The Most Bizarre Trades in NFL History

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Russell Wilson’s 10-year run in Seattle has come to an end with the Seahawks agreeing to trade their Super Bowl-winning quarterback to the Denver Broncos.

With Aaron Rodgers announcing his commitment to the Packers only hours earlier, it was Wilson who stole the headlines in a jaw-dropping move that includes two first-round and second-round picks, as well as former starting quarterback, Drew Lock and tight end, Noah Fant.

It’s no coincidence that Wilson chose to jump ship immediately following the Rodgers news.

The Broncos were thought to be in play for the back-to-back MVP, but with Rodgers returning to Green Bay for his 18th season, Denver instead chose to trade for Wilson – who has long been disgruntled with the team-building process in Seattle.

It’s not every day that a trade of this magnitude takes place, let alone one that involves a Top 5 quarterback.

Where this leaves Seattle remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say the Wilson-Denver trade has earned a spot on our list of the Most Bizarre Trades in NFL History.

DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, David Johnson to the Houston Texans (2020)

We can always rely on one constant, never-changing theme in the NFL: the Houston Texans making mistakes.

In 2020, a baffling trade between the Texans and Arizona Cardinals unfolded that sent star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the desert in exchange for running back David Johnson and a second-round draft pick.

Two years on, it’s hard to know who really won this trade.

Hopkins posted 1,400 yards in his first season in Arizona but spent most of the season just gone on the sideline with a knee injury.

At 29, Hopkins is still among the Top 20 receivers in the NFL, but with the Kyler Murray saga still unfolding, it’s fair to say the Cardinals haven’t exactly gotten the most bang for their buck.

Johnson, meanwhile, has started only 16 games in two seasons with the Texans. He’s been a reliable pass-catcher at times but has struggled to find snaps due to injury, and the depth at running back in Houston.

Steve Young – Tampa Bay Buccaneers to San Francisco 49ers (1987)

At the time, this was only about a 6 on the bizarre-o meter. But looking back, it’s a solid 10 in terms of overall success for both the 49ers and the league in general.  

The year was 1987, where Young, fresh from a brief two-year stint in Tampa Bay, was traded to San Francisco after the Bucs selected Vinny Testaverde with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Tampa Bay quickly cut ties with Young, deeming him a bust after throwing 13 interceptions the previous year, while the 49ers were preparing for the future with Joe Montana heading into his ninth season.

To cut a long story short, Young spent three seasons as Montana’s backup before being crowned the MVP in 1992 and a Super Bowl champion in 1995.

The Bucs, meanwhile, didn’t have a winning season until 1997.

Herschel Walker – Dallas Cowboys to Minnesota Vikings (1989)

The Dallas Cowboys had a sudden change of heart in 1989 that remains to this day, one of the greatest trades (and the largest) in NFL history.

At the time, trading a guy like Herschel Walker – who was fresh from a 1,500-yard season – seemed like absolute insanity. But in return, the Cowboys received five players and eight future draft picks, which would lay the foundations for Dallas becoming one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

In total, the trade involved 18 players, but the most important detail was Dallas trading up with the Pittsburgh Steelers to draft Emmitt Smith in the first round of the 1990 draft.

The Cowboys would go on to win three Super Bowl’s, while Walker spent only three seasons in Minnesota before bouncing around the league and eventually winding up back in Dallas in 1996.

Ricky Williams – New Orleans Saints (1999)

Nobody does bizarre better than Mike Ditka.

In 1999, Ditka decided to trade away ALL of the Saints’ draft picks in order to move up and select Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams with the fifth overall pick.

Williams became the all-time NCAA D-I leading rusher during his four years at Texas, but he didn’t turn out to be the star Ditka had hoped for.

After rushing for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, Williams was traded to Miami a year later where he led the league in rushing.

Jon Gruden – Oakland Raiders to Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002)

After paying the price in the disastrous Steve Young trade, the Bucs made up for lost time in 2002 by pulling off a rare coaching trade that involved soon to be Super Bowl XXXVII winner, Jon Gruden.

Gruden replaced Tony Dungy at the helm in a swap that sent the Raiders a 2002 and 2003 first-round pick. Gruden, who inherited what many consider to be one of the NFL’s greatest defences, would coach the Bucs to their first Super Bowl win in 2003, which ironically came against the Raiders in a 48-21 blowout.

Eli Manning and Philip Rivers (2004)

Believe it or not, two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning was once (albeit very briefly) a Charger.

Eli was touted as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 Draft after setting numerous single-game and single-season records at Ole Miss.

Following a disastrous 4-12 season in 2003, the Chargers held the right to the No. 1 overall pick, but it became well known that Eli’s father, Archie, had expressed the desire for his son to play in New York – going as far as saying that he would refuse to play in San Diego.

The Giants quickly made plans to trade with the Chargers and the pair eventually pulled the trigger on a swap that included San Diego’s first-round selection Philip Rivers, as well as a handful of draft picks.

Also, fun thing to think about: if the Giants weren’t able to acquire Eli, they were reportedly very high on Ben Roethlisberger.

Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers to Oakland Raiders (2019)

After nine amazing years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Antonio Brown found himself in black and silver at the beginning of the 2019 season looking to start fresh.

