Ranking the 10 worst NFL trades ever

Randy Moss
Mike Morbeck, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Through the lens of time, it’s possible to look at the worst NFL trades ever made. Obviously, no team makes a trade expecting it to work out poorly for them.

But that’s just how it goes sometimes, resulting in one of the worst NFL trades ever.

While those teams would obviously prefer to forget those deals, we couldn’t resist putting together a list of the most lopsided NFL trades in league history.

Worst NFL trades

Believe it or not, there have been a lot of one-sided NFL trades over the years. Some have involved players who didn’t pan out while others involved draft picks who turned into busts.

Of course, in a lot of cases, these teams ended up working out for one of the teams. But for the teams that ended up on the short end of the stick, here are the 10 worst NFL trades ever made.

10. Raiders get nothing out of Antonio Brown

After Antonio Brown wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh, the Raiders thought they were getting a steal when they traded a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to get him. But even that turned out to be too much for him.

Right off the bat, Brown got frostbite on both feet during cryotherapy treatment. He then created a distraction by fighting with the NFL over what helmet he could use. Brown later had a serious altercation with GM Mike Mayock in which Brown allegedly threatened physical violence. After a half-sincere attempt to patch things up, the Raiders released Brown before he played a game for them, essentially giving up two draft picks for a giant distraction.

9. Colts trade for Trent Richardson

One could argue that Richardson had a decent rookie season. But he surely didn’t warrant the Colts trading a first-round pick to get him no matter how much they needed a running back. As we all know, Richardson flamed out quickly after the trade to Indy to the point that he’s now considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history.


He played just 29 games with the Colts before they cut him. It was a terrible trade and a waste of a first-round pick.

8. Raiders trade away Randy Moss

Randy Moss will surely go down as one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. Two years after giving up the 7th overall pick for him, the Raiders sent him to New England in exchange for the 110th overall pick, a selection they used on cornerback John Bowie, who recorded two career tackles during in the NFL.

Granted, Moss had grown unhappy, giving the Raiders little choice but to trade him. But they got literally nothing for him and then watched Moss set the all-time single-season record for 23 receiving touchdowns while helping the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 regular season. Needless to say, that had to hurt the Raiders, who have been on the wrong side of one of the worst NFL trades multiple times.

7. Washington trades everything for RG3

If only Robert Griffin III had stayed healthy, this trade wouldn’t look like one of the most lopsided NFL trades in league history. After all, RG3 was a Pro Bowler as a rookie and got Washington to the playoffs. But Washington had to give up three first-round picks and a few other picks for that selection used to take Griffin.

Granted, the Rams didn’t do much with those picks, although Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, and Janoris Jenkins have all had a decent careers. But Washington would have been better off keeping the picks given how things played out. In fact, the Rams also used the players drafted as team captains when they played Washington a few years later, just to rub salt in the wound of one of the worst NFL trades ever.

6. Saints give up everything for Ricky Williams

Back when running backs were worth something in the draft, Mike Ditka decided to move from the 12th overall pick to the 5th overall pick to make sure the Saints got Heisman winner Ricky Williams. Such a trade cost the Saints all six of their picks in that draft and two picks the following year.

Even though Williams had two 1,000-yard seasons during his three years in New Orleans, he was never the profound difference-maker that would warrant such a huge price.

To be fair, the Saints got two first-round picks back when they traded Williams to Miami after three seasons. But giving up an entire draft class to get Williams is still one of the most questionable draft-day decisions ever made.

5. Falcons give up on Brett Favre

It’s hard to blame the Falcons for this. Brett Favre’s behavior off the field was not that of a franchise quarterback. One could almost call him the Johnny Manziel of his day.

One season of Favre’s hijinks was all Atlanta could stand before trading him to Green Bay. The Falcons did get the 19th overall pick for Favre. But they wasted it on running back Tony Smith, who had 329 yards and two touchdowns in his career. As for Favre, he went on to win three MVP awards and a Super Bowl in his Hall of Fame career.

4. Buccaneers trade away Steve Young

Sometimes it’s the team that’s to blame for failure rather than the player. That is exactly the case with Steve Young, who threw just 11 touchdowns with 21 interceptions over his two years with the Bucs, going 3-16 as a starter. After those two years, the Buccaneers gave up on Young, letting him go to San Francisco for the measly price of a fourth-round pick and a six-round pick.

Of course, Young had to wait behind Joe Montana for a little while, but after he got his chance with the 49ers, he blossomed into a Hall of Famer who won two Super Bowls as a starter. Imagine having a Hall of Fame quarterback on your roster and trading him away for a fourth and a sixth-rounder.

3. Colts forced to trade John Elway

This was surely one of the worst NFL trades ever from Indy’s perspective, although they didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Even though the Colts drafted John Elway, he didn’t want to play for coach Frank Kush and told the team that he would pursue a baseball career with the Yankees instead. That forced the Colts to send Elway to Denver, which obviously worked out for the Broncos.

But what makes this trade even worse for the Colts is that they didn’t get anything of value in return. Quarterback Mark Herrmann didn’t amount to much, nor did Ron Solt, who the Colts selected with the extra draft pick in the trade. Granted, Chris Hinton was a seven-time Pro Bowler, but his impact isn’t much compared to what Elway would accomplish in Denver.

2. Vikings trade for Herschel Walker

It’s hard to blame any team for wanting to trade for Herschel Walker, but the Vikings did not end up winners of the 1989 blockbuster trade between Minnesota and Dallas.

At the time, it made all of the sense in the world for the Vikings, who thought they could go on to win a Super Bowl with Walker. However, this ended up being one of the most one-sided NFL trades ever seen.

Walker was good but not great during his two and a half seasons in Minnesota, never rushing for 1,000 yards with the Vikings. The team also didn’t win any playoff games with Walker.

On the other hand, the Cowboys collected extra draft picks from this trade and used them on players like Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, and Darren Woodson, who would become key parts of the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s that won three Super Bowls. Even if the Vikings thought they had won the trade at the time.

1. Chargers move up one spot for Ryan Leaf

Heading into the 1998 draft, the Chargers had the no. 3 overall pick and knew they wouldn’t get Peyton Manning. But they were content knowing that they could get Ryan Leaf.

However, the Chargers were also paranoid that a team would trade up to the no. 2 pick to grab Leaf before they did. That led them to do just that, giving Arizona two first-round picks, a second-round pick, Patrick Sapp, and Eric Metcalf.

Needless to say, that’s a lot to give up to move up just one spot. Even worse, they gave up that much to get Leaf, who turned into one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Therefore, this turned into the worst NFL trade ever.

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About Bryan Zarpentine 238 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

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