NFL Trade Rumors: Power Ranking the 20 Worst Trades in AFC History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMarch 8, 2011

NFL Trade Rumors: Power Ranking the 20 Worst Trades in AFC History

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    NFL trade rumors are on pause right now because of the lockout, but the labor negotiations won’t stop us from looking at the biggest trade blunders of all time.

    In this AFC-only edition, we handpicked the 20 worst TRADES in history.

    Now technically, the AFC wasn’t formed until 1970, so we’ll cut off the list there. Anything the Steelers, Colts, Browns or any of the old AFL teams did doesn’t qualify. And although they are now in the NFC, don’t forget that the Seahawks were in the AFC until 2002.

    So look back on these moves and, if you’re an AFC fan, try not to cringe: at least they are in the past! 

Honorable Mention: Raiders Trade Jon Gruden

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    15 Dec 2001:  Jon Gruden head coach of the Oakland Raiders watches hs team play the San Diego Chargers during their game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  The Raiders won 13-6. DIGITAL IMAGE   Mandatory Credit:  Stephen Dunn/ALLSPORT
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When: 2002

    In Exchange For: two first-rounders and two second-rounders.

    Sure the Raiders got a boat load in return—of course they largely squandered those choices—but that’s not the reason why this Al Davis move made the list.

    No, instead it’s because the Raiders still haven’t found a head coach who has been nearly as successful as Gruden was.

    Yes, the relationship between Gruden and Davis was beyond repair and a deal was imminent. Still, that doesn’t mean the trade was a good idea, Especially since they chose the worst possible team to deal with: they gave Gruden to the Buccaneers, who were 12 months away from clobbering Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

    Coaches seem to be a lot harder to replace than players. 

No. 20: Steelers Trade Santonio Holmes

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27:  Santonio Holmes #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs after a fourth quarter catch against the Baltimore Ravens on December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 23-20. (Photo by Gregory Sham
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    When: 2010

    In Exchange For: Fifth-rounder, 2010

    The Steelers had no choice but to deal  away their star. He had repeatedly been in trouble with the law and was also dealt a four-game suspension from the league.

    Still, to get a fifth round pick for a 26-year-old healthy player who had been the Super Bowl MVP just 14 months earlier? 

    Certainly Mike Wallace’s presence on the roster helped fill the void and the Steelers still promptly won the AFC Championship the next year. But they were still hosed on that deal by the Jets. 

No. 19: Chargers Trade for Chris Chambers

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    SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 28: Wide Receiver Chris Chambers #89 of the San Diego Chargers runs out of the endzone after scoring his first touchdown against the Houston Texans during their NFL game on October 28, 2007 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    When: 2007

    In Exchange For: Second-rounder, 2008.

    Always looking for a wide receiver to pair with Antonio Gates, the Chargers acquired the Dolphins' Chris Chambers near the trade deadline during the 2007 NFL season.

    Chambers had been a pro bowler in Miami just two years earlier and had only missed two starts in the previous five years.

    Parting with a second round pick seemed like a reasonable move by GM A.J. Smith.

    But in parts of three seasons with the Chargers, Chambers caught just 77 passes and started only 21 games. He was cut during the 2009 season.

    Since the Chargers had to commit a great deal of money and cap-space to make Chambers happy, it turned out to be a disaster. 

No. 18: Indianapolis Colts Trade for Trev Alberts

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    When: 1994

    In Exchange For: Rams first pick, fifth overall, 1994.

    Despite the somewhat ill-conceived recent picks of linebacker Quentin Coryatt and defensive end Steve Emtman, heading into the 1994 NFL Draft, the Colts really wanted Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts.

    They traded their first pick (seventh overall) and a third-rounder for the fifth overall selection, prompting the famous Mel Kiper-Bill Tobin rivalry that produced the “Who the hell is Mel Kiper?,” blast.

    Not only did Alberts become a major bust, but their love for him caused them to pass on four-time pro bowler Bryant Young, who was taken with the pick they dealt to the Rams. 

No. 17: Broncos Trade Peyton Hillis

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    INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 13:  Peyton Hillis #22 of the Denver Broncos looks on the field during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The Colts won 28-16.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Gett
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    When: 2010

    In Exchange For: Brady Quinn, 2011 sixth-round pick.

