Worst NFL Trades of the Past DecadeDecember 10, 2021
Worst NFL Trades of the Past Decade
Earlier this week, the Seattle Seahawks announced that safety Jamal Adams would undergo season-ending surgery for a torn labrum. It was the latest blow in a disappointing season and another indication that perhaps Seattle overpaid to acquire Adams.
When the Seahawks acquired Adams from the New York Jets last offseason, along with a 2022 fourth-round pick, Seattle gave up first- and third-rounders in the 2021 NFL draft, a first-round selection in the 2022 draft and safety Bradley McDougald.
That's a lot for a non-quarterback, particularly for a box-safety/linebacker hybrid like Adams. On top of the initial price point, Seattle inked Adams to a four-year, $70 million contract extension this offseason.
With Adams now having surgery on the same shoulder in back-to-back years—he played through injury in 2020 and had an offseason procedure—Seattle has a right to be concerned about its investment.
Fans, meanwhile, aren't being unreasonable if they view the Adams trade as a bad one. Is it one of the worst deals of the past decade, though? You can be the judge. Here, we'll dive into the pros and cons of the Adams trade and examine other deals that are undoubtedly, unequivocally the worst of the past 10 years.
Following a look at the Adams deal, trades are listed in reverse chronological order.
The Adams Trade, 17 Months Later
What makes the Adams trade look bad roughly a year-and-a-half in is the fact that Seattle has invested heavily in a strong safety. Adams is the highest-paid safety in the NFL in terms of annual value and doesn't play the premier deep-safety role.
While Adams did have an impressive 9.5 sacks in 2020, he isn't a turnover machine. He's had just two interceptions and one forced fumble since joining the Seahawks. He's just OK in coverage, allowing an opposing passer rating of 104.7 in 2020 and 93.8 in 2021.
Injuries are also a growing concern, as Adams will now miss nine games in his first two Seattle seasons
On top of everything, Seattle's struggles this season currently have the Seahawks set to part with a top-five draft pick, according to Tankathon. That's a huge problem because Seattle may be in the market for a new quarterback come April.
Plenty of trade chatter surrounded quarterback Russell Wilson this past offseason, and some believe Wilson could try to force a trade in 2022.
"Right now, everything's great. But in the offseason, can I see Russell do this again? A million percent. I see Russell trying to do this again," Fox Sports' Jay Glazer said on the NFL on Fox pregame show in October.
Perhaps Seattle couldn't foresee the quarterback drama, but parting with future draft picks is always a gamble. That gamble isn't quite paying off, as Adams was good (two interceptions, 87 tackles) but not great (no sacks or forced fumbles) in his second Seahawks campaign.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently told Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Dave Mahler of 950 KJR) that he views the Adams trade as "terrific," but the reality is that Seattle's returns have been underwhelming.
The Houston Texans Unload DeAndre Hopkins
When a team trades away arguably the most unguardable wide receiver in the game, it should expect to get a sensational return. When the Houston Texans dealt DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in March 2020, they got running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Houston even included a 2020 fourth-round selection as part of the deal.
"Everything that we do is made with the team in mind. We don't think about one player. ... We think about the future," then-head coach Bill O'Brien said of the deal, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop.
Hopkins was coming off three consecutive first-team All-Pro campaigns when he was dealt, and he's been quite good when healthy since joining the Cardinals. He had a 1,407-yard Pro Bowl campaign in 2020, and while his numbers are down this year (37 receptions, 518 yards in nine games), he has caught eight touchdown passes and is providing a passer rating of 144.4 when targeted.
In short, Hopkins has been a tremendous No. 1 weapon for emerging star quarterback Kyler Murray. The Texans offense, meanwhile, has been a mess since dealing Hopkins. Houston ranked 18th in scoring last season and currently ranks dead-last in both yards and points in 2021.
Johnson has had decent numbers (867 rushing yards, 528 receiving yards, nine touchdowns in 23 games) but has not been the high-end back he was early in his career. Houston used that second-round pick on defensive tackle Ross Blacklock, who has just 29 tackles and two sacks since being selected.
