There’s something special about sports trades. While they’re certainly becoming more and more special because of how rare they tend to be (at least notable ones), they’re also special in the sense of the feeling they invoke. Sure, nobody really cares when a couple of role players are sent to another team for a few measly picks, but the situation is quite different when we’re talking about star players. These are the players who fans learned to love as part of the family. These are the players who sold thousands of jerseys. They’re maybe even the players who led teams to championships, or sometimes they’re the players who were stars in the making before anyone knew it. When those players move teams, it’s the kind of thing that shakes up the league and changes a franchise’s fate forever.
The only thing is that there are times when trades involving star players don’t necessarily have that impact. In fact, there are times when star players are shipped for not much at all. The reasons for this vary. Sometimes, that player is past their prime. Other times, they just want too much money. Of course, you still have those times when a team just makes a truly awful decision that will end up haunting them for years to come. You know, in some ways, these trades are even more interesting than some of the high-priced deals. In any case, most fans seem to remember where they were when their star left town. Here’s one star every NFL team gave away for basically nothing.
32 Arizona Cardinals - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (For Kevin Kolb)
Never underestimate what a team desperate for a QB will do. When Kurt Warner left the Arizona Cardinals, he left a franchise that had zero plans for their future at the position.
Desperate for someone to start making sense, they listened to the Philadelphia Eagles who agreed to send them young Kevin Kolb in exchange for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The final result of the deal left the Cardinals with a bad quarterback that they had to spend way too much money on.
31 Atlanta Falcons - Brett Favre For A 1st Round Pick (Tony Smith)
We, of course, have to include what is generally agreed to be one of the worst trades in NFL history. Brett Favre wasn’t considered to be a can’t miss prospect when he entered the NFL Draft in 1991, but most people thought that the Falcons did pretty well for themselves by snagging him in the second round. Unfortunately, Falcons coach Jerry Glanville wasn’t among those people. He was desperate to get rid of Favre as soon as possible, and the Green Bay Packers were all too willing to trade him for a first pick that the Falcons turned into a bad running back (Tony Smith).
30 Baltimore Ravens - Anquan Boldin For A 6th Round Pick
Yes, the John Elway trade was worse, but Elway made it clear that he had no intentions of playing in Baltimore if they decided to try to sign him. As such, we’re left to remember the Anquan Boldin trade. Anquan Boldin wasn't quite as brilliant in Baltimore as he had been in Arizona, but he was still one of the only legitimate receiving threats on the Ravens. Nevertheless, Baltimore traded him to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick, which is the kind of trade you just don’t see anymore.
29 Buffalo Bills - Marshawn Lynch For A 4th-Round and Conditional Pick
Interestingly, quite a few Bills players over the years have worked their way into trades due to a combination of bad ownership and the apparent lack of a thrilling nightlife in Buffalo. Even still, the Marshawn Lynch trade remains a head-scratcher. Marshawn Lynch was a first-round running back who ran for over a thousand yards in two of his first three years. Despite the fact that he was clearly talented, the Bills traded Lynch to Seattle for (get this) a fourth-round pick and a conditional pick. What a stunning mistake.
28 Carolina Panthers - Fred Lane For Spencer Reid
The tragedy surrounding Fred Lane’s death (he was murdered by his wife not long after this trade was made) makes it difficult to examine this situation from a pure football perspective. However, this trade has always struck some as being a bit odd. Fred Lane wasn’t a runaway NFL star, but he had showcased tremendous potential in his first few years as a Panthers running back. Despite his promise, the Panthers traded him away for Spencer Reid ( a linebacker fans would have no reason to remember).
27 Chicago Bears - Greg Olsen For a 3rd-Round Pick
While the Mike Ditka trade is generally seen as one of the worst in NFL history, fans also have to remember that Ditka was in the declining years of legendary career and spent his best seasons in Chicago. The same can’t be said of Greg Olsen. Olsen was generally agreed to be one of the best tight ends in the league when he was with Chicago, but incoming coach Mike Martz said he had no use for him in his offense. As such, he traded Olsen to the Panthers for a third-round pick. Olsen has since had his best NFL seasons.
