NFL free agency is a time of the year where any of the league’s 32 teams could be keen to splash huge amounts of cash on a player they think can help get their team that much closer to the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There are times where they get that judgement right, and then there are others where they have those intentions in mind, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This exact result is what this list will be focusing on, and with that, we’ll be counting down the 15 worst free-agent signings in the National Football League’s history.
These players came to their new teams with understandably high expectations based on the monstrous contracts they signed, but those expectations were also ones that they quite simply couldn’t live up to, whether it was because of disappointing play on the field, recurring problems with injury, or just them being paid way too much for their worth. No matter the reason, these teams misfired big time on their free agent gambles, and these players have gone down in NFL infamy because of it.
Although there are definitely a handful of other bad free agent contracts that could have made this list as well, these 15 are arguably the cream of the crop thanks to the nature of their contracts combined with how much – or how little – game time and on-field success they saw with their new club. While many of these players made it to the Pro Bowl on several occasions – and some even won Super Bowls – these players made a whole lot of bank for pretty minimal returns from the perspective of the team that signed them, making you wonder if they just took the money and ran. Without further ado, here are the 15 worst free agents signings in the history of the NFL.
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15 Matt Flynn - Seattle Seahawks
It should be fairly obvious in all of sports that one great game does not a superstar make, but for Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, that’s precisely how he was viewed by the Seattle Seahawks after they signed him to a three-year contract worth $26 million. Despite his one famous game as a Packer (the team was resting Aaron Rodgers) where he got six touchdowns and 480 yards against the Detroit Lions, Flynn never replicated that as a Seahawk, losing out on the starting job to then-rookie Russell Wilson. Flynn would later be traded to the Oakland Raiders and eventually back to Green Bay as Rodgers’ backup again.
14 Jake Delhomme - Cleveland Browns
He once brought the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2004 and made it to the 2005 Pro Bowl, but Jake Delhomme was well past his prime when he signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2010. He started off as the Browns’ starting quarterback, but suffered an ankle injury in his first game of the season, an injury problem he faced through a significant part of the season. With only two touchdowns and seven interceptions over the course of his only season in Cleveland, Delhomme was cut by the Browns and signed with the Houston Texans for the 2011 season before retiring.
13 Shaun Alexander - Seattle Seahawks
Based on his absolutely stellar play during the 2005 season where he became the league MVP as a member of the Seahawks, Shaun Alexander was going to see a big payday no matter what once he hit the free agent market, and got exactly that from the Seattle Seahawks when they re-signed him – to the tune of $62 million over eight years. Unfortunately for Alexander, his performances in the next two seasons were nowhere near meeting the expectations thrust upon his shoulders, and his rushing yard numbers weren’t even close to the 1,880 he achieved the season before. He was released from the Seahawks in 2008 and signed with the Washington Redskins before retiring.
12 Andre Rison - Cleveland Browns
He may be more well-known by some as the NFL player whose house once got burnt down by his former girlfriend (the late TLC singer/rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes), but Andre Rison also had a pretty solid football career – particularly with the Atlanta Falcons, where he made it to four Pro Bowls. However, his momentum would start to dive once he signed a five-year, $17 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1995. He recorded career lows statistically, and was booed mercilessly by Browns fans who were already hurting over the fact that the team was about to move to Baltimore and become the Ravens. Rison signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars the following year.
11 Neil O'Donnell - New York Jets
Quarterback Neil O’Donnell had a pretty successful go of things as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, leading the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XXX, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys. Once O’Donnell hit free agency, he signed with the New York Jets, who inked him to a five-year, $25 million contract in 1996. His start as a Jet was, to say the least, a disappointment as the team went 0-6 with him onboard, and then his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. Despite a better second season under Bill Parcells, O’Donnell would be released by the Jets.
10 Nate Odomes - Seattle Seahawks
One of the best defensive backs in the NFL in his day with the Buffalo Bills, the team he helped bring to the Super Bowl four consecutive times, Nate Odomes inked a four-year contract worth $8.4 million with the Seattle Seahawks ahead of the 1994 season. It would seem like he was being properly rewarded for his on-field efforts; however, constant problems with knee injuries kept him out of action for extended periods of time, and Odomes’ tenure with the Seahawks saw him never play a game with the team as a result. The two-time Pro Bowler played one more season in 1996 with the Atlanta Falcons before retiring.
