The NFL draft is one of the most exciting and unpredictable moments of the offseason. It is where teams bring in an influx of young talent to start fresh. It’s where new general managers can begin to make their mark on a franchise. The draft is the first step in building a championship roster.
For months and sometimes years, teams study players. They gather the information needed to make the best, multi-million dollar prediction about how a player will perform on the sport’s grandest stage, pro football. In the “war room” on draft day, staffs meticulously shift through information they’ve gathered. They make adjustments to their draft boards based on their team’s needs and how they believe other teams will act. The draft is the one day on the NFL schedule where every time faces each other in an all-out battle royal.
At the end of the draft, some teams are left wondering “what if?” What if they made that big move and traded up for that particular prospect? What if the Browns, for example, had jumped up the board and drafted Eli Manning like they hoped too? Yes, the Giants thought it might happen. What if the Chargers had taken Michael Vick instead of trading their picks to Atlanta and drafting future Hall-of-Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson? Or, what if Falcons’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff had listened to the advice of his former mentor Bill Belichick and not given away most of his picks to move up and take Julio Jones?
We’ll take a look at five of the biggest draft trades in the past fourteen years. At the end, I’ll declare a winner or winners of the trade. My criteria is simple. The trade must have surprised or stunned analysts and educated fans (define that how you may) and it must have changed the course of either franchise for the better or worse.
So, what do you think of the following trades? Are they earth-shattering enough to be considered the Top 5 Blockbuster NFL Draft Trades Since 2000?
5 New England Patriots Acquire Randy Moss for a 4th Round Pick
Prior to joining the Patriots, Moss had already established himself as a likely Hall-of-Fame candidate, as well as one of the league’s most controversial players. From his start with the Vikings in 1999 until his explosive end with the Vikings in 2005, the league fined Moss for at least five on-the-field altercations. In 2005, he also walked off the field in a close game with the Redskins, which likely proved to be the Vikings’ breaking point. Minnesota traded Moss to the Raiders with four years still remaining on his original eight-year, $75 million contract.
His stay in the “Black Hole” was short, but not forgettable. While he produced well in his first year, racking up over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, his production plummeted in year two. Moss had grown tired of the Raiders and said, “Things really weren’t going like I expected them to go…Football wasn’t a main priority around there.” Many analysts believed Moss had quit on the Raiders, but some believed the Raiders had quit on themselves and subsequently Moss. Likely, blame went both ways.
In any case, if Moss wanted only to worry about football, the Patriots appeared to be a great fit. Prior to being traded, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick reached out to Moss to test his interest. Moss later recalled the moment and said, “I was overwhelmed because I didn’t expect to hear from coach Belichick.” New England had been trying to upgrade its receiving core after it worked its way through 2006 with wash-up receivers like Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel.
Prior to the 2007 draft, the Patriots and Raiders had on-and-off trade conversations. During the first day of the draft, the Patriots had traded their first-overall pick to the 49ers in exchange for their 2007 fourth-round pick and 2008 first round pick. New England then traded that fourth rounder to Oakland in exchange for Moss.
Before Moss’ abrupt departure from New England in 2010, he had revived his career. He amassed 3904 yards, 50 touchdowns and 259 receptions.
Winner: Moss and the Patriots both won in this deal. Moss was able to resurrect his fading career and the Patriots used Moss’ impressive talents to propel them to an undefeated season and a Super-Bowl birth. While Moss’ notorious ending with the team played out much like they did with past teams, both parties received their money’s worth in the time they worked together.
4 The Chargers Trade Eli Manning to the Giants for Philip Rivers During the 2004 Draft
In the spring of 2004, the Chargers and Giants engineered one of the greatest trades in their team’s respective history. With the first-overall pick in the draft, the Chargers selected quarterback Eli Manning. Three picks later, the Giants drafted quarterback Philip Rivers and traded him to the Chargers for Eli Manning. The trade swapped the fate of both franchises, as well as possibly others.
If trade talks with the Chargers fell through, however, New York was fully prepared to turn in a card that read Ben Roethlisberger instead of Philip Rivers. But the Giants never had to make that move. Once the Chargers backed off asking for New York's young pass rusher, Osi Umenyiora, the deal between the teams was complete. The Chargers received Philip Rivers, as well as the Giants’ 2004 third-round pick and 2005 first and fifth-round picks.
Winner: The Giants. The debate continues as to who received the better deal. At one point, it was probably the Chargers because they drafted the superior quarterback statistically and later used the picks to draft kicker Nate Kaeding and Shawn Merriman; however, they were never able to turn those picks into a Super Bowl championship. While the Chargers have been competitive since that draft, the Giants drafted the quarterback who brought them two Super Bowl victories. At the end of game day, the only thing that matters is winning the big game.
3 The Falcons Trade Up with the Chargers to Draft Quarterback Michael Vick in 2001
Back in 2001, Pat Kirwan wrote he was surprised the Chargers didn’t select quarterback Michael Vick. Kirwin wrote, “He’s a rare athlete, probably the best prospect in this draft…In the new era of NFL offenses, quarterbacks with movement are a premium.” This “new era of NFL offenses” Kirwan spoke of wouldn’t see their full potential until years later, but Atlanta may have been on the cusp of a growing trend.
