The Worst Trades in NFL History

Worst Trades in NFL History

Trades have always been a significant aspect of the NFL, shaping the destiny of teams and players alike. Some trades have proven to be game-changers, propelling teams to glory, while others have been unmitigated disasters, haunting franchises for years. In this article, we delve into the worst trades in NFL history, analyzing the decisions, consequences, and lessons to be learned.

The Worst Trades in NFL History

The Herschel Walker Trade

One trade that stands out in NFL lore is the Herschel Walker trade. In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in one of the most lopsided deals ever. The trade involved numerous players and draft picks, which the Cowboys used to build a dynasty in the 1990s. The Vikings, on the other hand, saw their fortunes decline despite having Walker on their roster.

Ricky Williams Trade

Another infamous trade took place in 1999 when the New Orleans Saints traded their entire draft to the Washington Redskins to secure Ricky Williams. This unprecedented move raised eyebrows across the league, and while Williams had moments of brilliance, the trade left the Saints with a lack of young talent to build a strong team.

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The Jay Cutler Trade

In 2009, the Denver Broncos traded their star quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears. The trade involved multiple players and picks, but neither team achieved the desired success. Cutler struggled with consistency, and the Broncos failed to capitalize on the resources gained through the trade.

The Trent Richardson Trade

The Cleveland Browns’ decision to trade Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 was met with surprise and confusion. The Browns parted with their promising running back for a first-round pick, but Richardson failed to meet expectations with the Colts, leaving both teams searching for answers.

The RGIII Trade

In 2012, the Washington Redskins made a bold move to secure quarterback Robert Griffin III. They traded a plethora of draft picks to the St. Louis Rams, hoping RGIII would be the franchise savior. While he initially showed promise, injuries and inconsistent play hampered his career, and the Redskins paid a hefty price for a short-lived success.

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The Sam Darnold Trade

The New York Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers in 2021, hoping a change of scenery would benefit the young quarterback. While it was a risky move, the Jets were eager to move on from Darnold. The Panthers took a chance on him, hoping he would live up to his potential and become their franchise quarterback.

The Joey Galloway Trade

In 2000, the Dallas Cowboys made a high-stakes trade with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire wide receiver Joey Galloway. They gave up two first-round draft picks, but the trade failed to yield the desired results, leaving the Cowboys without key resources for the future.

The Mike Ditka Trade

Perhaps one of the most infamous trades in NFL history was orchestrated by coach Mike Ditka in 1999. The New Orleans Saints traded their entire 1999 draft to secure running back Ricky Williams. While Williams had some productive seasons, the trade depleted the Saints’ roster and set them back for years.

The Carson Palmer Trade

In 2011, the Oakland Raiders made a bold move to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals. The trade came at a steep price, but the Raiders were desperate to improve their quarterback situation. Despite Palmer’s talent, the trade did not result in significant success for the Raiders.

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The Eli Manning Trade

The 2004 NFL Draft saw a dramatic trade involving Eli Manning, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers as the first overall pick. Manning, however, made it clear that he did not want to play for the Chargers and desired to go to the New York Giants. The Chargers eventually traded Manning to the Giants in exchange for Philip Rivers and a package of draft picks.

The Brock Osweiler Trade

In 2016, the Houston Texans made a puzzling move by signing quarterback Brock Osweiler in free agency, hoping he would be their franchise quarterback. However, after just one disappointing season, the Texans traded him to the Cleveland Browns, who took on his hefty contract in exchange for draft picks.

The Bobby Lane Trade

In 1958, the Detroit Lions made a trade that would later become legendary for all the wrong reasons. They traded quarterback Bobby Lane to the Pittsburgh Steelers, not knowing that this decision would lead to a decades-long curse and a lack of success for the Lions.

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The John Hadl Trade

In 1974, the Los Angeles Rams made a significant trade to acquire quarterback John Hadl from the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, Hadl did not live up to expectations, and the trade had a negative impact on both teams.

The Percy Harvin Trade

The Seattle Seahawks made a bold move in 2013 by trading for wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks gave up a considerable amount for Harvin, but injuries and off-field issues plagued his time in Seattle.


The history of the NFL is filled with trades that have shaped the fortunes of teams for better or worse. While some trades have paid off handsomely, others have left teams with regrets and long-term consequences. The worst trades in NFL history serve as cautionary tales, reminding teams to carefully consider the implications before making high-stakes deals. In a league where every move counts, a single trade can alter the trajectory of a team for years to come.


What makes a trade in the NFL successful or disastrous?

A successful trade often involves acquiring a player who significantly improves the team’s performance. On the other hand, a disastrous trade can deplete valuable resources without yielding desired results.

Has any team recovered from a historically bad trade?

Yes, some teams have bounced back from bad trades by making strategic draft picks and shrewd acquisitions in subsequent seasons.

Are there any positive examples of high-stakes trades in NFL history?

Yes, some high-stakes trades have paid off immensely, leading teams to Super Bowl victories and long periods of success.

How do NFL teams evaluate potential trade deals?

Teams consider factors such as the player’s performance, injury history, contract status, team needs, and the potential impact on the locker room.

Do coaches and general managers face consequences for disastrous trades?

Yes, depending on the magnitude of the trade and its impact, coaches and general managers may face scrutiny and, in extreme cases, may lose their jobs.


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