9 Alvin Harper - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Before signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a contract of $10.66 million over four years, Alvin Harper was a Dallas Cowboy who had become one of the most feared wide receivers in the league thanks in part to him winning the Super Bowl for two straight seasons. When he was with the Bucs, however, it was largely a failure: despite getting 46 catches in his first season with the team – a career high – Harper was hampered by injuries and was cut by the team prior to the 1997 season. He retired in 1999, playing two games back with the Cowboys.
8 Jeff Garcia - Cleveland Browns
He had a pretty successful five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers after spending his early career as a member of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, but quarterback Jeff Garcia left that behind leading up to the 2004 NFL season when he signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. Despite the Browns’ hopes, things did not go as planned for them or for Garcia: he battled injuries and consistency issues and only played 11 games during his only season for the team. After that, Garcia became a journeyman, playing for five different NFL clubs before his retirement.
7 Jerry Porter - Jacksonville Jaguars
Although he was a bit of a headcase off the field, on it Jerry Porter was a very good wide receiver who helped lead the Oakland Raiders to an appearance in the 2002 Super Bowl, despite the team losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2008, Porter signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars, to a contract worth $30 million over six years. However, a hamstring injury caused him to miss training camp that season, and when he actually did get to play, he ended his season with the Jaguars with only one touchdown and 11 receptions, and was released by the team in 2009. Despite an attempted comeback in 2011 with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, Porter remains without a club.
6 Larry Brown - Oakland Raiders
After the kind of season Larry Brown had for the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 despite not even being a starter for the team, it’s not that hard to understand why he would have been thrown a big contract to reward him for becoming the MVP of Super Bowl XXX. But when the cornerback was signed by the Oakland Raiders to a five-year contract worth $12.5 million, his career began to nosedive. He played only 12 games in two seasons (he only started one, with only one interception to show for it) for the Raiders before the team waived him. Brown returned to the Cowboys for one more season in 1998 before retiring.
5 David Boston - San Diego Chargers
David Boston’s NFL career got off to quite a promising start in 2001 when he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals, with whom he got 98 receptions for 1,598 yards, leading to him being selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Despite a few good years in Arizona, Boston ended up signing with the San Diego Chargers for the 2003 season. The contract terms? $47 million for seven years. The end result? A pretty good season for the Chargers, but an incident involving him swearing at the team’s strength coach landed him a suspension by the team, and he was later traded to the Miami Dolphins. Once he went to Miami, he tested positive for steroids, and he tore some knee ligaments shortly after.
4 Adam Archuleta - Washington Redskins
A seven-year contract worth $30 million would be the kind of contract any budding pro athlete would dream of signing, and that’s exactly what Adam Archuleta signed when he became a member of the Washington Redskins in 2006. Despite a few successful seasons with the St. Louis Rams beforehand, the safety from Chandler, AZ wasn’t so lucky with the ‘Skins: while he began the season as the starting safety for the team, he’d later be usurped by Troy Vincent in the second half. Following complaints from Archuleta that he was being misused, he’d eventually be traded to the Chicago Bears after just one season in DC.
3 Javon Walker - Oakland Raiders
Javon Walker was never truly an elite star by NFL standards before the Oakland Raiders signed him to a six-year, $55-million contract as a free agent, in favour of Jerry Porter who would himself sign a huge contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite his injury problems with the Denver Broncos in the previous season, the Raiders took a chance on Walker and more or less rolled snake eyes: he only played in eight games for the team during the 2008 season, with only one touchdown and 15 receptions for 196 yards to show for it. Walker signed with the Minnesota Vikings the following season, but did not see regular season game time.
2 Deion Sanders - Washington Redskins
Based on what we’ve seen on this list – and we’ll see more of it with the number one player – the Washington Redskins definitely don’t seem to have the best luck in terms of signing players who are worth their massive free agent contracts. One of them is none other than Deion Sanders. In 2000, Sanders signed a seven-year, $53 million contract with the Redskins. Not only did it seem ill-advised in general to sign a 34-year-old player to such a long and lucrative contract, but Sanders did the Redskins organization and their fans few favours on the field. The former cornerback/baseball player played only one of those seven seasons before retiring, only getting four interceptions.
1 Albert Haynesworth - Washington Redskins
Of all NFL free agent signings that ended up going horribly wrong given the money invested in that signing, this one has to take the cake. When he was given a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins in 2009, Albert Haynesworth immediately became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. After he only played two full seasons with the Redskins, during which he was nothing short of a headache for the team’s coaching staff, it’s pretty clear as to why Haynesworth takes the top spot. Once the 2010 season was over, and once he’d gotten a career-low in tackles, the former longtime Tennessee Titan was traded to the New England Patriots in 2011 for a fifth round draft pick.
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