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History of NFL quarterback trades and the Buffalo Bills

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We combed through a history of trades involving quarterbacks in the NFL and found some interesting lessons for the Buffalo Bills.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have most of their roster set, outside of a few depth signings and what draft picks remain. The team is loaded in places, but their quarterback depth chart still stands as their primary weakness. At this point, a quarterback isn't what puts this team in the playoff discussion; it's what puts this team in the Super Bowl discussion. To that end, we're going to consider this predicament from a different angle.

Instead of speculating about further targets, I decided to take a look back at the history of quarterback trades to see if there's anything to learn about where the team might look to find more opportunities to improve upon the Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor light show.

1957: Lions trade Bobby Layne to Steelers

Fans of the champion Lions back in 1957 may have scoffed when Layne said "the Lions won't win for 50 years" on his way out after a trade to Pittsburgh... then the next 50 years happened. Eerily enough, the last of those 50 was the team's most miserable, an 0-16 campaign that led to the team drafting arguably their best quarterback since Layne in Matthew Stafford.

1958: Rams trade Norm Van Brocklin to Eagles

This was a Brett Favre move before Favre even existed. Van Brocklin retired after the 1958 season, only to decide months later he wanted to return - just not with the Rams. They traded him to the Eagles, where he'd play three more seasons, winning the 1960 championship along the way.

1964: Eagles trade Sonny Jurgensen to Washington

This trade stands as a bit of a rarity on this list. It involved a quarterback squarely in his prime being traded to a team where he'd play a decade with relative success.

1972: Giants trade Fran Tarkenton to Vikings

Granted, this was the second trade of Tarkenton's career, and a re-do of sorts for both teams. Vikings draft pick Tarkenton clashed with coach Norm Van Brocklin, prompting a trade to the Giants. Five years later, the Giants traded Fran back to the Vikes, where he would lead Minnesota to three Super Bowl appearances.

1974: Dolphins trade Joe Theismann to Washington

There's little the Bills can learn from this deal, unless there's a gem hiding in the CFL somewhere. After difficult negotiations with the Dolphins, who drafted him but already had options at quarterback, Theismann was eventually traded to Washington, where he put up a great career that was cut short by Lawrence Taylor in famous fashion.

1983: Colts trade John Elway to Broncos

You might have heard of this trade once or twice in your lifetime, so we won't get too much into it; suffice it to say it doesn't appear any highly touted prospect quarterback will be refusing to play for a team that drafts them any time soon.

1986: Oilers trade Jim Everett to Rams

The Oilers were unable to sign Everett, who they'd drafted third overall, and traded him to the Rams as a result. Everett put up a solid seven-year stretch with the Rams before being traded to the Saints. He was also famously opposed to being named after a tennis player.

1987: Buccaneers trade Steve Young to 49ers

This trade served as a quiet reminder that you can never have enough quarterbacks. A team already flush with Joe Montana in his prime had the foresight to nab Young, who would wait several years for his turn to lead. Once he proved his mettle, well...

1993: 49ers trade Joe Montana to Chiefs

The 49ers spent 1992 riding the Young train, and found the legendary Montana expendable in 1993, jettisoning him to Kansas City, where Montana would lead the Chiefs to an AFC Championship Game loss to the Bills.

1992: Falcons trade Brett Favre to Packers

Just one year removed from using a second-round pick on Favre, the Falcons flipped him for a first-round pick. Smooth dealings, right? Only if you don't look at the Falcons quarterbacks who followed.

1995: Packers trade Mark Brunell to Jaguars

Backing up Brett Favre was arguably the cushiest job in the NFL, but it's not great if you actually want to play football. Once Brunell got his shot, he led the Jaguars to one of the best first few years for an expansion franchise, which included a conference championship appearance in their second season. Brunell spent nine years with the Jags before being traded to Washington.

1998: Jaguars trade Rob Johnson to Bills

Let's just move on.

1999: Packers trade Matt Hasselbeck to Seahawks

The Packers used a sixth-round pick on Hasselbeck in 1999. Two years later, they traded him for a third-round pick and a swap of first-round picks. Say it with me now: you can never have too many quarterbacks.

1999: Vikings trade Brad Johnson to Washington

Like Jurgensen before him, Johnson was a veteran brought in to DC during his prime. He made the Pro Bowl his first of two seasons in Washington, then was later moved to Tampa Bay, where he won a Super Bowl.

2001: Rams trade Trent Green to Chiefs

This was another case of a team having two starting quarterbacks. The Rams had Kurt Warner, and thus shipped Green to the Chiefs, where he helped lead a potent KC offense to the playoffs in 2003.

2003: Patriots trade Drew Bledsoe to Bills

This was a classic Patriots trade in that the team dealt a beloved figure one year too early rather than one year too late. Bledsoe came out on fire with the Bills in glorious fashion, but failed to make the playoffs in two years as the starter.

2004: Chargers trade the rights to Eli Manning to Giants for the rights to Philip Rivers

Elway Part II, but to a lesser extent. Both teams were getting a top-five pick in this draft either way. It was about shuffling the rest for the sake of balance. It's a rare trade in which both teams can be happy with what they got from the deal, but this really was it.

2007: Falcons trade Matt Schaub to Texans

Schaub was another highly-coveted backup who helped turn the Texans from a basement-dweller to a playoff contender, aided by the team's emerging defense and the presence of Andre Johnson.

2009: Broncos trade Jay Cutler to Bears

This is likely your barometer for trade value of current prime-aged starters who could potentially be trade bait. Cutler and a fifth-round pick fetched two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton.

2010: Eagles trade Donovan McNabb to Washington

A surprising move at the time, but we quickly learned what the Eagles already knew when McNabb was shipped to Washington: his time was very soon up in the NFL. This is the cautionary tale you point to when some handsome fool suggests the Bills go all-out in a trade for an accomplished veteran.

2011: Bengals trade Carson Palmer to Raiders

This was a head scratcher. The Raiders, who were nowhere near contender status based on the rest of their roster, gave up a first-round pick and a second-round pick for Palmer, who had been planning to retire as a Bengal. Apparently, the Raiders still lacked leverage here, and paid for a guy who eventually got another big contract with the Cardinals.

2015: Eagles trade Nick Foles to Rams for Sam Bradford

With some picks moving in the Rams' favor, the Eagles landed Sam Bradford, who we've discussed before as a trade target. Obviously the jury is still out on this deal, but it goes to show that if you want to trade for a viable starter, you have to have someone to offer to fill that void.

Rare exceptions aside, if the Bills want to make a deal for a quarterback, they need both the right trade partner and the right assets to move.

The most common themes among teams that part with quarterbacks are that A) they have an established starter already, or B) the player in question is either too young to properly evaluate, or too old to have an impact beyond a couple years.

Even tougher is Buffalo's lack of attractive trade assets. In almost all these deals, you see draft picks and/or quarterbacks moved for a starter. The Bills have few enough picks and no quarterbacks of real value.

Another trade is unlikely this offseason, but things change fast in the NFL. If history is any indication, these moves happen more often than we realize, and the next opening could soon be there for management to make their most significant trade yet.