Ryan L. Fox
Free Agency. Two words that can create so much buzz among fans and media as well as so much frustration and anxiety among NFL general managers. Since 1993, everybody waits till mid-March for when players with expiring contracts hit the free agent market at the beginning of the league’s new year. With the start of free agency just around the corner now, many NFL media and writers have been speculating which free agents will sign where.
But sometimes this can also be a dangerous time. Sometimes a team will lock up a free agent to a big-time contract and it ends up looking like a disaster. Whether it’s due to injury, uninspiring play, or just overzealous GMs with too much money in their pockets, these free agents were unable to perform/replicate the success they had that lead them to being signed.
Now as we head into the 2021 offseason, let’s take a look back at some of the worse free agent signings this century. You may laugh, you may cringe, but hopefully if you’re a GM you won’t make the same mistakes as some of these teams did.
Honorable Mention: RB Ahmed Green, Houston Texans (2007) - Although he rushed for 1,059 yards and 5 TDs with the Green Bay Packers in 2006, Green became brown after he signed a 4-year, $23-million contract with the Texans during the 2007 NFL offseason. He only managed to play a combined 14 games in 2 years, amassing a total of 554 yards and 5 TDs before being ultimately cut in 2009.
15. LT Nate Solder, New York Giants (2018) – In his first year as Giants GM, David Gettleman vowed to fix the offensive line woes by bringing in the former Patriots LT to the tune of a 4-year, $62 million with $34.8 million guaranteed at signing. After blocking QB Tom Brady’s blindside for 7 years, Solder was asked to do the same with Eli Manning. But Solder struggled in his first year with Big Blue and then his performance dipped further downwards in 2019. Following an opt-out year in 2020 during the COVID pandemic (which was the right decision given his medical history and the medical history of his son), Solder announced he was opting back in to play. But by doing that, he brought in a $16.5 million cap hit to the books, which is putting the already cap-strapped Giants in a precarious situation.
14. WR David Boston, San Diego Chargers (2003) – A classic tale of a young player unable to reach his full potential. Boston put up some stats in his early years with the Arizona Cardinals, including an impressive 2001 campaign (98 catches for 1,598 yards and 8 TDs) that lead to a Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro appearance. Although his following 2002 wasn’t as impressive (32 catches for 512 yards and 1 TD), Boston hit free agency and was inked to a 7-year, $47.4 million with the San Diego Chargers in 2003. His first year on paper seemed like it would be an indicator of good things to come (70 catches for 880 yards and 7 TDs), but Boston degenerated into problematic player in the locker room (i.e. cursing out and arguing with coaches, poor attitude in practice). After missing the entire 2004 season due to injury, the Chargers ended up shipping Boston down to Miami for a late round pick in 2005.
13. CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles (2011) – This takes me back. During the mid to late 2000s, Asomugha became a household name down in Oakland with the Raiders and then the NFL. He was considered to be the penultimate shutdown corner that was able to lockdown one side of the field and forced opposing NFL QBs to not throw his way. Following an impressive 3-year time period (2008-2010) that saw 3 Pro Bowl appearances and 2 First Team All-Pro honors, Asomugha hit the free agent market in 2011 and was inked by the Philadelphia Eagles to a 5-year, $60-million deal. Unfortunately for Asomugha, he couldn’t replicate his success with the Raiders and was torched by opposing receivers repeatedly. He was ultimately released in 2013 and out of the league in 2014.
12. LB Adalius Thomas, New England Patriots (2007) – He was the first free agent signing during the Belichick Era that the team ‘backed the Brinks truck up’ for. Coming off a stellar Pro Bowl year in 2006 with the Baltimore Ravens (83 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 INT), Thomas was inked to an impressive 5-year, $35 million deal with the Patriots. After a solid 2007 season (79 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 8 passes defended), it all went downhill. A injury-filled 2008 season was followed by a tumultuous 2009 season that saw his numbers dip even further, him getting into the ‘Belichick doghouse’ (i.e. being late to practice due to a snowstorm) that lead to healthy scratches, and war with words with the Boston media (the “Motivation is for kindergartners” when asked if the healthy scratches would be used as motivation). Thomas ended up getting cut by the Patriots a day before the 2010 NFL Draft.
