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.
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15 John Elway
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.
The Colts did receive a number of assets for Elway. They got offensive guard Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, and a first-round pick in 1984 (used to select offensive guard Ron Solt). The Broncos got two Super Bowls.
14 Joe Montana
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.
Montana led the Chiefs to the AFC wildcard game and lost in his 1994 season, and retired shortly thereafter.
13 Martellus Bennett
Martellus Bennett was one of Chicago’s most productive offensive weapons, but it appears as though his future was sealed when he injured his ribs in week 11 against the Denver Broncos. Zach Miller ably filled Bennett’s role on the offense. The Bears traded Bennett and a sixth round pick to the New England Patriots for a fourth round pick. It’s also important to note that Bennett’s off-field behavior could have contributed to the decision to trade him. In 2014, Bennett was involved in a physical altercation with then-rookie Kyle Fuller, which resulted in Bennett getting suspended from the team, and Bennett also failed to show to Chicago’s OTAs in 2015.
12 Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez was the undisputed best player on the Kansas City Chiefs for over ten years, but in 2009 Gonzalez approached the team’s management and asked for a trade. The Chiefs traded Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons for a second round pick in 2010. This seemed like a good deal at the time, as Gonzalez was approaching his 13th NFL season after all, but he continued to prove his greatness in Atlanta for five more seasons. Who did the Chiefs get from that 2nd round pick? Cornerback Javier Arenas.
11 Wes Welker
Welker was an undrafted free agent and had to fight to even make it on an NFL roster, eventually ending up in Miami. Sometimes it’s tough to know when you have a good thing, and although he was able to produce for the Miami Dolphins, they decided to trade him to divisional rival New England Patriots in 2007. It looked like the Dolphins got a pretty good deal, receiving a second and seventh round pick for Welker, but just in case you didn’t hear, Welker did pretty well in New England. He accumulated 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in his six seasons as a Patriot.
10 DeMarco Murray
It was big news when DeMarco Murray went to the Eagles in 2015. Murray was available in free agency after having one of the best seasons any running back has ever had. Murray was not destined to find the same success in Philadelphia, only contributing 702 yards and six touchdowns that season. On March 6 of this year, Murray and a fourth round pick were traded to Tennessee for the Titans’ fourth round draft pick. We’ll see if Murray will be able to be productive for the Titans next season.
9 Steve Young
Few people remember Steve Young as a Buccaneer, but that is where he was drafted (I mean, after his single season playing in the defunct USFL). Young even started for the Bucs in his second season with the team. Young was traded to the 49ers for second and fourth round picks in 1987 after Tampa Bay selected Vinnie Testaverde first overall, and it seemed Young was destined to ride the pine. Young found himself in a super sexy three-way quarterback controversy with Joe Montana and Steve Bono, eventually winning out and becoming a 49ers legend.
8 Brett Favre
Favre was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991, but it immediately seemed as though he wasn’t going to stay there for long. Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville stated that it would take a plane crash for him to put Favre in the game. Atlanta traded Favre to Green Bay for a first rounder, which seemed like a boon at the time since Favre himself was drafted in the second round. It doesn’t seem so boon-y now that Favre has a Super Bowl ring, 11 Pro Bowl appearances and the longest iron man record in NFL history.
7 Jerome Bettis
The Bus always looked more like a fullback than a running back, so when the Rams were moving towards a more vertical style of play, Bettis no longer seemed to fit in. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers along with a third round pick for a second and fourth round pick in 1996. The Bus immediately made an impact, bruising his way to 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns in his inaugural season with the Steelers. Bettis became a fan favorite and was able to help his team win a Super Bowl in his final NFL season.
6 Bill Belichick
Coaches are NFL stars too! This one is a little bit more complicated than the other trades on this list, as coaches aren’t usually involved in trades. Belichick was an assistant under Bill Parcells and the Jets. Parcells was getting ready to retire and Belichick was his presumptive successor. One day, there was a piece of paper on which Belichick had scrawled, “I resign as HC of the NYJ,” and he joined the Pats soon thereafter. Commissioner Tagliabue determined that the Patriots needed to give the Jets some form of compensation, and so they gave the Jets their first round pick, which is nothing considering what Belichick has done for the Patriots franchise. The Jets didn't even use that pick, trading it to San Francisco.
5 Steve Largent
Time to really crack open those history books. Steve Largent was the sure-handed receiver with the Seattle Seahawks before they were in the business of attending Super Bowls. He was drafted by the Houston Oilers, and after failing to impress in preseason they traded Largent to the Seahawks for a (now defunct) eighth round pick. Largent attended seven Pro Bowls and had his jersey retired in 2012.
4 Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall was a dynamic force in Chicago. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2013. Marshall’s 2014 season was disappointing, however, and it ended when he got walloped and punctured his lung in a game against the Cowboys. Hoping to free up some cap space and open the floor for some fresh blood, the Bears traded Marshall and a seventh round pick to the New York Jets for a measly fifth round pick. Marshall was able to show that he could still ball when he hauled in 15 touchdowns, amassed 1,509 yards, and was again voted into the Pro Bowl in his 2015 season.
3 Paul Warfield
Another blast from the past. Aside from having an awesome name, Warfield was a wide receiver and major contributor to the new culture that brought the Miami Dolphins the only true undefeated season in the history of the NFL. Warfield played with Cleveland for six seasons, but they traded him to the Fins for a chance at first round pick Mike Phipps. Who? Exactly. This established a tradition of the Browns making sad, sad decisions on draft day.
2 Marshall Faulk
We always think of Marshall Faulk as a Ram, but he was drafted by Indianapolis and played with the Colts for five seasons. He never reached the prolific numbers we’d see in St. Louis, but he was a good contributor, having four 1000-plus yard seasons with the Colts. Faulk wanted to restructure his contract, but the Colts weren’t interested in paying him any more money, and so they traded him to the Rams for a second and fifth round pick. Faulk would end up catalyzing the Rams high-powered offense, being remembered as one of the greatest backs of all time, and for coining the name “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
1 Randy Moss
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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