O'Brien, who was named general manager in January of that year and orchestrated the Hopkins trade, was fired four games into the 2020 season. Houston is now chasing down the No. 1 pick in the draft while the Cardinals are chasing a Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots Acquire Mohamed Sanu
To be fair to Seahawks general manager John Schneider, some of the best minds in NFL history make mistakes when it comes to trades.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is indeed one of the great football minds of his generation. He's won six Super Bowls and has led a quick turnaround in 2021, guiding New England to the top spot in the AFC. His decision to trade for wideout Mohamed Sanu at the 2019 deadline, though, was a bad one.
In October 2019, the Patriots sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Sanu. New England was struggling offensively in what turned out to be Tom Brady's last year with the franchise and finished the season ranked 18th in passing yards per attempt.
The addition of Sanu was supposed to give Brady the reliable perimeter target that he needed. It didn't. Sanu appeared in eight games for the Patriots, started six and finished with a mere 26 receptions, 207 receiving yards and one touchdown. He provided a passer rating of just 64.8 that year.
The following September, the Patriots released Sanu. He spent time with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions in 2020 and returned to San Francisco this past March. He played eight games this year before landing on injured reserve with a knee sprain.
Atlanta ended up with the 55th pick in the 2020 draft, which it then traded to the Baltimore Ravens, who selected running back J.K. Dobbins. Players the Patriots missed out on by dealing the selection include receiver Van Jefferson, running back AJ Dillon and safety Jeremy Chinn.
While New England couldn't know exactly who would be available in the draft, the price was too high for a 30-year-old possession receiver with only 313 yards in the seven games he played for Atlanta in 2019.
The Cleveland Browns Trade for Odell Beckham Jr.
Not too long ago, we might have viewed this March 2019 trade as a mistake by the New York Giants instead of one by the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland's trade for wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was eventually rolled into a combo deal involving Browns guard Kevin Zeitler and Giants edge defender Olivier Vernon. The Beckham portion of the trade, though, involved the following: Cleveland received Beckham, while New York got safety Jabrill Peppers and 2019 first- and third-round picks.
The Giants had already paid a huge chunk of Beckham's guaranteed money, easing the burden of his five-year, $90 million deal for Cleveland.
While Beckham was a fine receiver in his first season with the Browns (74 catches, 1,035 yards, 4 TDs), things quickly went south. Beckham never found chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield, suffered a torn ACL in 2020 and eventually parlayed his role as disgruntled receiver into a post-deadline 2021 release.
In 29 games with Cleveland, Beckham caught just 114 passes for 1,586 yards and seven touchdowns. By comparison, he had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie in 2014. Now with the Los Angeles Rams, Beckham has provided a passer rating of only 77.3 when targeted over the course of this season.
The Giants, meanwhile, have gotten 32 games, 196 tackles, 17 passes defended and 3.5 sacks out of Peppers, who is currently on injured reserve with a torn ACL. New York turned the draft picks into defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Oshane Ximines, who have combined for 171 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 38 quarterback hits in three seasons.
At the time this deal was made, it looked like a home run for Cleveland. In retrospect, it's clear the Giants fleeced the Browns.
The Chicago Bears Trade Up for Mitchell Trubisky
This past April, the Chicago Bears traded the 20th and 164th overall picks in 2021 as well as 2022 first- and fourth-round picks to move up and select quarterback Justin Fields. You can bet that Bears fans are hoping this deal works out better than the last trade up Chicago made for a quarterback.
In April 2017, the Bears traded the No. 3 overall pick, 2017 third- and fourth-rounders and a 2018 third-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers to move up to No. 2. They used the selection on North Carolina signal-caller Mitchell Trubisky.
Now, Trubisky wasn't a complete disaster in Chicago, as he went 29-21 as a starter. However, he wasn't the transcendent talent the Bears were hoping for. Trubisky lasted just four seasons in the Windy City and finished with 10,609 passing yards, 64 touchdowns, 37 interceptions and a passer rating of 87.2.
Trubisky also rushed for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns.
The big problem with this trade is that it wasn't necessary. According to a report from Peter King, then writing for Sports Illustrated, the 49ers thought Chicago wanted defensive end Solomon Thomas, whom San Francisco gobbled up at No. 3 (though he disappointed in four seasons with the 49ers).
So, Chicago could have stayed put and taken Trubisky.
Making the deal appear even worse is the fact that Chicago selected Trubisky over quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes has already earned regular-season and Super Bowl MVP honors, and while Watson isn't playing as he faces 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct, he's a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and the Bears had to feel confident they were getting the right signal-caller. The moral of the story, though, is that trading up for a project QB when it's unnecessary is not a good idea.
