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Most Impactful NFL Trades of All Time: Herschel Walker, Lions-Rams Deals Headline Top 8

What are the most impactful NFL trades of all time? We offer our top eight, which includes the Herschel Walker blockbuster and the Rams-Lions deal.

Who doesn’t love a good trade?

Some involve players; some involve draft picks; and some even involve coaches. Every once in a while, you’ll get a wild trade that involves all three. Few things generate more debate in the NFL than trades and their fallout.

But what are the most impactful NFL trades of all time? We ranked the top eight, along with five honorable mentions.

8 Most Impactful NFL Trades of All Time

Honorable mentions: Randy Moss to Patriots, Philip Rivers-Eli Manning trade, Deshaun Watson trade, Ollie Matson to Rams, Joe Montana to Chiefs

8) Eric Dickerson Trade (1987)

This in-season, three-team blockbuster included one of the best players in NFL history and the exchanging of many assets. Unhappy with his contract, Eric Dickerson was traded from the Los Angeles Rams to the Indianapolis Colts in 1987. But that’s only part of the story.

The Colts sent linebacker Cornelius Bennett to the Buffalo Bills for two first-round picks, one second-round pick, and running back Greg Bell. Indy then sent Bell, the three draft picks from Buffalo plus two second-rounders and a first-round pick, and running back Owen Gill to the Rams for Dickerson.

Deep breath.

Dickerson led the league in rushing the next season, the Rams made the NFC Championship Game in 1989, and Bennett helped the Bills make four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. So, everyone came out alright.

7) Stefon Diggs-Justin Jefferson Swap (2020)

Another win-win, this trade involves two of the best wide receivers of the current era.

Stefon Diggs asked for a trade early in the 2020 offseason. The Minnesota Vikings acquiesced, sending Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for first-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft plus a 2021 fourth-rounder.

The first-round pick turned into Justin Jefferson, who now is the best receiver in football. The Bills probably don’t regret the trade, though, as Diggs played a huge role in Josh Allen’s development and the Bills’ recent run of success.

Jefferson recently received the largest non-quarterback contract in history, while Diggs was traded to the Houston Texans in April.

6) Marshall Faulk to the Rams (1999)

Another win-win trade involving the Rams, the Colts, and a generational running back.

The Colts sent Faulk to the Rams for second- and fifth-round draft picks. Indy then selected running back Edgerrin James in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft and immediately turned into a playoff team. No regrets.

As for Faulk, he was a superstar for the Rams, helping the “Greatest Show on Turf” win Super Bowl 34 and earning league MVP the following season.

5) The Rams-Lions Trade (2021)

So far, this trade is a home run for both sides.

Jared Goff, drafted first overall in 2016, led the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance in 2018. But his performance plateaued, and by 2021, Los Angeles was ready for a change. So too were the Detroit Lions, who were exploring ways to facilitate Matthew Stafford’s trade request.

The result: A trade that sent Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-rounder to the Lions for Stafford.

In his first season in Los Angeles, Stafford led the Rams to a Super Bowl title — and he remains on top of his game. Goff, meanwhile, has resurrected his career while turning the Lions into an NFC powerhouse. Great trade.

4) Steve Young to the 49ers (1987)

This trade didn’t provide immediate returns for the San Francisco 49ers but eventually allowed the franchise to extend its dynasty.

Steve Young played in the USFL after college but, after the league fold, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via the supplemental draft. After two brutal seasons in Florida, Young was traded to San Francisco to back up Joe Montana.

A few years later, Montana was traded to Kansas City, and Young was the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Young led the Niners to a Super Bowl title in 1994.

3) John Elway Trade (1983)

Talk about a franchise-altering trade.

The Baltimore Colts drafted Elway first overall in 1983, but Elway refused to play for the Colts. A week later they sent him to the Denver Broncos for offensive lineman Chris Hinton, QB Mark Herrmann, and a first-round pick.

The Colts relocated to Indianapolis a year later. Elway turned into an NFL legend and led the Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl titles.

2) Brett Favre to the Packers (1992)

Sorry, Atlanta Falcons fans.

Atlanta drafted Brett Favre in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft. Favre’s rookie season was a failure, and during the ensuing offseason, he was traded to the Green Bay Packers for a first-round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft.

The rest is history: Favre turned into one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and delivered a Super Bowl title to Green Bay.

1) The Herschel Walker Trade (1989)

Involving a staggering 18 players, this three-team blockbuster is one of the most famous trades in professional sports history.

Here’s the breakdown:

Cowboys received: LB Jesse Solomon, LB David Howard, CB Issiac Holt, DE Alex Stewart, three first-round picks, three second-round picks, a third-round pick, and a sixth-round pick.

Vikings received: RB Herschel Walker, two third-round picks, a fifth-round pick, and a 10th-round pick.

Chargers received: RB Darrin Nelson.

Walker, the star of the trade, lasted just 2+ seasons in Minnesota and never topped 1,000 yards. Nelson was a non-factor in 23 games for the Chargers.

But the Cowboys? For them, this trade launched a dynasty.

Dallas turned the picks into Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, and Russell Maryland, among others. The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in the 1990s with a core partially created by the Walker trade.