The 2021 NFL Draft hasn't happened yet, but teams have been trading picks with San Francisco being the most aggressive mover up so far while Miami made two deals in one day. However, none of these trades have involved the top two picks. When those types of transactions happen, attention becomes hyperfocused on the success and failures of all teams involved.
There are instances where all teams end up benefitting from these bold moves. Here are three blockbuster trades involving NFL draft picks in which both teams ended up happy with the moves they made.
3. The Oilers Trade up to Become the "Earlers" (1978)
Former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer once said the only player he felt could have gone straight from high school to the NFL was Earl Campbell. He was too good a player to pass up in the draft, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had only had two wins in their first two seasons in the league. They did not need one player. They needed a team. So they traded the top pick in the 1978 draft to the Houston Oilers for their first- and second-round picks, their third- and fifth-round selections in '79 and tight end Jimmie Giles.
Oilers Players Drafted
- Earl Campbell, RB, Texas (1st Round, 1978)
Buccaneers Players Acquired Via Trade or Draft
- Jimmie Giles, TE
- Doug Williams, QB, Grambling State (1st Round, 1978)
- Brett Moritz, G, Nebraska (2nd Round, 1978)
- Reggie P. Lewis, DE, North Texas (3rd Round, 1979)
- Chuck Fusina, QB, Penn State (5th Round, 1979)
Outcome: Both teams made their respective conference championship games in 1979, which was an amazing turnaround for Tampa Bay. Campbell immediately became the centerpiece of Houston's offense, earning the team the nickname the "Earlers." His play during his seven seasons with Houston put him in the Hall of Fame. Tampa Bay did not draft a player of Campbell's caliber, but the trade helped them build their franchise.
Williams led the Bucs to the playoffs in the three of the four years he was the full-time starter before leaving to play in the USFL after the 1982 season. Fusina was Williams' backup before he too left for the USFL in 1983. Giles made the Pro Bowl four times in nine seasons with Tampa Bay and is in the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. Lewis played just two seasons with Tampa Bay and Moritz played one.
2. The Falcons Move up to Draft Michael Vick (2001)
Coming out of Virginia Tech, quarterback Michael Vick was a one-of-a-kind athlete and the Falcons wanted him. To get him, they traded their first- and third-round picks in the 2001 draft, their second-rounder in '02, and kick returner Tim Dwight to the Chargers to move up to the top spot.
Falcons Players Drafted
- Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1st Round, 2001)
Chargers Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Tim Dwight, KR
- LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, TCU (1st Round, 2001)
- Tay Cody, CB, Florida State (3rd Round, 2001)
- Reche Caldwell, WR, Florida (2nd Round, 2002)
Outcome: In Atlanta, Vick made the Pro Bowl three times and led the Falcons to two playoff appearances. While his career there was cut short due to imprisonment for running a dog-fighting ring, the Falcons made a great move in drafting him. This trade makes the list simply because the Chargers drafted a future Hall of Famer in Tomlinson, as they got limited production from the other pieces in the trade. Dwight handled return duties for San Diego for four seasons before signing with New England as a free agent in 2005. Cody had a solid rookie season but then played sparingly before being cut by the Chargers during the 2003 season. Caldwell caught 76 passes in four seasons with the Chargers before being released in 2005.
1. Eli Manning is Traded for Philip Rivers (2004)
In 2004, San Diego had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and were looking to take Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. The only problem was that Eli's father, Archie Manning, did not want his son playing for a franchise that he felt was poorly managed and had a run-oriented offense. The Chargers drafted him anyway. Three picks later, the New York Giants drafted Philip Rivers and the two teams cut a deal. Manning went to New York and Rivers went to San Diego, along with the Giants' third-round pick in the 2004 draft and first- and fifth-round picks in '05.
Giants Players Acquired Via Trade
- Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss
Chargers Players Acquired Via Trade or Draft
- Philip Rivers, QB, NC State
- Roman Oben, OT
- Nate Kaeding, K, Iowa (3rd Round, 2004)
- Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland (1st Round, 2005)
Outcome: Manning became the franchise quarterback and led the team to two Super Bowl victories. The Chargers also got their franchise quarterback in Rivers and solid contributions from the other pieces.
Rivers became the starting quarterback in 2006 and was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and went on to lead the Chargers to the playoffs six times in 16 seasons as the starter before signing with Indianapolis as a free agent prior to the 2020 season, which would be his last. Kaeding played nine seasons for the Chargers before finishing his career with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. He is the currently the 11th-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. The only real blemish on his career was that he missed almost half his field goal attempts in the playoffs. Oben, who was acquired from the Buccaneers in 2004 for the 2005 fifth-round pick the Chargers got from the Giants, started all 16 games his first season in San Diego. Injuries limited him over the final three years of his career before he retired at the end of the 2007 season. Merriman was an All-Pro his first three seasons in the league, a span in which he racked up 39.5 sacks. Injuries and substance abuse issues diminished the remainder of his career and the Chargers released him during the 2010 season.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Eli Manning/Philip Rivers, Michael Vick photos courtesy of Getty Images)