26 Cincinnati Bengals - Charlie Joiner For Coy Bacon
Wow, this trade was awful. So, the Bengals decide to trade for a promising young receiver named Charlie Joiner at the request of assistant coach Bill Walsh. It seems Walsh thought that Joiner had some potential. Despite having some good seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals decided to trade Joiner due largely to the fact that his only real champion on the team - Bill Walsh - resigned. In return for Joiner, they got a 34-year-old defender named Coy Bacon from the Chargers. It’s certainly worth noting that Joiner went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
25 Cleveland Browns - Homer Jones For Ron Johnson & Jim Kanicki
The Browns' decision to trade away Paul Warfield (one of the NFL’s best receivers at the time) for a first-round pick that they would later turn into a bad quarterback was certainly a bad trade, but at least they got a first-round pick out of the deal. The same can’t be said of their decision to trade Homer Jones. Jones was a first-round running back who finally signed with the Browns following contract disputes. He was then used in the wrong position and traded to the Giants for a receiver who played one season in Cleveland. Jones went on to be an All-Pro.
24 Dallas Cowboys - Tony Dorsett For a 5th-Round Pick
The Cowboys have certainly overpaid for players in the past, but they don’t have a history of trading away big names for nothing. In fact, one of the few trades that fit that description happened way back in 1988 when the Cowboys dealt the legendary Tony Dorsett to the Denver Broncos for a mere 5th round draft pick. Dorsett was still a living legend at that time, but his production had dropped dramatically. The Broncos thought they might be able to get a few more years out of him, but he only lasted one.
23 Denver Broncos - Demaryius Thomas For a 4th-Round Pick
Given that this trade happened fairly recently, it’s hard to evaluate just how good it will be for both sides. However, if the discussion is limited to great players given away for basically nothing, then you have to include Demaryius Thomas. Thomas posted five 1,000+ receiving yards seasons with the Broncos, and three of those seasons saw him eclipse the 1,400 receiving yards mark. He also had three 10+ touchdown seasons. Yet, the Broncos ended up trading him for a fourth-round pick and swapped seventh-round picks.
22 Detroit Lions - Golden Tate For a Third-Round Pick
Here’s another recent trade that can’t be fairly evaluated quite yet, but still meets these criteria based on technicalities alone. Golden Tate had some good years in Seattle, but he proved to be an absolute madman in Detroit. Even without Calvin Johnson on the field to help distract defenses, Tate put up two 1,000+ receiving yard seasons. So why did the Lions trade him to the Eagles for a 3rd round pick despite Tate seemingly being in the prime of his career? It’s not quite clear what the answer to that question is just yet.
21 Green Bay Packers - Matt Hasselbeck For A 1st & 3rd-Round Pick
There are a couple of bad trades worthy of this spot, but we tend to feel that this one is special for a couple of reasons. First off, we fully recognize that the Packers didn’t strictly need Matt Hasselbeck because they happened to have a quarterback by the name of Brett Favre on their roster. However, you can’t help but laugh at the idea of the Packers trading a multi-time Pro Bowl quarterback to the Seattle Seahawks just so they could move up seven picks in the draft. It doesn’t help that the player they drafted was pretty bad.
20 Houston Texans - DeMeco Ryans For a 4th-Round Pick
Since they’re such a young franchise, and since we’re counting the Oilers history as part of the Titans history, the Texans really haven’t made that many major trades. While they pretty much gave away Andre Johnson for free after nobody traded him, the DeMeco Ryans trade remains one of their biggest player trades for a budget price. This once outstanding young linebacker was replaced by Brian Cushing just a couple years after signing an extension. The Texans then agreed to ship him off to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick and swapped third-round picks.
19 Indianapolis Colts - Eric Dickerson For a 4th & 8th-Round Pick
This is another one of those strange trades that actually wasn’t that bad, but is surprising to think of when you look at just the facts about this move. In 1987, the Colts traded for NFL legend Eric Dickerson. While Dickerson may have spent his best years playing for the Rams, he gave the Colts some pretty strong seasons. Perhaps smelling his declining years coming, the Colts traded Dickerson to the Raiders for a fourth and an eighth-round pick. Dickerson retired just a couple of years later.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Brunell For A 3rd-Round Pick
Calling Mark Brunell great is kind of a stretch, but a look at the man’s stats reveals that Brunell was at least very good for the Jacksonville Jaguars for quite some time. As the Jaguars quarterback from 1995-2003, Brunell provided a little stability to a franchise that was still trying to find their footing in the NFL. He was a three-time Pro Bowler who helped Jacksonville make the playoffs in three of its first four years as an NFL franchise. Despite it all, he was eventually traded to Washington for a third-round pick.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Tony Gonzalez For a 2nd-Round Pick
Generally speaking, it’s hard to fault teams that are willing to trade in a veteran talent’s last few years for some younger players. There have been many instances of such a move benefiting the team that’s willing to part with a big name in that scenario. However, the Chiefs’ decision to trade Tony Gonzalez backfired spectacularly. Gonzalez is arguably the greatest tight end of all-time, and he ended up having five more very good years after the Chiefs decided to trade him for a second round pick they turned into...well, not much (Javier Arenas).
