With all the QB movement happening this offseason, it seems like a good time to revisit the top quarterback trades in NFL history. Here are the most important QB swaps the league has seen. (Note: this only covers veteran deals; trades involving QB prospects that occurred on draft weekend or shortly thereafter are not included.)
It took 13 Phil Simms seasons to break Conerly's Giants touchdown pass record (173). Acquired in 1948 for two Washington role players, Conerly was the Giants' starting quarterback for more than a decade. Washington rostering Sammy Baugh led to Conerly being available. With Vince Lombardi as his offensive coordinator for a stretch, the latter led the Giants to three NFL championship games and the 1956 title. Conerly battled Johnny Unitas in 1958's "Greatest Game Ever Played," holding New York's quarterback job until he was 40. Only Eli Manning logged more seasons as Big Blue's QB1.
Sixty years before Nick Foles' statue emerged, the Eagles laid the groundwork for their previous championship. In 1958, they sent a first-round pick (No. 2 overall, fullback Dıck Bass — an eventual 10-year veteran) and two players to the Rams for a then-32-year-old Norm Van Brocklin, who'd clashed with Rams coach Sid Gillman. Philadelphia received three Van Brocklin Pro Bowl seasons and rode "The Dutchman" to the 1960 NFL title. The Hall of Famer who was part of the historic 1950 Rams offense won MVP honors 10 years later and retired after becoming the only quarterback to beat Lombardi's Packers in a championship game.
Shortly after winning their third championship, the Lions traded the best quarterback in their history. Layne steered Detroit to the 1952 and '53 titles, and it took until the 2010s for his team passing yardage record to fall. But injuries, off-field issues and a 1957 trade for Pro Bowler Tobin Rote — who took over for an injured Layne during the '57 title push — led the Lions to trade a 31-year-old future Hall of Famer to the Steelers for a young Earl Morrall and two draft picks in October 1958. Layne vowed the Lions wouldn't win another championship for 50 years. As of this writing, we're at 62, with the second-best QB in team annals on his way out.
The Giants kept their title window open by trading for a 35-year-old Tittle in 1961. The swap cost them second-year guard Lou Cordileone, a first-round offensive lineman. A four-time 49ers Pro Bowler, Tittle oversaw the "Million Dollar Backfield" but could not get San Francisco to a championship game. He piloted the Giants to three. Though they were 0-3 in those games, twice losing to ex-Giants assistant Vince Lombardi, Tittle dominated, throwing 33 TD passes in 1962 and 36 in '63. That record stood until Dan Marino's 1984 explosion. The 49ers transitioned from a Hall of Famer in Tittle to future MVP John Brodie.
The Rams' quarterback depth helped another team, giving the Browns the conductor of their most recent championship run. Eyeing a backup for Jim Ninowski, Cleveland traded two mid-round picks and defensive lineman Larry Stephens for Ryan in 1962. A Ninowski injury ushered in Ryan, who made three Pro Bowls and threw at least 25 TD passes three times. Ryan threw three in the 1964 title game, leading the Browns to a 27-0 shutout over the Colts. The QBs the Rams traded, Ryan and Norm Van Brocklin, won championships while the Rams' drought lasted until Kurt Warner's magical 1999.
The Vikings traded a Hall of Famer for crucial pieces and reacquired him to key a dominant run. Fed up with hard-edged Vikings coach Norm Van Brocklin, Tarkenton asked to be traded. The Giants in 1967 gave up two firsts and two seconds, and all four picks — including Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary and Pro Bowl guard Ed White — played big roles for Viking Super Bowl teams. Tarkenton's four Pro Bowls did not lead to Giants success, and sending him to the Bud Grant-led Vikings in 1972 — for quarterback Norm Snead and high picks — set up an NFC powerhouse. Tarkenton led the Vikes to three Super Bowls in the next five seasons.
A week later in 1967, big AFL business transpired. Carrying two-time AFL champion QB Jack Kemp, the Bills traded his 25-year-old backup to the Raiders for AFL All-Star wideout Art Powell in a deal that also involved draft picks changing hands. Lamonica led Oakland to Super Bowl II in his first Bay Area season and another one-loss slate two years later. He was named league MVP both years. A starter until 1972, "The Mad Bomber" steered the Raiders to five playoff berths. Powell, 30 when traded, could not replicate his success in Buffalo. The former Raiders TD machine lasted one season with the Bills.