11. QB Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears (2017) – When it comes to free agent QBs, even being just average will get you a big-time deal. For the first 3-years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Glennon saw most playing time coming in as a back-up (total 374-for-630 for 4,100 yards, 30 TDs, and 15 INTs for a cumulative 84.6 QB rating). Desperate for a quarterback, the Chicago Bears inked Glennon to a 3-year, $45 million contract during the 2017 offseason. Glennon’s tenure with the Bears last just 4 games as he went 93-for-140 for 833 yards, 4 TDs, and 5 INTs (to go along with 3 fumbles lost) for a QB rating of 76.9 while the team went 1-3 during that span. He was promptly benched in Week 5 in favor of rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky (woof!) and was promptly released just prior to the start of the 2018 NFL League year.
9. LB Lavar Arrington, New York Giants (2006) – Drafted No. 2 overall by the Washington Football Team back in 2000, Lavar was going to be the next big time WFT player. From 2001-03, he posted 90+ tackles each season, played all 16 games, and was named to 3 Pro Bowls during that span. But then from 2004-05, Lavar’s on-field performance production declined due to injuries and he had a fallout with WFT head coach Joe Gibbs and defensive coordinator Greg Williams. That didn’t deter Giants GM Ernie Acorsi from going out in the 2006 NFL offseason and sign Lavar to a 7-year, $49 million contract. The payoff was not worth the investment. Lavar ended up recording just 16 tackles, 1.0 sacks, and 3 passes defended in 6 games with the Giants before rupturing his achilles in a Week 7 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. He was placed on IR before then being released by the team on February 12, 2007.
9. TE Martellus Bennet, Green Bay Packers (2017) – Up to that point, Bennett has had an interesting NFL career. While a solid performer on the field, his off-field antics (posting questionable content on social media or throwing teammates under the bus) as well as attitude has drawn heavy criticism against him. Following a successful 2016 campaign with the New England Patriots (55 catches for 701 yards and 7 TDs) that ended with a Super Bowl victory, Bennett was inked to a 3-year, $21 million with the Green Bay Packers. Then he was ultimately cut by the Packers midway through the season via “failure to disclose a medical condition” designation (it was found out later he had torn rotator cuff and labrum in his left shoulder).
To add insult to injury (heh), Bennett tried to throw the Packers team doctor, Pat McKenzie, under the bus by saying he misdiagnosed the TE’s injury and forcing him to play through it but failed miserably (many current and former Packers players came out to defend Pat with their own accounts to disprove Bennett). It then came out later that Bennett was unhappy with his role on the Packers offense, showed little effort during practice, and ultimately quit on his team. For his only season with the Packers, Bennett played in just 7 games while posting 24 catches for 233 yards and 0 TDs and created a hole in TE for the Packers that has yet to be filled.
8. RB DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles (2015) – A classic example of why sometimes it’s not the best idea to try a poach a rival’s star player from them. In 2014 with the Dallas Cowboys, Murray lead the league in rushing attempts (392), rushing yards (1,845), rushing yards per game (115.3), and was tied with Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks for league lead in rushing touchdowns (13). Murray was also named to the Pro Bowl, was First Team All-Pro, and named AP Offensive Player of the Year. Then in the following 2015 offseason, there was a bidding war between the Cowboys and Eagles. The Eagles offered a 5-year, $42 million deal with 21 million guaranteed while the Cowboys only offered a 4-year, $24 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. Murray chose the Eagles and it seemed Philly got the star running back they wanted for their offense.
But instead of a star, they got a dud. Murray only started 8 games for the Eagles in 2015 with 193 rushing attempts for 702 yards and 8 TDs, less than half of his 2014 numbers. Where he had success running behind the Cowboys offense line, Murray struggled immensely behind the Eagles O-line to find running lanes. Not to mention he began to voice his frustration to ownership about being underused and having to split carries with the other backs on the roster (Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles). Murray was then traded in the 2016 offseason, along with a 4th round pick, to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for a 4th round pick in the upcoming draft.
7. QB Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars 2019 – After bouncing around the league in the early half of his career, Foles came into his own late in the 2017 season. Filling in for an injured Carson Wentz, Foles lead the Eagles throughout their playoff run that concluded with a Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots and him getting names MVP. Then in 2018, Foles again took over for an injured Wentz late in the season and led the Eagles on another playoff run that ultimately ended with a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round. The Eagles tried to sign Foles to a $20 million player option, but he opted out in favor of free agency. Foles was scooped up by the Jacksonville Jaguars on a 4-year, $88 million with $50.1 million guaranteed and could max out at $102 million if he hit certain incentives.
