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NFL Trade Speculation: Top 25 Blockbuster Trades in NFL History

Thomas CopainCorrespondent IApril 8, 2011

NFL Trade Speculation: Top 25 Blockbuster Trades in NFL History

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    Blockbuster trades, or even trades in general, involving NFL players aren't all that common in the league as compared to the other major sports. Most of the player movement in the NFL happens thanks to the free agent wire.

    That doesn't mean trades don't happen though, and it definitely doesn't mean the potential for a blockbuster trade can't happen. Of course, right now no trades can happen because of the labor situation.

    But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning, as quarterbacks like Carson Palmer and Kevin Kolb have been the hot trade names off the offseason other than Roger Goddell and Judge David Doty.

    But since the trade mill is quiet right now, it's a good time to look back and take a look at some of the blockbuster trades from years gone by. The ones that have changed careers, changed franchises or just made fans scratch their heads.

    Either way, they're memorable. So here are the top 25 blockbuster trades in NFL history.

25. Drew Bledsoe Traded to Buffalo

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    After Tom Brady rose to prominence during the 2001 season, the Patriots had a decision to make: Go with the young Brady or one of the better quarterbacks in the league at the time in Bledsoe.

    The Patriots decided to trade Bledsoe, sending him to Buffalo for a first-round pick. Brady went on to become a star in New England, as has Ty Warren (the player the Patriots used Buffalo's pick on). Bledsoe's career declined and Buffalo didn't make the playoffs with him at the helm.

24. Y.A. Tittle to the New York Giants

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    Tittle had found a home in San Francisco during the 1950s, but struggled to grab the starting job in San Francisco. So finally in 1960, the 49ers shipped Tittle off to the Giants in return for guard Lou Cordileone.

    With Tittle firmly ensconced as the starting quarterback, the Giants became NFL championship contenders during his first three years with the Giants from 1961-1963.

    Despite not breaking through and winning a championship, Tittle made the Pro Bowl in all three of those seasons before finally retiring after the 1964 season.

23. Brett Favre to the New York Jets

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    By the time Favre had retired and un-retired the first time back in 2008, the chatter about what the Green Bay Packers would do had reached fever pitch.

    Would the Packers hand the controls of a team that was a field goal away from going to the Super Bowl back to Favre or let the unproven future franchise quarterback lead the team. The Packers went with the franchise quarterback, sending Favre to the Jets for a 2009 fourth-round pick. 

    Judging that the unproven franchise quarterback eventually turned into the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, I'd say the Packers made the right decision.

22. Donovan McNabb to Washington

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    There was always a love-hate relationship between Donovan McNabb and the City of Philadelphia. In recent years, the entire fan base and the Eagles did the dance of whether or not McNabb would be back the following season and every season he was always back.

    But when the Eagles finally traded McNabb last year, that wasn't the surprising part. Trading him within the division to the Redskins for a second round pick and a conditional third or fourth rounder in 2010 was.

    Then again, when McNabb ended the season behind Rex Grossman on the depth chart and the Eagles' replacement at quarterback (Michael Vick) was a possible MVP candidate, perhaps it wasn't that surprising anymore.

21. Jay Cutler to Chicago

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    Mike Shanahan drafted Jay Cutler with the hopes that he would be the franchise quarterback the Broncos were searching for since John Elway. But when Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season and Josh McDaniels was brought in, that wasn't the case.

    What started as a simple trade rumor about Cutler being part of a three-way trade evolved into an offseason-long battle that eventually landed Cutler and a fifth round pick in 2009 in Chicago for Kyle Orton, a first and a third in 2009 and Chicago's first round pick in 2010. 

    Cutler helped lead the Bears to the NFC Championship Game, John Fox is the new Broncos head coach.

20. Brandon Marshall to Miami

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    Fast forward another year, and McDaniels dealt away another star.

    Marshall had a breakout season in 2009, but he had also voiced displeasure with the Broncos. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Marshall was unhappy with his contract and the way the Broncos had treated an injury back in training camp. So like he did with Cutler, McDaniels sent Marshall to Miami for second round picks in 2010 and 2011.

    Both teams missed the playoffs in 2010, but it's still to be seen how Marshall impacts the Dolphins.

19. Steve Young to San Francisco

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    It just sums up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise during the Orange Cream days that they decided to trade away a future Hall of Famer for two draft picks.

    Granted, the Bucs hadn't seen much out of Steve Young in his two seasons with the team, but he didn't have a bunch of talent around him either. Still, the Bucs shipped Young off to San Francisco for a second and fourth round draft picks in the 1987 Draft.

