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The 50 Worst NFL Free Agent Signings of the Last 25 Years

Brett Favre Douchebag

A common thread amongst NFL Fans is they always have a shopping list of players they think will finally push their teams to the promised land. But as with all things in life, there’s no guarantees. Here at Dubsism, we’ve already warned you about pinning your hopes on the NFL Draft when we pointed out the 10 worst picks since 2000.  Yesterday, we gave you an explanation of how the NFL Salary Cap works so that your “shopping lists” could be more realistic.

Today’s cautionary tale is all about signing players in free agency. Sometimes, this can be hugely successful in terms of rounding out a championship team.  Just ask the New England Partriots about how much the mid-season gamble on LeGarrette Blount paid-off in terms of that team’s run to another Super Bowl title.

That brings us to three main points you will discover throughout this piece. First, free agency shares the very same dangers with the draft; it’s as easy to shaft your team as it is to save it. That’s why it’s a gamble, and the stakes only go up with guys like Blount who don’t have the best track records. But with high stakes come high rewards. That’s why teams you will see often on this list keep placing their bets, and for the most part it is why those teams are not exactly what you would call winners.

50) Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks

Later on in this list, you will see the warning about falling in love with back-up quarterbacks.  At Dubsism, we call it the “Scott Mitchell Rule,” which is why he appears on this list at #14.  The back-up quarterback is the NFL’s version of the “rebound girlfriend;” they don’t have to be good.  They just have to be the person you love now, and as long as the performance is adequate, you can be blinded to all sorts of warning signs.

This is what the Seahawks discovered about Flynn. they gave him a lot of money only to discover that some 3rd-round draft pick named Russell Wilson was going to be the guy to get them to two Super Bowls as of this writing. Back-up quarterbacks are back-up quarterback for a reason; very few of them have achieved great things in this league.

49) Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. The very genesis of this blog was all about warning Minnesota Viking fans that they couldn’t win a Super Bowl with a 40-year old quarterback held together with scotch tape and happy thoughts. But this isn’t about “I told you so;” rather it’s about how dropping $4o million on that fantasy has been directly responsible for the last four years of Viking irrelevancy. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the salary cap, it’s badly-spent money which can haunt a team for years.

48) David Boston, San Diego Chargers

This is the classic example of the “tough luck” signing, because at first this looked like it was going to pay off for the Chargers. In his first year in San Diego, Boston hauled in 70 passes for 880 yards and 7 touchdowns.  The problem was that was his only season in Charger blue; injuries ultimately ended his career and the Chargers had to eat the remainder of a 7-year, $47 million deal.

47) Adalius Thomas, New England Patriots

A myth about the New England Patriots is that Bill Belichick never makes player personnel mistakes. That’s bull. What makes the Patriots great is they know how to do damage control when they screw up. For example, they signed Albert Haynesworth-less AFTER the Washington debacle. They also managed not to let the signing of Adalius Thomas tank the team.

Thomas had an All -Pro season in 2006, after which the Pats inked him to a 5-year deal, $35 million deal.  The expectation was Thomas was going to give them the edge-pass rusher they desperately needed.  That never happened, and Thomas became a salary cap casualty in 2010.

46) Larry Brown, Oakland Raiders

Larry Brown defines the term “accidentally successful.” He becomes a Super Bowl MVP with the Dallas Cowboys only because then-Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell gift-wrapped two interceptions for him.  Brown took those gifts to the customer service and exchanged them for a 5-year, $12.5 million contract with the Oakland Raiders in 1996. For that money, Brown gave the Raiders exactly 12 games played before they waived him in 1998.

45) Neil O’Donnell, New York Jets

Brown and O’Donnell will be forever linked in my mind because they made each other’s careers.  I’ve already explained Brown, but I’m not sure anybody can explain the Jets’ signing of O’Donnell.   First of all, Neil O’Donnell was never a great quarterback, and it wasn’t until after his Super Bowl-losing performance when the Jets decided giving him a 5-year, $25 million deal was a good idea.  He only played two seasons with the Jets before they pulled the rip cord, and in that time, O’Donnell posted a 8-12 record while completing only 56.9 percent of his passes.

44) Nate Odomes, Seattle Seahawks

There was a point in time when Nate Odomes was an All-Pro with the Buffalo Bills, but that success was never replicated in Seattle after the Seahawks signed him to a 4-year deal, $8.4 million deal sweetened by a $2.2 million signing bonus.  This is because Odomes blew out a knee prior to the start of the 1994 season, then blew it out again a year later. The end result was Odomes never played a single game for Seattle.

