The stretch just before the regular season has increasingly become a critical NFL trade window. While impact trades have increased recently, teams have used this period to make big moves for decades. Here are the most significant trades to occur during training camp and the preseason over the past 40 years.
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2020: Vikings become middle stop for Yannick Ngakoue
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As the grievances against the team during executive VP Tom Coughlin’s tenure showed, Ngakoue was not the only disgruntled Jaguar around this time. But, even after Coughlin’s 2019 firing, Ngakoue wanted out of Jacksonville. In late August, the Jags granted the franchise-tagged defensive end’s wish by dealing him to the Vikings for second- and fifth-round picks. A slow Vikings start pushed them to get something for the tagged pass rusher as well. In October, Minnesota sent Ngakoue to Baltimore for third- and fifth-round picks. Ngakoue has since been traded a third time — from the Raiders to the Colts — and will soon play for a fifth team.
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2020: Jets pass on Jamal Adams extension
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The Jets passed on a future franchise tag route with Adams, ending a suddenly volatile relationship with the All-Pro safety in late July. The Seahawks gave up a bounty here, giving the Jets two first-round picks, a third-rounder, and starting safety Bradley McDougald. It took a year for the Seahawks to extend Adams, whose Jets extension talks had gone nowhere, but they gave him a safety-record (by a mile) $17.5 million-per-year deal in 2021. The Jets have won this trade so far, with Adams’ atypical sack prowess not compensating for his coverage deficiencies.
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2019: Dolphins’ teardown includes Laremy Tunsil trade
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In 2019, the Dolphins traded Ryan Tannehill, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Kiko Alonso. This was part of an aggressive rebuilding strategy — one that has led to some recently completed NFL investigations. The biggest fish Miami traded was Tunsil, who was dealt for two first-round picks, a second-rounder, and two role players. The Texans also received Kenny Stills in this trade, one of a few take-notice moves during Bill O’Brien’s fascinating year wearing both head coach and GM hats. Tunsil scored a then-record tackle deal in 2020. After trying to draft Tunsil’s left tackle replacement, the Dolphins paid big bucks to Terron Armstead in 2022.
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2019: Texans tag-and-trade Jadeveon Clowney
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The end of the 2019 preseason illustrated fully the late-summer trade window teams are now using. O’Brien was operating in high gear on Aug. 30, 2019, acquiring Tunsil and trading Clowney. The latter had played out his rookie contract, including a 2018 fifth-year option season, and was tagged ahead of his sixth year. The Texans finally cut the cord on this relationship by dealing the former No. 1 overall pick to the Seahawks for a third-round pick and edge rushers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin. Clowney, whom the Seahawks could not tag in 2020, has been unable to fulfill the promise he entered the league with and has yet to score a long-term deal.
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2018: Raiders send Khalil Mack to Bears
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The first in this recent wave of deals that saw a team surrender two first-round picks for a standout talent led Mack out of Oakland. Months into Jon Gruden’s second Raiders tenure, they traded the former Defensive Player of the Year to the Bears for two first-rounders, a third and a sixth. The Bears did collect a second-rounder from the Raiders, but neither team could catapult due to this deal. Raiders-Mack talks did not get far, with Gruden citing Derek Carr’s 2017 extension as a reason the team did not pay Mack. (The Raiders did call the Bears about reacquiring him in 2021, though.) Mack shined as a Bear, but their Mitchell Trubisky trouble capped their defense’s impact.
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2017: Seahawks begin run of late-summer defender adds
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The late-summer defender trade has become a Pete Carroll-John Schneider trend. The Seahawks landed Richardson in the final year of his contract just before the 2017 season. Acquiring the former Defensive Rookie of the Year cost Seattle a second-round pick, a seventh, and wideout Jermaine Kearse. As was later the case with Clowney, Richardson was a Seattle one-and-done. In the only non-injury Russell Wilson season that failed to produce a playoff berth, Richardson registered just one sack. The veteran defensive tackle left for Minnesota in 2018. The Jets used the second-rounder to trade up for Sam Darnold.