Foles was paid and the Jaguars ended up paying for it. In Week 1 of the 2019 season, Foles suffered a broken left clavicle in the first quarter in a game against the Chiefs that forced him to miss over half the season. When he came back from the injury, he went winless as a starter in 4 starts (0-4) and went 77-for-117 for 736 yards, 3TDs, and 2 INTs for a QB rating of 84.6. Foles ended up getting benched in favor of rookie QB Gardner Minshew II and ultimately was traded to the Chicago Bears for a 2020 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL offseason.
6. CB Deion Sanders, Washington Football Team (2000) – You’re probably asking yourself how the hell is “Prime Time”, an NFL Hall of Famer and arguably one of the best shutdown corners to ever play the game make this list. Well…WFT happened. See, we all know about the accolades of Deion. Multiple Pro Bowls appearances, named First Team All-Pro numerous times, named to the 90s All Decade team, plus 2 Super Bowl rings during his time with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys from 1989-1999. But then on June 2, 2000, following a Pro Bowl year in 1999, Deion was cut by the Cowboys in a salary cap saving move. He didn’t have to wait long as Prime Time was heading down to DC to play for the Washington Football Team on a whooping 7-year, $56 million contract.
Instead of getting arguably the best corner of the 90s, they just got a shell of his former self. Although he posted up adequate numbers in 2000 with WFT (41 tackles, 4 INTs, 9 passes defended, and 2 fumble recoveries), Deion looked gassed and out of sorts. He looked like he had lost a step and wasn’t really interested in playing football at the time. To add insult to injury to WFT, Deion abruptly retired at the end of the 2000 NFL season just 1-year into his 7-year deal.
5. RB Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (2018)
There have been a plethora of bad free agent signings by the Jets over the years (LB CJ Mosley, CB Trumaine Johnson to name a few). But none was more outrageous than Le’Veon Bell. From 2013-17, Bell was considered one of the top all-around backs in the NFL. During that timeframe, Bell massed 1,229 carries for 5,336 yards and 35 TDs to go along with 312 catches for 2,660 yards and 7 TDs with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But when the team franchised him in 2018, Bell absolutely refused to play for it and sat out the entire year. When the 2019 offseason came, the New York Jets splurged on the former Steelers RB to the tune of 4-years, $52.5 million with $35 million guaranteed, making him the 3rd highest paid running that year behind Ezekiel Elliot of Dallas ($15 million) and Todd Gurley of the LA Rams ($14.4 million).
And just like any Jets free agent signings, Bell turned out to be a bust. He finished the year with 245 carries for 789 yards and 3 TDS to go along with 66 catches for 461 yards and 1 TD. Then in 2020, his numbers dropped even further to the tune of 63 carries for 254 yards and 2 TDS and a paltry 13 catches for 99 yards. Bell topped off the drop of numbers with missing time due to a hamstring injury and then going off on social media about the Jets, saying that they should trade him. Bell was ultimately released on October 13 during the season but not after making $28 million (or approx. $90.9K per carry) during his 1 ½ years with the team.
4. WR Javon Walker, Oakland Raiders (2008)
During the 2000s, the Raiders were pretty much known as the dregs of the NFL. They were a punchline for sports columnists everywhere between high draft picks that turned into busts and free agent signings that blew up in their face. One particular free agent signing stung the most during that time period and that was former Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos wideout Javon Walker.
Before coming to Oakland, Walker was a mixed bag. He showed flashes of talent that made him a No. 1 receiving option (89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs with the Packers in 2004 & 69 catches for 1,084 yards and 8 TDs with the Broncos in 2006). But mixed in those flashes were seasons cut short due to injuries (a torn ACL 2005 and a right knee injury in 2007) plus some contract negotiations that went south (2005 season with Packers). After being released by the Broncos in the 2008 offseason, Raiders owner Al Davis decided to ink Walker to a 6-year, $55 million deal ($16 million guaranteed) to be a No. 1 option for then franchise QB JaMarcus Russell (I’ll be honest, I cringed when I typed that out). And in true Raiders fashion, the deal blew up in the team’s face.
3. QB Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans 2016
As I mentioned previously, just being an average QB or just have a few good starts will get you a big-time deal in the NFL nowadays (don’t ask why NFL GMs overspend on this, you can’t reason with stupid). In the case of Brock Osweiler, it was a de facto GM (in Bill O’Brien) with the Houston Texans that got hooked on a few good games and became stupid with his money.