43) Duane Starks, Arizona Cardinals

When you sign a player in free agency, four things can happen, and three of them are bad; those being the player has nothing left in the tank, the player doesn’t produce because he was over-rated, or the player gets hurt and never becomes a factor.  Duane Starks is the classic example of the latter. Starks was a borderline Pro Bowl player in his time with the Baltimore Ravens, which is why Arizona gave him a 5-year, $23 million deal in 2002.   He only lasted two seasons in Arizona because he was always injured.

42) Ahman Green, Houston Texans

Green is another example of those three bad things I just mentioned. Signing Ahman Green to a 4-year, $23 million contract was just a bad idea for the Houston Texans because the guy was 100% used up. For $23 million, Green played in only 14 games over two seasons.

41) Javon Walker, Oakland Raiders

Leave it to the Raiders to screw up a great idea. When you snag a key player from a division rival, you double your money because you’ve not only strengthened your roster…you’ve weakened the other. The problem arises when you try to do this with the wrong player.

Enter Javon Walker.  The Raiders had eyes for Walker because he is the tall, physical wide receiver which are so much in vogue across the NFL today, and the fact they were stealing him from a divisional foe in the Denver Broncos was only a plus. So, the Raiders lock up Walker with a 6-year deal worth $55 million, only to discover he may very be the most over-rated wide receiver this side of Percy Harvin. Walker’s career in silver and black added up to 15 receptions for 196 yards and a single touchdown.

40) Joe Johnson, Green Bay Packers

Joe Johnson was a two-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints, but once he left “the “Big Easy,” his career tanked faster than the Exxon Valdez and the Philadelphia 76ers combined.  Green Bay gave Johnson a 6-year, $33 million deal; for which he would play only 11 games due to frequent injuries.

39) Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals

I can’t imagine how the Arizona Cardinals actually thought Emmitt Smith had anything left in the tank after his 12 Hall-of-Fame seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.  They gave him a 2-year deal worth $8 million, and for that they got 25 games, 3.3 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns.

38) Antwaan Randle-El, Washington Redskins

Outside of the guy from from Guns N’ Roses, there were two players in the 90’s we all called “Slash.” In the NFL this was a nice way of saying guys like Kordell Stewart and Antwaan Randle-El could be ineffective at two positions. Now, Randle-El could occasionally make a play as a wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but once the Redskins signed him 7-year, $31 million contract, he immediately became useless as a quarterback, wide receiver, and return man.

37) Elvis Grbac, Baltimore Ravens

How many teams are looking to upgrade at quarterback the year after they won a Super Bowl? A team whose Super Bowl champion quarterback is named Trent Dilfer.  That leaves us with a set of undeniable facts. Trent Dilfer sucked, and that trip to the Pro Bowl Grbac had as a Kansas City Chief made the Ravens think he didn’t suck.

They were wrong. Grbac is an old Serbian word meaning “to suck on whole wheat toast.”

36) Edgerton Hartwell, Atlanta Falcons

This might be the most inexplicable signing on this list. Hartwell was little more than a special teams guy when the Falcons gave him a 6-year, $26.25 million contract. In return, Hartwell gave the Falcons 13 games played and 63 tackles before becoming a salary cap victim in 2007.

35) Yancey Thigpen, Tennessee Titans

In 1998, the Tennessee Titans signed wide receiver Yancey Thigpen to a 5-year, $21 million deal. To this day, nobody knows why. Thigpen only played in parts of three seasons; catching 91 passes and scoring just nine touchdowns.

34) Andre Rison, Cleveland Browns

Thus begins a long stretch on this list of team signing guys who had nothing left in the tank. Andre Rison may have been one of the better wide receivers in the league during his day, but those days were over by the time the Browns sunk $17 million over 5 years in him.  They left him in Cleveland when they moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens.

33) Desmond Howard, Oakland Raiders

There’s a host of reasons why the Raiders show up on this list as often as they do. One of them is the Raiders just can’t resist tossing money at guys who are shells of what they used to be.  By the time Oakland plopped a 4-year deal worth $6 million in front of Desmond Howard, he was nowhere near his Heisman-winning, Super Bowl MVP form. That came out to $3 million per touchdown Howard scored in silver and black.

32) Bert Emanuel, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

At one point in Atlanta, Emanuel was a respectable wide receiver , but that ended once he inked a 4-year deal for $16.4 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1998.  After that, Emmanuel became a non-factor with a nice bank account. In two seasons in Tampa, Emanuel caught 63 passes and scored 3 touchdowns.

