The 10 biggest blockbuster NFL trades of all time
Trades have reshaped the careers of players and changed the trajectory of franchises throughout the history of the NFL. We rank the top 10 blockbuster trades in NFL history.
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Throughout the history of the NFL, trades have reshaped the careers of players and redirected the fate of franchises. The team a player belongs to in the NFL can often play a part in his level of success, and players have emerged from the shadows following a trade and gone on to have highly decorated careers as some of the greatest to ever play the game.
While many trades don’t lead to Hall of Fame careers and Super Bowl trophies, some do, and it is those trades that make up this list of the greatest trades in the history of the NFL.
When is the NFL Trade Deadline?
The NFL trade deadline is set for November 1, and all trades must be completed by 4pm EST.
Biggest NFL Trades in 2022 So Far
So far, 2022 has already been a crazy year in the NFL when it comes to high-profile trades. Several Pro Bowl-caliber talents were moved in the off-season, including Russell Wilson's blockbuster move to Denver, Davante Adams' shock move to the Raiders, and the LA Chargers trading for Khalil Mack so they can pair him with Joey Bosa.
Deshaun Watson was finally traded away from Houston and now awaits the end of his suspension before making his debut for the Cleveland Browns. Tyreek Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins in a stunning move that emerged out of nowhere and was executed within 48 hours. AJ Brown was traded to the Eagles during the opening night of the NFL draft, followed by the Cardinals trading for Marquise Brown, prizing him away from the Baltimore Ravens.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was traded to take over as the signal caller for the Indianapolis Colts, replacing Carson Wentz, who was traded to the Washington Commanders.
So, it’s safe to say 2022 has been a wild ride in the world of NFL trades already, and the most recent name to join that list is Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers star was traded for no less than four future draft picks, and is headed to San Francisco to join the 49ers talented group of offensive weapons. Clearly, the 49ers are all in on 2022, despite needing to turn to back up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo early in the season when Trey Lance was ruled out with a nasty ankle injury.
So, that brings us here, to the ten biggest impact NFL trades in the history of the game.
Ranking the top 10 blockbuster trades in NFL history
10. Steve Largent | Houston Oilers to Washington Seahawks
Wide receiver Steve Largent is considered one of the greatest trade steals of all time. Largent was originally drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1976, but was considered undersized at 5’11”, and was traded to the then-Washington Seahawks for an eighth round draft pick before he played a game with the Oilers.
The Seahawks were a brand new franchise who had joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1976, and it was Steve Largent who became Mr. Seahawk in the early years of the franchise's history.
Largent played for 14 seasons with the Seahawks, catching 819 passes for 13,089 yards and exactly 100 touchdowns. He was selected for the Pro Bowl seven times, and was named as part of the 1980s All Decade Team. Largent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 during his first year of eligibility.
9. Ollie Matson | Chicago Cardinals to Los Angeles Rams
In 1959, the LA Rams GM Pete Rozelle (who went on to become the commissioner of the NFL), traded no less than seven players, a second round draft pick and a player who would be named later for running back Ollie Matson of the Chicago Cardinals.
The trade was the largest in the league's history in terms of the number of players traded in any single transaction.
Matson was a talented running back and an Olympic medal-winning sprinter, and had been to the Pro Bowl six times in seven seasons before the trade took place. Matson played four seasons with the Rams, before playing for the Detroit Lions for a season, then moving to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was named to the team's Hall of Fame.
When Matson retired, his 12,799 all purpose yards was the league's second-greatest total behind Jim Brown. Matson was named to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, honors to go along with his silver and bronze Olympic Medals.
8. Randy Moss | Oakland Raiders to New England Patriots
Following a tremendous tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, Randy Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2005. Moss was uncomfortable with the Raiders, and outspoken about the fact that he was unhappy playing there, leading to his poor performances on the field. Many believed he had lost a step and was no longer able to perform at the highest level he had shown in Minnesota.
Enter the New England Patriots. During the 2007 NFL Draft, it was clear the Raiders and Randy Moss were ready to part ways, and it was Bill Belichick and the Patriots that traded for him, sending a fourth round selection in exchange.
Moss reignited his career in New England and set a league record for 23 receiving touchdowns in his very first year with the team, a record that still stands today and a performance that also earned him the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year award.
Moss went on to have three 1,000+ yard seasons in a row playing with Tom Brady and the Patriots, catching 47 touchdowns in those three years and returning to the form he had once shown with the Vikings. Moss led the NFL in receiving yards five times during his pro career, while being selected to six Pro Bowls. He is a proud member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
7. Eric Dickerson | Los Angeles Rams to Indianapolis Colts
Eric Dickerson had taken the league by storm since the day he was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Rams. Dickerson totalled 57 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL whilst playing in LA, before growing frustrated with his current team amidst contract disputes.
Dickerson was eventually traded to the Indianapolis Colts on Halloween of 1987 in a three-way trade that included 10 players. The Rams got a healthy return including six draft picks from the Colts and Bills, and Dickerson got a fresh start.
He rushed for almost 4,000 yards in almost three seasons with the Colts, before injuries and further contract disputes soured his career.
Dickerson is the fastest running back to ever reach 10,000 rushing yards, achieving the sum in just 91 games. He was the Offensive Player of the Year in 1986, a five-time First Team All Pro, a six-time Pro Bowler, and led the league in rushing in four individual seasons. He is both a Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame inductee, and one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game.
