NFL Trades: Ranking the Top 10 Best Trades in NFL History
NFL Trades: Ranking the Top 10 Best Trades in NFL History
On November 1st, just over 24 hours away from the 2021 trade deadline, the Rams made a splash of a move by trading for Broncos edge rusher and three-time All-Pro Von Miller. They’ll pair him with Aaron Donald as they Rams look to push toward a Super Bowl win. They surrendered a second- and third-round pick but take on just $700,000 of Miller’s remaining $9.7 million this season. It remains to be seen if the move will push Los Angeles over the top. By name, it’s one of the most notable trades we’ve seen, but by result and impact here’s what it’s competing with as far as the best and splashiest in-season trades in history.
- Raiders acquire Mike Haynes from Patriots (1983)
- Rams acquire Von Miller from Broncos (2021)
8. Colts acquire Eric Dickerson from Rams (1987)
After running for more than 1,800 yards in three of his first four NFL seasons, Dickerson was dealt in the midst of what was one of his five All-Pro campaigns. He didn’t have the hottest start to the year, but he did avoid missing out on the playoffs with the 6-9 Rams. The Hall of Famer would go on to rush for more than 1,000 yards and 5 touchdowns on a 9-6 Colts playoff team.
Dickerson also led the league in rushing and posted more than 2,000 scrimmage yards the very next season in 1988. He would play another three seasons in Indianapolis. Today, he ranks 9th all-time in rushing yards and 13th in career rushing touchdowns.
7. 49ers acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from Patriots (2017)
Back in 2014, the Patriots selected Garoppolo with the 62nd overall pick in the draft, which to many was a sign that he would succeed champion quarterback Tom Brady (37 at the time). After a few rounds of trade rumors, great Brady seasons and some reported disagreement between Brady and coach Bill Belichick, New England finally moved its prized backup onto San Francisco at the age of 26.
Jimmy G started just nine games across his first two seasons with the Niners, but in 2018 he signed a five-year extension worth $137.5 million. The ensuing season he led the team to a 13-3 record, a spot in the playoffs and an eventual Super Bowl loss. Since then, he’s spent a lot of time on injured reserve, but is still the San Francisco starter through the first half of 2021.
6. Ravens acquire Marcus Peters from Rams (2019)
Peters forced his way out of Kansas City and to Los Angeles in 2018 only to play less than two full seasons with the Sean McVay-led Rams. Ahead of the Rams trading for another cornerback in Jalen Ramsey, they offloaded Peters to the Ravens, who were in need of secondary help on what was an otherwise stellar defense.
Playing 10 of 16 games in Baltimore, the 26-year-old Peters would account for a total of five interceptions and three touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl, All-Pro season and $42 million extension. His 2020 season was not quite as stellar, but still the play-making corner ended the year with four interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He notched another interception in the Ravens’ playoff win over the Titans.
5. Colts acquire Anthony McFarland from Buccaneers (2006)
A lot of you may not know that you know exactly who this is, but you do. Over the last few years, “Booger” McFarland has been featured on ESPN and Monday Night Football as an analyst, and before that he was a defensive tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion. He won his first title with the Buccaneers in 2004, but in 2006 he was sent to Indianapolis for a second-round pick.
In Indy, he was reunited with Tony Dungy, the coach who drafted him back in 1999. Over the course of 11 games with the Colts, he would tally 2.5 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss, but it’s what he did in the playoffs – alongside Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison – that landed him his second ring. In the final game of his career, he posted two tackles, one for a loss, as well as one quarterback hit and one sack of Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.
4. Patriots acquire Kyle Van Noy from Colts (2016)
In more recent history, the Patriots have become known as the team to make the splashy in-season trades for players who would become legends in their many Super Bowl runs. Van Noy is chief among them, after being acquired from Detroit for a measly sixth-round pick.
Van Noy wasn’t a guy to put up big numbers, yet he made a sizable impact in New England for years to come. The year he joined the team the Patriots boasted one of the best defenses of this era, and they went on to win 14 games and an NFL championship. They would do the same in 2018, when Van Noy started all 16 games and racked up 92 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He had three sacks and a forced fumble in the three-game playoff run.
3. Rams acquire Jalen Ramsey from Jaguars (2019)
Ramsey’s name already came up in this list, and for good reason. Following a fall-out of sorts, as well as a shift toward a rebuild for the Jaguars, the then 25-year-old was moved to an L.A. team that desperately needed a true lock-down corner to help add to an up-and-coming defense. The return? Two first-round picks and a fourth.
Ramsey’s one interception that season was more reflective of the level of coverage that forced quarterbacks to look elsewhere for completions, and Pro Bowl voters agreed. The 2020 season was where the move really paid off on both sides, with Ramsey earning another Pro Bowl bid, and this time as an All-Pro performer. He and Aaron Donald made for a vicious front-to-back duo and were instrumental in the Rams’ top-ranked scoring defense (18.5 points per game against) and 10-6 record. Ramsey was rewarded with a five-year, $100 million deal that will keep him with the Rams until 2027.
2. Seahawks acquire Marshawn Lynch from Bills (2010)
These days, it’s very unlikely that anyone associated Lynch with the Bills. In just his fourth season in the league, he was dealt to Seattle, where he would put his stamp on the team and league at large, both with his play and his personality. He would make his name as Beast Mode.
On the heels of just an OK season in 2010, Lynch broke out with more than 1,200 rushing yards and a dozen scores the year after, and for his efforts he went to his second Pro Bowl. His career in Seattle would see him go to three more Pro Bowls, achieve one All-Pro season and help lead the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. At the side of Russell Wilson, he won Super Bowl XLVIII over the Broncos. Lynch ran for more than 6,300 yards in his time with Seattle, which will likely put him in their Ring of Honor in due time. And all that for a fourth- and fifth-round selection.
1. Cowboys acquire 4 players, 8 picks from Vikings (1989)
Unlike the other top transactions, this one stands out – and tops the list – for a pair of obvious reasons. This not only featured a high-caliber player, running back Herschel Walker, but the picks that were sent over in return became much more than your everyday draft choices. All total, it involved a total of 18 players and picks.
The Vikings got Walker, who was fresh off of rushing for 1,500 yards in the ‘82 season. The San Diego Chargers were folded in, but the main takeaway was on the side of the Cowboys. Dallas received four players, but more importantly eight picks (three firsts and three seconds) over the next three drafts. In one way or another, they used these selections to add – among others -- Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Kevin Smith. They would win three Super Bowls spanning 1992 to 1995.
Brett Oswalt has been writing about sports for five years, has covered everything from the NBA to College Football DFS, and previously served as an editor at numberFire. He is a Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Highmark by day, and an avid sports fan and girl-dad by night. He resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Marley, daughter, Aria, and goldendoodle, Braun.