, having come off an NFC Championship appearance in 2011. In 2012, Smith was playing very solid football, but a concussion paved the way for Colin Kaepernick to take over. Kap went on an amazing hot streak and so Harbaugh decided to ride the hot hand. The 49ers would reach the Super Bowl, convincing them Kaepernick was the guy.
Smith was then traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second round pick and a conditional pick. Initially, the move seemed great for San Fran, but Kaepernick has gone on to decline as an NFL QB, having even lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert last year.
4 Seattle Seahawks Send Deion Branch Back to the New England Patriots
Coming out of the University of Louisville, Branch was drafted by the Patriots in 2002 and quickly establishing himself as a fantastic rusher. His catches and runs were great, pushing the Patriots into becoming the dynasty of the decade and sustaining himself even through injuries. He held out for more money in 2006 with the Patriots deciding to trade him to Seattle.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Give Up A Lot for One Year of Darrelle Revis
Despite being one of the best defensive backs in the game, Revis wasn’t getting much respect in New York. He was holding out for more money going into the 2012 season but a knee injury cut his chances down. So the Bucs stepped in to trade two draft picks (including a first-rounder) for Revis. They ended up with poor play marred by his injuries and things just didn't work out. They tried to trade him again but couldn’t find any takers so they finally cut him.
2 Tennessee Titans Trade Up and Get Ben Troupe
The Titans have had their share of bad draft picks like Pacman Jones (famous for both a gun assault arrest and wrestling in TNA). This isn’t quite as bad but still ranks as a mistake. Troupe had been a good player for the Butler Bulldogs before heading to Florida, winning the SEC championship in 2000 and serving as senior team captain. He entered the 2004 draft as a promising tight end and so the Titans traded a few picks with Houston to nab Troupe at number 40.
1 Washington Redskins Give Up a Ton for Robert Griffin III
Of all the players on this list, RG III might be the biggest “can’t miss” prospect of the bunch. His work at Baylor was sensational, winning the Heisman Trophy, the Manning Award and AP Player of the Year. So when he entered the 2012 draft, Washington traded three first round picks and a second round choice for the chance to get him. At first, Griffin was just what Washington wanted, a sensational QB with great numbers and becoming the face of the team. But injuries curtailed his progress, with criticism of his coming back too soon to reinjure his knee and cost the Redskins in the playoffs.
When he returned, Griffin was a shadow of himself, faltering badly and soon Kirk Cousins was taking over. He blew out his leg in Week 2 of 2014 and when he came back, the Redskins lost three straight games. After getting injured again in 2015, he was released and signed by the Browns, meaning Washington had blown several prime draft spots for one good season and way too much off-field drama.
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