Teams pay a heavy cost to move up in the draft and it doesn't always work out.
The 2021 NFL Draft is coming up and already a couple of trades have occurred to change up where some teams are picking early in the first round. Whether or not these trades qualify as a "blockbuster" is up for debate, but analysts throughout the media and league have freely offered their thoughts on them.
Here are five blockbuster trades involving draft picks since 1990 that certainly didn't work out for the team that paid the higher cost.
5. The Colts Trade with the Falcons to Draft Jeff George at No. 1 (1990)
After finishing 8-8 in 1989 with Eric Dickerson in the backfield, the Indianapolis Colts seemed to be one superstar away from greatness. They thought that missing piece was Illinois quarterback Jeff George, whose potential entering the draft seemed limitless. To get him, Indianapolis traded its fifth-round pick in the 1990 draft, its first-rounder in the 1991 draft, All-Pro guard Chris Hinton, and a young Andre Rison to Atlanta for the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, along with the Falcons' fourth-round selection.
Colts Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Jeff George, QB, Illinois (1st Round, 1990)
- Stacey Simmons, WR, Florida (4th Round, 1990)
Falcons Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Andre Rison, WR
- Chris Hinton, G
- Reggie Redding, T, Cal State-Fullerton (5th Round, 1990)
- Mike Pritchard, WR (1st Round, 1991)
Outcome: When you appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated before playing a down, anything short of a Super Bowl ring or the Hall of Fame is considered disappointing. George did not come close to meeting those expectations. Over his career, he proved to be solid and performed well with a good supporting cast, something he did not have in Indianapolis. (I know you're saying, "What about Dickerson?" Well, he was suspended for insubordination in both the 1990 and '91 seasons and was already plagued with injuries that would shorten his career.)
After four subpar seasons in Indianapolis, George was traded to — of all places — Atlanta. He ultimately played for 13 seasons on seven different teams.
Simmons played just one season with the Colts and finished his career in the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues.
One could argue that this trade should not be on the list because of how things worked out for the Falcons. Redding never cracked the Falcons' starting lineup and was traded to the New England Patriots after the 1991 season. Pritchard caught more than 200 passes in three seasons in Atlanta before being traded to the Broncos. Hinton made the Pro Bowl in 1991 and earned All-Pro honors in '93 before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in '94. Rison emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the league, scoring 56 touchdowns in five seasons in Atlanta.
All that being said, the Falcons only had one winning season with the players they acquired.
4. The Chargers Pay Through the Nose for the Biggest Draft Bust in History (1998)
It's hard to even believe that the overarching question going into the 1998 draft was, "Who is the better quarterback: Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?" Manning eventually moved ahead showing the maturity and work ethic that encompassed his career. Leaf, on the other hand, missed interviews with teams and showed up 20 pounds overweight for the Scouting Combine. Yet when the Colts made it clear that they would draft Manning, Chargers GM Bobby Beathard did what he had to do to get Leaf. San Diego already had the third pick in the draft, but to move up one spot, he traded it and the San Diego's second-round pick as well as its first-rounder in 1999 to Arizona. The Chargers also had to throw in Pro Bowl return specialist Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp too.
Chargers Players Acquired Via Draft
- Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State (1st Round, 1998)
Cardinals Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Eric Metcalf, WR/RS
- Patrick Sapp, LB
- Andre Wadsworth, DE, Florida State (1st Round, 1998)
- Corey Chavous, S, Vanderbilt (2nd Round, 1998)
- David Boston, WR, Ohio State (1st Round, 1999)
Outcome: Speaking ill of Leaf has become all too common and unnecessary given that he seems to have turned his life around, but he absolutely earned his designation as the worst draft bust of all time. He did it with poor play, a lousy work ethic, and really bad behavior. Leaf started only 21 games for San Diego during a three-year period in which the Chargers went 14-34 (the team went 8-8 in 1999 when Leaf was sidelined the entire season because of a shoulder injury.). He was cut after the 2000 season.
The Cardinals could have acquired five Hall of Famers and this trade may still make the list. But to be fair, Arizona's return from the trade wasn't all that impressive when all was said and done. Sapp spent just two seasons with the team as a reserve linebacker. Mitchell signed with Baltimore as a free agent in 1999. Wadsworth was plagued by knee injuries before being released after the 2000 season. Chavous was productive (181 tackles, five interceptions) in his four seasons with the Cardinals before signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2002. Boston led the league in receiving yards and made the Pro Bowl in 2001, but missed much of '02 because of a knee injury. He signed with San Diego as a free agent in 2003.
3. Mike Ditka Trades the Saints' Entire Draft to the Redskins for Ricky Williams (1999)
Did Mike Ditka learn nothing from the Herschel Walker trade? It's never a good idea to trade your entire draft for one player. But that's just what Iron Mike did when he was the Saints' head coach, sending all six picks in the 1999 draft to move up from No. 12 to No. 5 to pick Texas running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. If that wasn't enough, New Orleans had to throw in its first- and third-round picks in the 2000 draft to seal the deal with Washington.
Saints Players Drafted
- Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (1st Round, 1999)
Redskins Players Drafted
- Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia (1st Round, 1999)
- Derek Smith, G, Virginia Tech (5th Round, 1999)
- Lavar Arrington, LB, Penn State (1st Round, 2000)
- Lloyd Harrison, DB, NC State (3rd Round, 2000)
Outcome: For Ditka, the fallout was terrible. The Saints went 3-13 in 1999 and he was fired at the end of the season. The next year though, Williams rushed for 1,000 yards in 10 games and the Saints went 10-6 and won their first playoff game. The Saints traded Williams to the Dolphins in 2002 and he finished his career with more than 10,000 yards rushing even though he was away from the game for nearly two seasons.
