“It’ll never happen again.” That’s the line we always hear whenever a truly one-sided NFL trade occurs. They said it when John Elway joined the Denver Broncos, when Herschel Walker went to the Vikings in exchange for a dynasty, and they are going to keep saying it until the end of time because the truth of the matter is that there will always be bad trades in the NFL. There is always going to be that one time with stars in their eyes that bet the farm on a single player. There are always going to be GMs and owners that just don’t understand the ramifications of their actions.
While fans that have an investment in the teams that get screwed as a result of these deals, the beneficiaries of these arrangements, as well as all casual observers, will always find pleasure in asking “What were they thinking?” If there’s one thing you can say regarding such trades in the modern age, it’s that those previous incidents have taught teams valuable lessons regarding how best to avoid the most obviously bad deals. Of course, those lessons couldn’t help prevent the top 15 most one-sided trades involving active NFL players.
15. The Eagles Trade DeMarco Murray to the Titans for Swapped Fourth Round Picks
When DeMarco Murray went to the Eagles, there were some that suspected Philadelphia had just overpaid for a running back that was never going to produce for them. Still, Philly had just acquired the NFL’s leading rusher from the year before. There was still a good chance that they could find a way to turn Murray into the missing link that finally made Chip Kelly’s dynamic offense work. That didn’t happen, and Murray was left looking like a shell of his former self. As part of their efforts to distance themselves from Kelly-era mistakes, Philly shipped Murray off to the Titans for a mere fourth round pick, while also giving up theirs. Since then, Murray has regained his form and currently stands as the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind only Ezekiel Elliott.
14. Atlanta Sends Five Picks To Cleveland For Julio Jones
While most trades involving a large number of draft picks for a single player usually end with everyone pointing and laughing at the team that gave up their draft picks, this story goes a little differently. In 2011, the Atlanta Falcons knew they wanted wide receiver Julio Jones. They believed the hype that had painted Jones as the best receiver in that year’s draft as well as a truly special player that only comes around once in a long while. They were so confident in Jones’ potential that they had no problem sending five draft picks to the Cleveland Browns for the right to select him with the sixth overall pick. At the end of the day, Atlanta got arguably the most talented receiver in the league. The Browns, meanwhile, wasted nearly every one of those draft picks, including an additional first round pick in the 2012 draft that netted them Trent Richardson.
13. Percy Harvin Goes To Seattle So That Minnesota Can Rebuild a Dynasty
Let’s go back a few years to a time when Percy Harvin still played for the Minnesota Vikings. During that period of Harvin’s career, he was seen as one of the most dynamic talents in NFL history. Harvin could catch, he could run, and he was arguably the best kick returner in the league. His stats grew larger every season. Many felt that he was just entering the prime of his career when the Vikings traded him to Seattle for three picks across two drafts. The consensus was that Seattle had just found the player that would turn their offense into a juggernaut. Instead, the Seahawks got a problematic player that never again produced consistently on the field. As for the Vikings, they ended up getting Xavier Rhodes and Jerick McKinnon out of the deal.
12. The Eagles Choose Kiko Alonso Over LeSean McCoy
Kiko Alonso was a member of the famed Oregon Ducks dynasty that confounded the college football world between 2008 and 2012. While Alonso, a linebacker, wasn’t a part of that legendary Oregon offense that left us all staring at our televisions, he was a crucial piece of that underrated Oregon defensive unit that had the misfortune of spending a lot of time on the field due to the nature of Chip Kelly’s quick-strike tactics. He was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 2013 draft. It feels necessary to relay this information because you’re probably asking yourself, “Wait, who was Kiko Alonso again?” Yes, while LeSean McCoy hasn’t led the Bills to the promised land, he’s still the Pro Bowl running back the Eagles traded away for a basically nothing player named Kiko Alonso.
