With so much intense interest in the NFL, it is inevitable that every single trade, draft pick, or firing will be closely scrutinized. In the case of the big blockbuster trades those with the potential to change the balance of power in a Division or Conference the media scrutiny can go on for weeks.
It is easy to see why. In a league with a Draft system, competitiveness is always maximized, and one trade can make the difference between a team being a fringe playoff contender and a Superbowl challenger. This effect can be seen in the betting markets, and NFL bettors who check out NFL at The Game Day will find that the odds will move significantly with a big preseason or mid-season trade and that some teams’ odds can fluctuate wildly if they are in a competitive Division.
Of course, trades don’t always go well. With higher wages and bigger profiles comes heavier pressure, and for the player involved in this summer’s blockbuster quarterback move, the deal of a lifetime has turned into a rolling nightmare.
For years, Russell Wilson was the highly-rated quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks the player who pundits and journalists loved to say was underrated. Earlier this year, when the new owners of the Denver Broncos found that the previous owners’ plan to lure Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay had failed, they began to look around for a replacement. Russell Wilson soon appeared to be the best option.
Wilson was duly signed, amid much fanfare, for a $250 million four-year deal and the plan was for him to stamp his personality on the Broncos, thereby cementing his Hall of Fame credentials.
To say it hasn’t quite worked out would be an understatement. From the Week One chaos, in which coach Nathaniel Hackett opted to go for a near-impossible field goal rather than trust his quarterback, the Broncos have looked inept and disjointed and Wilson has gone from being Mr. Reliable to Mr. Terrible. His relationship with his teammates appears to be deteriorating, as is his game and his confidence.
The Broncos, however, cannot move on from a man they have paid a quarter of a billion dollars thereby making this potentially the worst trade in history. But there is plenty of competition for this dubious honor.
Antonio Brown to the Raiders, 2019
Antonio Brown may go down as one of the greatest wide receivers of all time, but that isn’t all he will be known for. He forced his exit from the Pittsburgh Steelers late on in the 2018 season, and the Raiders picked him up for a third and fifth-round pick.
What followed was a catalog of disasters. Brown developed frostbite on his feet after failing to wear the right clothing during cryotherapy, refused to conform to the NFL helmet rules, missed several practices, managed to cost himself several million dollars in guaranteed money, and had an argument with General Manager Mike Mayock. At least the Raiders hadn’t paid him $250 million.
Buccaneers Trade Steve Young, 1987
A week before the 1987 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay traded away quarterback Steve Young. He had thrown 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two seasons with the Bucs and had a 3-16 record as a starter. The Bucs let him go for the price of a fourth and sixth-round pick. He went to the 49ers, where he eventually won two Super Bowls and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Herschel Walker to the Vikings, 1989
Sometimes, trades can feel worse because of the initial promise and expectation. In 1989, the Vikings made a blockbuster deal with the Cowboys to bring Herschel Walker to Minnesota. The Vikings felt as though they had won the trade. Instead, Walker was only average during his two-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota, never rushing for more than 1000 yards. Meanwhile, the Cowboys used the draft picks they earned from the trade to bring in key players who would help them win three Super Bowls.
NFL history is full of trades that went wrong, but it is hard to think of a higher-profile, more costly deal that went wrong more quickly than the Wilson move to Denver has. The final indignity for the Broncos is that they have no choice but to stick with it, even to the extent of dispensing with their head coach and those players who no longer feel any confidence in their quarterback. There is every chance that the Wilson deal will ultimately go down as the NFL’s worst ever.