NEW YORK – APRIL 24: Eli Manning (2nd-L) with his parents receives a San Diego Chargers jersey from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue during the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Manning was selected first pick overall by the San Diego Chargers then traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and 3 draft picks. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Trades!  You love them, we love them, the NFL certainly loves them (because they ensure we’ll never stop talking about the NFL, naturally).

As Andrea Hangst chronicled here on Wednesday, before the 2016 NFL Draft even begins, it has been defined by two big trades, with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles both making big moves into the top two spots, presumably to grab quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively.

The deals have been met with plenty of skepticism, though, as Andrea points out, they’re also simply a reflection of the new NFL calculus in which QBs are everything. But with this year’s pre-draft deal-making in mind, we thought we’d take a look back at 10 of the biggest trades involving draft picks in league history, and render our own verdict on who came out the winner. Perhaps that might offer some insight on what’s in store for the franchises who took the plunge this year.

1977 – Seahawks trade No. 2 overall selection (Tony Dorsett) to Cowboys for No. 14 overall pick and three second-round picks

We get started with a doozy of a trade, four decades ago, that challenges the current conventional wisdom. Stockpiling draft picks is generally seen as a good thing, but back in 1977, the Seahawks, coming off a 2-12 expansion season, decided to dangle the second pick in the draft and came away with quite a haul. The only problem? Heisman winner Tony Dorsett lived up to every expectation, rushing for 12,000 and 77 touchdowns in his career, trumping the accomplishments of Clint Longley, Steve August, Tom Lynch, and the rest of the package.

Winner: Cowboys

1985 – 49ers acquire No. 17 overall pick (and select Jerry Rice) from Patriots for No. 28 overall, as well as second- and third-round picks

Everybody knows the Patriots love to move down.  Everybody knows it’s always brilliant, right?  Well, if you go back a ways, you can find at least one instance of this tendency biting New England badly.  Sure, few people knew that Jerry Rice would rewrite every record there is and become the most dominant wide-receiver of all time. (If they had, he probably wouldn’t have been sitting at No. 17 in the first place.)  But suffice it to say that giving up a chance to take a generational talent was something of a setback for the Pats. Here’s a bit of trivia: Who did the New England take with that No. 28 pick?  None other than current ESPN analyst Trevor Matich.

Winner:  49ers

1989 49ers acquire QB Steve Young from Buccaneers for second- and fourth-round picks, and cash considerations.

I think we’re beginning to understand how the 49ers built, and sustained, one of the most impressive dynasties in league history. Back in 1989, Tampa considered Steve Young a disappointment after snagging him from the USFL. Bill Walsh, on the other hand, considered him the potential heir apparent to Joe Montana and was able to snag him for nothing more than a pair of middle-round picks. Nearly 30,000 yards, more than 200 TDs, and one “monkey off the back” later, San Francisco was satisfied with the results and all the Bucs had to show for it was Winston Moss and Bruce Hill.

Winner:  49ers

1990 – Dallas Cowboys trade Herschel Walker, two third-round, one fifth-round, and one 10th-round pick, to Minnesota Vikings, for five players and eight picks, including three first-round selections.

Ah yes, the “Great Trade Robbery”, the draft heist by which all others are judged. No one, of course, would question the greatness, or the appeal at the time, of the incredible Herschel Walker. But the story from here is well-worn. Expected to be the final ingredient for a Minnesota Super Bowl run, Walker’s production declined as the Heisman winner and USFL star never posted a 1,000 yard season for the Vikings. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had acquired the foundation for their own championship efforts, with their trade haul eventually turning into Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, and a plethora of additional talent.

Winner: Cowboys

1998 – San Diego Chargers acquire No. 2 overall pick (and select Ryan Leaf) from Cardinals for Eric Metcalf, Patrick Sapp, No. 3 and No. 33 Overall Picks.

Ryan Leaf has obviously become one of the most infamous NFL Draft “busts” of all time. But not everyone remembers that the Chargers had to swing a deal to get into position to select the Washington State QB. To part ways with a couple of players and the No. 33 pick, simply to move up a single spot, suggests that San Diego was quite concerned that someone else might try to leapfrog them and get to the highly-touted prospect. Of course, given how Leaf’s career unfolded, it’s fair to say that giving up absolutely anything of value proved to be a mistake.

Winner: Cardinals

1999 – Saints acquire No. 5 Overall Pick (and select Ricky Williams) from Washington for their entire selection of picks in 1999 Draft, as well as first- and third-rounders in 2000.

It’s still hard to believe this one is real.  But yes, less than a decade after the Vikings gave up the farm to acquire a star running back, Mike Ditka’s New Orleans Saints decided to make the same move, and if nothing else, it provided one of the most memorable magazine covers of all time. On the field, well, things were a little more complicated.