31) Edgerrin James, Arizona Cardinals

Emmitt Smith showed the Cardinals’ affinity for washed-up running backs.  The Indianapolis Colts made the right call on this guy when they let the Pro Bowl running back take a hike.   See, the Colts knew something the Cardinals didn’t. The folks in Arizona thought the “E” stood for “Edgerrin,” where the Colts knew it meant where James’ tank was. That’s why the Cardinals signed James  4-year contract worth $30 million with a whopping $11.5 million signing bonus. The Cardinals ended up eating a lot of that money because James was never able to recapture his form.

30) Jake Delhomme, Cleveland Browns

This signing isn’t on the list because of the money, it’s on the list because by 2010, there was no possible reason for an NFL team to sign Jake Delhomme.  It was obvious to everybody except the Cleveland Browns he was finished, but the Browns decided to spend  $7 million to find that out.  Delhomme was pathetic; he went 2-2 as a starter with as many touchdowns compared against 5 picks.

29) Derek Anderson, Arizona Cardinals

You can call this signing Delhomme II. It was another 2 year, $7 million-ish deal for a quarterback who had little to offer.  12 games played and  51.7 completion percentage is what 7 large got Arizona.

28) Sean Gilbert, Carolina Panthers

Here’s another example of underutilized talent.  Sean Gilbert could have been worth that monstrous 7-year, $46 million deal, but he decided to phone it in to the tune of 15.5 sacks in 56 games played.

27) Alvin Harper, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Usually the term “system player” is reserved for quarterbacks, but there’s really no denying being a Jimmy Johnson-era Dallas Cowboy made Alvin Harper’s career. His production in Dallas prompted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to give him a 4-year, $10.6 million deal, for which they got 65 receptions and 3 touchdowns over two seasons.

26) Lawrence Phillips, San Francisco 49ers

Phillips was another classic case of million-dollar talent with a five-cent brain. Not to mention, he was simply a bad human being. Even Dick Vermeil turned his back on this guy. In other words, the fact the 49ers even bothered with this guy at all is perplexing enough; let alone they did it for a dime over the league minimum for veterans.

25) Kerry Collins, Oakland Raiders

Forget about this is yet another entry on this list mentioning the Oakland Raiders. This one is all about being desperate for a quarterback. While Kerry Collins may have had a few glory days with the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans, those days were long gone when the Raiders gave him multi-year big money in 2004. Collins took the Raiders to a 7-21 record.

24) Mike Vanderjagt, Dallas Cowboys

Let’s be honest, there’s about 5 kickers in the history of the NFL who were worth their weight in Spam, and the Dallas Cowboys found out Mike Vanderjagt wasn’t one of them. They realized this in 2006 when they signed him to a 3-year deal for $4.5 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus, for which he made just 13 of his 18 field goal attempts.

23) Chuck Smith, Carolina Panthers

Chuck Smith was a sack machine prior to hitting the free agent market in 2000. However, somehow the act of signing a 5-year, $21 million deal turned off the power to that machine.  He never played a down for the Panthers due to injuries.

22) Jeremiah Trotter, Washington Redskins

When a team is willing to let one if it’s star player walk in a contract year, it either means they have salary cap issues, or they know something.  In the case of Trotter, the Philadelphia Eagles knew something, which is why they let Trotter head down I-95 to Washington for a 7-year, $36 million deal.  Trotter lasted just two seasons in Washington, recording 150 tackles and a scant 1.5 sacks.

21) Dale Carter, Denver Broncos

When Dale Carter became a free agent in 1999, the Denver Broncos gave him a dump-truck full of money to steal him away from the Kansas City Chiefs. In return for a 4-year, $22 million contract, Carter gave the Broncos a year-long suspension for his fourth violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

20) Thomas Smith, Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears were desperate for help in the defensive secondary in 2000, which is why they offered Smith a 5-year, $22.5 million deal.  He might as well have been a face on a milk carton; he added absolutely nothing and was cut the next year.

19) Laveranues Coles, Cincinnati Bengals

During his prime, Laveranues Coles was one of the most productive wide receivers in recent memory, but his time with the Cincinnati Bengals is the definition of forgettable.  The Bengals inked Coles to a 4-year, $28 million deal, but he only lasted one season in which he caught 43 passes and scored 5 touchdowns.

18) Chester McGlockton, Kansas City Chiefs

With the Oakland Raiders, McGlockton was a dominant inside presence on the defensive line, which is why the Kansas City Chiefs gave up two first-round draft picks to sign the restricted free agent in 1998.  For that, McGlockton played three seasons in Kansas City, during which he racked up seven…count ’em…seven sacks.

