The Biggest NFL Trades That Never Happened
NFL history is sprinkled with marquee trades, but it's fascinating to consider the deals that never happened.
While a handful of legendary players eventually suited up for a different team, they could have landed elsewhere through a potential trade earlier in their career—and, in some cases, even before holding a starting role.
Given how heavily one team is featured, an alternative headline for this piece could be: "How the Raiders Managed to Flirt with Excellence and Never Attain It."
Since 1983—the franchise's last Super Bowl—the Raiders pursued three eventual Hall of Fame quarterbacks via trade and managed to acquire zero.
Oakland certainly hasn't been the only team with big swings and near misses in the trade market over the years. The following deals stand out among the franchise-alerting swaps that never made it across the finish line.
John Elway to Los Angeles Raiders
Given that John Elway said he wouldn't play for the Baltimore Colts, it seemed likely a trade would happen around the 1983 NFL draft. And the Los Angeles Raiders wanted a shot at the Stanford star.
Since they held the No. 26 overall selection, though, the Raiders needed to move up. They almost made it happen.
"The Raiders thought they had a deal in place to acquire the rights to John Elway," per ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. "The way the Raiders saw it, they were going to get the Chicago Bears' No. 6 overall pick and flip it as part of a package to the then-Baltimore Colts for Elway.
But the trade—for whatever reason—fell through.
The Raiders ended up winning the Super Bowl in 1983 but mustered a 2-5 playoff record and no Super Bowl trips during the rest of Elway's career on the Denver Broncos.
Dan Marino to Los Angeles Raiders
In 1990, Los Angeles had a shot at Dan Marino when the quarterback grew frustrated at his situation with the Miami Dolphins.
Unfortunately for Raiders owner Al Davis, he again watched a deal—one that seemed completed—collapse.
"[Dolphins coach Don] Shula ... not only considered the trade, but nearly took the step," according to the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero. "The reason Marino didn't play his final decade in silver and black is because Shula and Davis came to an agreement on the trade and then Shula increased his asking price not once but twice."
Although neither team accomplished much in the 1990s, Marino at least made seven playoff appearances in Miami. Perhaps the story would be different if he'd headed to the West Coast.
John Elway to Washington
Elway spent all 16 professional seasons in Denver, but the Broncos entertained sending him to Washington in 1991.
"We called and asked what's the price for John Elway, OK, that's a fact," Charlie Casserly, the general manager for Washington at the time, said in 2016, per the Washington Post.
"And they did not say no; they said, 'Let's think about it.' They came back and said, 'Jim Lachey.' [Owner] Jack Kent Cooke said, 'We're not trading Lachey.' So there was never any discussions, serious discussion, on our side. And they then the next day said no on it."
Lachey, a left tackle, earned his third straight All-Pro honor in 1991. Plus, led by Mark Rypien, Washington defeated the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl that season.
Elway ultimately won consecutive rings during the 1997 and 1998 seasons to close his career.
Steve Young to Los Angeles Raiders for Tim Brown
Well, back to the Raiders.
Around the 1992 NFL draft, they expressed interest in acquiring Steve Young from the San Francisco 49ers. In return, the Niners wanted wide receiver Tim Brown, a first-round pick and a second-round choice—a price too steep for Los Angeles.
The demands made sense for San Francisco, which was unsure about Joe Montana's recovery from elbow surgery.
"I'll tell you what, football is strange, life is strange," Young said prior to the 1992 season, per the Associated Press (h/t Deseret News). "There's no doubt the Raiders were trying to get me on their sideline. Whether the 49ers were is up to great debate. There's no doubt that something was going on throughout the offseason, but this is what I wanted, to be here, so I'm happy."
From 1992-98 with Young, the 49ers posted a 79-25 record, won five NFC West titles and celebrated a Super Bowl victory. Oakland, on the other hand, lost immediately in its lone playoff appearance.
Aaron Rodgers to Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss
All right, Raiders fans, your nightmare is almost over.
Randy Moss spent 2005 and 2006 in Oakland but quickly wore out his welcome. The Raiders began shopping the Hall of Fame wideout in 2007, and the Green Bay Packers picked up the phone. One rumored trade, from ProFootballTalk, had the Packers sending 2005 first-round pick Aaron Rodgers to make Moss the primary target for Brett Favre.
Whether the Packers seriously considered dealing Rodgers is less clear, but the fallout is pretty remarkable.
Oakland dealt Moss to the New England Patriots, who finished 16-0 as Moss broke an NFL record with 23 touchdowns. Rodgers replaced Favre as the starter in 2008 and soon developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
And the Raiders? Well, they continued stumbling through a 12-year stretch from 2003-14 with exactly zero winning records.
Brett Favre to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As the relationship between Favre and the Packers soured in 2008, they committed to Rodgers moving forward. Favre wanted to return, though, so they needed to find a trade partner.
Perhaps it was the Raiders' lineage that crushed this one. (Yeah, I'm sorry, that was a low blow.)
Jon Gruden, then coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, believed his team had a deal in place for Favre.
"I talked to Brett on the telephone and I think if you talk to Brett yourself both of us thought he was coming to Tampa," Gruden said. "I went to bed at about 20 minutes after 12, 12:30 thinking we had Brett Favre. I was sure we had Brett Favre. When I woke up the next day, Santa Claus didn't arrive. It was a sad day for me."
Instead, the Packers moved Favre out of the NFC to the New York Jets. They ended 9-7 in Favre's lone season and fired head coach Eric Mangini—a similar fate for Gruden as Tampa finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.
Larry Fitzgerald to Philadelphia Eagles
During the same 2008 offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles discussed adding Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald.
As Fitzgerald told Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk), the trade would have included first- and third-round selections going to Arizona in exchange for the wideout. Fitzgerald's impending contract extension ended the talks.
Philly probably wishes it could redo those conversations.
The franchises met in that season's NFC Championship Game; Fitz had nine catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals' win. They'd fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, but Philly suffered its fourth NFC Championship Game loss of the decade.
Fitzgerald has since climbed to No. 2 in career receiving yards.
Philadelphia Eagles Going All-In on Marcus Mariota
Soon after Chip Kelly left Oregon for the Eagles, rumors constantly said he would chase Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL draft. Kelly, after all, had signed Mariota at Oregon and was reshaping Philly's roster.
One rumor, from Pat Yasinskas at ESPN, connected Nick Foles to Tampa Bay,
Another, from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, had the Eagles giving up, well, any player on the roster—plus multiple draft picks—for a top-two selection.
But the price, apparently, proved too high for Kelly. He eventually settled for Sam Bradford, acquiring him from the St. Louis Rams in a trade that included Nick Foles.
Philadelphia fired Kelly later in 2015 and then shipped Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings. Foles returned in 2017 and helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl. Mariota managed a 29-32 record with the Tennessee Titans and is now a backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.