Ricky Williams was an immensely talented back, to be sure, finishing his career with 10,000 rushing yards, despite an entire season spent away from the game due to violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Most of that production came after Williams’ days with the Saints, however, and the team managed just one playoff berth in the seven seasons following this deal. Washington, meanwhile, packaged much of the haul it received in order to acquire Champ Bailey and given his Hall of Fame career, it’s hard not to say they got the better end of the bargain.

Winner: Washington

1999 – Rams acquire RB Marshall Faulk from Colts for a second- and fifth-round pick.

Sometimes, a draft trade works out pretty well for all parties involved. That was the case in 1999, when the Colts moved an unhappy Marshall Faulk, thought to be contemplating a holdout, over to the Rams, where he’d eventually become an integral part of the “greatest show on turf.” Indianapolis then turned around and added the young running back they wanted, drafting Edgerrin James, who proved very productive in the backfield with Peyton Manning. Nevertheless, Faulk racked up more than 10,000 yards rushing and receiving combined in his seven seasons with St. Louis, and given that all it cost the Rams were a couple of picks used to select Mike Peterson and Brad Scioli, it’s fair to call that a victory.

Winner: Rams

2001 – Falcons acquire No. 1 overall selection (and select Michael Vick) from Chargers for No. 5 overall pick, third-round pick, second-round pick in 2002, and Tim Dwight.

One of the most memorable “boatload of picks for a top QB prospect” trades in the modern era, the Atlanta Falcons were determined to land one of the most impressive athletes to ever play the quarterback position, giving up a couple of valuable picks, and a useful return man in Tim Dwight, all to jump up just four spots and land Vick. The Virginia Tech product made a lasting mark in Atlanta, until his infamous arrest and jail term for dog fighting took him off the field and ended his tenure for the Falcons. But while there’s no denying the impact Vick made on the league, as a boundary-breaking QB whose legacy continues on today, given that the Chargers used that No. 5 pick to draft Ladainian Tomlinson, one of the best running backs of this era, or any other, we have to give them the nod.

Winner: Chargers

2004 – Chargers trade No. 1 overall pick (Eli Manning) for No. 4 overall selection (Philip Rivers), a third-round pick, and a first- and fifth-round selection in 2005

One of the most infamous QB swaps of all time, spurred by young Eli (and father Archie) making it quite clear that they wanted no part of San Diego. The Chargers temporarily called their bluff, worth celebrating if only for one of the most awkward NFL Draft photos in recent memory. But ultimately, they turned Eli into Nate Kaeding, Shawne Merriman, Roman Oben, and, oh yeah, Philip Rivers, who has turned out to have a pretty successful and enduring career with the Bolts, even if playoff success has eluded him. This is the rare deal that can honestly be said to have been successful for both sides, but given that only one team has taken home a pair of Lombardi Trophies in the years since, well, that proves the tiebreaker.

Winner: Giants

2012 – Washington acquires No. 2 overall pick (and selects Robert Griffin III) in exchange for No. 6 overall selection, second-round pick, and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014.

All things in the NFL eventually come full circle, as evidenced by the fact that this year, the draft’s biggest story is the Rams giving up a boatload of picks in order to draft a highly-touted quarterback, just a few years after they were on the opposite end of that equation. Four years later, the RGIII trade is still remarkable, if only because the verdict on it seems to continue to shift. It’s still quite remarkable to contemplate the full breakdown of what Washington gave up to grab the Heisman winner from Baylor.

And yet, despite this king’s ransom, after an incredibly successful rookie year, one might have argued that Griffin was absolutely worth the investment. Of course, injuries and clashes with the coaching staff soon changed the story and before long, Jeff Fisher was using the deal as a kickoff taunt. RGIII is now looking for a career reboot in Cleveland, while the Rams have demonstrated that depth of talent can only take you so far without a franchise QB, hence the reason the Rams have gone all-in for the No. 1 overall pick this season. Like we said, everything in the NFL ultimately comes back around.

Winner:  Rams


So who will be the winners of 2016’s two big draft deals? It’s going to take some time to figure out, of course. But ultimately, as always, it’ll come down to the production of the stars involved. If Jared Goff does, somehow, become the next Tom Brady, nobody will care much about the cache of selections that it took to bring him to Los Angeles. You can take all the draft charts and past precedents in the world, and make really educated evaluations of what the right move is, in the majority of situations.

But the NFL Draft is still a gamble, after all, and all it takes it one big jackpot of a QB to look like a genius. Is that in the cards for either the Rams or the Eagles?  Stay tuned.

About Alexander Goot

Alexander Goot is a sports television producer, and a writer whose work has appeared at The Cauldron, Vice Sports, Fansided, Sports On Earth, and the Classical. He is a passionate fan of jambands, NASCAR racing, and New York sports, and believed in Kristaps Porzingis from the very beginning. He can be reached at if you'd like to discuss the Mets rotation, or the music of Phish.