An undrafted free agent who made zero Pro Bowls, Cuozzo still fetched three first-round picks in separate deals. The Saints traded their expansion No. 1 overall pick (defensive lineman Bubba Smith) and center Bill Curry to the Colts for Cuozzo in 1967. Johnny Unitas' ex-backup went 3-7 as the Saints starter. The Vikings traded two first-rounders for Cuozzo in 1968 but sat him behind Joe Kapp for two years. Though the Vikings won division titles from 1970-71, Cuozzo was inconsistent, prompting Fran Tarkenton's return. Smith and Curry helped the Colts to two Super Bowls in their first four seasons in Baltimore.
A journeyman by 1968, the 1956 No. 2 overall pick came to the Colts as Unitas insurance. When Unitas tore a muscle during the preseason, the 34-year-old Morrall's career arc changed. Acquired from the Giants for backup tight end Butch Wilson in August 1968, Morrall emerged with an MVP season. He led the Colts to a 13-1 record. That season is now known for Baltimore losing a one-sided Super Bowl to the Jets, but Morrall continued his resurgence in the early 1970s, relieving Unitas in the Colts' Super Bowl V victory. Following Don Shula to Miami to play a key role for the 1972 Dolphins, Morrall played 21 seasons.
The Rams sent Gabriel to the Eagles in 1973. In exchange for the former MVP, then 33, Los Angeles received two first-round picks and acclaimed wideout Harold Jackson — once a Rams draftee. Gabriel peaked in the late 1960s, leading the Rams to three 10-win seasons. While his departure brought a decade of QB uncertainty in L.A., the Rams won this trade. Gabriel played well for the '73 Eagles before tailing off. Jackson made three Pro Bowls with the Rams, and one of the first-rounders, guard Dennis Harrah, was a six-time Pro Bowler who stuck around through through Eric Dickerson's rise in the '80s.
Instead of succeeding Bob Griese, Joe Theismann established his legacy elsewhere. The Dolphins could not come to terms with the ex-Notre Dame star-turned-fourth-round pick, and Theismann played three seasons in Canada. In 1974, Miami dealt his rights to Washington for a first-round selection. Used as a punt returner and a backup under George Allen, Theismann was Washington's starter from 1977 until his infamous injury eight years later. He led Washington to a Super Bowl title and won MVP honors in 1983. The Dolphins received seven seasons from linebacker Larry Gordon, their haul from this trade.
Though Morton managed to get his job back from 1971 Super Bowl starter Roger Staubach for a bit, by 1974 it was Staubach's show. Morton irked Tom Landry by signing a 1975 deal with the World Football League and was traded to the Giants at the '74 trade deadline. New York gave up what became 1975's No. 2 overall pick (Hall of Famer Randy White) and went 8-25 in Morton starts during a dreadful mid-'70s span. The Giants traded Morton for QB Steve Ramsey and a fifth-rounder in 1977. NFL Comeback Player of the Year that season, Morton led Denver to its first Super Bowl and two more playoff berths during a six-year Broncos run.
On the same day the Cowboys dealt Morton, the Rams traded 1973's first-team All-Pro QB. Oct. 22, 1974 saw the Packers trade an astonishing haul -- two first-rounders, two second-rounders and a third -- for a 34-year-old Hadl, whom the Rams benched the week prior. The Packers had a deal in place to acquire Archie Manning, but the Saints reneged. A former AFL star in San Diego, Hadl became an expensive consolation prize. All-Pro safety Nolan Cromwell and multiple other starters went to L.A. via the draft picks. Hadl played less than two seasons in Green Bay and was shipped to Houston in a package for QB Lynn Dickey in 1976.
Deshaun Watson would not be the first QB to fetch three first-round picks. Before winning two Super Bowls with the Raiders, Plunkett floundered with the other Bay Area team. Trying to find a post-John Brodie answer, the 49ers traded three first-rounders and a second to the Patriots for Plunkett in 1976. The 1970 No. 1 overall pick, Plunkett saw second-year QB Steve Grogan supplant him in New England. Plunkett was mediocre in San Francisco, being waived months before Bill Walsh's 1979 arrival. The Patriots did very well, turning the picks into standout cornerback Raymond Clayborn and longtime starters in center Pete Brock and safety Tim Fox.