11. Tampa Bay Gives Up Two Draft Picks for One Year of Darrelle Revis
It’s a good thing that Tampa Bay is playing pretty well at the moment because otherwise, the memory of this trade might be too painful for Buccaneers fans to bear. In Tampa Bay’s defense, there was a time when it felt like there was no price too high to pay for Darrelle Revis. The man known as Revis Island is one of the most feared cornerbacks to have ever played the game, and Tampa Bay was getting him at the peak of his career. Sadly, the Bucs discovered too late that Revis just didn’t fit in with their defensive scheme. Unable to trade him, they eventually just had to cut Revis and count their considerable losses. The Jets ended up turning one of the two picks they got for Revis into the terrifying defensive force known as Sheldon Richardson. Oh, and they eventually got Revis back.
10. The Bengals Give up On Carson Palmer and Send him To Oakland For Draft Picks
Not all lopsided trades are necessarily the worst decision a team could have made. For instance, consider the curious case of Carson Palmer. Despite some considerable efforts, Palmer was never able to take the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Palmer grew so frustrated with the Bengals that he threatened to retire unless the Bengals traded him. Cincinnati decided that it was time to start considering a future without Palmer and decided to draft Andy Dalton as his replacement. When Dalton got off to a hot start in his rookie year, Palmer was still sitting on the sidelines, the Bengals initially refusing to trade him. Then they got an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Palmer was basically useless to the Bengals at this point, so it made sense to trade him to Oakland for two picks that would later become Dre Kirkpatrick and Gio Bernard. Considering how poorly Palmer played in Oakland, this was a major coup for the Bengals.
9. The Broncos Trade Jay Cutler To Chicago For Picks and Kyle Orton
Here’s a blockbuster trade that remains controversial to this day even though it really shouldn’t be. As the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2008, Jay Cutler threw for over 4,500 yards while posting a career-best completion percentage. He was great, but incoming head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t see him as the future of the team. As such, he convinced Chicago to send over not just replacement quarterback Kyle Orton, but two first round picks and a third round pick for the rights to make Jay Cutler a Chicago Bear. While Cutler hasn’t been the model of consistency in Chicago, he has kept the Bears’ offense relevant over the years. Besides, the Broncos never really got much out of those picks except for an elaborate trade scenario that allowed them to get Demaryius Thomas (who they probably would have been able to select anyway).
8. New Orleans Says Goodbye To Jimmy Graham in Exchange for a Center and a Draft Pick
Sometimes, great trades take a while to become great trades. For instance, if this list was written just one year ago, then this Jimmy Graham trade would be nowhere on it. Now, however, the story is starting to change. As a member of the New Orleans Saints, Jimmy Graham became one of the most feared tight ends in the league. He was usually neck and neck with guys like Rob Gronkowski in terms of stats and was genuinely viewed as one of the best receiving tight ends to ever play the game.
When New Orleans traded him for center Max Unger and a 2014 first round pick, the feeling was that they did so out of a desire to clear out some cap space. While the Saints weren’t completely screwed in this deal (that pick turned out to be Stephone Anthony), Graham’s recent career resurgence has reminded everyone that he is indeed a special player.
7. Chicago Sends Greg Olsen to Carolina For a Third Round Pick
While the trades that tend to be remembered most usually involve superstar athletes that end up becoming franchise staples, some of the best trades in sports history simply involve role players that perfectly fit into gaps on a roster. While Greg Olsen never quite dominated the league as the starting tight end for the Chicago Bears between 2007 and 2010, he was always a worthwhile contributor. Still, Chicago probably didn’t worry much about sending him to Carolina in exchange for a third-round draft pick in the 2012 draft that would eventually become Brandon Hardin (who has since left the team).
Olsen, however, would eventually become a dominant presence on the dynamic Cam Newton led Carolina Panthers offense. Olsen is showing no signs of slowing down and is starting to look like the kind of player Chicago should have kept around.