For much of his career with the Denver Broncos (from 2012-2014), Osweiler was just a clipboard holder while QB Peyton Manning ran the show. But then in 2015, when Peyton was breaking down and ultimately went down for most of the season due to plantar fasciitis, Osweiler stepped into the starting role. He started 7 games for the Broncos that season, posting a stat line of 170-for-275 (61.8 % completion) for 1,967 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INT, and a QB rating of 86.4 while the team went 5-2 during that stretch. Osweiler ultimately returned to the bench while Manning came back from his injury and helped guide the team to a Super Bowl L victory over the Carolina Panthers. Nevertheless, the 2012 2nd-round pick out of Arizona State caught the eyes of a few NFL teams. During the 2016 offseason, Osweiler signed a 4-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans to become their starting QB.
Houston fans saw in 2016 why Osweiler was a glorified back-up. For the season, Osweiler went 301-for-510 (59.0% completion) for 2,957 yards, 15 TDs, and franchise record of 16 INTs, and posted a QB rating of 72.2. He got relegated to the bench in favor of backup QB Todd Savage, only to come in after Savage was knocked out with a concussion late in the year and was under center during for Texans during their playoff run that year. After a so-so performance against the Oakland Raiders in the Wildcard, the Texans squared off against the New England Patriots in the Divisional round. Once again, Osweiler was not up to the task as he went 23-for-40 for 198 yards, 1TD, and threw 3 picks as the Texans were bounced by the Patriots 34-16.
Osweiler then became the first player in NFL history to be traded for salary cap reasons as he was shipped to the Cleveland Browns (along with a couple of picks) in exchange for a 2017 4th round compensatory pick, ending his short-lived tenure in Houston.
2. CB Josh Norman, Washington Football Team (2016)
This feels all too familiar. A player has the best season of his NFL career in a contract year, signs megadeal with a new team, and cannot replicate just half the success he had in his contract year. That was the case of CB Josh Norman.
From 2012-2014, Norman barely started for the Carolina Panthers as he kept getting passed over for other players. He also had problems with communication in the secondary, which resulted in opposing receivers getting open for scores. It wasn’t until towards the end of the 2014 where he finally cracked the starting line-up, performing adequately in his last two games. But when the 2015 NFL season came around (and final year in his rookie deal), Norman had a career year.
He had career bests in interceptions (4), defensive touchdowns (2), forced fumbles (3), and fumble recoveries (2), and had 18 passes defended (tied for 7th best that year in the NFL) to go along with 56 tackles. But the most impressive stats was the fact that during the season, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 54.0 when throwing in his direction (the best in the entire NFL) and he held the likes of wideouts DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, and Dez Bryant to a combined 9 catches for 89 yards and 0 TDs. Norman was named to the 2015 Pro Bowl, was named First Team All-Pro, and was ranked the 11th on the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2016. He was also a key component in the Panthers’ defense that ranked in the top 10 in total yards and points allowed and the team’s Super Bowl run that year.
But at the same token, he struggled against New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in what would be a career defining game for both players. During the contest, Odell and Norman got into many physical altercations with one another during the game which resulted in multiple personal foul penalties against each player. Not to mention that Odell had the most success against Norman (4 catches for 30 yard and 2 TD).
In the 2016 NFL offseason, the Panthers used the franchise tag on Norman to try and negotiate a long-term deal. Unfortunately, both sides couldn’t come to an agreement on a deal and the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag and Norman became a free agent. He didn’t last long on the market as he was signed just 2 days after becoming a free agent by the Washington Football Team. He signed a 5-year, $75 million ($51.1 million guaranteed) contract, making him the highest paid defensive back in NFL history at that time.
It seemed that the WFT got the cornerback they always wanted. Norman had a solid first year with the team in 2016, posting a stat line of 67 tackles, 3 INTs, and a career high 19 passes defended. But the honeymoon in DC was over. His stat line dropped from year to year during his time in DC, recording just a total of 4 interceptions and 24 passes defended over a combined 42 games from 2017 to 2019. Norman’s play also started to dip as he allowed opposing receivers to get open more frequently and was troubled by more miscommunication issues in the secondary. Towards the end of the 2019 season, Norman’s play became so bad that he was benched from starting and relegated to playing on special teams. He was ultimately released by the WFT on February 14, 2020.