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2017: McVay-era Rams make early splash with Sammy Watkins
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Sean McVay’s first year previewed the Rams’ roster-building style. The Rams dealt the Bills a second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines for Watkins and a sixth. One of many McVay-era Rams moves to bet on established talent began a run of team changes for Watkins, a former top-five pick. Watkins’ eight TDs did help the Rams snap a 13-year playoff drought, and the 15 games he played as a Ram are a single-season high for the injury-prone player. Watkins signed with the Chiefs in 2018; the Rams soon traded for Brandin Cooks. The Bills made good use of the second-rounder, sending it to the Bucs to move up for Josh Allen.
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2017: Eagles acquire Super Bowl piece in Ronald Darby
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Eagles GM Howie Roseman went to the trade well a few times during Carson Wentz’s rookie-contract window. Before acquiring Jay Ajayi and Michael Bennett, the Eagles sent the Bills wideout Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick for Darby. The former Round 2 cornerback draftee became an instant starter in Philly — in a rather significant year for the franchise. This trade occurred on the same day as Buffalo’s Watkins deal. It netted the Bills’ D-tackle Harrison Phillips in 2018. Darby ran into injury trouble as an Eagle, but he played every defensive snap for the team in its Super Bowl LII win over the Patriots.
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2014: Patriots deal away All-Decade guard
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Eight years before Buccaneers GM Jason Licht pried Patriots guard Shaq Mason, he landed Mankins. This turned into another example of Bill Belichick getting out on a premier player too early than too late, and it only cost the Bucs a fourth-round pick and tight end Tim Wright. Mankins had made six Pro Bowls as a Patriot, including in 2013, and was named to the 2010s’ All-Decade team. Mankins had signed a Pats extension in 2011, but like Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour, he became a surprise exit. Playing two early-30s seasons in Tampa, Mankins made one more Pro Bowl before retiring.
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2012: ‘Hard Knocks’ features Vontae Davis trade sequence
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One of the better “Hard Knocks” moments came in 2012 when cameras showed Dolphins brass debating a Davis trade and GM Jeff Ireland negotiating with the Colts. Miami talked Indianapolis up from fifth- and sixth-round picks to a second-rounder for Davis, who was a developing cornerback at the time. Davis, who later became famous for retiring at halftime of a Bills game, got in on the Andrew Luck ground floor and spent the next six seasons with the Colts. A quality starter and part of an ascending Colts nucleus, Davis signed an extension to stay in Indy. Unfortunately, recent “Hard Knocks” have not gone this far behind the curtain.
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2011: Patriots give ‘Ochocinco’ one last ride
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The 2011 lockout delayed all NFL business to late July, when the CBA was ratified. This postponed a few trades. One of those sent an all-time Bengals great to New England. The Bengals, amid their higher-profile Carson Palmer divorce, dealt Palmer’s top target days after the lockout ended. Cincinnati acquired fifth- and sixth-round picks for Johnson, who was still “Chad Ochocinco” at this point. While a post-prime Johnson still produced 831 yards alongside Terrell Owens for the 2010 Bengals, he managed just 276 in one Pats slate — his last as a pro. With the 2012 fifth-rounder, the Bengals drafted wideout Marvin Jones, who is now a 12-year veteran.
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2011: Post-lockout deal sends Greg Olsen to Panthers
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The most impactful lockout-year trade, however, involved two NFC teams. The Panthers landed one of the era’s best tight just four years into his career. The Bears received a third-round pick for Olsen, whose best stuff came in Charlotte. The Panthers gave Olsen a six-year, $24 million extension soon after the trade and paired him with rookie Cam Newton. Olsen made three Pro Bowls as a Panther and signed more lucrative extensions in both 2015 and 2018. The future FOX top-tier analyst played nine Panthers seasons and was their Super Bowl 50-bound squad’s top target. Bears tight ends since have been…less productive.
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2009: Belichick gets out early on Richard Seymour
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This trade came days away from Week 1 and shocked the NFL. On his way to the Hall of Fame, Seymour went to the Raiders for a 2011 first-round pick. The Patriots bailed on an All-Decade defensive end and the signature front-seven player from their four 2000s Super Bowl teams. Seymour, 30 at the time, played four seasons with the Raiders (two of them Pro Bowl years) and was franchise-tagged in 2010. The sides agreed to an extension in 2011. The Pats used the pick to draft Nate Solder, a starter in three 2010s Super Bowls. Solder remains the Pats’ highest first-round pick (No. 11) since Seymour (No. 6) in 2001.