6. The Rams Give Away A Draft Arsenal For Jared Goff
It’s way too soon to call Jared Goff a failure just because he’s had a few iffy starts. As much as modern football fans love to resort to knee-jerk reactions, the truth of the matter is that we’re a few years away from knowing if Jared Goff is going to be a great NFL quarterback. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a moment to once again criticize the Rams over this painfully bad deal. Jared Goff would need to become the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in order to justify the number of draft picks that the Rams gave up in order to acquire him. Even then, a team with as many holes as the Rams have should never bet the farm on a single player.
5. The 49ers Choose Colin Kaepernick and Send Alex Smith To Kansas City for Draft Picks
Alex Smith was never going to be the guy that single-handedly led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. He was, and has almost always been, a game managing quarterback that is better at not losing a game than he is as necessarily winning one outright. The 49ers weighed his skills against those of young upstart Colin Kaepernick and decided that Kaepernick was the future. They were so convinced, in fact, that they sent Smith to Kansas City for a second-round pick in 2013 and a conditional pick in 2014. Even though Smith may not have been the right guy for San Francisco, the story will always be that the 49ers sent Kansas City the exact quarterback they needed in exchange for picks that haven’t turned out to be much at all.
4. Miami Sends Brandon Marshall to Chicago For Low Value Draft Picks
The career of Brandon Marshall thus far has been interesting to follow. Despite the fact that Marshall has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL since he entered the league, he can never seem to stay in one place for long. The first major Marshall trade occurred in 2010 when Denver sent him to Miami for two second-round picks. The arrangement was solid and Denver soon replaced him with other talented receivers.
What happened in Miami was a completely different story. Marshall gave the Dolphins two great seasons, and they still saw fit to trade him to the Bears for a third round pick and a conditional pick that weren’t used on anyone that has contributed even a piece of what Marshall did.
3. Arizona Can’t Believe The Raiders Traded Them Carson Palmer for A Sixth Round Pick
Carson Palmer? Again? Yes, as bad as the Oakland Raiders’ trade for Palmer was, the coup that the Cardinals pulled off to acquire the veteran QB was spectacular. Despite Palmer’s best efforts, the Oakland Raiders never flourished during his tenure as starting quarterback. You could argue that Palmer could have been an incredible asset to the Raiders had they just waited a couple more years to build a team around him, but instead, Oakland decided to ship him off to the Cardinals for a sixth-round draft pick and a conditional pick. A sixth round pick? Who were they expecting to get? Whoever it was, they never did get him with those picks.
The Cardinals, however, got two of Carson Palmer’s best years ever. They finally got an answer at QB following the retirement of Kurt Warner.
2. The Jets Get Draft Picks From New England for Some Guy Named Bill Belichick
Okay, okay…Bill Belichick isn’t a player. You’ve caught us. However, you can’t talk about lopsided NFL trades without mentioning the one trade that is too often forgotten about whenever all-time great NFL deals are being discussed. Following a series of agreements between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets too convoluted to explain in full here, Bill Belichick found himself wanting to escape New York as soon as possible. Things had become so hostile between the coach and the Jets that New York was willing to send him to New England in exchange for a first round pick, a fourth round pick, and a seventh round pick split between two draft years. The Jets even tossed in a couple of draft picks just for the fun of it. The picks were irrelevant. What mattered is that New England had just acquired one of the fundamental pieces of arguably the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
1. The Washington Redskins Go All In on Robert Griffin III
Washington knew the risks that came with drafting Robert Griffin III. They knew that RG III was just as likely to change the quarterback position as we know it as he was to prove to be another college star that just couldn’t carry his brilliance over to the NFL. At some point in the process, though, they became convinced that he was the one player they couldn’t miss out on. It’s why they were willing to do something as drastic as giving the Rams three first-round picks as well as a second round pick just so they could draft him. Some will argue that the Rams didn’t really maximize the value of these picks. However, even a brief look at the career of RG III will reveal that they are the clear winners of the most lopsided deal of the modern era.
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