National Football League players who emerge as stars in the league and who sign multiple contracts make millions upon millions of dollars each year. Those who are the best of the best at their positions could, depending on how long they play and where they are in lineups, make literally over a hundred million dollars per NFL salaries by the time they are finished playing. That does not even account for local and national endorsement deals that those players sign throughout their careers. Successful NFL stars, on paper, have it made, and they should be set for life due to playing in the league.
That, as history has shown over the decades, has not always been the case. One study that was released in April 2015 suggested that roughly 16 percent of NFL players will be broke within 12 years of retiring from the league. While that is a brighter number from a 2009 study that stated that around 78 percent of players would be either broke or in financial distress just a couple of years after retiring, the figures are still concerning for those who work in the NFL and also for fans who cannot help but wonder just how these people who are supposedly on top of the world fall apart so quickly.
Such downfalls happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of a player being convinced to invest money into a business that never really had an opportunity of succeeding in the first place. While those bankruptcy stories are common and appear often, there are even worse and downright despicable stories that make the stomach turn.
Most recently is the tale of an extremely talented tight end who, for whatever reasons, never escaped his past, and all indications as of the posting of this piece are that he will never again be a free man. What a waste of talent.
20. Josh Gordon
We are going to set this as a placeholder in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, Josh Gordon will stumble upon this piece and realize all that he has to lose over the next several years of his life. The Cleveland Browns playmaker has the physical skills to be the best wide receiver in the NFL, but he has cost himself playing time and millions — MILLIONS — of dollars due to his inability to understand what substances he cannot put into his body so long as he wants to be a pro football player. Superstar talent only means so much, Josh, if you don’t know how to act off of the field. Shape up.
19. Chris McAlister
The truth of the matter is that the majority of football fans had forgotten about the former Baltimore Ravens defensive back by the time 2011 rolled around. He had not played in the league in a couple of years, but Chris McAlister found himself back in the headlines when it was learned that he was flat broke in September 2011. McAllister, who was on the hook for child support, stated the following in court documents: “I live in my parent’s home. My parents provide me with my basic living expenses as I do not have the funds to do so.”
18. Travis Henry
The talented running back once put pen to paper on a five-year contract reportedly worth $22.5 million. That money, along with the fame that Travis Henry had earned as a pro athlete, were gone by 2009. Henry, who played in the NFL from 2001 through 2007, had nine children each by nine different women when he cried broke in March of 2009. Money woes caused by his lifestyle were, believe it or not, the least of his concerns at the time, as he was given 36 months behind bars on drug charges later that same year. It could have been worse, though, as Henry could have received up to ten years in jail.
17. Deuce McAllister
Deuce McAllister appeared in 13 regular season games for the New Orleans Saints during the 2008 regular season, but “The Deuce” was cut the following offseason due to the cost of his salary. McAllister had reportedly made about $70 million as an active player, though, so he did not need additional money when he splashed the cash on car dealerships. Those investments proved to be unwise, as he filed for bankruptcy in the spring of 2009. McAllister serves as a reminder to every current NFL player that all of the wealth and fame can be gone even quicker than it is accumulated.
16. Vince Young
The life and times of a young man who seemingly has all of the talent in the world can be difficult for us commoners to understand. Vince Young was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy award, he won the Bowl Championship Series National Championship, and was named the NFL Rookie of the Year for 2006. Young seemingly could not handle his successes and also the fame that comes with being a winning NFL quarterback, and he has not played a meaningful down in the league in four seasons. He filed for bankruptcy in 2014, and it appears as if any and all comeback hopes Young may have are now gone.
15. Johnny Unitas
A player born decades ahead of his time, Johnny Unitas was a quarterback who would have been worth millions upon millions of dollars had he been drafted in the modern era. The former Baltimore Colts star quarterback filed for Chapter 11 in 1991 to protect his assets after he was unable to make good on loans reportedly worth $4 million at the time, money that was intended to be used to buy a circuit board manufacturing company. It was somewhat surprisingly at that same time that Unitas was working on bringing an NFL team back to Baltimore. He was, according to reports, set to be part of an investment team with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr.
14. Mark Brunell
While nobody will ever confuse Mark Brunell for one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, the guy did net around $50 million as a player. He would have been just fine to retire on a nice ranch somewhere had he not accumulated a reported $24.8 million worth of debt due to poor investments. He can only blame so much of his money problems on bad luck, however, as he and his wife did, at one point, own a home worth a reported $9.5 million. Gone are the days of Brunell slinging passes, and he now works as a television analyst.
13. Lawrence Taylor
There are some knowledgeable and respected people in the world of football who would say that Lawrence Taylor is to this day the greatest overall football player in history. The menacing linebacker who made his name and fame while with the New York Giants also had all kinds of personal demons that he battled during and after his Hall-of-Fame career. One could do a Top-20 list based solely on the legal battles that Taylor has faced since the 1980s, and he was rarely shy about spending money during or after his NFL career. LT was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2009.
12. Tiki Barber
Tiki Barber seemingly had everything following the 2006 NFL regular season. He was, following his retirement from the league, beloved by fans of the New York Giants, Barber had cushy television gigs, he had tons of money and a beautiful family, and he also had endorsement deals. The greatest running back in the history of the Giants traded in 11 years of marriage for an affair with a 23-year-old intern (he later married that woman), and Barber also took cheap shots at New York quarterback Eli Manning and Giants head coach Tom Coughlin after he retired. Gone were the TV deals, the endorsements and the love of Big Blue fans.
