Top 15 Worst Trades in NFL History

Trade trends in the NFL are in the middle of a resurgence with this offseason already witnessing several blockbuster deals between Super Bowl hopefuls. The league has been traditionally risk averse be

Trade trends in the NFL are in the middle of a resurgence with this offseason already witnessing several blockbuster deals between Super Bowl hopefuls. The league has been traditionally risk averse because trades have a tendency of going very badly for at least one team involved. While some blockbuster trades have paid dividends in the form of Super Bowl rings, they have also left some teams with their future mortgaged for a mediocre present. NFL roster building is a delicate balancing act and one-sided trades can tip the scales heavily.

Trades have a potential to elevate a team from a playoff contender to Super Bowl champion if they fulfill the needs of the team without giving up too much. They also have the potential to hamstring a team for the foreseeable future if a prospect does not turn out as expected. Still the incentive remains for teams to remain active in trade rumors due to the value a team may receive in return. For example, the Patriots excel in the trade department thanks to a savvy general managers and Bill Belichick’s eye for talent. Their cutthroat deals have paved the way to multiple Super Bowl victories and made them the envy of the league.

On the other side of the coin, there are franchises currently in utter disarray because of disastrous trades. The Atlanta Falcons suffered from a lack of defensive depth after trading nearly an entire draft class for Julio Jones. The Washington Professional Football Team is in a state of upheaval after both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins have struggled during their tenure with the team. It remains to be seen if any of the deals that took place this off season will prove to be catastrophic, but at least one team will be starting behind the 8-ball.

15 Jimmy Graham for Max Unger

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of their contentious disagreement about the position average salary to which Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag would be applied, the New Orleans Saints decided to trade him…for a center. That’s right, the league’s top tight end over the last several season was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for two-time Pro-Bowl Center Max Unger and the 31st overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Additionally, the Saints had to throw in a 4th Round pick to make the deal work. Graham holds several franchise records for the Saints and will now give the Seahawks the red zone threat they desperately need. The Saints will look to rebuild around an aging Drew Brees, who has at times depended on Graham as a security blanket.

14 Oilers Trade Steve Largent


Despite being an All-American wide receiver out of the University of Tulsa, Steve Largent was not selected until the 4th round of the 1976 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. The Oilers planned on cutting the undersized receiver, but decided to trade him to the expansion Seattle Seahawks late in preseason for an 8th round pick. It proved to be one of the best moves Seattle ever made, because Largent would go on to become a franchise icon, racking up career records for receptions, receiving yardage, and touchdowns before retiring. Largent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and became the first player to have his number retired by the Seahawks. The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997.

13 Chargers Move up for Ryan Leaf


Ryan Leaf’s fateful career in the NFL began with fanfare as the San Diego Chargers dealt 3-time Pro Bowl running back Eric Metcalf, two 1st round picks, and a 2nd round pick to move up one spot in the Draft. Following Peyton Manning’s selection by the Colts, the Chargers chose Leaf and the problems began. Leaf missed several commitments in preseason, but managed to lead the Chargers to victory in his first two games as a starter. His year then spiraled out of control and Leaf began to lash out at the media in his famous “Knock it off” interview. Leaf started only 18 games with the Chargers, going 4-14 in those games.

12 Cowboys Make Moves for Roy Williams


Roy Williams is the epitome of Texas football, straight out of Permian High School, the inspiration for Friday Night Lights. After a successful career with the Texas Longhorns, the Dallas Cowboys decided to make this Texas story complete by trading for Williams after he had some early success with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys gave up 1st, 3rd, and 6th round draft picks in the 2009 Draft and quickly signed Williams to a 6-year, $54 million deal. Williams would play 40 games with the Cowboys, but never was able to show the talent displayed in Detroit.

11 Dolphins trade Wes Welker


Wes Welker was an emerging talent with the Miami Dolphins when he was acquired by Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. The Pats only gave up a 2nd and 7th round selection to the Dolphins in exchange for the talented wide receiver, who soon became the focal point of the Patriots dink and dunk offense. Welker would go on to lead the NFL in receptions over three of the next five seasons and was named to five Pro-Bowls. Welker had five 1,000-yard seasons and went on to win a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos after leaving the Patriots.

10 Bears Trade for Rick Mirer


During his four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Rick Mirer featured as the team’s starter for 51 games, where he managed 20 wins. Despite being the 4th on the team’s win list, the Seahawks traded Mirer to the Chicago Bears along with a 4th round pick in order to take the Bears’ 1st round pick. Mirer would go on to start only three games as the Bears quarterback, going 0-3 in those games. He signed a 3-year, $12.6 million contract, but featured only 7 total games with the Bears. The Seahawks used the 1st round pick to trade up for Pro-Bowl safety Shawn Springs.

