NFL: Trades, free agency and draft

Publish date:

2. Philip Rivers to the Chargers from the Giants for Eli Manning and first-, third- and fifth-round picks; April 24, 2004The course of two franchises on opposite coasts were significantly affected by the blockbuster draft-day deal that saw first-round quarterbacks Manning (taken first overall) and Rivers (No. 4) traded for one another shortly after being selected by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. It's difficult to pinpoint a bigger win-win trade in NFL history. The Giants landed the franchise quarterback who led them to that memorable Super Bowl XLII upset of the undefeated Patriots four years later, and the Chargers eventually reaped a windfall that included three future Pro Bowl players -- Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding -- and a veteran starting left offensive tackle in Roman Oben. The two teams have made four playoff appearances each since striking their high-profile deal.

3. Jon Gruden to the Bucs from the Raiders for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million; Feb. 18, 2002Not content to field a perennial playoff team that habitually came up short once January arrived, Bucs owners Bryan and Joel Glazer fired beloved coach Tony Dungy and went looking for a replacement in January 2002. After fits and starts lasting almost two months, the Tampa Bay coaching search eventually turned toward Gruden, who had led Oakland to three straight playoff trips in four seasons. The Bucs sent a pirate's treasure to the Raiders in exchange for Gruden, but the move quickly paid off big time when he led the team Dungy had built to the franchise's only Super Bowl title, in January 2003.

4. Terrell Owens to the Eagles from the Niners; March 16, 2004You might forget that Owens blocked San Francisco's original deal with Baltimore, balking at the idea of joining the quarterback-challenged Ravens in the spring of 2004. Owens wanted to become an Eagle and play with Donovan McNabb, and he eventually got his wish when the three teams involved worked out a compromise that the league office helped broker. (The Eagles sent a fifth-round pick to Baltimore and defensive end Brandon Whiting to San Francisco. The Ravens also recovered a second-round pick that they sent to the Niners for Owens.) The deal was a bonanza for Philadelphia that season, as Owens' big-play impact got the Eagles finally over their NFC title game hump and into the Super Bowl. But by 2005, Owens and McNabb were at war, and the Eagles' season was a casualty of the conflict.

5. Wes Welker to the Patriots from the Dolphins for second- and seventh-round picks; March 5, 2007We'll grant you that Welker being shipped to New England didn't generate the front-page headlines that the Moss trade would later inspire, but those bookend deals in the offseason of 2007 now look like the steals of the decade, parts I and II. With Miami, the undrafted Welker had bedeviled New England twice a season in AFC East battles, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick was an open admirer of his quick and elusive play-making style in the short passing game. Since sending two draft picks to Miami for Welker, New England's passing game has been the envy of the rest of the NFL, and his production has been unparalleled. As he did in 2007, Welker leads the NFL in receptions this season, with 95 in just 10 games, and his 318 catches in the past three years are the most in the league.

1. Priest Holmes, Chiefs; April 21, 2001There was no room in Baltimore's backfield after the Ravens drafted Jamal Lewis fifth overall in 2000, so the undrafted Holmes accepted a low-budget free-agent deal from Kansas City, where new coach Dick Vermeil promised him a featured role. He got it, and then some. Holmes went on to record 3½ of the most spectacularly productive seasons ever turned in by an NFL running back. In a 54-game span from 2001-2004, Holmes totaled 5,482 yards rushing, 225 receptions for 2,163 receiving yards and 78 combined touchdowns. He made All-Pro and the AFC Pro Bowl team three times.

2. Drew Brees, Saints; March 14, 2006Squeezed out in San Diego by the drafting of Philip Rivers in 2004, Brees hit the free-agent market in early 2006 and was being seriously pursued by just two teams: the Saints and Dolphins. Miami's doctors had some qualms about the state of Brees' surgically repaired throwing shoulder, and Dolphins coach Nick Saban listened to them and hesitated just long enough to convince Brees that New Orleans was his only serious suitor. Since becoming a Saint, Brees hasn't missed a start in the past four years, and has thrown 117 touchdowns passes, with more than 17,000 yards passing.

3. Mike Vrabel, Patriots;March 16, 2001The Patriots signed the little-known linebacker away from Pittsburgh, where in four years he had never started a game and served mostly as one of the Steelers' special teams cogs. But in New England, the versatile Vrabel was a perfect fit for Bill Belichick's complicated defense, and he went on to contribute mightily to three Super Bowl champions and earn Pro Bowl recognition in 2007. In his eight seasons in New England, Vrabel recorded 48 sacks and 11 interceptions, and routinely finished among the team's tackle leaders. In his role as a goal-line tight end, Vrabel caught 10 passes for 10 touchdowns with the Patriots, including two in the postseason.