Again playing a key quarterback-dispersal role, the Rams traded Jaworski to the Eagles in 1977. "The Polish Rifle" arrived in Philadelphia as Roman Gabriel's career was concluding, taking over for the prior Rams-to-Eagles QB that season. The Rams shipped Jaworski out for three-time Pro Bowl tight end Charle Young. After sitting behind a cadre of Rams QBs in the mid-'70s, Jaworski became the Eagles starter until Randall Cunningham's 1986 ascent. Jaworski took the Eagles to Super Bowl XV and three more playoff berths. Young played just three Rams seasons but did not retire until 1986.
The Raiders were a 1970s power, but the Oilers entered 1980 as the Steelers' top AFC challenger. Houston and Oakland made the unusual move to swap starting QBs. Nothing else was involved in the deal; it was just the 34-year-old Stabler and 30-year-old Pastorini switching teams. Neither was the same elsewhere. An ex-MVP, Stabler threw 28 INTs in 1980. Though the Oilers made the playoffs, they could not get past their wild-card opponent: the Raiders. But it was Jim Plunkett piloting Oakland. A former top-three pick, Pastorini played in just five games for the eventual Super Bowl champions before an injury and was cut in 1981.
The Rams (again) made a quarterback deal, this one working out strangely. Los Angeles traded the No. 4 overall pick, along with a second-rounder, to Baltimore for Bert Jones on draft weekend in 1982. The 1976 MVP was at odds with Colts owner Robert Irsay. However, Jones suffered a career-ending injury four games into his Rams run. The Colts used the pick on all-time bust Art Schlichter, who played three games as a rookie before a gambling suspension nullified his 1983 season. He was out of the league by 1986. However, the player chosen in Round 2, punter Rohn Stark, was a Colt for 13 years.
After a two-year USFL stay, Young was part of two moribund Buccaneers teams. Newly hired Bucs coach Ray Perkins was not a Young fan and had a deal in place to trade him to the woeful Cardinals for a first-rounder. However, Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse's fondness for Young (and the $1 million in cash included in the 49ers offer) pushed him to San Francisco instead. Initially shocked Young was available, Bill Walsh landed the ex-BYU star for second- and fourth-round picks in 1987 — a year after No. 1 pick Bo Jackson spurned the Bucs. Young (two MVPs, three All-Pro nods) allowed the San Francisco dynasty to run through the '90s.
The Buccaneers also lost Williams in 1986, but they gave up on him years before. Williams' up-and-down Tampa Bay tenure ended after the '82 season, and he ventured to the USFL. Once that league folded, Washington — led by ex-Bucs offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs — gave up a fifth-round pick for the 31-year-old passer's rights. Williams took one snap in 1986 but replaced starter Jay Schroeder in '87, leading Washington to a playoff upset over the Bears and a dominant Super Bowl XXII win. Washington traded Schroeder to the Raiders in 1988, landing All-Pro guard Jim Lachey — part of Washington's next "Hogs" Super Bowl line.
Even excluding the Eric Dickerson deal, the Rams are a big part of the NFL's trade history. After a long run in quarterback purgatory, Los Angeles caught a break when Houston drafted Everett. The Oilers already employing Warren Moon dissuaded Everett from signing. The Oilers turned this September 1986 swap into future cornerstones — defensive linemen William Fuller and Sean Jones and wide receiver Haywood Jeffires; all Pro Bowlers — while the Rams landed that year's No. 3 overall pick. Everett started for eight years, leading the NFL in TD passes twice and helping L.A. to three playoff berths.
Few trades have made a bigger impact. The Falcons used a second-round pick on Favre in 1991, but a hip issue, off-field turbulence and the best season of Chris Miller's career resulted in him redshirting as a rookie. In 1992, Packers GM Ron Wolf traded a first-rounder for Favre, despite his physical going poorly. The Wally Pipp of Green Bay, Don Majkowski saw his injury-prone, six-year run give way to Favre's iron-man streak and 16 years as the Packers' QB1. The Falcons also traded the No. 17 pick to the Cowboys, who took eight-year starting cornerback Kevin Smith. Atlanta's endgame: Round 1 running back bust Tony Smith.