16 Los Angeles Chargers - Junior Seau For A Conditional Pick
Junior Seau was quite simply one of the best linebackers ever and an extraordinary human being to boot. He was a tackling machine who was not only loved by just about everyone but was a bonafide defensive leader the likes of which teams beg for. Despite all of this, the San Diego Chargers decided to ship Seau to Miami in 2003 for a mere conditional pick. Their logic seemed to be that they already got the best years out of Seau. That proved to be mostly true, but Seau remained a defensive leader even while undergoing a slight statistical decline.
15 Los Angeles Rams - Jerome Bettis For A 2nd & 4th-Round Pick
We finally come to what just may be the worst player for picks trade in NFL history. In his first few years with the Rams, Jerome Bettis established himself as an absolute force the likes of which the league had rarely seen. However, incoming coach Rich Brooks decided that Bettis was more use to him as a fullback. So, the Rams traded Bettis and a third-round pick to the Steelers for a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. We’re guessing you already know who got the better end of the deal.
14 Miami Dolphins - Wes Welker For A 2nd & 7th-Round Pick
The general feeling regarding Wes Welker during his first few years in the league was that he was a solid little slot receiver but that his talent would likely be overshadowed by his small stature and the dangers of his position. Everyone recognized his talent, but it didn’t fully manifest itself in Miami. As such, Miami traded him to New England for a 2nd round pick and a 7th round pick. Welker then went on to become one of the league’s most explosive receivers, and Miami had to play him twice a year.
13 Minnesota Vikings - Randy Moss For Two Picks & Napoleon Harris
The Herschel Walker trade is, of course, the worst in NFL history, but the Vikings weren’t the ones giving up a player in that scenario. Instead, we’ll look to the Randy Moss trade. Randy Moss established himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL (maybe one of the best ever) by the time his time with the Vikings was coming to a close, but Minnesota just got tired of his attitude. So, they shipped him to Oakland for Napoleon Harris, a first round pick, and a late pick. Many question the move to this day.
12 New England Patriots - Jimmy Garoppolo For a 2nd-Round Pick
Amazingly, there are a few trades from the Belichick era alone that are worthy of making this list. However, we’re choosing to focus on the highly questionable Jimmy Garoppolo trade. What we know for sure is that the Patriots and Belichick drafted Garoppolo in the second round to be Tom Brady’s eventual replacement. However, it seemed that some within the organization (which may have included Brady) balked at the idea of Garoppolo sticking around as the heir. Eventually, the Patriots traded Garoppolo to the 49ers for just a second round pick.
11 New Orleans Saints - Darren Sproles For a 5th-Round Pick
Never underestimate the value of a role player. They’re not always the guys who make the Hall of Fame or carry a team, but they contribute something that is valuable in its own way. Darren Sproles was that guy for the New Orleans Saints. He wasn’t dominant, but he gave Drew Brees an interesting backfield option that frustrated defenses. Many were surprised to learn that the Saints decided to trade Sproles to the Eagles for nothing more than a fifth-round pick that they turned into a guy that was out of the league in two years (Ronald Powell).
10 New York Giants - Sam Huff For Two Players & 5th-Rounder
Many agree that the Jeremy Shockey trade was a questionable one, but it was downright brilliant compared to the trade the Giants made in 1964. That was the year that the Giants decided to send one of the best linebackers in the NFL (Sam Huff) to the Washington Redskins for two forgettable players and a fifth-round draft pick. Not only was Huff one of the best linebackers in the league at the time, but he was almost universally beloved by Giants fans.