    Maybe it’s too early for Peyton Hillis to be on ANY “all-time” list. As of right now, he’s only had one great season: 1,177 yards, 61 catches, 13 TD.

    But since he seemed like a throw-in for the Broncos to acquire Brady Quinn, it was a major miscalculation.

    Quinn is third on the Broncos depth chart while Hillis is the foundation of the Cleveland offense.

    Still, the deal wasn’t the worst AFC trade involving the former Notre Dame standout.

No. 16: Browns Trade Brady Quinn

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    DENVER - SEPTEMBER 20:  Quarterback Brady Quinn #10 of the Cleveland Browns delivers a pass against the Denver Broncos during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 20, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 27-6.  (Photo
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    When: 2007

    In Exchange For: A 2007 second-rounder and 2008 first-rounder

    The Browns first round was a major success in 2007: they took Joe Thomas from Wisconsin with the third overall choice.

    But they really struck out when they tried to nab another star later that day.

    With Notre Dame’s star Brady Quinn plummeting on draft day, the Browns looked to nab him at the 22nd spot by acquiring that pick from the Cowboys.

    They sent their second-rounder that year and their first rounder the next year to Dallas in exchange for the spot.  They took Quinn and two years later he was out of Cleveland.

    Meanwhile, the two picks they gave to Dallas would ultimately be used to take Kevin Kolb and Felix Jones.

No. 15: Chargers Trade James Brooks

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    When: 1984

    In Exchange For: FB Pete Johnson.

    Like the Steelers with Santonio Holmes years later, the Bengals and new head coach Sam Wyche had no choice but to trade fullback Pete Johnson.

    The team refused to renegotiate his deal heading into his option year, so Johnson—the Bengals’ leading rusher each of the previous seven seasons—dealt him to the Chargers.

    In return, they got James Brooks, more of a kick returner than an everyday back.

    But in Cincinnati, the former Auburn star blossomed. Brooks became a four-time pro bowler, and eventually became the franchise’s leading rusher.

    Johnson on the other hand, played three games for the Chargers before they dealt him to the Dolphins for a later round pick. 

No. 14: Oilers Trade Warren Moon

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    18 Oct 1992:  Quarterback Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers looks to pass the ball during a game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.  The Broncos won the game, 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Tim DeFrisco  /Allsport
    Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    When: 1994

    In Exchange For: A fourth-rounder in 1994 and a third-rounder in 1995.

    The Oilers had a plan for the future when they dealt away the franchise's greatest quarterback. A year later, they would take Steve McNair, who would lead them to their first and only Super Bowl appearance.

    Still, for a few years anyway, the Vikings pulled a fast one on the Oilers.

    Moon was 37 and they must have figured he was at the end of his career.

    He proved them wrong the next two seasons, posting back-to-back 4,200 yard seasons while earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections.

    For a future Hall-of-Famer who would end up playing another eight seasons, they should have been able to get more in return.

No. 13: Bengals Trade Charlie Joiner

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    When: 1976

    In Exchange For: DE Coy Bacon

    Coy Bacon was a very good defensive end in the 1970s, and in his first two seasons he went to a pro bowl.

    Neither Bacon, nor the first-rounder they received in a packaged deal with the Redskins, was worth a future Hall-of-Famer who would eventually become the NFL’s all-time leading receiver.

    To complete the deal for Bacon, the Bengals shipped 28-year-old Charlie Joiner—a player with decent numbers—to San Diego.

    In his first season with the Chargers Joiner went to the Pro Bowl. A few seasons later, Joiner became the key possession receiver on the fabled “Air Coryell” unit, named after the Chargers head coach. He’d post 586 catches and 9,203 yards in his 11 seasons in San Diego.  

No. 12: Dolphins Trade Anthony Carter

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    When: 1986

    In Exchange For: LB Robin Sendlein and a second-round pick.

    Anthony Carter was a star at the University of Michigan, but he opted to sign with the USFL in 1983.

    Still, taking a flier on the former Wolverine, the Miami Dolphins selected Carter with a 12th round choice.

    Three years later it paid off: the USFL folded and Miami still held his rights.

    Carter, a south Florida native, was thrilled. But prior to the 1986 season, the Dolphins shipped him to Minnesota for linebacker Robin Sendlein, who retired after one season.