17) Jeff George, Washington Redskins

George might be the purest example of million-dollar talent married to a five-cent brain. I’ve never seen a quarterback who could throw the ball like Jeff George, and I’ve never seen a guy who had more coaches and teammates who wanted to punch him in the mouth. He would easily score high on the Dubsism Quarterback Douchebag Scale.

Because he was such an asshole, he got run out of Purdue and it’s Cradle of Quarterbacks. Because he was such an asshole, he got run out of the same Colts franchise which brought you Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, and Bert “What Might Have Been” Jones.  After that, his objectionable demeanor got him shown the door in quarterback-thirsty places like Atlanta, Oakland, and Minnesota, which is exactly why the Redskins saw fit to offer him a 4-year, $18 million contract.

He played two seasons for Washington, compiling a record of 1-6.

16) Adam Archuleta, Washington Redskins

If there was a team out there who would make a completely inexplicable move, like turning a quasi-failed first-round draft pick into the highest-paid safety in the league, who would your likely suspects be? If you said “the Washington Redskins,” raise your hands.

Leave it to Dan Snyder to sign Archuleta to an outrageous 7-year, $35 million contract.  The actual deal turned out to be for only 16 games, with only seven of those started by Archuleta. Naturally, the Redskins released him the next year and took a massive salary cap hit.

15) Jeff Garcia, Cleveland Browns

Once again, this is an example of a team seeing something which simply isn’t there. The Browns thought Garcia could be a franchise quarterback, but his years in San Francisco should have shown otherwise. So, the Browns invested in a 4-year, $25 million contract; an investment which saw Garcia lead the Browns to a 3-7 record, 9 interceptions in ten games and a weak 76.7 quarterback rating.

14) Scott Mitchell, Detroit Lions

Scott Mitchel is what happens when you fall in love with a back-up quarterback.  It’s pretty obvious Mitchell was better off as Dan Marino’s backup than he was as an NFL starting quarterback.  Mitchell was hot property in 1994 when he signed a 3-year deal worth $11 million with the Detroit Lions.  That was the biggest disaster in the Motor City since the Edsel.

13) Hugh Douglas, Jacksonville Jaguars

Hugh Douglas was a two-time All-Pro before he agreed to a 5-year, $27.11 million with a $5 million signing bonus.  After that, Douglas notched 3.5 sacks in his first and only season since he was released before the start of the 2004 season.

12) Langston Walker, Buffalo Bills

This is an example of the danger of huge signing bonuses. Walker received a signing bonus of $10 million with the Buffalo Bills back in 2007 which was the capper on a 5-year deal with  $25 million in salary. For that. Walker bounced around various positions on the Bills’ offensive prior to being released before the 2009 season.

11) Dunta Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

A lot of people don’t know this, but “Dunta” is actually an old Swahili word meaning “helmet-to-helmet.” The fact he doesn’t understasnd the new rules about head shots is only part of why he’s proving not to be worth the 6-year, $57 million contract the Falcons gave him in 2010.  He’s been a model of inconsistency ever since.

10) LeCharles Bentley, Cleveland Browns

Bentley looked like a Hall of Fame center with the New Orleans Saints prior to becoming a free agent in 2006.  Then he inked a 6-year, $36 million contract, including $12.5 million of guaranteed money.  Bentley was frequently injured and suffered multiple staph infections and never played a game in a Browns uniform. This is why you don’t see contracts with guaranteed money much any more.

9) Jerry Porter, Jacksonville Jaguars

At one time, Jerry Porter was a pretty solid NFL wide receiver.  Then he signed a free agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008.  They gave him a 6-year, $30 million deal with $10 million of it guaranteed. In other words, Porter got $10 million for one season in which he caught 11 passes for 181 yards and a single touchdown.

8 ) Daryl Gardener, Denver Broncos

In terms of the playing time to money ratio, this is might be one of the worst deals on this list for guys who actually made it on to the field. The Denver Broncos gave Daryl Gardener a 7-year contract worth $34.8 million, sweetened by a $5 million signing bonus.  Not only was Gardener the classic locker room cancer, but he only played in five games over the life of that contract.

7) Derrick Dockery, Buffalo Bills

It’s alright if you never heard of Derrick Dockery.  One, he played in Buffalo.  Two, he was an offensive lineman. Three, he only wore a Bills uniform for two seasons. But during that time, he was one of the richest guards in the league once the Bills saw fit to give him a 7-year, $49 million contract with an incredible $18 million signing bonus.

