It’s becoming increasingly rare for a player in any sport to spend their entire career with one team. With the advent of free agency and every team having a fair share in terms of available money, players are swapping teams like Taylor Swift swaps boyfriends. The NFL in particular is known for its players moving around at the drop of a hat. With the average player’s career being only three years, it makes sense.
But the thing is, players have been swapping teams since practically the beginning of the league. We’ll be taking a look at players you didn’t know played for different teams in this article. A lot of them, believe it or not, come from the 80s, 90s, and even the 60s and 70s.
It’s surprising just how many legendary players were on random teams. We all know about Joe Montana playing for the Chiefs, and of course Peyton Manning finishing his career with the Broncos. But what team did Jim Marshall begin his NFL career with? Who did Reggie White take his final snaps for? Those are the guys we’re going to be looking at here.
By the way, this list is organized more by the shock factor of where these guys played, not by how good they were.
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15 Jeff Hostetler - Raiders
Jeff Hostetler made a name for himself as Phil Simms' backup, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 1990. He then beat out Simms for the starting job the following year, and started 21 games over the next two seasons.
The Giants cut the oft injured Hostetler after the 1992 season however, allowing him to sign with the Oakland Raiders. He played there for four seasons (two in Los Angeles and two in Oakland) and made the Pro Bowl in 1994. That same spark he had with the Giants was gone though and he was never really all that great to begin with. After four seasons as the starter, he was cut by the Raiders and finished his career in Washington.
Despite being remembered as a Giant, he made his only Pro Bowl appearance as a Raider. He also led the Raiders to a playoff blow-out win over the Broncos in 1993.
14 Jim Marshall – Cleveland Browns
Jim Marshall is probably best known for the infamous “Wrong Way Run” safety in a 1964 game against the 49ers. What gets lost with that play is that Marshall was a key member of the Purple People Eaters, the brutal Vikings defense. He played in Minnesota for an astounding 19 seasons. He played before the sack was an official stat, so it’s hard to tell just how great he was.
But before that, he was actually drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1960, having played the previous year in Canada. He played 12 games with the Browns (a full season back then) and had a fumble recovery. Marshall and five other players were traded to the newly formed Vikings in exchange for two draft picks.
After 50 odd years, it’s impossible to say why Marshall was traded in the first place. He was only a 4th round pick, but he was a starter with the Browns the entire season and was already showing flashes of brilliance.
13 Jerry Rice – Seahawks/Broncos
Jerry Rice was still playing at the age of 39 when he moved across the bay from the 49ers to the Raiders. The move actually breathed new life in him and he had two of his best seasons in years with the team.
But that didn’t last long and the best wide receiver in NFL history started to show his age in 2004. He was 42 by then, and life, the universe and everything slowed down for him. He had five catches for 67 yards in six games for the Raiders when he was traded at the deadline.
His new team was the Seattle Seahawks. Hoping to find another spark of life, he flew to Seattle with a smile on his face. But it wasn’t to be. With the Seahawks, Rice caught 25 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns. With the writing on the wall, Rice retired after the season.
Haha, just kidding. He tried another comeback with the Broncos but retired only after learning he’d be at the bottom of the depth chart in training camp. Not the most gracious way to go, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.
12 Warren Moon – Chiefs
Warren Moon ended his career much the same way he began – with no one wanting him. He famously had to start out in the CFL before finally getting a chance with the Oilers, Vikings, and briefly the Seahawks. But did you know he played with the Chiefs for two years to close out his career?
He signed with the Chiefs in 1999 at the tender age of 43. He was signed as a backup to Eric Grbac, who actually had his two best seasons with Moon behind him. It’s a shame Moon didn’t get a chance. The 1999 Chiefs team had an equally aging Andre Rison, and a young Tony Gonzalez and Joe Horn. He could have done something with that cast.
Alas, Moon played only two seasons with the Chiefs, throwing a single touchdown in 2000. He announced his retirement in January 2001, bringing one of the most underrated careers for a quarterbacks to a close. These Chiefs teams weren’t bad, finishing 9-7 in 1999 and 7-9 in 2000. It would have been interesting to see how far Moon could have taken them in a post-John Elway AFC West.