11. Terrell Owens
He was, in his prime, everything that a young athlete could want to become when he became an adult. Terrell Owens was a freak athlete who seemingly could play forever. He had model good looks. T.O. had the swagger and the money desired by so many. It was all nothing but memories by 2012 according to Owens, however, who was at the time friendless and close to broke following a long list of selfish and bad life choices. While Owens reportedly made close to $80 million as an NFL player, that wealth has vanished, and he can no longer get a job in the league as a wide receiver.
10. Michael Vick
Michael Vick was purposely placed in the middle of this list because he serves as a reminder that those who fall can once again rise. Vick could have completely fallen apart after he was convicted and jailed on felony animal cruelty chargers that some believed should have cost him his NFL career and all of his fortune. Vick signed for the Philadelphia Eagles following his release from prison, and he experienced a career resurrection with that club. Just as important is that Vick has spoken out against animal fighting, he has worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, and he has served as a mentor for younger NFL players.
9. Ray Rice
The former Baltimore Ravens running back has not “lost everything” in that he should, in theory, be financially secure for the rest of his life. Ray Rice even married the woman whom he knocked unconscious inside of a New Jersey casino back in February 2014. Rice was cut by the Ravens last September, and he lost a sizable amount of money due to the whole ordeal. While the NFL has since reinstated Rice, he is seen as an outcast among many in the league. It is very likely that we will never again see or hear from Rice unless he once again finds himself in trouble with the law.
8. JaMarcus Russell
Perhaps the biggest draft bust in the history of North American professional sports, JaMarcus Russell was a train wreck essentially from the first minute that he was selected by the Oakland Raiders. The perception out there was that Russell, who ballooned to over 300 pounds after receiving NFL money, was lazy and not all that interested in playing in the league. While he reportedly owed nearly $200,000 in mortgage payments on a mansion back in 2014, Russell has repeatedly stated that he is not broke. The biggest concern about Russell as of April 2015? His fall from grace may still not be over.
7. Warren Sapp
One of the most feared defensive players in all of the NFL during his prime, Warren Sapp was a four-time All-Pro who was inducted in the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame. One would think that an individual who made as much as money as Sapp did both as a player and as an analyst for the NFL Network would not have any worries. Sapp blew through his cash in spectacular fashion, however, and he filed for bankruptcy in 2012. The cherry was put on the top of the sundae that is Sapp’s downfall in February of 2015 when he was charged with soliciting prostitutes, an allegation that resulted in the NFL Network parting ways with the all-time great player.
6. Mark Ingram, Sr.
Mark Ingram, Sr. was part of the New York Giants team that defeated the Buffalo Bills at Super Bowl XXV. He had one of the more famous plays of that historic game, in which Ingram evaded no fewer than five would-be tacklers in order to gain a critical first down for the Giants. Ingram was not able to elude the law in 2008, however, when he was sentenced to over seven years in prison after he was convicted of money laundering and bank fraud. As if that was not enough, Ingram was once again reminded that he was not above the law when he was given two additional years behind bars in 2010 after he jumped bail to watch his son, Mark Ingram Jr., play football.
5. Bernie Kosar
Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar remains arguably the most beloved athlete in all of northeast Ohio, and no QB in the club’s history has come as close to taking the Browns to a Super Bowl berth as did Kosar. A plethora of poor investments, other unnecessary spending and also the downfall of the economy resulted in Kosar filing for bankruptcy in 2008. That is not even the end of the story, as Kosar had salt poured into open wounds when he went through an embarrassing DUI arrest (that charge was later dropped) and when he was replaced by the Browns as an in-game commentator for preseason contests.
4. O.J. Simpson
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that O.J. Simpson was telling the truth all along and that he did not murder ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. While the former Buffalo Bills superstar running and star of screen and film was ordered to pay millions of dollars following the outcome of a wrongful death civil trial, Simpson theoretically could have moved on and lived out the remainder of his life. He chose to go a different route, however, and he was arrested in 2007 on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery. Simpson was found guilty the second time around, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
3. Ryan Leaf
Say whatever you will about how massive of an NFL Draft bust quarterback Ryan Left was during his short stint in the league. The man was given a signing bonus worth over $11 million by the San Diego Chargers, the largest ever bonus for a rookie player at that time, and he was set to make over $31 million that should have had him living large even if he never made it as a first-choice QB. Leaf’s struggles in and then out of the NFL have been well-documented, as have his stays behind bars. He is currently a free man with yet another chance to make the most of the rest of his life. Here is hoping that Leaf embraces that gift.
2. Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth was a promising young wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers when he was selected in the 1997 NFL Draft. He was awarded a contract worth $3.7 million over four years, thought to be a steal at the time, but the Panthers obviously did not see the player’s darker side that would emerge just two years after he joined the league. Carruth was charged with and later convicted for conspiring to murder the mother of his child, who died nearly a month after she was shot multiple times. He was given 18 to 24 years behind bars, and Carruth could receive his freedom in 2018.
1. Aaron Hernandez
The New England Patriots tight end had all that he possibly could have wanted in 2012 when he was handed a $40 million contract extension from the club. Little did the public know that Hernandez had, one month before he was awarded with that deal, allegedly gunned down two individuals, and nobody at the time could have guessed that he would be convicted of a different murder charge in April of 2015. Hernandez is, by all accounts, a sociopath who embraced being a gangbanger rather than the opportunities that had been presented to him, and the biggest shame of all is that at least one person is no longer with us because of Hernandez’s actions.
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