    The second round pick was good to have, but since Carter ended up going to three consecutive pro bowls and catching 53 touchdowns, adding him to Dan Marino’s arsenal might have put the Dolphins back in the Super Bowl at one point in the late 1980s.

No. 11: Patriots Give Up Chance to Take Jerry Rice

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    23 Dec 2000:  Jerry Rice #80 of the San Francisco 49ers walks and looks down during the game against the Denver Broncos at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the 49ers 38-9.Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    When: 1985

    In Exchange For: A 1985 first-rounder, second-rounder and third-rounder.

    At the time, the Pats may have seemed to get the better of this deal. They traded two high picks for three.

    But over time the players they got in return, Ben Thomas and Trevor Matich didn’t produce much.

    Still, that’s not nearly as troubling as what the 49ers did with the pick that the Patriots gave them.

    They took Jerry Rice. Enough said. Except for this: Rice wasn't Jerry Rice yet, he was a still relatively unknown receiver from a comparatively tiny college program. 

No. 10: Colts Trade Ted Hendricks

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    When: 1974

    In Exchange For: Tom MacLeod and a 1975 eight-rounder.

    In the early 1970s, the Colts had no problem unloading stars: Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Bubba Smith, etc.

    But the worst move might have been giving up on “The Mad Stork” at the age of 27.

    Not only did they trade him in exchange for a mediocre linebacker who was only a starter for one season, but they had to give the Packers a second rounder as well. That pick turned out to be future pro bowl cornerback Monte Jackson. 

No. 9: Raiders Trade Randy Moss

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    OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 3:  Randy Moss #18 of the Oakland Raiders reacts after a play against the Houston Texans during an NFL game at McAfee Coliseum December 3, 2006 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When: 2007

    In Exchange For: A 2007 fourth-round pick.

    It would have been hard for the Raiders to keep Randy Moss after a pretty horrible season in  2006. Not only was he extremely unproductive but he was something of a PR nightmare.

    Still, considering what he did for three seasons in New England, the Patriots completely fleeced the Raiders on the deal.

    Moss immediately set the single season touchdown receptions record for the 16-0 Patriots and had three great years in New England before it all fell apart in 2010.

    He caught 50 touchdowns in just three seasons with the Pats: that’s probably worth more than the 110th overall pick.

No. 8: Oilers Trade Ken Houston

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    When: 1973

    In Exchange For: Mack Alston, Mike Fanucci, Clifton McNeil, Jeff Severson and Jim Snowden.

    Houston (fitting name) was a great defensive back for the sputtering Oilers franchise of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    In his first five seasons out of Prairie View A&M, the ninth-round choice went to the pro bowl each year.

    A few months after taking his “Over the Hill Gang” to the Super Bowl, Redskins coach George Allen was able to pull Houston out of Houston in exchange for a few role players on the Redskins squad.

    Houston continued to be one of the league’s premier defenders, going to the pro bowl seven more consecutive seasons, being named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and, in 1986, being selected to the Hall of Fame.

    As for the players that the Oilers got in return, only Alston survived past the 1974 season. 

No. 7: Colts Trade John Elway

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    When: 1983

    In Exchange For: Ron Solt, Chris Hinton and Mark Hermann.

    Clearly dealing away a player like John Elway is an unforgivable sin, especially when you get players in return that do almost nothing in return, although Solt did go to a pro bowl in 1987.

    But what choice did the Colts have in the Spring of 1983?

    Elway refused to play for the parsimonious Colts and had a viable backup plan, pitching for the Yankees.

    That makes it hard to completely blame the Colts, even if they did waste a handful of picks over the next decade-and-a-half looking for “The Next Elway.”

    A truly horrific bad trade can’t be one made with the team’s hand forced. 

No. 6: Seahawks Trade Ahman Green

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    GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 28:  Running back Ahman Green #30 of the Green Bay Packers runs the football during the game against the Denver Broncos on December 28, 2003 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Broncos 31-3 to win th
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    When: 2000

    In Exchange For: Fred Vinson and a 2000 fifth-round pick.

    Mike Holmgren would soon get revenge over his former team via the Matt Hasselbeck deal.

    But in 2000, he completely dropped the ball when he dealt former Nebraska star Ahman Green to the Packers for only a fifth round pick, even if Seattle did grab Shaun Alexander in that year’s draft.