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2008: Giants close book on Jeremy Shockey
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This trade occurred just as Sean Payton, Shockey’s former Giants OC, was leaving for the Saints’ then-Mississippi-based camp. But New Orleans spent five months trying to acquire the star pass catcher. Shockey received a ring for the Giants’ historic 2007 playoff run, but two leg injuries prevented him from playing in that postseason. Increasingly disillusioned with his New York role, the four-time Pro Bowler landed in New Orleans for second- and fifth-round picks. Shockey’s Saints stats did not match his Giants work, but he collected another ring and scored in New Orleans’ Super Bowl XLIV win. The Giants won another Super Bowl, albeit with a weaker tight end group.
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2008: Jason Taylor moves north, for a season
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The Giants also pursued Taylor, discussing a three-team Shockey-Taylor deal, but he ended up with a rival. Washington picked him up for second- and sixth-round picks. After a 1-15 Dolphins season in 2007, Taylor sought a trade to a better team. Washington, which was coming off a wild-card berth, technically qualified. The Dolphins backed off their first-round asking price for the future Hall of Famer but missed with the top asset in this haul, taking QB Pat White in the 2009 second round. Washington had sought a replacement for injured DE Phillip Daniels, but Taylor only totaled 3.5 sacks with the team. He was back in Miami after Washington cut him by 2009.
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2006: Eagles secure Donte’ Stallworth rental
Sean Payton began his run as Saints coach by finding all-time franchise receiving leader Marques Colston in the 2006 seventh round. The then-first-year HC said Colston’s rapid rise made Stallworth expendable, leading to the Saints trading the speedster to the Eagles for linebacker Mark Simoneau and a fourth-round pick. Stallworth, a four-year Saint who played a crucial part in their 2003 “River City Relay” sequence, played one Eagles season. The team, which had divorced Terrell Owens months earlier, moved on from Stallworth after 2006 when he averaged 19.1 yards per catch. Simoneau played two Saints seasons.
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2004: Bears, Dolphins swap Pro Bowlers
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Adewale Ogunleye rose from undrafted free agent to the AFC’s sack leader, with 15, in his third season. But the Dolphins extended future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor in the 2004 offseason, instead protecting Ogunleye with a restricted free agency tender. Ogunleye’s camp holdout prompted Miami to move him, and the team dealt the emerging defensive end to Chicago for wideout Marty Booker and a third-round pick. A former Pro Bowler, Booker played four Dolphins seasons but could not match his Bears numbers. Ogunleye booked a big Bears contract and played six seasons in Chicago, including the team’s 2006 NFC championship campaign.
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1998: Colts give up second-rounder for Tyrone Poole
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Poole played 13 NFL seasons, but entering his fourth, the Panthers were set to demote him. Instead, they fetched a second-round pick for the disgruntled cornerback. Poole, who had walked out of Panthers minicamp after a trade request, reunited with original Panthers GM Bill Polian. The Colts had hired the future Hall of Fame exec in 1998. Polian had used a first-round pick on Poole in 1995, making him the second-ever Panthers draftee. He started three seasons in Carolina and three in Indianapolis, landing an extension with the Colts. Poole later collected two rings with the Patriots, joining the Colts rival by 2003.
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1993: Broncos round out O-line with disgruntled Viking
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A former USFLer, Zimmerman had seen the Giants trade his rights to the Vikings in 1986. The left tackle became a perennial Pro Bowler in Minnesota, forming a two-Hall of Famer left side with Randall McDaniel. But, by 1993, contractual issues and a conflict with HC Dennis Green drove a holdout. The Vikings sent the then-32-year-old blocker to the Broncos for wideout Vance Johnson and first-, second-, and sixth-round picks. The Broncos won big here, extending Zimmerman and re-signing Johnson — after the Vikings cut the longtime John Elway target — soon after. Zimmerman anchored Denver’s left side for five seasons, finishing his career in Super Bowl XXXII.