4. Charles Woodson, Packers;May 1, 2006After struggling with injuries and declining productivity his last two seasons in Oakland, Woodson signed a seven-year, $52 million deal with the Packers and quickly revived his career, leading the NFC in interceptions in 2006 with eight. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2008, and in his three-plus seasons in Green Bay he has more interceptions (26 to 17), touchdowns (6 to 2) and sacks (6 to 5½) than he totaled in his eight-year tenure in Oakland. Woodson is in the midst of another outstanding season this year, and the 12th-year veteran is still considered among the game's elite cornerbacks.

5. Brett Favre, Vikings; Aug. 18, 2009We're only 12 games into the Vikings' Favre era, but so far it's the stuff of fairy tales. Despite turning 40 in early October, Favre is having the greatest statistical season of his 19-year career, and he's led the Vikings to a 10-2 record and a two-game lead in the NFC North. Favre, the NFL's all-time leading interception thrower with 315, has had just five passes picked off, to go with his 26 touchdowns. And he has career highs in passer rating (108.5), completion percentage (69.0) and average gain per pass attempt (7.8).

1. Deion Sanders, Redskins; June 5, 2000Washington ruled the decade in terms of putrid free-agent additions, and no one was a bigger waste of time and money than Sanders, who brought nothing resembling his All-Pro game to the Redskins after Daniel Snyder awarded him an $8 million signing bonus as part of a seven-year, $56 million contract. Not only did Sanders disappoint on the field for a Redskins team that had the game's highest payroll, but he was also a selfish and dissatisfied presence in the locker room, openly pining to resume his baseball career. He basically dared Washington to cut him after one season, and when it did in July 2001, he walked away with millions and exulted that Washington was "paying him for doing nothing.''

2. Nate Clements, 49ers; March 2, 2007It boggles the mind now, but Clements, who played for the Bills from 2001 to 2006, was the most sought after free agent on the market in 2007, and San Francisco reacted by giving him an eight-year, $80 million contract that included $22 million guaranteed. That made him the highest paid defensive player in history until AlbertHaynesworth and Washington got together two years later. To say that Clements has been something less than an impact player in San Francisco is the height of understatement. The Niners pass defense gave up more yards in 2007 with him than it had in 2006 without him. Clements lost his starting left cornerback job this season in late October, and then suffered a shoulder injury that he's still recovering from. If he returns to San Francisco in 2010, he is expected to be moved to safety.

3. Javon Walker, Raiders; March 4, 2008Other than Snyder, no NFL owner has thrown away more good money this decade than the Raiders' Al Davis, but his masterpiece when it comes to free-agent foolishness is the six-year, $55 million contract he gave to Walker, a deal that included $16 million in guarantees. Somehow it didn't give Davis pause that Walker had been released by Denver after an injury-plagued 2007 season, but it should have. Once he became a Raider, things really went downhill for Walker. First he was held up at gunpoint in Vegas that offseason, and then he bombed out on the field, totaling just 15 catches for 196 yards and one touchdown in eight games before being placed on injured reserve. This year? Even though Walker restructured his deal downward to stay in Oakland, more of the same has ensued in terms of production. He has played three games, without a reception.

4. Adam Archuleta, Redskins; March 13, 2006Like Sanders before him, Archuleta hit the jackpot with the Redskins in free agency, then spent just one season looking bewildered and ineffective in the secondary before leaving town. The Redskins made the ex-Ram the highest-paid safety ever when they gave him a six-year, $30 million deal that included about $10 million guaranteed. But he wound up starting just seven games in 2006, losing the strong safety job to TroyVincent, and was relegated to playing on special teams in the season's second half. After complaining about how Washington coaches used him, Archuleta was eventually dealt to Chicago in early 2007 for a sixth-round pick.

5. Jeff Garcia, Browns; March 9, 2004Cleveland gave the 34-year-old Garcia a four-year contract worth $25 million and thought they were getting a version of the quarterback who went to three Pro Bowls and led the Niners to multiple playoff trips in his starting tenure with San Francisco. But after a disjointed preseason in which he complained to coach Butch Davis about his lack of sufficient playing time, things went downhill quickly. Garcia posted a 0.0 passer rating in a Week 2 loss at Dallas, and wound up winning just three of his 10 starts that season for the 4-12 Browns. Cleveland released Garcia early the next offseason.

1. Charles Rogers, Lions, 2nd pick, 2003Some might quibble with Rogers qualifying for draft-bust standing given he had his first two seasons ruined by broken collarbones. But staying healthy is part of the challenge of playing in the NFL, and Rogers, who was drafted behind only Carson Palmer, couldn't manage it. He played just 15 games in three seasons with Detroit, catching 36 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those scores came in the 2003 opener, which proved to be a false indication of the greatness to come. In 2005, he was suspended four games by the league for a third violation of its substance abuse policy, and he missed four other games when Detroit deactivated him. The Lions released him in the preseason of 2006, and Rogers never played in the NFL again.

2. Peter Warrick, Bengals, 4th pick, 2000Warrick was a two-time All-America selection and one of the most electrifying playmakers in college football at Florida State, but he never remotely lived up to his draft slot. In his first three seasons in the league, he failed to top 667 receiving yards, and even a career year in 2003 (79 catches for 819 yards, seven TDs) didn't restore the luster. He got injured in 2004, spent one year playing sparingly in Seattle in 2005, and was out of the league for good by the end of the 2006 preseason.

3. Mike Williams, Bills, 4th pick, 2002The top five of the 2002 draft was easily the decade's worst, with David Carr (No. 1), Joey Harrington (No. 3) and Williams all regarded as failures. But at least Carr and Harrington made something of an NFL career for themselves, even if they had to bounce around the league to do it. Williams, an offensive lineman out of Texas, was an overwhelming flop from Day One. Already huge, he proceeded to get even bigger once he hit the league and eventually couldn't pass block to save his quarterback's life. The Bills switched him to left guard in an effort to hide his deficiencies, but that didn't work either and they cut ties with him after the 2005 season. Having slimmed down some, Williams has had a decent comeback season in Washington, but given his lofty draft status, he should have been a 10-year starter in Buffalo.

4. Jamal Reynolds, Packers, 10th pick, 2001To think respected Packers general manager Ron Wolf traded away Matt Hasselbeck and a first-round pick to Seattle in order to move up into position to select Reynolds. Can't win 'em all on draft weekend, I guess. Maybe it was the lure of taking a Lombardi Award winner for the Packers, but the Florida State standout proved overmatched in the NFL, eventually losing playing time behind 2000 fifth-round pick Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Reynolds played just 18 games for Green Bay from 2001 to 2003, never started once and totaled all of three sacks.

5. JaMarcus Russell, Raiders, 1st pick, 2007In the midst of his third season, Russell finds himself on the bench in Oakland, watching the immortal Bruce Gradkowski start at quarterback. It's not entirely too late for Russell -- look at where Vince Young was last year at this time. But there's little about Russell's game that excites you at this point. He's inaccurate, exhibits shaky decision making, has a dubious work ethic and displays little in the way of leadership or self-motivation. And did we mention he has a tendency to get way too heavy at times? All in all, he's well on his way to lasting bust-dom.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots, 6th round, 2000 The names that always get you, no matter how many times you hear them, are Giovanni Carmazzi, Tee Martin and Spergon Wynn. All of those long-forgotten quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Brady, who went 199th overall. Brady is the draft steal by which all draft steals are measured, this decade and maybe of any decade. His résumé: three Super Bowl championships, two Super Bowl MVPs, four Pro Bowl berths, one league MVP trophy and the acknowledged status as one of the game's two best active quarterbacks this decade.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, 11th pick, 2004You certainly can be a draft steal at No. 11 in the first round, especially when you become the first quarterback to win two Super Bowl rings in the first five years of your career. The Steelers never dreamed Miami of Ohio's Roethlisberger would still be available when their turn came, but no player who went in that year's top 10 wound up being more productive than Big Ben in the early years of his career. And that includes Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

3. Marques Colston, Saints, 7th round, 2006There were 251 players selected before Colston, but nobody matched the bang for the buck that the Saints received from the ex-Hofstra receiver. Colston came out of nowhere in training camp to win a starting job on opening day, and he produced instantly for a New Orleans team that captivated the NFL world en route to a 10-6 season and a trip to the NFC title game. Colston set a league record for most receptions over the first two seasons of a career, with 168, and in his first 52 games in the league he has amassed 265 receptions for 3,854 yards and 32 touchdowns. He's the No. 1 receiver for a Saints offense that currently leads the NFL in scoring and total yards.

4. Jared Allen, Chiefs, 4th round, 2004Idaho State hasn't historically been a hotbed of NFL prospects, but the Chiefs plucked one out of the Big Sky Conference school with the 126th pick. Allen quickly emerged as one of the premier pass rushers in the league. He totaled 27½ sacks in his first three seasons, and then led the NFL with 15½ in 2007, despite missing Kansas City's first two games due to a league suspension. Traded to Minnesota before the 2008 season in a blockbuster deal, Allen rolled up 14½ for the Vikings in the regular season, and two more in the playoffs.

5. Steve Smith, Panthers, 3rd round, 2001Smith, the 74th pick, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie kick and punt returner and his production and value to the Panthers have continued to climb ever since. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the former University of Utah standout won the receiving triple crown in 2005, leading the league in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12). Smith has turned in two monster postseasons for Carolina, carrying the Panthers to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season and to the NFC title game in 2005. He won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award in 2005 after a broken leg cost him all but one game in 2004, and has logged five 1,000-yard receiving seasons.