    Green joined the Packers and rushed for 1,000 yards or more in five of six seasons.

    He set the club’s single season and career rushing record, and went to four consecutive pro bowls, while neither of the players the Seahawks received ever played a game in the NFL following the deal.  

No. 5: Dolphins Trade Wes Welker

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    MIAMI - DECEMBER 03:  Wide receiver Wes Welker #83 of the Miami Dolphins flubs a kick-off in the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Dolphin Stadium on December 3, 2006 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    When: 2007

    In Exchange For: A second-round and a seventh-round pick in 2007.

    As great as Randy Moss was from 2007-09,  Wes Welker has put up better stats. Not only that, his tenure in New England should last far longer than Moss’ three-year stint.

    At the time, it may have seemed a bit strange for the Patriots to give up a second round pick for an undersized punt returner who had one good half-season as a receiver.

    But Welker soon proved far more valuable than those two draft choices. Twice he’s led the NFL in catches, averages nearly 75 yards per game, and has been a three-time pro bowler. 

No. 4: Oilers Trade for Dave Casper

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    When: 1980

    In Exchange For: A first-rounder and a second-rounder in 1981.

    The premier tight end of his era, Casper was named to the All Pro team four consecutive years and is a Hall of Famer.

    But midway through the 1980 season, the Raiders  dealt the 29-year-old to the Oilers.

    Houston, who was coming off consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances saw him as the missing piece to their Super Bowl puzzle, so they didn’t mind parting with their first two picks of the 1981 NFL Draft.

    But after that first half-year in Houston, Casper struggled with injuries and wasn’t nearly the same dominant player he had been in Oakland.

    And since the Raiders would take Howie Long with that second-rounder, that made the move a major disappointment. 

No. 3: Buffalo Bills Trade for Rob Johnson

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    20 Aug 1999:  Rob Johnson #11 of the Buffalo Bills moves back to throw the ball during a game against the Washington Redskins at the Redskins Stadium in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Bills 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    When:  1998

    In Exchange For: A first-rounder and a fourth-rounder in 1998.

    It’s bad enough that the Bills gave a quarterback with almost no starting experience an enormous deal; worse yet that the deal eventually thrust him into the starter’s job prior to the Bills last playoff game—the loss in the Music City Miracle.

    But to give up a fourth-rounder alone might have been too much, let alone a first-round pick!

    In addition to that fourth, rounder the Bills gave up the ninth overall pick in the draft, which would become Fred Taylor.

    In retrospect that might have become the worst acquisition in the history of the franchise. 

No. 2: Oilers Trade Steve Largent

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    When: 1974

    In Exchange For: An eighth-round pick in 1977.

    Few people remember that Steve Largent, the Greatest Seahawk of All Time, was actually drafted by the Houston Oilers.

    Although every game he ever played and all of his 819 record-setting catches came in a Seattle uniform, it was the Oilers who spent a 4th round pick on the undersized Tulsa product.

    But, for whatever reason, the Oilers felt that an eight round pick—which they used on a player who never made an NFL roster—had more potential than Largent.

    You know the rest: Largent played 14 seasons in Seattle, caught 100 touchdowns, went to seven pro bowls and was the first Seahawk inducted in the Hall of Fame.  

No. 1: Seahawks Trade Away Tony Dorsett

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    When:  1977

    In Exchange For: A first-rounder and three second-round picks in the 1977 draft.

    Perhaps it was karma.

    The Seahawks caught a huge break by (effectively) stealing Hall of Famer Steve Largent from the Oilers. Only a few months later, they were the ones to get completely snookered.

    In search of an upgrade at running back, the Cowboys looked to climb into the top three to take one of the two great backs available.

    They couldn’t get the top spot away from the Buccaneers, who selected USC’s Ricky Bell, so they turned to another expansion team, the Seahawks.

    Seattle was willing to make the deal, but asked for a ransom in return: the 14th, 30th, 41st, and 54th overall picks. Those players turned out to be Steve August, Tom Lynch, Terry Beeson, and Duke Fergerson, none of whom ever went to a pro bowl.

    On the other hand, Dorsett went to four, helped the Cowboys win a Super Bowl in his first season, rushed for 1,000 or more yards eight times, and was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame.