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NFL Draft: Breaking down every 1st-round trade in Detroit Lions history

Is trading picks in the first round the way to go for the Lions? Let’s take a look at the past.

2010 NFL Draft Round 1 Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of the idea that the Detroit Lions could trade down from the second pick and grab a few more picks in this year’s draft. Trades in the first round, whether they’re up or down, can always be fun. But do they work out for the Lions? That’s what we aim to find out today.

We’re going to look back on every trade the Lions have made in the first round and see what they got and what they traded away to get it. We’ll even look at what wound up happening to the pick they traded away.

The only rule here is that these trades have to have happened that night or at least the week of the draft. We won’t be counting trades made the year before or during the previous season. Let’s jump into it.

1973

The trade:

  • Lions get: 17th and 58th pick
  • Bears get: Lions’ 19th pick and TE Craight Cotton

The picks: The Lions would use the 17th pick to take Texas A&M defensive end Ernie Price. They took Washington tight end John Brady with the 58th pick. The Bears wound up trading the pick they got from the Lions to the Patriots for running back Carl Garrett.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Not so well for either team. Ernie Price did play for the Lions for five-and-a-half years for the Lions, but he would only start 17 games for the Lions during that time. The Lions traded him to the Seahawks during the 1978 season. John Brady would never play in a game for the Lions.

As for the Bears, Carl Garrett spent two seasons in Chicago before going on to help John Madden and the Raiders win Super Bowl XI.

1974

The trade:

  • Lions get: 8th overall pick + 1975 sixth-round pick
  • Saints get: 13th overall pick + center Dave Thompson

The picks: The Lions would use the eighth pick to take Penn State linebacker Ed O’Neil and used the the sixth round pick to take Purdue defensive back Fred Cooper. The Saints used the 13th pick they got from the Lions to take Ohio State linebacker Rick Middleton.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Ed O’Neil would play for the Lions for six seasons and and started 60 games during that time. In 1978, he had an excellent year, snatching four interceptions. Fred Cooper would never play a game in the NFL.

As for the Saints, Rick Middleton would only play two seasons for the Saints and two season for the Chargers before leaving football. Dave Thompson wound up playing for the Saints for two seasons before leaving football as well. Thompson would start every game he played for the Saints though.

1976

The trade:

  • Lions get: 10th overall pick + 68th pick
  • Bears get: 8th overall pick

The Lions sent the 8th pick to the Bears for their 10th and 68th picks.

The Picks: The Lions would use the 10th pick to take Grambling cornerback James Hunter and the 68th pick on Long Beach State offensive tackle Russ Bolinger. The Bears would use the eighth pick on Wisconsin offensive tackle Dennis Lick.

How it worked out for everyone involved: James Hunter would go on to make the Pro Football Writers of America’s all-rookie team in 1976. He played his entire seven-year career with the Lions and started 77 of of 86 games. Perhaps his biggest achievement though was this great cover of “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Russ Bolinger would play six seasons in Detroit and was regular starter during that time.

As for the Bears, Dennis Lick would also make the PFWA’s all-rookie team that year. He played six years for the Bears and started every game he ever played there.

1988

The trade:

  • Lions get: 3rd overall pick + 29th pick
  • Chiefs get: 2nd overall pick

The picks: The Lions would use the third pick to take Miami safety Bennie Blades and the 29th pick on Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman. The Chiefs would use the second pick on Nebraska defensive end Neil Smith.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Everyone won here. The Lions got two All-Pro players and potentially two future Hall of Famers in Blades and Spielman. The latter is, of course, a part of the team’s current front office and looks to be a part of this franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Chiefs got an All-Pro guy themselves with Neil Smith. He would lead the league in sacks in 1993, and would help the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 90s. What a trade this is for both teams.

1993

The trade:

  • Lions get: LB Pat Swilling
  • Saints get: 8th overall pick + 89th pick

The picks: The Lions traded their first round pick away in draft for Pat Swilling. The Saints would use eighth pick on Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Willie Roaf and the 89th pick on Fresno State fullback Lorenzo Neal.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Ultimately this was a bad trade by the Lions, but I get why the Lions made this trade. Swilling was the Defensive Player of the Year just two years earlier. While he did have Pro Bowl season for the Lions in 1993, he would only play in Detroit for one more injury-riddled year before skipping town to join the Raiders.

The Saints got a Hall of Fame tackle in Willie Roaf. He was a six-time All Pro and an 11-time Pro Bowler. The Saints took future Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal with the 89th pick. However, Neal didn’t pop off until after his four-year stint in New Orleans. After he left the Saints, he went on to tally four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro seasons.

1996

The trade:

  • Lions get: 17th overall pick
  • Seahawks get: 21st overall pick + 91st pick

The picks: The Lions would use the 17th pick on Texas A&M linebacker Reggie Brown. The Seahawks would use the 21st pick on Boston College offensive tackle Pete Kendall and the 91st pick on Fresno State running back... also named Reggie Brown.

How it worked out for everyone involved: The Lions got a talented player in Reggie Brown, but unfortunately Brown would only play 26 games for the Lions before his career came to an end after he suffered a spinal injury during a game against the Jets. Kendall played 13 years in the NFL. Five of those years were spent as a starting tackle for the Seahawks. (The other Reggie) Brown started 10 games for the Seahawks in five years before leaving the NFL.

1999

The trade:

  • Lions get: 27th overall pick
  • Dolphins get: 39th pick + 70th pick + 142nd pick

The picks: The Lions would use the 27th pick on Wisconsin offensive tackle Aaron Gibson. The Dolphins would use the 39th pick on Mississippi State running back James Johnson and the 142nd pick on Oregon State linebacker Bryan Jones. The 70th pick got traded back to the Lions and they used that pick on Jared Devries.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Nobody won here. Aaron Gibson played one season for the Lions and they traded him to the Cowboys the next year. He was out of the league a few years later. James Johnson played two years for the Dolphins and never made another team's roster. Bryan Jones nave played in the NFL.

2004

The trade:

  • Lions get: 7th overall pick + 37th pick
  • Browns get: 6th overall pick

The picks: The Lions would use the 7th pick on Texas wide receiver Roy Williams and the 37th pick on Oklahoma linebacker Teddy Lehman. The Browns would use the 6th pick on Miami tight end Kellen Winslow II.

How it worked out for everyone involved: It sort of worked out for the Lions. Roy Williams was an inconsistent player during his career, but he did make the Pro Bowl while in Detroit. The Lions would eventually flip Williams into another first round pick (plus two other picks) that would become Brandon Pettigrew. As for Teddy Lehman, his impressive college game did not translate to the pros and Lehman wound up playing for the Lions for just three years before bouncing around the league.

Kellen Winslow had a Pro Bowl season for the Browns in 2007. Outside of that, Winslow was an okay player that wound up being a really bad person.

2004

The trade:

  • Lions get: 30th overall pick
  • Chiefs get: 36th overall pick + 105th pick + 2005 third-round pick

The picks: The Lions used the 30th pick on Virginia Tech running back Kevin Jones. The Chiefs used the 36th pick on Oregon defensive tackle Junior Siavii, the 105th pick on Oregon wide receiver Samie Parker and would trade the 2005 third-round pick to the Eagles.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Kevin Jones sure did look like the future early on. He had a huge rookie year for the Lions. Unfortunately Jones never realized the potential he showed early on and would only play for the Lions for four years. Junior Siavii would only play two years for the Chiefs and Samie Parker played three. Everyone lost on this one.

2008

The trade:

  • Lions get: 17th overall pick + 66th pick + 136th pick
  • Chiefs get: 15th overall pick + 76th pick

The picks: The Lions would take Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus with the 17th pick, traded the 66th pick to the Dolphins and drafted Wake Forest wide receiver Kenneth Moore with the 136th pick. The Chiefs took Virginia offensive tackle Branden Albert with the 15th pick and Tennessee tight end Brad Cottam with the 76th pick.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Gosder Cherilus played five years for the Lions and was a started for the team when they finally got back to the playoffs in 2011. Kenneth Moore made the Lions practice squad in 2008 and then left the team after the season.

Branden Albert became a two-time Pro Bowler during his career and was thought of as one of the better tackles in the league during his heyday. Brad Cottam played four years for the Chiefs before leaving the league.

2010

The trade:

  • Lions get: 30th overall pick + 128th pick
  • Vikings get: 34th overall pick + 100th pick + 214th pick

The picks: The Lions picked California running back Jahvid Best with the 30th pick and Miami offensive tackle Jason Fox with the 128th pick. The Vikings took Virginia cornerback Chris Cook with the 34th pick, USC defensive end Everson Griffen with the 100th pick and Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler with the 2014th pick.

How it worked out for everyone involved: To this day, I still think Jahvid Best could have been something special. Unfortunately brain injuries are no joke, and they cut Best’s career very short. Best wound up representing America in the 2016 summer Olympics. So that's cool. Jason Fox played four years for the Lions and was an ok off-the-bench guy during that time.

The Vikings struck out with Chris Cook and Mickey Shuler, but they absolutely nailed it with Everson Griffen. He would go on to be a second team All-Pro player in 2017 and played in four Pro Bowls. Griffen wound up playing for the Lions in 2020.

2015

The trade:

  • Lions get: 28th overall pick + 143rd pick + 2016 fifth-round pick + G Manny Ramirez
  • Broncos get: 23rd overall pick

The picks: The Lions picked Laken Tomlinson with the 28th overall pick. They packaged pick 143 with a third-round pick to jump up and select cornerback Alex Carter. The used the 20216 fifth-round pick on linebacker Antwione Williams. The Broncos traded up to grab defensive end Shane Ray.

How it worked out for everyone involved: Tomlinson turned out to be a very good player in this league—but after he was traded from Detroit after just two years. Cornerback Alex Carter and linebacker Antwione Williams were both gone after just two years. Ramirez lasted just a year—mostly as a backup—and was out of the NFL two years later.

As for the Broncos, Shane Ray lasted four years with Denver and had one eight-sack season. However, he never developed in to a starter and now plays in the CFL.