Top 15 NFL Stars Who Were Traded for Basically Nothing

Trades are one of the most interesting aspects of professional sports. Some trades are menial and not worthy of attention. Some trades are blockbusters and hold huge implications for both teams, and other trades are completely one-sided. No matter how a trade goes down, they have huge impacts for many years to come. Despite the lengthy analysis that often goes into trade deals, the results can still be highly unpredictable, making for some interesting seasons.

NFL franchises have a penchant for trading players for draft picks. There are many reasons for this. Unlike the NHL which sees the most trades on trade deadline day, the NFL’s heaviest trading day is during its draft day. Coaches and general managers engage in transactions to trade up to obtain the most promising young talent. Another reason is the aspect of team building. When teams feel that an individual player doesn’t provide the same long-term value as prospective draft picks, you’ll often see them dealt away for a slew of picks.

This aspect of team building can oftentimes result in one-sided trades. A great example of this is the great trade robbery in which the Minnesota Vikings basically handed the Dallas Cowboys a dynasty, all to acquire Herschel Walker. This trade has been universally regarded as one of the worst in NFL history. 

There are also times when a team undervalues its own players and trades them away for basically nothing, just for a shot at young blood. These established players are dealt away and their original teams receive basically nothing in return. And while those players go onto to have successful seasons, their former teams feel the painful burn of regret. This has happened many times in NFL history, so let’s take a deeper look. Here are the top 15 NFL stars who were traded away for basically nothing.

15 John Elway

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The Baltimore Colts played with fire and got burned on this one. The Colts had the first overall pick and were eyeing John Elway from the beginning, but Elway was very vocal about not wanting to play in Baltimore. When he was drafted, Elway said that if he was not traded he would go play baseball for the Yankees instead. Elway preferred football, but baseball was a legitimate option for him.

14 Joe Montana

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Montana has gone down as one of - if not the best quarterback of all time, but in 1993 Montana was nearing 37 and San Francisco had a young stud waiting to take the reigns in Steve Young. The Niners traded Joe Cool along with safety David Whitmore and a third round draft pick to Kansas City in exchange for a first round pick. Montana certainly was getting up there in age, but to consider that he was included in a package for a lone draft pick is pretty mind-boggling.

13 Martellus Bennett

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12 Tony Gonzalez

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

11 Wes Welker

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

10 DeMarco Murray

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

9 Steve Young

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

8 Brett Favre

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

7 Jerome Bettis

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

6 Bill Belichick

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5 Steve Largent


4 Brandon Marshall

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3 Paul Warfield


2 Marshall Faulk

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

1 Randy Moss

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Moss was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, and was immediately regarded as an especially talented receiver when he caught for 1,313 yards in his rookie season - a record at the time. He continued to be a special player but was eventually traded to the Raiders (that's not the one we care about though). Moss seemed to have lost a step during his time in Oakland and he was never able to contribute in the same way he had in Minnesota. Reacting to this, Oakland traded Moss to the Patriots for a fourth round pick. Moss went on to rack up 1,493 yards and a staggering 23 touchdowns for the Patriots in a historic 2007 season in which New England had a perfect regular season.

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Top 15 NFL Stars Who Were Traded for Basically Nothing