One of the reasons the deal was so surprising is because Super Bowl winning quarterbacks almost never get traded by the team they won the Super Bowl with. The move involving Wilson marks just the eighth time in NFL history that this has happened. It also marks the first time in NFL history that a Super Bowl winning quarterback has been traded to the team he beat in the Super Bowl (Wilson and the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII).
Although the addition of Wilson makes the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender, NFL history says that Denver likely won’t end up making it to the big game with their new quarterback. Of the previous seven Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who were traded by the team they won the Super Bowl with, none of them ever made it back to the big game and only one of them — Joe Montana — even reached a conference title game with their new team.
Here’s a look at how the seven prior quarterbacks did after they were traded:
- Won Super Bowl V with Colts
- Traded from Colts to Chargers in 1973
- Playoff record with new team: 0-0 (Chargers didn’t make playoffs in 1973)
Although most people remember Unitas as the legendary quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, he didn’t play his entire career in Baltimore and that’s because the Colts traded him to the Chargers in 1973. Unitas would only play one season with the Chargers before retiring and it was an ugly one where he went 1-3 as a starter. At the time of the trade, Unitas wanted nothing to do with it and almost didn’t report to training camp, so it’s not a shock that things didn’t go so well.
- Won Super Bowl III with Jets
- Traded from Jets to Rams in 1977
- Playoff record with new team: 0-0 (Rams didn’t make playoffs in 1977)
Nine years after leading the Jets to their only Super Bowl win in franchise history, the team decided to ship Namath off to Los Angeles where he would finish his career with the Rams. Like the Unitas situation, Namath’s short stint with his new team was a disaster. Namath’s body was so beat up by this point that he was only able to start four games for the Rams in 1977. Broadway Joe then decided to retire for good following the 1977 season.
- Won Super Bowl XI with Raiders
- Traded from Raiders to Oilers in 1980
- Playoff record with new team: 0-1 (Oilers lost wild-card game in 1980)
After leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl win in 1976, Stabler was shipped off to Houston just four years later in a trade for quarterbacks that saw Dan Pastorini go from the Oilers to Oakland. At 34, Stabler still had something left in the tank and he proved it by leading the Oilers to the playoffs in 1980 with an 11-5 record. Of course, Stabler’s lone playoff appearance with the Oilers came with a cruel twist of fate: Houston would end up losing 27-7 in the wild-card round to Stabler’s former team, the Raiders. After two seasons in Houston, Stabler would also spend three years with the Saints, but he never made it back to the playoffs.
- Won Super Bowl XX with Bears
- Traded from Bears to Chargers in 1989
- Playoff record with new team: 0-0 (Chargers didn’t make playoffs in 1989)
The 1985 Bears are mostly known for their defense, but McMahon also became a cultural icon due to his brash personality. Following the Super Bowl win, McMahon spent three seasons battling injuries before the Bears decided to deal him to the Chargers prior to the 1989 season. During McMahon’s one year in San Diego, he went just 4-7. McMahon did make it back to the playoffs in 1993 with the Vikings, but they ended up losing in the wild-card round to the Giants.
- Won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII and XXIV with 49ers
- Trade from 49ers to Chiefs in 1993
- Playoff record with new team: 2-2 (Advanced to AFC title game in 1993, made playoffs in 1994)
When it comes to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback being traded, Montana is probably the most famous — and most successful — example in NFL history. After missing the entire 1991 season due to an injury, the 49ers felt it was time to make Steve Young the starter, so they looked for a way to trade Montana without hurting anyone’s feelings. In 1993, a trade finally happened when the 49ers sent a 36-year-old Montana to Kansas City. In Montana’s first year with the team, the Chiefs made it to the AFC title game for the first time in 24 years. Although they lost to the Bills, Montana is the only Super Bowl-winning QB who even got to the conference title game with his new team.
- Won Super Bowl XXXI with Packers
- Traded from Packers to Jets in 2008
- Playoff record with new team: 0-0 (Jets didn’t make playoffs in 2008)
Although we all remember Favre’s highly successful season with the Vikings in 2009, that’s not where he initially played after leaving Green Bay. In the summer of 2008, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets and the crazy part is that he almost did the improbable: He almost led them to the playoffs. Favre took over a team that went 4-12 in 2007 and led them to a 9-7 record in 2008 and he did that even though he played the final month of the season with a torn biceps tendon. After being cut by the Jets in 2009, Favre signed with the Vikings and went 12-4 with a divisional playoff win before losing to the Saints in the NFC title game.
- Won Super Bowl XLVII with Ravens
- Traded from Ravens to Broncos in 2019
- Playoff record with new team: 0-0 (Broncos didn’t make playoffs in 2019)
The Russell Wilson trade isn’t the first time the Broncos have made a deal for a Super Bowl winning quarterback. They also pulled it off in 2019 when they traded for Flacco and let’s just say, they better hope things slightly better this time around. In one disastrous year with the Broncos, Flacco went just 2-6 before his season was cut to an early end due to a neck injury. Thanks to this trade, the Broncos are one of just two teams in NFL history — along with the Chargers — who have twice traded for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
If you’re scoring at home, only two of the seven quarterbacks ended up making the playoffs with their new team and only one of those quarterbacks even won a SINGLE postseason game with that team. This doesn’t mean that Russell Wilson can’t win in Denver, but if the previous seven trades all have one thing in common, it’s that the quarterbacks got traded because their team was ready to move on. You don’t give up one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL unless you feel like maybe he’s not one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL anymore and it’s possible the Seahawks felt that way about Wilson. After all, he struggled down the stretch last season after returning from a serious hand injury.
Of course, most of the players listed above were on the tail ends of their career while Wilson still seems to have a lot left in the tank. If anyone can buck a historical trend like this, it’s Wilson, so it won’t be surprising at all if he ends up finding some success with Broncos, but it won’t be easy, because he’s now playing in the toughest division in the NFL.