    Young came to San Francisco as Joe Montana's backup and he left as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

18. Terrell Owens to Philadelphia

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    There have been a fair share of trades in NFL history, but I doubt many almost went to an arbitrator the way Terrell Owens' did.

    Yes, eventually he ended up in Philadelphia for defensive end Brandon Whiting and a conditional fifth round pick in what might be considered one of the most lopsided trades in recent history. But before he was an Eagle, he was almost a Baltimore Raven.

    In fact, the 49ers had sent Owens to Baltimore for a second round pick, but Owens wanted to be in Philadelphia. Eventually the teams settled and Owens signed with the Eagles to catch passes from Donovan McNabb before he eventually ripped McNabb.

17. Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay

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    It's not often when head coaches get traded. But then again, when Al Davis is involved anything is possible.

    Either way, the Buccaneers acquired "Chucky" from the Raiders for four draft picks (two first rounders and two second rounders) and cash in return. Gruden was replacing Tony Dungy in Tampa, while the Raiders replaced Gruden with Bill Callahan.

    Gruden and the Bucs crushed the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, and Oakland hasn't been back to the postseason since.

16. Fran Tarkenton to the New York Giants

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    It didn't take long for Tarkenton to establish himself as a star in the NFL after he was drafted in 1961. 

    Tarkenton came along in an era where the passing game was just really starting to bloom as we know it, and his scrambling style made him one of the most exciting quarterbacks around. But the Vikings still traded him in 1967 to the rebuilding Giants for four draft picks.

    Tarkenton didn't win the Giants a championship, but he did help bring Big Blue back to respectability before the Giants sent him back to Minnesota in 1972.

15. Marshall Faulk to St. Louis

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    Faulk was developing into a star for the Colts by the time 1999 came around, but the Colts still shipped off Faulk to St. Louis because Faulk wanted to restructure his contract, according to the New York Times.

    The Rams sent a second and fifth round pick to Indianapolis in return, and the Colts used their first round pick in 1999 on Edgerrin James instead of Ricky Williams. James paired with a young Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison to create what would become one of the league's most dangerous attacks.

    Faulk went on to win a Super Bowl and run to the Hall of Fame with the "Greatest Show on Turf."

14. Matt Cassel to Kansas City

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    Cassel had risen to prominence going from an unknown backup to an 11-game winner with the Patriots in 2008 after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury. So suffice to say Cassel was a pretty attractive trade chip for the Patriots that offseason.

    And it didn't take long for New England to cash it in, sending Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second round pick in 2009. The results were mixed at first, as the Patriots used the pick on young safety Patrick Chung, while the Chiefs struggled in 2009. But the move paid dividends in 2010, as Vrabel was a veteran presence on the defense while Cassel blossomed into a Pro Bowler.

13. Ollie Matson to the Los Angeles Rams

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    Ollie Matson was at the heart of one of the biggest trades in NFL history when he was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams in 1959.

    The Chicago Cardinals received nine players (including two draft picks) in return for Matson, who was a dynamic running back for the Cardinals. It's one of the most memorable trades in NFL history, not just for what the Rams gave up for him, but that the trade didn't pan out for either side either.

12. Randy Moss to New England

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    It was big news when the Vikings finally cashed in their chips on Moss and he ended up with Oakland. Unfortunately for the Raiders, this was in the heart of their search for Rich Gannon's replacement. 

    So you can imagine how that fared.

    Suffice to say, the Raiders were more than willing to let Randy Moss go by the time of the 2007 Draft. So New England and Bill Belichick swung a deal to bring Moss to Foxborough for a fourth-round pick. I'd say that turned out well for the Pats.

11. Ricky Williams to New Orleans

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    Perhaps one of the biggest shocks of the 1999 NFL Draft was that both Philadelphia and Indianapolis, two teams who needed running backs in the top four, had passed on Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

    But Mike Ditka, coach of the New Orleans Saints, had his heart set on bringing Ricky Williams to New Orleans. So when the chance was there, Ditka traded all six of his remaining picks in 1999 and his first and third in 2000 to move up to No. 5, where Williams was waiting for him.

    Ditka got his man, although it didn't pay off at first for New Orleans. Eventually Williams did reach his potential, although one could argue that wasn't really until the Saints shipped him to Miami.

10. John Hadl to Green Bay

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    John Hadl had become a well-traveled quarterback and a pretty darn good one as well during his long career. But only one season after being acquired by the San Diego Chargers, he was traded to the Green Bay Packers for a grand total of six draft picks.

    Ironically, the Chargers traded an older Hadl and in turn acquired another older quarterback in Johnny Unitas. But neither quarterback panned out in their new locations.

9. Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis

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    It's still one of the biggest and most confusing trades in NFL history, involving three teams and a number of draft picks going back and fourth between the Colts, Rams and Bills.

    Okay, here we go.

    The Colts acquired Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson. The Rams received the Colts' first and second round picks in 1988, a second round pick in 1989 and running back Owen Good. Los Angeles then received a first round pick in 1988, first and second round picks in 1989 and running back Greg Bell. Buffalo then acquired the rights to linebacker Cornelius Bennett.

    Everybody got that?

8. The Champ Bailey-Clinton Portis Swap

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    Very rarely in the NFL are two high-profile players traded for each other, but that's what happened in 2004 when the Redskins and Broncos combined on a deal.

    Washington sent all-pro cornerback Champ Bailey and a second round pick to Denver. In return, the Broncos shipped off young stud running back Clinton Portis to D.C. Both had a large amount of individual success, but some would say the Broncos got the better of the deal.

7. Atlanta and San Diego Swap Draft Picks

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    The Chargers' had secured the top overall pick in the 2001 Draft, but the Falcons desperately wanted that pick to take quarterback Michael Vick. So the Chargers sent the No. 1 overall pick to Atlanta for the No. 5 pick, a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder.

    The Falcons got their man in Vick, who became one of the league's most exciting players. The Chargers didn't end up with a bad player at No. 5 either, "settling" for one of the league's best runners in recent memory with LaDanian Tomlinson.

6. San Diego and the New York Giants Swap Draft Picks

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    By now, we probably remember the story.

    It's 2004, and the Chargers are picking first overall again. They want Eli Manning, but Manning doesn't want to be a Charger. He wants to be a New York Giant.

    The Chargers pick him anyway, perhaps creating one of the most awkward draft photo ops in recent memory. Then not too long after the pick, they work out a trade with the Giants. The Giants would take Philip Rivers with the No. 4 pick, then send Rivers to San Diego along with that year's third-round pick and a first and fifth round pick in 2005 for Manning.

    The deal was made, and so far it's been one that's worked out for both teams.

5. The Colts and Rams Swap Owners

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    It's one of those trades you might never hear again.

    Robert Irsay buys the Los Angeles Rams in 1972, and then trades the entire franchise to Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom for the Colts.

    It was something remarkable, and it was also a move that set in motion a chain of events. Irsay was the man who eventually ripped the Colts out of Baltimore, and the Rams would eventually leave L.A. for St. Louis.

4. John Elway to Denver

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    Before Eli, there was John Elway.

    Before he was Captain Comeback, he was the highly-touted quarterback out of Stanford who threatened to play baseball for the Yankees unless the Colts traded him after they drafted him in 1983.

    So the Colts didn't have a choice, and Elway was sent to Denver for quarterback Mark Hermann, offensive lineman Chris Hinton and a first round pick in 1984. And I think we all know how Elway played in Denver.

3. Jerry Rice to San Francisco

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    When the 49ers and Patriots traded picks in 1985, it was just a run of the mill swap you usually see during the Draft. The 49ers sent their first three picks to New England to move up and take the Patriots No. 1 pick.

    Unfortunately for New England, little did they know that the pick the Pats sent to San Fran would turn out to be the greatest wide receiver the game has ever seen.

2. Bill Belichick to New England

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    Perhaps the only thing more bizarre than the Belichick regime as New York Jets coach, which lasted all of a day and had a resignation letter resembling something out of a sitcom, was what happened next.

    He wasn't officially traded to New England, as the Patriots stole him away after he read off his resignation napkin and the Jets demanded and received compensation (a first round pick).

    But for the man that would deliver three Super Bowl Championships and turn the Patriots into one of the league's premier franchises, it was a trade-off well worth it.

1. Herschel Walker to Minnesota

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    It's still to this day the definition of an NFL blockbuster. And if you thought the Eric Dickerson trade was confusing, just wait for this.

    Dallas sent Walker, its 1990 and 1991 third round picks and their tenth rounder from 1990 to Minnesota. In return, the Vikings sent five players and seven picks back to Dallas: three picks in 1990 (a first, second and sixth), two picks in 1991 (a first and a second) and two picks in 1992 (a second and a third). The Cowboys also received defensive end Alex Stewart, linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard, running back Darrin Nelson and cornerback Issac Holt.

    Phew.

    Anyway, the players involved aren't what make this trade memorable. It's that Walker didn't pan out for the Vikings and that the Cowboys turned one of those draft picks into Emmitt Smith, the league's all-time leading rusher and the backbone of the Cowboys' dynasty.

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