9 New York Jets - Darrelle Revis For a 1st Round & Conditional Pick
Truth be told, the New York Jets absolutely made the right move here. History tells us as much. Revis was asking for too much money and was in the twilight of his career. Still, in terms of big-name players being traded for pennies, this certainly fits the billing. The Jets traded away the league’s most dominant cornerback for a first round pick and a conditional pick. A first round pick is always a nice price, but the trade made it clear that this move was about moving away from Revis.
8 Oakland Raiders - Randy Moss For a 4th-Round Pick
Yes, Randy Moss is on this list twice. While you could argue there are other Raiders trades that could have made this list for variety’s sake, the fact remains that the Randy Moss trade remains one of the great facepalm decisions in Raiders history. Moss underwent a slight decline in output during his time in Oakland but was still a promising receiver. As such, nobody was entirely sure why the Raiders decided to send Moss to the Patriots for a measly fourth-round pick. Moss himself reportedly didn’t believe the trade was real.
7 Philadelphia Eagles - LeSean McCoy For Kiko Alonso
It’s no easy thing to trade away a franchise running back. Such moves are typically only made when the player in question is on the decline or when they’re asking for way too much money. Neither of those things are really true of LeSean McCoy when he was traded from the Eagles to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Rumor has it that Chip Kelly wasn’t really enthusiastic about having him on the team. Alonso never panned out for the Eagles, and McCoy proved to still be a great running back.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers - Santonio Holmes For a 5th-Round Pick
Historically, the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make that many trades, and they tend to be good about keeping great players around. This is one of the many reasons the Santonio Holmes trade stands out. In 2008, Holmes won the Super Bowl MVP for the Steelers. In 2009, he had his best statistical year ever. In 2010, he was sent to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. Why? Well, it reportedly had to do with an incident in a nightclub. The Steelers opted to make an example of Holmes by trading him.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Joe Montana, David Whitmore & A 3rd Rounder For A 1st-Round Pick
There’s some debate regarding whether the price was right for this particular trade, but there’s certainly an argument to be made that this was, on paper, one of the great bargains in NFL history. In 1993, the NFL world was shocked to learn that the San Francisco 49ers had traded the legendary Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs. In exchange for Montana, safety David Whitmore, and a third-round draft pick, the Chiefs sent a lone first-round draft pick. Montana would only play for a couple more years, but this was still a move the Chiefs had to make.
4 Seattle Seahawks - Ahmad Rashad For A 4th-Round Pick
When you’re an expansion team in the NFL, you’ve got to make a lot of strange moves sometimes in order to fill out your roster and remain at least somewhat competitive. Even still, the Seahawks decision to trade Ahmad Rashad during their inaugural season was a bizarre one. Rashad was a young and promising receiver with professional experience under his belt. Despite all of that, the Seahawks saw fit to trade him before the start of the season for a mere fourth-round pick. He went on to be a four-time Pro Bowl player.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Steve Young For a Second and Fourth-Round Pick
There are some days that Tampa Bay fans are able to forget this trade which must be nice indeed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Steve Young first overall during the infamous 1984 Supplemental Draft. In two seasons with the Bucs, Young struggled mightily. However, San Francisco’s Bill Walsh saw quite a bit of potential in Young and felt that the Bucs were just a bad team. As such, he convinced the Bucs to trade him Young for just a second and fourth round pick. Not bad for a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
2 Tennessee Titans - Warren Moon For a Third and Fourth-Round Pick
We have to dive back into the days when the Titans were the Houston Oilers to find the franchise’s most questionable trade involving a big name player. When the Oilers decided to trade franchise QB Warren Moon in 1994, not many people blamed them. Moon was a legend, but he was also a 37-year-old quarterback. Still, the Vikings basically stole him for a mere fourth and third-round pick. The Oilers did very well for themselves in the end, but you’ve got to believe that they could have gotten more for Moon.
1 Washington Redskins - Every Player Given Up For Robert Griffin III
Even though the Redskins have made some pretty bad decisions over the years, the franchise isn’t known for trading away big-name players for nothing - instead they're known for acquiring big name players who go on to flop.
So instead, we’re going to cheat on this one a bit by naming all the players they theoretically gave up to draft Robert Griffin III. With the draft picks the Redskins spent on RGIII, they could have players like Luke Kuechly, DeAndre Hopkins, and Khalil Mack, and still have had Kirk Cousins as their starting quarterback. In essence, they gave them all away for RGIII.