It’s conventional wisdom in the NFL that when you find a franchise quarterback, you hold onto him. More than any other player or even a great head coach, no NFL team can function without a good quarterback. However, over the years, there have been a surprising number of quarterbacks who were willingly traded away during the prime of their careers. In fact, we were surprised to discover the quantity and quality of quarterbacks who were traded when they were still at their best.
For what it’s worth, the assumption was that Tittle was washed up when the 49ers traded him to the Giants in 1961. He had considered retiring and was only expected to share the quarterback duties in New York. But it turns out, Tittle had a lot more left in the tank.
Starting with the 1961 season, he went to the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons, culminating in MVP honors in 1963 when he led the Giants to the NFL Championship Game. His four seasons in New York ended up being some of the best of his career, much to San Francisco’s dismay.
Technically, Tarkenton was traded twice while he was still in his prime. After spending the first six years of his career with the Vikings, he was traded to the Giants in 1967. While the team didn’t win as much as expected, Tarkenton made the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons in New York. He was then traded back to Minnesota ahead of the 1972 season and proceeded to have the best years of his career.
He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls in seven years, albeit all losses. He also won MVP in 1975 and led the NFL in passing yards in his final season in 1978.
Nobody ever seemed to believe in Moon, which is why he spent years in the CFL before getting a chance in the NFL. Even though he owned most of the franchise records with the Houston Oilers, they still traded him in 1994 after one of their best seasons during his tenure. While he was approaching 40, Moon proved to have a lot left in the tank.
He immediately led the Vikings to a division title in 1994 and then tied his career-high with 33 touchdown passes the following season. He later found a home in Seattle and had a couple of good years with the Seahawks. Post-trade, Moon went to three Pro Bowls, proving that he was still in his prime when the Oilers gave up on him.
Palmer’s situation is unique, as he had a public falling out with the Bengals, who were happy to move on from him after Andy Dalton showed promise early in his career. Of course, Palmer also retired briefly before he was traded to the Raiders.
After two seasons in Oakland, Palmer was traded again, resurrecting his career in Arizona by leading the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game in 2015. In fact, the 2015 season in Arizona may have been the best in Palmer’s career, coming after he was twice traded.