6. Steve Young | Tampa Bay Buccaneers to San Francisco 49ers
Steve Young had originally started his football career in the USFL, but when the league ceased operations, he was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the supplemental draft. Steve Young spent two years in Tampa Bay, failing to make an impact. He had thrown 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions during those two seasons. The Bucs drafted Vinny Testaverde with the No. 1 pick in 1987, and Steve Young became an outcast.
He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a second and fourth round draft pick, where he would then serve as a back up to Hall of Famer Joe Montana (who is also on this list).
Young went on to throw 221 career touchdowns for the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls as a member of the franchise. He was a two-time MVP, Super Bowl MVP, the 1992 Offensive Player of the Year, three-time First Team All Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
Young is a member of the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, having totally turned his career around following the trade from the Bucs to the 49ers.
5. Marshall Faulk | Indianapolis Cots to St. Louis Rams
The Colts and the Rams have a unique history of trading future Hall of Fame running backs to each other. Twelve years after the Eric Dickerson trade, the two teams aligned again. This time it was the Colts trading their star back to the Rams.
Marshall Faulk had spent five great years with the Colts, before holding out for a new contract which eventually resulted in Faulk missing multiple practices. The Colts president Bill Polian didn’t want the situation to damage the team's chemistry, and Faulk was traded.
The Colts received a second and fifth round pick in exchange, and drafted Edgerrin James (also a Hall of Famer) in the first round of the 1999 draft as a replacement.
In this case, both teams benefited tremendously from the move. The Colts had found a new star in James, while the Rams built a dynasty offense featuring Marshall Faulk.
Faulk became part of the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ Rams offense that included quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. The group won Super Bowl XXXIV and Faulk was named the MVP of the league the following season. He finished his career with 100 rushing touchdowns and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Joe Montana | San Francisco 49ers to Kansas City Chiefs
It’s not very often that an NFL franchise has two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the roster. That was the situation in San Francisco in 1993. Steve Young was ready to take over for the 49ers, and they traded the legendary four-time Super Bowl Champion Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs as a result.
The trade included Montana, safety David Whitmore and a third round draft pick in exchange for a first round draft pick from the Chiefs.
Montana was coming to the end of his career, having played 10 seasons as the starter for the Niners before missing two seasons through injury. He spent two years with the Chiefs before retiring in April 1995. He would face Steve Young and the 49ers in 1994, coming away with a victory with his new team.
Montana is one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls, three Super Bowl MVPs and two league MVPs, with one of the most decorated careers amongst any NFL player in the history of the sport.
3. Brett Favre | Atlanta Falcons to Green Bay Packers
Similarly to Steve Young, Brett Favre didn’t build his well-documented Hall of Fame career with the team he was drafted by.
Favre was drafted in the second round of the 1991 draft by the Atlanta Falcons, where he struggled. Favre's very first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and he was quickly out of favor.
Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf went out and pinched Brett Favre from the Falcons in exchange for a 1992 first round draft pick, and Favre would go on to play 16 seasons in Green Bay, winning them a Super Bowl.
He won the league's MVP award three times while playing for the Packers, while also being named the Offensive Player of the Year in 1995. He was a three-time First Team All Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl no less than eleven times, while leading the NFL in passing touchdowns four times, and passing yards twice.
Brett Favre holds the record for the most consecutive starts with 321 including the playoffs. I would say that Ron Wolf and the Packers got pretty good value for their first round draft pick, and the move will always go down as one of the best NFL trades of all time.
2. John Elway | Baltimore Colts to Denver Broncos
John Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts with the No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft against his wishes. Elway had no desire to play for the Baltimore Colts franchise and outright refused. Baltimore were eventually forced to deal their brand new rookie quarterback and he was sent to the Denver Broncos in exchange for two players and a first round draft pick the following season.
He never played for Baltimore, but the trade still stands as one of the all-time greats. Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two. He was named the league's MVP in 1987, was selected to nine Pro Bowls and had his No. 7 jersey retired by the Broncos in honor of his career.
Elway threw 300 touchdowns in the regular season and another 27 in the postseason during his career between 1983 and 1998. He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, and one of the most successful trade subjects of all time, all because he refused to play for the Colts.
1. Herschel Walker | Dallas Cowboys to Minnesota Vikings
Herschel Walker had been with the Dallas Cowboys for four seasons, contributing in both the rushing and passing game during that time. The Minnesota Vikings had plans to add Walker to their roster as the final piece of a championship team that just needed a talented running back.
In a desperate bid for a Super Bowl, the Vikings traded eight draft picks to the Cowboys for Walker, including two first round picks, three second round picks and one third round pick.
Walker was not the final piece the Vikings were looking for and only spent two seasons with the team, but the Dallas Cowboys used the enormous haul of draft picks to build a roster that won three Super Bowls in four seasons in the 90s.
The trade is considered the most lopsided of all time, and changed the course of the entire league during the 90s, with the Cowboys becoming a powerhouse.
Methodology For Ranking
The trades on this list are ranked based on their impact on the course of the NFL. Some were traded to teams that struggled while the selling team flourished, whereas others left a team in tatters as their new team won Super Bowls. We considered Super Bowl victories and achievements as well as personal accolades, Hall of Fame careers and the weight of impact the trades had on the players' career individually.