Russell Wilson to Denver Broncos is biggest trade in NFL history

Russell Wilson. Credit: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports.
Russell Wilson. Credit: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports.

It’s officially official, like a referee’s whistle: Denver has traded for 9-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.  

For a while, all eyes had been on Aaron Rodgers and the saga of whether or not he’d decide to leave the Green Bay Packers. The Wilson announcement originally came less than one hour after Pat McAfee broke the story that Rodgers would stay with his day one team.

George Paton, the team’s general manager for under 14 months, managed to pull off what most thought was impossible.

On Thursday, the Broncos introduced their new quarterback during a press conference that included Paton and new head coach, Nathaniel Hackett.

While unequivocally monumental, it poses the question: “Is this the biggest trade in NFL history?” So, we break down the three biggest trades in the history of the storied league.

3. Eric Dickerson to the Colts

Dickerson was the best running back in the NFL but was unhappy with his contract with the Los Angeles Rams and asked to be traded in what would involve three teams.  

The team that benefited the most from the trade was the Buffalo Bills. Cornelius Bennett became an integral part of their defense that would have four straight Super Bowl appearances. 

The Rams went to the playoffs two seasons in a row. 

Dickerson rushed for almost 4,000 yards in his two-plus seasons with the Colts and helped take the Colts to the playoffs in 1987. Unfortunately, injuries sabotaged Dickerson’s career from 1990 until his retirement in ’93. The Colts themselves did not make the playoffs again until ’95.

Picks and players exchanged: 10

Rams received

  • RB Owen Gill (Colts)
  • RB Greg Bell (Bills) 
  • Colts’ Draft Picks: 1988 first and second-round picks, 1989 first-round pick 
  • Bills’ Draft Picks: 1988 first-round pick, 1989 first and second-round picks

Colts received : 

  • RB Eric Dickerson (Rams)

Bills received : 

  • Rights to Cornelius Bennett (Colts)

2. Herschel Walker to the Vikings

When the Cowboys traded away Walker, they knew they were giving up their best player but also creating an opportunity for a rebuild.

Unlike the more evenly balanced Dickerson trade, the Walker trade became known as the “Great Train Robbery,” with the Cowboys being the clear winners.

As a result of trading away Walker for draft picks, Dallas became the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year time frame.

Meanwhile, the trade was a catastrophe for Minnesota. He helped the Vikings win the NFC Central in his first season with the team. However, they lost their opening playoff game and then missed the postseason the following two seasons. He finished his career as a Viking with 2,264 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in 42 games and departed as a free agent in 1992.

Picks and players exchanged: 18

Cowboys received

  • LB Jesse Solomon 
  • LB David Howard 
  • CB Issiac Holt
  • RB Darrin Nelson 
  • DE Alex Stewart
  • 1990 first, second, and sixth-round picks 
  • 1991 first and second-round picks
  • 1992 first, second, and third-round picks

Vikings received : 

  • RB Herschel Walker 
  • 1990 third, fifth, and 10th round picks 
  • 1991 third-round pick

1990 fifth-round pick (RB Darrin Nelson refused to report to Dallas, so the Cowboys traded him to San Diego, and Minnesota got the Chargers’ 1990 fifth-round pick)

1. Russell Wilson to the Broncos

It’s close, but the Wilson trade comes in at No. 1 because both the Dickerson and Walker trades proved that the running back position isn’t as consequential as the quarterback position.

The Broncos are the perfect example of how difficult it can be to find a franchise quarterback, having had 11 different players start for them since Peyton Manning’s retirement. Because of their struggle, they have not been able to make another playoff appearance since their 2016 Super Bowl win.

Immediately after the signing, their Super Bowl odds shot up from 20-1 to 12-1. Suddenly, they went from being utterly irrelevant to shoe-ins for the maximum number of primetime games in 2022. 

Teams don’t trade away their franchise quarterbacks. It’s just not a thing. Wilson is still in his prime and indicated yesterday that he’d like to play for “another 10 to 12 years.” 

Unless Drew Lock makes a miraculous turnaround or John Schneider finds a diamond in the rough 2022 QB Draft Class, it’s hard to see a path where the Seahawks come out as the winners of this trade. On the other hand, the sky’s the limit for where Wilson can take the Broncos.

Picks and players exchanged: 10

Broncos received

  • QB Russell Wilson
  • 2022 fourth-round pick 

Seahawks received : 

  • QB Drew Lock
  • TE Noah Fant
  • DL Shelby Harris
  • 2022 first, second, and fifth-round picks
  • 2023 first and second-round picks
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