The Redskins used their abundance of picks in the 1999 draft to move back up to No. 7 and select Bailey. They paid a pretty steep price — the Saints' first-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks in 1990 plus their third-round pick in 2000 — to the Bears to do so. The Redskins also traded sixth- and seventh-round selections to move up and draft Smith in the fifth round.
In the end, although Redskins fans may disagree, the team made out okay. Bailey was a mainstay in the secondary for five seasons before moving on to Denver to finish his Hall of Fame career. Smith didn't play a single down in his two seasons with Washington. Arrington made the Pro Bowl three years in a row before injuries plagued the final part of his seven-year career, while Harrison was cut after just one season and was out of the NFL by 2003.
If anything, this is an example of how the Redskins probably should have done much more with the picks they had stockpiled. Many GMs have built championship teams with these types of trades. Right Jerry Jones?
2. The Falcons Pony up for Julio Jones (2011)
Despite going 13-3 in 2010, the Falcons needed an explosive wide receiver and were hell-bent on drafting Alabama's Julio Jones. Knowing he would not be available by the 27th pick, which the Falcons owned, GM Thomas Dimitroff gave the Cleveland Browns the Falcons' first-, second- and fourth-round picks in the 2011 draft and their first- and fourth-round selections in 2012. This enabled Atlanta to move up to No. 6 overall and snag Jones.
Falcons Players Drafted
- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (1st Round, 2011)
Browns Players Drafted
- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor (1st Round, 2011)
- Greg Little, WR, North Carolina (2nd Round, 2011)
- Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford (4th Round, 2011)
- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (1st Round, 2012)
- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (1st Round, 2012)
Outcome: Jones has lived up to expectations. He's been named a first-team All-Pro twice and made seven Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons with the Falcons. Jones has provided significant ROI in comparison to the heavy price Atlanta paid to get him.
On the other side of this trade, the Browns would have been better off just drafting Jones. Here are five reasons why.
- Cleveland made a deal with Kansas City to move back up in the first round to take Taylor with the 21st overall pick. Taylor played well during his rookie season, which ended up being his best one. He was released by the Browns prior to the start of the 2015 season.
- Little also had a strong rookie season but his numbers dropped over the next two years and he was cut by the Browns after the 2013 season.
- Marecic served primarily as a blocking back and was cut after the 2012 season.
- The Browns packaged the Falcons' 2012 fourth-rounder to Minnesota to move up and draft Richardson third overall. He was traded to the Colts in Week 3 of the 2013 season. Indianapolis cut him in March 2015 and after failing to latch on with the Raiders and Ravens, Richardson was out of the NFL by August 2016.
- Weeden had a solid rookie season but injuries and spotty play cost him his starting job in 2013. He was released at the end of that season.
1. The RGIII Trade Doubles in Size (2012)
With Andrew Luck guaranteed to go to the Colts with the first pick in the 2012 draft, Washington decided to go after Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. The only catch was that the Redskins needed to move up to the second pick, which was held by the Rams. The Redskins got their guy by dealing their first-round picks in 2012, '13 and '14 as well as their second-rounder in '12. The Rams then parlayed these picks into even more. Try to follow the bouncing ball.
Redskins Players Drafted
- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (1st Round, 2012)
Rams Players Drafted
- Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (1st Round, 2012) The Rams traded the sixth pick to Dallas for its first- and second-round picks.
- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama (2nd Round, 2012)
- Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati (2nd Round, 2012) The Rams traded this second-round pick in the draft to Chicago for its second- and fifth-round picks.
- Rokevious Watkins, G, South Carolina (5th Round, 2012)
- Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia (1st Round, 2013) The Rams traded this first-round pick to Atlanta for its first-, third-, and sixth-round picks.
- Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (3rd Round, 2013)
- Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt (5th Round, 2013) The Rams packaged the sixth-round pick in a trade with Houston for its fifth-rounder.
- Greg Robinson, T, Auburn (1st Round, 2014)
Outcome: In RGIII's rookie season, the Redskins went 10-6 and won the NFC East and he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He also suffered a devastating knee injury and hasn't been the same since. After being inactive for the entire 2015 regular season, RGII was released by the Redskins and has since played in Cleveland (2016) and Baltimore (2018-20), but is currently a free agent.
The Rams capitalized on their draft inventory to move around in both the 2012 and '13 drafts to grab the players they wanted. Nearly a decade after the trade, the results have been a mixed bag. Brockers and Jenkins assumed starting roles as rookies and Brockers was a mainstay throughout his Rams tenure until he was traded to Detroit in March, while Jenkins left for the New York Giants in 2016. Ogletree took the same route, but was traded to the Giants in 2018. Robinson struggled early, cemented his position as the starting left tackle, before being traded to the Lions in 2017.
On other hand, Pead never had much of an impact during his time with the Rams, which also was impacted by injuries, and was cut in 2015. Watkins battled weight and substance abuse issues and was cut after his rookie season. Bailey was served a pair of league-mandated four-game suspensions and was forced to retire after being shot twice in the head in 2015 in a drive-by incident in Miami Gardens, Florida.
— 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.
(Ryan Leaf photo courtesy of Getty Images)