9 The RGIII Deal

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Griffin III showed a great deal of promise during his rookie campaign with the Washington Professional Football Team, but has shown only glimpses since suffering an ACL injury late in his rookie year. Washington had traded three 1st round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014 and a 2nd round pick in 2012 in order to move up to the 2nd overall spot, where they selected Griffin. Griffin has had only a 14-21 record as a starter and has many wondering if it is already time to move on from the player they once thought was worthy of mortgaging the franchise.

8 New Orleans Trades Up to Get Ricky Williams


After featuring on the cover of ESPN Magazine in a wedding dress alongside Saints head coach Mike Ditka, Ricky Williams was not the solution to the team’s woes. Perhaps that is because of the massive price tag that the Saints paid for Williams, which included basically their entire 1999 draft class and a 1st and 3rd round pick the following year. Losing an entire year of talent was too much for the Saints to overcome, despite Williams rushing for over 1,000 yards during two of his three seasons with the team. Williams was then dealt to the Miami Dolphins for four draft picks including two 1st rounders.

7 Steelers take the Bus from St. Louis


Jerome Bettis was on the way to converting to full back in the Rams scheme before he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997. The Steelers received Bettis and a 3rd round pick in exchange for a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick. The Steelers were in desperate need of a running back and The Bus stepped into that role to immediate success. Bettis went on to be a 1,000-yard rusher in the next six seasons, and helped Pittsburgh to win Super Bowl XL. Bettis racked up six Pro-Bowl appearances before retiring as one of the most prolific rushers of all time. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

6 Buccaneers trade Steve Young


Following two chaotic seasons as the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Steve Young was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2nd and 4th round selection in the 1987 NFL Draft. Young was deemed as expendable when the Bucs acquired Vinny Testaverde, but Young would shine when given an opportunity to fill in for Joe Montana. Young excelled in his backup opportunities and eventually assumed the starting role following a devastating elbow injury to Montana. Young went on to win two NFL MVP Awards, three Super Bowls, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. His #8 is retired by the 49ers, and the Buccaneers struggled significantly in the early 1990s.

5 Raiders get 4th Round Pick for Randy Moss


The New England Patriots knew they were acquiring one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL when they swapped the Oakland Raiders a 4th round pick for the services of Randy Moss. Moss was coming off a lackluster season and appeared to be frustrated with the Raiders before leaving to become Tom Brady’s favorite target. Moss flourished in the new offense, with 23 touchdown receptions in his first season en route to the Patriots making a legendary 20 game winning streak into the Super Bowl.

4 Colts trade Marshall Faulk


The Indianapolis Colts unknowingly swung the balance of power in the NFL when they traded running back Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams. The Rams would go on to form the famed “Greatest Show on Turf” offense around the versatile talents of Faulk, who was acquired for only 2nd and 5th round picks in the 1999 draft. The Colts moved on from the position by drafting Edgerrin James, but the Rams became a team of lore by overwhelming the NFL with a dynamic passing attack. Faulk contributed significantly by leading the league in yards per attempt over the next three seasons and helped them win Super Bowl XXXIV.

3 Colts trade John Elway


The Baltimore Colts chose John Elway with the 1st overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, but were never able to make the Stanford standout happy. Elway threatened to sign with the New York Yankees and play baseball instead of playing with the lowly Colts. The Colts eventually caved to the pressure and dealt Elway to the Denver Broncos for offensive lineman Chris Hinton, quarterback Mark Herrmann, and a first round pick the next year. Elway would develop into one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and is one of three quarterbacks chosen 1st overall to be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2 Herschel Walker to Vikings


In October 1989, a wild notion on a morning jog from Jimmy Johnson led the Cowboys to trade the team’s star running back, Herschel Walker, which was the deal that started a dynasty. The Cowboys were more than willing to part with Walker, two 3rd round picks, one 5th round pick, and one 10th round pick in order to receive the haul of the century from the Vikings. The Vikings gave up several players in addition to three 1st round picks, three 2nd round picks, one 3rd round pick, and one 6th round pick. The Cowboys used several of the picks to select franchise cornerstones like Emmett Smith and Darren Woodson, but were able to move several of the picks to acquire other players. The genius move orchestrated by Johnson and Jerry Jones helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls by 1995.

1 Packers Bet the Farm on John Hadl


Once upon a time in 1974, the Green Bay Packers were absolutely desperate for a quarterback and Dan Devine believed a veteran quarterback would lead them to the Super Bowl. John Hadl was fresh off of leading the Rams to the playoffs and was dealt to the Packers for an amazing haul of five draft picks. Hadl was a 33-year-old quarterback at the time of the trade and would go on to start only 19 games for the Packers, going 7-12 in those games. For their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks in 1975 and their 1st and 2nd round picks in 1976, the Packers received only 9 touchdown passes from Hadl.

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Top 15 Worst Trades in NFL History