1. DT Albert Haynesworth, Washington Football Team (2009)
Hey Hey Hey! It’s Faaaaaat Albert! Was there any surprise that Haynesworth was ranked No. 1 on this list (and that it was as Washington Football team free agent signing as well)? The Haynesworth free agent signing is considered by almost every NFL sportswriter to be not only the worst contract in WFT franchise history but the worst free agent contract in NFL history. If you are still not familiar with the who scenario, stick around as you might learn a thing or two.
Drafted 15th overall in the 2002 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee by the Tennessee Titans, Haynesworth was plugged into the defensive as big-time run stopper and a force on the defensive line. Although he didn’t play a full season during his time with the Titans since his rookie year in 2002 (most games played was 14 in 2005), Haynesworth put up solid numbers as a defensive tackle from 2002 to 2006 (averaged about 36 tackles, 7 tackles for losses, 2.0 sacks, 3 passes defended per season during that span).
Then during the 2007 season, Haynesworth had a career year. Playing in 13 games (12 starts), he finished with 40 tackles, 12 tackles for losses, 6.0 sacks, and a career high 5 passes defended. He was named to the 2007 Pro Bowl as well as named First Team All-Pro that year. He was then was had the franchise tag placed on him as he spent the entire 2008 season playing under it. Haynesworth ended up having the best year of his career with the Titans that year. For the year, Haynesworth had 51 tackles (including a career high 41 solo), 2 passes defended, career highs in tackle for losses (15), QB hits (22), sacks (8.5), and forced fumbles (3), and tied a career high in fumble recoveries (2). He was named to his 2nd consecutive Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro that year as well.
But with that time in Tennessee, there were some concerns with Haynesworth both on the field and off the field. In 2003, he got into a physical altercation with teammate C Justin Hartwig during training camp that resulted in Haynesworth kicking Hartwig in the chest. In 2006, Haynesworth had arrest warrants out for a traffic incident but had the charges dropped due to the incident being outside of jurisdiction of the.
Then later that year in a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Haynesworth got into an in-game altercation with Cowboys C Andre Gurode where Haynesworth took off Gurode’s helmet and stomped on his head (Gurode received 30 stitches for a gash above his right eye from the stomping) that resulted in a 5 game suspension without pay. Then in 2008, he got into a car accident where he hit another car on the highway that sent it into a jersey barrier, causing the other driver to become partially paralyzed afterwards (Haynesworth refused to accept responsibility, offer an apology, and pay for the other driver’s medical expenses and ended up being indicted on it a year later).
But those on- and off-field incidents that didn’t deter NFL teams from wanting to sign him. On the first day of free agency on February 27, 2009 it was announced that the Washington Football Team signed Haynesworth to a monstrous 7-year, $100 million with $41 million guaranteed, pay him $32 million within the first 13 months, and reach a max of $115 million if Haynesworth hit all his incentives.
That contract soon became one of the worst mistakes the WFT ever did. Right off the bat, Haynesworth proved to be a headache. He refused to show up to off-season workouts and when he did show up to training camp, he was overweight, out-of-shape, and failed a basic fitness test. The defensive tackle also clashed with the WFT coaching staff, saying he refused to play the NT in a 3-4 defensive scheme and wanted to play a regular DT in a 4-3 scheme. Haynesworth actually got placed on the WFT restricted list for conduct detrimental in early December and remained there until the end of the 2009 season. His numbers took a dive as he just registered 37 tackles, 6 tackles for losses, 13 QB hits, and 4.0 sacks.
In 2010, things got even worse. How you may ask? Well first, he was sued by Clayton Bank & Trust for failure to make payments on a $2.38 million loan. Then he was sued by an NY stripper for $10 million in a paternity suit. And that was just the non-football side of it.
On the football side of it, Haynesworth continued to clash with the WFT coaching staff. He refused to show up for practices, citing various excuses such as ‘illness’, and when he did show up, he was out-of-shape or refused to cooperate with the coaches. But his greatest offense came during a 59-28 blowout loss against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
Everybody who tuned saw on a play, Haynesworth get blocked down onto the ground and just lay there, motionless as the play went on around him. He finally got up afterwards, but the damage had already been done. Millions of football fans saw a grown man regress to a toddler and quit on his team live on national television. To add even more insult, Haynesworth stat line for the season was embarrassing. He played in a career-low 8 games, had career lows in tackles (16), QB hits (5), and passes defended (1), 6 tackles for losses, and 2.5 sacks.
The WFT management had enough of Haynesworth as he was dealt to the New England Patriots during training camp in 2011 for a 5th-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Yeah, it was that bad that the WFT traded for a late round pick in a draft 2 years later.
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