A severe Montana elbow injury in the 1991 preseason led to Steve Young taking the 49ers' reins. By 1993, a recovered Montana wanted a new team. The Cardinals had a better contract offer prepared during 1993's sweepstakes, but the all-time great preferred the contending Chiefs. They gave the 49ers a first-round pick and received Montana and a third-rounder. Montana made a Pro Bowl as a Chief, taking the team to the AFC title game in 1993, but struggled to stay healthy and retired a year later. That first-round 49ers pick became Pro Bowl defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield. This began a 49ers-to-Chiefs QB pipeline that lasted until Alex Smith.
The Oilers were the only team to make every playoff bracket from 1987-93, but the final three of these teams suffered brutal playoff losses. The Oilers asked Moon to restructure his contract, which had two years and $6.25 million left, but he declined. Houston traded its 10-year starter to Minnesota, for mere fourth- and fifth-round picks, in 1994. The future Hall of Famer extended his Pro Bowl streak to eight, surpassing 4,200 passing yards twice in a three-year Vikings stay. Moon made his final Pro Bowl with the 1997 Seahawks at age 41. His Oilers replacement, Cody Carlson, was out of the league by 1995.
In 1990, the Colts sent the Falcons a haul that included Andre Rison, Pro Bowl tackle Chris Hinton and a future first-rounder for the No. 1 overall pick. The prize, George, did not pan out. But the Colts benefited years later. The Falcons sent them first- and third-round picks for George in 1994. While the Colts traded up for linebacker bust Trev Alberts with the first-rounder, the George deal also included a conditional pick that became a 1996 first because the QB led the Falcons to a nine-win season in 1995. The '96 pick: Marvin Harrison. George played well in 1994 and '95, but a sideline dispute with coach June Jones led him out of Atlanta in '96.
Carlson sputtering as Moon's replacement led to the Oilers' Steve McNair pick in 1995. McNair replaced Chandler a year later, putting him back on the trade block. (In 1990, the Buccaneers traded the 1992 No. 2 overall pick to the Colts for Chandler, who played just six games with Tampa Bay.) The Falcons gave the Oilers fourth- and sixth-round choices for the then-32-year-old QB in 1997. Chandler made his only two Pro Bowls during his first two years as Atlanta's starter and led the 1998 team to an upset of a loaded Vikings outfit, securing the franchise's first Super Bowl spot. Chandler was with Atlanta through 2001.
In 2001, Mike Holmgren turned to his former team for a quarterback solution. His 1998 sixth-round pick as Packers coach became a 10-year Seahawks starter. Seattle essentially landed Hasselbeck for a third-round pick, swapping first-round draft slots with Green Bay. The Dolphins were willing to trade a first-rounder for Hasselbeck, but in his final months as Packers GM, Ron Wolf sent Brett Favre's backup to his former coworker. Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to six playoff berths and their first Super Bowl. Holmgren also got the better of the pick swap, drafting Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson at No. 17 overall.
One of the NFL's defining plays ended Bledsoe's nine-season stay as the Patriots' starter. Mo Lewis' violent collision with Bledsoe sent him to the hospital and thrust Tom Brady into action. After the first of Brady's 10 Super Bowls, the Patriots traded Bledsoe within their division. They acquired a 2003 first-round pick from the Bills during 2002 draft weekend. That choice became defensive lineman Ty Warren, an eight-year Patriot. Bledsoe made a Pro Bowl in 2002 and did exact some revenge, leading a 31-0 Bills romp over the Pats in Week 1 of 2003. But his Buffalo stay lasted just three seasons.
The 2006 offseason became one of the Dolphins' defining sequences. Their Drew Brees pursuit led to a visit and strong interest from the all-time passing leader. Vying with the Saints for the 27-year-old, soon-to-be superstar, the Dolphins were concerned about Brees' injured shoulder. Their contract offer was not on par with New Orleans', and the franchise went another way. Nick Saban's team traded a second-round pick for Culpepper, months removed from three knee ligament tears. The former Pro Bowler played just four games with Miami. Saban quit after '06 too. Brees has played 15 seasons with the Saints.