The Falcons received the Chargers first-overall selection in exchange for their first and third-round pick in the same draft and a second-round pick in 2002. They also traded wide receiver Tim Dwight to the Chargers. In making the trade, the Chargers gambled that TCU running back LaDanian Tomlinson would still be on the board when they were on the clock. When Tomlinson was still available, San Diego drafted him. The Chargers would later draft quarterback Drew Brees with their 32nd selection.
At the time, many reported the Chargers shopped the pick because they could not close a deal with Vick prior to the draft. Chargers head coach Mike Riley had said, “We got this trade opportunity while we were working on the deal and it was too good to pass up.”
Winner: The Chargers. The Chargers received two great players in Tomlinson and Brees and avoided a public relations nightmare down the road with Vick. A few years later, Tomlinson would become the face of their franchise and Brees would have some good years with San Diego before developing into a superstar with the Saints. Both players became important building blocks for San Diego.
On the other hand, there was Vick. He was heralded as a quarterback that would be the face of a new type of offense that better used mobile quarterbacks. To a point, he was. He did ring up highlight reels and ran the Falcons to the NFC Championship game, but then scandal hit Vick. As quickly as he seemed to put the Falcons’ franchise on his shoulders, he dropped them back down to earth. He recovered some while he was on the Eagles, but the Chargers received more longevity with their trade and unknowingly avoided a public relations nightmare.
2 The Falcons Trade Up with the Browns to Select Receiver Julio Jones in 2011
Thomas Dimitroff’s former mentor advised him to avoid making the massive trade with the Browns. That mentor, Bill Belichick, believed there was more value in keeping the picks than trading a bounty of them for one player. After all, can one player really do more for your team than a few players, some which could be superstars?
Receivers are risky investments. For every Calvin Johnson, there are dozens of Charles Rogers; yet, Atlanta felt like it had found its Calvin Johnson in Jones. Paired with Matt Ryan, Dimitroff believed Jones could help lift Atlanta to deep playoff runs.
Since this trade, I still ask one question: Was it worth it? While it's helped the Falcons in the short term, how will it affect them down the road? Atlanta traded five picks to move up 21 spots to select one player. Can one player be better than five other players? In trading their 2011 first round, second round and fourth-round selections and their 2012 first round and fourth-round picks, the Falcons obviously thought Jones was worth the investment.
During his rookie season, Jones logged 959 yards and eight touchdowns on 54 receptions. He followed up the campaign in 2012 with 1,198 yards, 10 touchdowns and 79 receptions, but missed most of 2013 with a foot injury. But there could lie the problem. When you give away so much for one player, you hope that player will consistently deliver. Even if that player can’t deliver for a period of time because of an injury, those draft-day trades suddenly take center stage once again.
Winner: The Falcons, for the moment. With their deal with the Falcons, the Browns received the 27th pick in the 2011 draft and then used that pick to trade up to the 21st slot to select mammoth defensive tackle Phil Taylor. With Atlanta’s second round pick, the Browns selected wide receiver Greg Little and used their fourth-round pick on full back Owen Marecic. In 2012, the Browns used the Falcons’ 22nd overall pick and selected 28-year old quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Browns used the fourth-round selection to trade up one spot and select running back Trent Richardson with their third-overall selection.
As of now, the only picks that helped the Browns are Trent Richardson and Phil Taylor, and Cleveland actually traded Richardson to the Colts in 2013. As expected, Brandon Weeden has not been the answer to the Browns continued quarterback woes, Greg Little has been average and full back Owen Marecic is a free agent. Many believe the Browns didn’t need to use that extra fourth-round pick to move up and take Richardson because the Vikings, the supposed contenders for the running back, had plans to draft someone else.
If injuries don’t plague the receiver, Julio Jones will have a stellar career, but at what cost to the Falcons? Did the Falcons also hurt themselves by tossing their future into one player? Time will tell if the Falcons won this trade or if both teams lost.
1 The Redskins Trade Three First-Round Picks and a Second Rounder to Move up to Select Quarterback Robert Griffin III
The Redskins’ Daniel Snyder is known to make big moves in free agency. This time, however, he was looking to make a splash in the draft. Since 2000, the Redskins had used upwards of 14 starting quarterbacks and Snyder hoped to finally find a stable, franchise quarterback. He had that opportunity with the number six overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Many believe the 2012 draft could be one of the best quarterback drafts ever. Since then, 2012 drafted quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles have all found permanent homes under center. For now, Brandon Weeden is still the Browns' starter, and Washington’s Kirk Cousins is thought to be NFL ready.
The St. Louis Rams held the 2nd overall pick; and thus, all of the power. They felt like they had their own franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and the Redskins were desperate to find their own. While it appears both teams have benefited from the deal, the Rams may have received more value in return; and thus, a better chance to succeed. Through a multiple of trades stemming from their original RGIII trade, the Rams acquired Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins in 2012, Alec Ogletree in 2013 and currently own the Redskins 2014 first-round selection.
Winner: The Rams, for the moment. As of now, the Rams seem to have received the bounty of the prize; however, I am hesitant to award them winners of this trade for one reason: Time. While Griffin impressed during his first year, the jury is still out on his ability to lead the Redskins to the promise land. On the flip side, many critics also wonder if the Rams can find a way to utilize their acquired draft picks and players to field a Super- Bowl team. This trade will be judged on deep playoff runs or Super Bowl appearances and wins.