6) Antonio Bryant, TWICE –  Once with with San Francisco 49ers and once with the Cincinnati Bengals

Antonio Bryant was one of those guys with just enough talent to make teams overlook the fact he was 100% chucklehead. At first, he inked a 4-year, $14 million contract with San Francisco, but the fact that he caught a scant 13 passes for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns combined with the fact he was a huge pain in the ass led to him being released the very next year.

Then there was a drug suspension and the single-season the Bucs used their franchise tag on Bryant, only to release him because of that “pain in the ass” issue. Not to mention there were stops in Dallas and Cleveland BEFORE San Francicso where that issue played a prominent role in Bryant’s premature departure.

Given all that, why the hell did the Cincinnati Bengals sign Antonio Bryant to a 4-year, $28 million contract after that, only to terminate that contract just months later? How bad was this signing?  The Bengals went out and signed Terrell Owens because he was less of a pain in the ass.

5) Dana Stubblefield, Washington Redskins

All it took to turn Stubblefield from an elite defensive lineman to an underachieving salary-cap destroyer was a signature on a six-year $36 million contract with the Redskins. During the life of that contract, Stubblefield played in only 38 games while recording only 7 sacks.

4) Deion Sanders, Washington Redskins

This one made me wonder if Redskins owner Dan Snyder had cable. How could anybody look at a 33-year old Deion Sanders who was clearly in the twilight of his career and think that giving him a 7-year deal worth $56 million was even remotely a good idea.  Sanders played a single season with Washington and went from looking old to looking finished.

3) Jevon Kearse, Philadelphia Eagles

Jevon Kearse was one of the premier pass-rushers in his day. Too bad none of those days happened between 2004 and 2007 when Kearse was a Philadelphia Eagle. To make the move to the City of Brotherly Love, Kearse agreed to a 8-year, $65 million contract capped with a $16 million signing bonus.  Injuries were a factor in the Eagles deciding three years was enough for them to realize they needed to get out from under that huge deal.

2) Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins

Does it really surprise anybody the Washington Redskins have three of the top five entries on this list?

You can sum this up in two words: Albert Haynesworth-less.  He was a complete waste of talent and money. He has to be one of the biggest underachievers in NFL history. Haynesworth had a huge season in 2008 for the Tennessee Titans, after which he signed a 7 year, $100 million contract with Washington and earned about 40 bucks of it.  Because he would rather be a petulant dick over his role in the team’s defense, he managed to get enormously fat and only played in 20 games with the Redskins.

1) Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

As an Eagles fan, you can feel free to call me biased on this, but I hated the original signing of Michael Vick.  But the Eagles managed to double-down on that stupid bet by giving him $100 million over 6 years. For that, the Eagles got two seasons dogged by injury with marginal production at best and a crater in their salary cap.

I’m going to give you some time to digest this list, because in the near future, we are going to discuss which team has the worst understanding of how free agency actually works.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

5 comments on “The 50 Worst NFL Free Agent Signings of the Last 25 Years

  1. jbsptfn
    February 17, 2015

    As a Denver fan, I agree with you about Gardener. He was a joke. He got hurt in a fight at an IHOP that year or something.

    Also, great list, but here are some other FA’s that stand out since the last few years of the Plan B era:

    1. Roger Craig by Raiders, 1991: The 49ers got rid of this guy a year too late. Should have tried to trade him to Raiders in 1990 for Marcus Allen or something.

    2a and 2b. Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree, Broncos, 2008: Worst safety tandem ever.

    3. Dante Jones, MLB, Broncos, 1995: Was a good player in Chicago, but did nothing for the Broncos. Was out of football after that season.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ChrisHumpherys (@SportsChump)
    February 19, 2015

    Man, I remember back when we signed Alvin Harper. We had some high hopes for the guy. After all, he had just lit it up in Dallas.

    Only problem was the Bucs didn’t have AIkman, Emmitt or any offensive linemen worth their weight.

    So when Harper got to Tampa, he was pretty much exposed as totally useless.

    FYI… the two years he played in Tampa Bay, he had three touchdown receptions and didnt even combine for 1000 yards.

    You may want to consider moving him up on your list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jbsptfn
      February 19, 2015

      Yeah, Harper was better as a #2 WR.

      I remember when the Steelers were looking at him a year before he signed with Tampa (they wanted him when he came out of college but he was not there when they picked). He may have done somewhat better with them if they didn’t make him the clear-cut #1 guy. They had a bunch of solid WR’s at the time (Yancey Thigpen, Charles Johnson, Andre Hastings, and Ernie Mills), but no stars.

      Like

  3. Ravenation
    February 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on First Order Historians.

    Like

  4. Pingback: J-Dub and Meehan Breakdown The 32 Proposed NFL Helmet Designs: The NFC | Dubsism

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