The NFL is a business first and foremost. When it comes to players, they’re often traded or released due to money, age or both. We saw that happen with both Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles this offseason, and the Cowboys are almost certain to do the same with Tony Romo soon, too.
It’s the nature of the business, forcing players to finish their careers with a different team than the one that drafted them. Here are 10 players who also had to do that, all of whom are NFL legends.
Cowboys RB Tony Dorsett: Broncos
Dorsett was one of the best running backs the Cowboys have ever seen, rushing for 1,000-plus yards in eight of his first nine seasons in the NFL. The Hall of Famer won one Super Bowl in Dallas and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, but he was traded to the Broncos in 1988 when he was 34 years old. He had a decent final season, rushing for 703 yards and five touchdowns, but it wasn’t the 1,000-yard year everyone came to expect from him.
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Ravens S Ed Reed: Texans, Jets
Reed could very well go down as the best safety the NFL has ever seen, and the numbers are there to back that up. In 2004 alone, he had nine interceptions, two touchdowns, two fumble recoveries and two sacks, showing off remarkable versatility. He has the seventh-most interceptions (64) in league history, most of which came with the Ravens. In 2013, he signed a three-year deal with the Texans but lasted only seven games before he was released. He then joined the Jets for seven games, intercepting three passes to close out his career.
Jets QB Joe Namath: Rams
Broadway Joe was the face of the Jets for 12 years, winning a Super Bowl and making the Pro Bowl five times. He was waived by the Jets after a trade couldn’t be worked out, which led to his joining the Rams in 1977. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the same player he once was with the Jets. Namath started just four games, throwing for 606 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Needless to say, his decision to sign with the Rams rather than retiring wasn’t one that put him in the best light.
Eagles DE Reggie White: Packers, Panthers
White staked his claim as a dominant force with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985-92. He was a first-team All-Pro six times in Philly, making the Pro Bowl in all but one season. In 1993, he became a free agent and joined the Packers, where he continued his run as a premier pass rusher. The perennial Pro Bowler won a Super Bowl with the Packers before capping off his career with the Panthers – a one-year stint in 2000, when he recorded 5.5 sacks in his first non-Pro Bowl season since 1985.
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Packers QB Brett Favre: Jets, Vikings
After one year with the Falcons, Favre, iron man of the NFL, started every game for the Packers from 1993 to 2007. He threw 442 touchdown passes and 286 interceptions in Green Bay, putting together a Hall of Fame career that included a Super Bowl and three NFL MVP awards. However, Aaron Rodgers was his obvious successor and proved he was ready for the spotlight prior to the 2008 season. The Packers traded Favre to the Jets in August of that year. In April 2009, New York released him, which led him to sign with the Vikings, where he finished his career. He was a Pro Bowl selection who led Minnesota to the NFC title game in 2009, but his play fell off drastically in 2010, throwing 11 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions.
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49ers WR Jerry Rice: Raiders, Seahawks
It’s highly unlikely any receiver ever unseats Rice as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, which is a testament to his greatness in an era that wasn’t as pass-centric as today’s game. He spent 16 years in San Francisco, but with Terrell Owens emerging as a true No. 1 receiver, he signed with the Raiders after the 2000 season. He had three solid years with Oakland before he was traded to the Seahawks during the 2004 season, which is where he finished his career.
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Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith: Cardinals
The NFL’s all-time leading rusher didn’t spend his entire career with the Cowboys despite being the face of the franchise for more than a decade. With his career winding down, Smith signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals after his first sub-1,000-yard season since his rookie year in 1990. Smith was still an effective back, but an injury in Week 5 of his first season in Arizona – against the Cowboys, nonetheless – wound up costing him six games. He was never the same that year but capped off his career with a 937-yard season in 2004.
Colts QB Johnny Unitas: Chargers
Unitas was arguably the best quarterback of his era and truly one of the greatest of all time. He spent 17 accolade-filled years with the Baltimore Colts, winning two NFL championships and one Super Bowl, making 10 Pro Bowls and being named league MVP three times. In 1973, he was traded to the Chargers with the Colts wanting to move on from their decorated quarterback. He played just five games before being benched in favor of rookie Dan Fouts, giving way to his retirement in the ensuing preseason.
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Colts QB Peyton Manning: Broncos
Manning is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, so it’s no wonder he’s on this list. He obviously spent most of his career with the Colts, winning one Super Bowl in 13 years. His tenure in Indianapolis came to an abrupt end following his multiple neck surgeries, paving the way to his short but successful stint in Denver. Manning finished his career with the Broncos by making the Super Bowl twice, winning one ring and setting the single-season record for passing TDs in 2013.
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49ers QB Joe Montana: Chiefs
Montana was a three-time first-team All-Pro with the 49ers, making seven Pro Bowls in San Francisco. Not to mention, he won four Super Bowls with the Niners. However, Steve Young’s emergence as a viable starter pushed the 49ers to trade Montana to the Chiefs, where he finished his career with two decent seasons. He threw 244 touchdown passes with the 49ers compared to just 29 with the Chiefs.