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1992: Charles Haley helps swing NFC power balance
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As the star pass rusher was wearing out his welcome in San Francisco, where he had become the 49ers’ top sack artist, Jimmy Johnson was monitoring the situation. Months before the Cowboys and 49ers reignited their rivalry for NFC supremacy, the future Hall of Famer switched sides. The Cowboys traded two third-round picks for Haley. This armed the team that became the 49ers’ top 1990s rival with an elite edge rusher. Haley became a vital cog for all three 1990s Cowboys Super Bowl-winning teams. The 49ers, save for Tim Harris’ 17-sack 1992, spent much of their ’90s rivalry without an elite edge rusher.
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1991: Tony Casillas gets in on Cowboys’ ground floor
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A year before Haley switched NFC powers, the Cowboys pulled a former top-five pick out of a less competitive team’s doghouse. At odds with Falcons HC Jerry Glanville, Casillas staged a holdout, did not show for a 1990 game, drew a team-imposed suspension and was benched for a rookie. After the 5-11 Falcons did not start Casillas once in 1990, the team traded him to the Cowboys for second- and sixth-round picks. Reborn as a three-technique tackle in Dallas, Casillas was a key presence for two Super Bowl-winning teams. He sacked Steve Young thrice in the 1992 NFC title game. The Falcons did well here, too, nabbing quality D-end Chuck Smith with the second-rounder.
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1988: Jim Lachey goes on three-city tour
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Lachey began the summer as the Chargers’ left tackle, coming off a Pro Bowl year in his third season. He ended it in Washington. Lachey’s summer 1988 involved two trades, having been dealt to Washington by way of the Raiders. A Lachey holdout spurred the Chargers to move on from their top O-lineman early in camp. This rare intra-AFC West trade burned the Bolts. They received Raiders 1987 first-round pick John Clay, a fellow tackle, along with third- and fourth-round picks. A neck injury cut Clay’s career short after just two Chargers games. Lachey played just one game for the Raiders before being traded for a package fronted by QB Jay Schroeder in September. An All-Pro from 1989-91, the late-arriving “Hog” played eight years in D.C.
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1988: Bears’ deep threat goes Hollywood
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The Bears’ top receiver during the first five years of his career, the world-class hurdler/4×100-meter relay gold medalist hit a crossroads during the 1988 offseason. Gault sought a new contract and was interested in moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Despite their status as an NFC contender, the Bears dealt their elite deep threat to the Raiders, who had a trade-happy training camp during Mike Shanahan’s first year in charge. Gault received a five-year Raiders contract, and the Bears collected first- and third-round picks. The first became longtime corner Donnell Woolford. Gault spent six years with the Raiders and has a layered IMDB page.
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1986: Washington taps into USFL market with Ricky Sanders
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After the “Fun Bunch” disbanded, Joe Gibbs formed a more potent receiving corps by acquiring a speed merchant to pair with Art Monk and Gary Clark. A Patriots supplemental draftee, Sanders chose the USFL and was part of a Houston Gamblers squad (feat. Jim Kelly) flush with undersized speedsters. The Pats had stalwart Stanley Morgan and No. 1 pick Irving Fryar at the time and sent Sanders to Washington for a third-round pick. Washington won this deal. Sanders posted two 1,100-yard seasons, helped the team to two Super Bowl titles, and his Super Bowl XXII Broncos bombardment (9 catches, 193 yards, two TDs) remains an all-time big-game outing.
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1985: Anthony Carter completes 36-game year in Minnesota
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An ex-Michigan star, Carter shined in the USFL as well. In 1985, the diminutive wideout completed a workload for the ages. After playing 20 games for the Oakland Invaders, who won the USFL’s third and final title, Carter — all of 168 pounds — logged 16 games with the Vikings. Minnesota acquired Carter’s rights from Miami, which sought defensive help (linebacker Robin Sendlein) rather than a third aerial threat alongside Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. Carter, who totaled 26 TDs in 1985, played nine Minnesota seasons and made three Pro Bowls. His 1987 divisional-round demolition of the 49ers remains one of the fantastic games by a receiver. Sendlein played just one Miami season, but the team used the other trade asset (a second-round pick) to acquire another linebacker — Pro Bowler Hugh Green — later in 1985.
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.