The last quarterback to be franchise-tagged and then traded, Cassel wound up in Kansas City shortly after the Patriots tagged him in 2009. After filling in for an injured Tom Brady in 2008, an 11-5 Pats season, Cassel drew interest as a looming free agent. First-year Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, a longtime Patriots exec, gave his old team a second-round pick. Mike Vrabel went to K.C. in the deal too. The Patriots used the pick on Patrick Chung, a four-time Super Bowl starter. Cassel signed a six-year, $63 million deal with the Chiefs; he was out after four seasons. Cassel did, however, alter the Broncos' timeline.
Denver's new coach made sweeping changes in 2009. McDaniels pursued Cassel, which upset Cutler, triggering a chain reaction that sent the promising Broncos starter to Chicago. The Broncos received two first-round picks, a third and Kyle Orton for Cutler. Denver drafted D-lineman Robert Ayers in 2009 and Demaryius Thomas in '10 but also took Tim Tebow and made the odd move of trading a first-round pick (which became Earl Thomas at No. 14 in 2010) for a second-rounder (cornerback Alphonso Smith, No. 37, 2009). Cutler largely disappointed in eight Chicago seasons; his 2008 Pro Bowl nod as a Bronco was his only such honor.
Frustrated by the Bengals' old-school ways, Palmer told owner Mike Brown he wanted a trade. This keyed a 2011 standoff. Cincinnati selected Andy Dalton in the second round, giving him the reins during Palmer's isolation. An injury to Raiders starter Jason Campbell prompted then-Oakland coach Hue Jackson, operating without a GM in the wake of Al Davis' death, to trade first- and second-round picks for Palmer in October. Those became Dre Kirkpatrick and Giovani Bernard, key cogs during Cincy's run of 2010s playoff berths. In 2013, the Cardinals acquired Palmer for next to nothing.
It is hard to remember how far Foles' value dropped in St. Louis. During Chip Kelly's 2015 offseason with GM power in Philadelphia, he traded Foles and LeSean McCoy. The Rams dealt injury-prone starter Sam Bradford — on the heels of two lost seasons — for Foles. Late-round picks changed hands, too. Neither passer prospered. Foles was benched for Case Keenum, and Bradford started one season in Philly. After trading up for Carson Wentz in 2016, the Eagles dealt Bradford to the Vikings. Their decision to bring back Foles in free agency in 2017 paid off.
Brady's desire to play into his mid-40s affected the Patriots' QB timeline. They held onto backup Jimmy Garoppolo, a 2014 second-round pick, for nearly four years and rebuffed Browns offers for the contract-year QB in the 2017 offseason. But Bill Belichick shipped him to the 49ers for a second-rounder at the trade deadline. A report later indicated Robert Kraft insisted Belichick trade Garoppolo, the best of Brady's backups. After an injury-altered 2018, Garoppolo helped the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV. Brady led the Pats to two more Super Bowls, but Garoppolo's exit left them without an heir apparent. That became key after Brady's 2020 exit.
As the Dolphins gutted their roster at the outset of a rebuild in 2019, the Titans took a flier on a former top-10 pick. Tennessee sent Miami fourth- and seventh-round picks for the injury-prone Tannehill. With the Titans, he completed a rare early-30s breakout. The Titans ended up replacing former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota with Tannehill in 2019, leading to an AFC championship game run. Tennessee let Mariota walk in free agency and paid Tannehill midlevel franchise-QB money. Tannehill stayed healthy in 2020; he and Derrick Henry led the Titans to their first AFC South title in 12 years.
This is the fourth Rams QB trade since 1973 to involve two first-round picks changing hands. In exchange for Stafford and taking Jared Goff's onerous contract, ex-Rams exec-turned-Lions GM Brad Holmes acquired 2022 and '23 firsts and a 2021 third. A monster haul for the rebuilding team. Due to another Rams extension mistake, Goff will go from Super Bowl starter to NBA-style salary dump in a two-year span. Stafford is almost 33, has made one Pro Bowl and has no playoff wins. But this trade will pair a cannon-armed QB who led mostly bad teams with an elite play-caller in Sean McVay. The Rams have not made a first-round pick since Goff in 2016.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.