Rumours began to circulate towards the end of the 2018 season suggesting Brown had worn out his welcome under Mike Tomlin. Off the field arguments with Ben Roethlisberger and a handful of missed practices eventually saw the Steelers ship Brown to the Raiders, making up one half of a blockbuster trade that was supposed to turn Oakland into a contender.

With red flags starting to appear, Brown’s attitude quickly escalated after missing most of the preseason with frostbite on his feet. From there, Brown’s career went further downhill as bizarre tweets and even a YouTube video forced his release from Oakland.

The Patriots picked up Brown very briefly before a range of off-field allegations saw his time in New England come to an end.

He went on to spend close to two seasons with Tom Brady and the Bucs in Tampa before literally walking out on the team midway through a Week 17 game against the New York Jets.

Odell Beckham Jr – New York Giants to Cleveland Browns (2019)

Everybody knew of OBJ’s growing distaste with the rebuild in New York, but nobody saw a trade to one of the NFL’s longest serving bottom dwellers forthcoming.

OBJ was shipped from the Giants to the Browns in 2019 alongside Olivier Vernon in exchange for Jabrill Peppers, Kevin Zeitler, and a first and third-round pick.

After finishing 7-8-1 in 2018, the addition of OBJ brought even more optimism to the Dawg Pound with Baker Mayfield and new head coach Freddie Kitchens leading the charge.

Cleveland’s offence failed to click as the Browns went 6-10 in 2019, but things did improve a year later as the Browns made their first playoff appearance in 18 seasons.

Unfortunately, OBJ’s time in Cleveland was short-lived. The star wide receiver grew frustrated with Baker Mayfield’s inability to throw him the ball, eventually leading to a midseason release in 2021 before signing a one-year deal with the Rams in November.

Cleveland would go on to finish the season 8-9, while OBJ would score the first touchdown of Super Bowl LVI on his way to securing a well-deserved ring.

Khalil Mack – Oakland Raiders to Chicago Bears (2018)

It seems not a season goes by without a big-name player holding out due to a contract dispute.

When you look back at Khalil Mack’s trade from the Raiders to the Bears at the beginning of the 2018 season, it’s not hard to see why.

Mack, fresh from his third consecutive double-digit sack season in Oakland, held out through the entirety of the preseason before the Raiders finally played along. Oakland sent Mack, a second-round draft pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for Chicago’s 2019 and 2020 first-round selections, as well as some mid-round picks.

This trade appeared to be very one-sided at the time considering an already fierce Bears defence just added one of the league’s best edge rushers. Some might say Josh Jacobs, who the Raiders selected with Chicago’s first-round pick last year, has evened things out.

Amari Cooper – Oakland Raiders to Dallas Cowboys (2018)

Only six weeks into the 2018 season, the Raiders suddenly cut ties with Amari Cooper, sending him to Dallas in exchange for a first-round pick.

It was a high price to pay for a receiver that hadn’t played a full season since 2016, and despite finishing the year off strongly in Dallas, the jury is still out as to who won or lost this deal.

John Elway – Baltimore Colts to Denver Broncos (1983)

Elway laid the foundations for Eli Manning’s memorable anti-San Diego stand when he refused to play for the Baltimore Colts after being selected with the first overall pick in the 1983 Draft.

Baltimore had no other choice but to deal Elway to Denver in exchange for Chris Hinton, Mark Herrman and a first-round selection in the 1984 Draft.

Of course, we all know who won there. Elway went on to win two Super Bowl’s with the Broncos, while the Colts moved to Indianapolis a year later.

Brett Favre – Atlanta Falcons to Green Bay Packers (1992)

Sometimes you just don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

The Falcons drafted Brett Favre in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft, but quickly had a change of heart and sent him packing to Green Bay.

Atlanta head coach Jerry Glanville had concerns surrounding Favre’s off-field antics and would eventually be left with egg on his face as No. 4 went on to spend 16 glorious seasons in Green Bay, culminating with a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in 1996.

Marshall Faulk – Indianapolis Colts to St Louis Rams (1999)

Foreseeing a potential contract dispute, the Colts shocked the world in 1999 when they traded star running back Marshall Faulk to the St Louis Rams on the back of a 1,300-yard season.

Faulk went on to play a pivotal role in the Rams’ ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ years between 1999 to 2001, while the Colts also came out a winner drafting Edgerrin James with the compensation pick they received in the trade.

Randy Moss – Oakland Raiders to New England Patriots (2007)

Are you starting to notice a trend here?

Ignoring their previously failed plans, the Raiders chose to trade away star wide receiver Randy Moss to the Patriots in 2007 for nothing more than a fourth-round pick.

Moss was a character, so you could argue this wasn’t the worst move in the world. But considering he caught for 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns during his first year in New England whilst helping the Patriots to an undefeated regular season – it’s safe to say the Raiders missed big.

Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers to Kansas City Chiefs (1993)

Wrapping up this list is Joe Montana’s famous trade from San Francisco to Kansas City in 1993 that divided the entire fanbase.

The growing success and promise of Steve Young during Montana’s injury presented something of a crossroads as the team looked ahead to the future. Montana, who was in his 13th year with the Niners, was soon traded to the Chiefs, who signed him to a lavish three-year, $10 million contract.

Montana went on to play in two seasons with the Chiefs, appearing in the AFC Championship Game in 1993 and even beating Young and his former team in Week 2 of the 1994 season.