11 Eddie George – Cowboys
Eddie George is one of those players everyone always forgets about. But he was a great player during his relatively brief career and is certainly a candidate for the Hall of Fame. He was a bruiser for the Titans, but actually finished his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
He left the Titans in 2004 on unfriendly terms. He saw a massive decline in production in 2003 and thanks to numerous injuries, the team wanted him to take a pay cut. When George refused, the Titans let him go. Jerry Jones decided to give him a chance and signed George to a deal.
At just 31 years old, George went into his first and final season with the Cowboys. He was made the starting running back, but only made it eight disappointing games. He ran for 432 yards and four touchdowns. He lost the job to rookie Julius Jones and was cut after the season, before retiring.
10 Emmitt Smith – Cardinals
Emmitt Smith’s story isn’t all that different from Eddie George's. It’s fitting, since George came in to replace Smith a year after the Hall of Famer was cut in 2003. Smith’s job was three-fold though. As well as providing a spark at running back, he was also expected to play the role of mentor to young running back Marcel Shipp.
The Cardinals were a historically awful team. Smith wasn’t necessarily brought in to change that, but to provide a spark for the fan base. Here was an obvious future Hall of Fame player and the best running back in NFL history at the time coming to help turn things around.
His first season with the Cards was terrible. He broke his shoulder blade and only played 10 games, rushing for 256 yards. He picked it up in 2004 though, when he ran for over 900 yards as the starter, while scoring 9 rushing touchdowns and even a passing one.
9 Tim Brown – Buccaneers
Much like Smith, Brown’s story is remarkably similar, this time to Jerry Rice’s. In fact, Brown even played alongside Rice in Oakland. Other than that, there’s nothing different here. Brown was getting on in years and his production was slipping, and he was 38 by the time 2004 came around. Not wanting to take a pay cut or sit on the bench, he was cut. He was the last player of the Los Angeles Raiders on the team.
Not long after, he was signed by the Tamp Bay Bucs to the veteran minimum. His former coach in Oakland, Jon Gruden, now head coach of the Bucs, wanted to give him a chance. He wasn’t named a starter though.
Throughout the 2004 season, Brown had 24 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown. The Bucs didn’t resign him after the season. Instead, he signed a one day contract to retire a Raider.
8 Trent Green – Chargers
Trent Green is remembered for his time with the Rams and Chiefs, but he began his career in San Diego. The Chargers drafted him in the 8th round in 1993 out of Indiana. Although he made the team, he was third on the depth chart behind starter Sam Humphries and backup John Friesz. He didn’t see a single snap with the team.
The team didn’t expect much out of him, which is why he was drafted in the 8th round. Humphries and Friesz were both terrible, but the Chargers thought so low of Green they didn’t give him a chance.
Green then went on to play a season in the CFL before getting signed by Washington. The rest is history. Almost no evidence exists that point to Green having been with the Chargers, save for a single rookie card and official NFL records showing he was the third from the last player taken in 1993.
7 Joe Namath – Rams
I’m about to say something controversial, but Joe Namath wasn’t actually a very good quarterback. At least, in today’s terms. He threw for over 4,000 yards once, early in his career, but he was always throwing picks. He threw 28 interceptions twice, and 27 once too. It should come as no surprise the Jets finally got tired of his turnover prone habits in 1976, when he was benched after 8 games. He also struggled with several knee and ankle injuries throughout the previous years.
By the time he got to the LA Rams in 1977, he was a shadow of his former self. He started four games for the Rams, throwing two picks (almost three) in the final game of his career. For the rest of the season, he backed up future USC Athletic Director Pat Haden.
Whatever plans the Rams or the NFL had for Namath were dashed when he decided to retire at the end of the season.
6 Reggie White – Panthers
Reggie White already retired when he decided to strap on the football helmet one last time for the Panthers in 2000. Two time Super Bowl Champion head coach George Seifert convinced White to come out of retirement at the age of 38 to bolster the defensive line.