The Los Angeles Rams Trade Up for Jared Goff
The Bears didn't have to trade up to grab Trubisky in 2017. The previous year, the Los Angeles Rams did have to move up to select Cal quarterback Jared Goff. The Rams moved up from No. 15 to No. 1 in the draft by dealing their first-round pick, two second-round picks, a third-round pick, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 third-round pick to the Tennessee Titans.
L.A. also got back a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
The deal appears to be a borderline disaster looking back, though the Rams were winners at times. Goff helped Los Angeles reach the Super Bowl in the 2018 season, though it has become clear that head coach Sean McVay deserves most of the credit.
Goff holds a 1-16-1 record when not playing under McVay.
Statistically, Goff was fine with the Rams. He made two Pro Bowls and finished his L.A. career with 18,171 passing yards, 107 touchdowns, 55 interceptions and a 91.5 passer rating. However, the Rams wanted a truly elite signal-caller and eventually traded Goff as part of a package to acquire Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions.
The Rams weren't shy about viewing Stafford as a significant upgrade.
"He's going to raise the level of play of everyone around him," McVay told NFL Network's Omar Ruiz back in June.
Along with Goff, the Rams traded a 2021 third-round pick and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to get Stafford. That's a lot of capital to replace a quarterback who cost a lot of capital in the first place.
The Philadelphia Eagles Send LeSean McCoy to Buffalo
Philadelphia Eagles fans probably don't remember the Chip Kelly era fondly. He did have a 26-21 record as a coach, but some baffling decisions were made along the way. His biggest blunder came shortly after he was given full control of the 90-man offseason roster.
In March 2015, Kelly sent All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Now, Alonso was a quality defender—he had 159 tackles as a rookie in 2013—but he had just missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL.
McCoy, meanwhile, was coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season, his third Pro Bowl campaign in four years and was two years removed from leading the league with 1,607 rushing yards. This was a straight-up player-for-player trade, and an unbalanced one at that.
Alonso went on to play 11 games for the Eagles in 2015, finishing with 43 tackles, two tackles for loss and one pass defended. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins the next year.
McCoy, meanwhile, went on to have three straight Pro Bowl campaigns for Buffalo. Perhaps more importantly, McCoy helped the Bills end their 17-year playoff drought with a 9-7 campaign in 2017. During that season, McCoy amassed 1,138 rushing yards, 448 receiving yards and eight combined touchdowns.
Alonso returned to form with the Dolphins, posting three straight seasons with 115-plus tackles. However, he never reached the Pro Bowl and last played with the New Orleans Saints in 2019.
McCoy signed a one-day deal to retire as an Eagle in October. In six seasons after being dealt by Kelly, he produced 4,310 rushing yards, 1,616 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns.
The Indianapolis Colts Trade for Trent Richardson
We're hitting the way-back machine for this bad deal, one that might serve as a cautionary tale for any teams interested in trading for Najee Harris in 2022.
Former Alabama running back Trent Richardson had a solid rookie campaign for the Cleveland Browns in 2012. He caught 51 passes, totaled 1,317 scrimmage yards and scored 12 total touchdowns (11 rushing). However, he wasn't great as a ball-carrier, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.
Richardson was good at compiling catches and yards but not at breaking big runs. Those mostly came during his time with the Crimson Tide. Yet, the Indianapolis Colts sent a 2014 first-round pick to Cleveland in September 2013 to acquire Richardson.
"This guy is a rolling ball of butcher knives," then-Colts coach Chuck Pagano said of Richardson, per Mike Chappell of USA Today.
It turned out that Richardson was more akin to a serving spoon. He could dish out yards in the right situations, but he wasn't cutting through opposing defenses.
Richardson lasted just two seasons and 29 games in Indianapolis. He finished his time there with 977 rushing yards, 3.1 yards per carry, 494 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns. He later spent time with the then-Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens but never played another regular-season down.
While Richardson boasted alluring draft stock—he was taken third overall in 2012—the Colts didn't pay enough attention to what he put on tape as a pro. During his time in the NFL, Richardson struggled to find running lanes and follow blockers. The Browns, of course, blew their end of the deal, using that 2014 pick as part of a package to trade up for quarterback Johnny Manziel.
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Spotrac.