White ended up starting all 16 games for the Panthers. Despite having a respectable 5.5 sacks, the Panthers actually finished worse overall than the previous year, going from 8-8 to 7-9. White again retired after the season and the Panthers would go on to finish 1-15 the following year.
Due to coming out of retirement, White reset the five year clock on his possible induction into the Hall of Fame. He died in 2004 due to a breathing disorder and tragically didn’t live to see himself get inducted on the first ballot in 2006.
5 Deacon Jones – Washington
Some of you hardcore fans may know that Deacon Jones played for the Chargers for two years. But how many of you knew he played for Washington in his final year, 1974?
He was great for the Chargers in ’72 and ’73, leading the team in tackles and being named team captain. For reasons now lost to time, he made his way from San Diego to Washington. Despite promising to be named a starter, it wasn’t to be. He spent most of the season as a backup and on the bench, considered past his prime by his coaches.
Like Jim Marshall, Jones played before the sack became an official stat. It’s impossible to say how good he was, especially at the end of his career when the only official stat to his name is a single start.
He ended his career by convincing the coach to allow him to kick a PAT, which he made.
4 Priest Holmes – Ravens
Priest Holmes eventually found his way into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame. But the start of his career didn’t look so promising. He went undrafted out of Texas in 1997. Lucky for him, the Baltimore Ravens signed him to a contract.
He played so well throughout preseason and training camp that he was named starter. Better still, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. He was injured the following season though, playing only six games. By 2000, he was replaced by rookie Jamal Lewis and gained less than 600 yards, and mostly sat on the bench as the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
With no need for him, and likely to demand a big contract soon, the Ravens cut Holmes following their Super Bowl victory. He then signed with the Chiefs and played with another guy on this list, Trent Green.
3 Thurman Thomas – Dolphins
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an NFL legend didn’t know when to retire but the team he’s known for playing cut him, so he signed somewhere else and basically did nothing. Yeah, same thing here. This time the name is Thurman Thomas and the new team is the Miami Dolphins.
Maybe the one difference with Thomas is that the writing had been on the wall a long time, and Bills had given him three years to finally hang ‘em up. In his final three seasons with the Bills, he rushed for over 1,100 yards and three touchdowns. By 1999, he started only three games and played in five.
The Bills didn’t want him any longer and cut Thomas after the 1999 season. But Thomas wanted to keep playing, so he signed with the Dolphins. After nine games, he blew out his knee and his career was over. In the 2000 season, he rushed for a whopping 136 yards and no touchdowns.
Along with Thomas, the Bills also cut Andre Reed and this next guy on our list at the same time.
2 Bruce Smith – Washington
Unlike so many other guys on this list, Bruce Smith actually had a pretty decent end to his career with his new team, Washington. He signed with them after the Bills cut him in the 2000 off-season and made an immediate impact.
In 2000, he racked up 10 sacks and 9 in 2002. In 2003, he became the first NFL player to officially reach the 200 sack mark, and walked away more or less at the top of the game. Though, Washington decided to cut him after the 2003 season and he chose to retire at that point.
Still, it goes to show why so many players keep playing after their time is seemingly up. You never know when there still might be a little more left in the tank.
1 Johnny Unitas – Steelers
Yes, Johnny Unitas once played for the Chargers. We even wrote as much not long ago. But did you remember when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers? You know, in 1955, the good old days?
He was taken in the 9th round in 1955 out of Louisville. He played sparingly in preseason, but was cut before the start of the regular season. The Steelers had three other quarterbacks on the roster at the time. As a result, Unitas sat at home throughout the 1955 season until the Colts signed him in 1956.
The Steelers didn’t give him much of a chance though. In his book, Steelers chairmen Dan Rooney said the coach at the time, Walt Kiesling thought Unitas wasn’t smart enough to be a quarterback in the NFL. Art Rooney Jr., now co-owner of the Steelers and son of former owner Art Rooney Sr., said: “The coaches would run the quarterbacks through drills, and sometimes the whistle would blow before John even got a turn.”
It’s hard to imagine now that the Steelers didn’t even give Unitas a chance, but sometimes you just never know who’ll have a great career and who isn’t smart enough to play quarterback, apparently.
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