After being crowned Super Bowl champions this preseason, the Philadelphia Eagles showed exactly why NFL free agency is anything but a sure thing. Despite adding veterans Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Vince Young, Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown, the “Dream Team” became a nightmare.
The phrase “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” should be the slogan of the time between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. Teams spend huge amounts of cash on free agents each season, but for every Darren Sproles to New Orleans, there’s at least one LaDainian Tomlinson to the Jets. For every Jonathan Joseph to Houston, there’s a Nate Clements to San Francisco — moves that flat out do not pan out.
But this list shows 20 times where NFL owners would have been better served lighting millions of dollars on fire and letting the ashes blow in the wind.
1. Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins, 2009 – When the clock struck midnight on February 27, 2009, the two-time All-Pro defensive tackle took no time whatsoever to bolt Tennessee for the unending pockets of Daniel Snyder and his Washington Redskins. Snyder handed Haynesworth a seven-year deal worth $100 million, including a staggering $41 million guaranteed. Haynesworth never fit any of the Redskins’ defensive schemes and quite frankly could not have cared any less. He failed multiple conditioning tests before the start of the 2010 season, was suspended by head coach Mike Shanahan for “conduct detrimental to the team” and was shown the door after his second season [shipped to New England for a fifth-round draft pick]. Haynesworth has fallen so far as that he was released by the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on February 15.
2. Javon Walker, Oakland Raiders, 2008 – The Raiders thought they hit the jackpot after signing the talented wideout to a six-year, $55 million [$16 million guaranteed] deal shortly following his release from rival Denver. Walker, almost the epitome of a one-year wonder, failed to contribute anything meaningful for the silver and black. In 11 career games, Walker caught 15 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown. By contrast, in his shining 2004 season with the Green Bay Packers, he caught 89 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 TD’s. The NFL effectively ended Walker’s playing career in 2010 when it suspended him, a free agent at the time, four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
3. Nate Odomes, Seattle Seahawks, 1994 – Odomes, a member of four AFC champion Buffalo Bills teams in the early 90s, qualifies for this list not for his play on the field, but for his inability to get on the field. After signing a four-year, $8.4 million deal, he blew out his knee during a charity basketball game and missed the entire 1994 season. The following season, he injured the same knee and was declared out for the year. In two seasons, he played zero games.
4. Dana Stubblefield, Washington Redskins, 1998 – You would have assumed Daniel Snyder would have learned his lesson before signing Haynesworth based on the results of this disastrous contract. Stubblefield, a three-time Pro Bowler and the 1997 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in San Francisco, earned a six-year, $36 million deal from the Redskins, including a lucrative $8 million signing bonus. The Redskins thought the tag team of Stubblefield and Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson would become the NFL’s preeminent run-stuffing force. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Stubblefield recorded only seven sacks in three seasons with the team, 3.5 sacks fewer than his rookie year alone. He returned to the 49ers in 2001, found his name attached to the BALCO investigation in 2008 for using EPO and THG and served a 90-day jail sentence in 2010-11 for stealing his girlfriend’s mail.
5. Adam Archuleta, Washington Redskins, 2006 – Beginning to notice a trend yet? The Redskins made Archuleta the highest-paid safety in NFL history at the time, handing him a six-year $30 million contract with a third of the total guaranteed. Archuleta, who thrived in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme with the St. Louis Rams, quickly found himself in a spot shared by numerous other Redskins on this list – the bench. He was relegated to special teams duty in 2007 in favor of Troy Vincent due to his struggles in deep pass coverage. Washington flipped Archuleta to Smith’s Chicago Bears in 2007 for a measly sixth-round draft pick.
6. Neil O’Donnell, New York Jets, 1996 – O’Donnell may best be remembered for his two crippling second-half interceptions of Super Bowl XXX, costing the Steelers a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Yes, best remembered. But, go ahead and ask mid-1990s Jets management if they cared one bit. They gave O’Donnell a five-year, $25 million deal to lead the Jets to the Promised Land. Instead, he led them to the No. 1 overall pick and he led Rich Kotite to the unemployment line. Bill Parcells came to the Meadowlands in 1997, benched O’Donnell multiple times during the season and showed him the door soon after. Interestingly enough, when O’Donnell retired from the NFL in 2003, he finished his career with the lowest interception rate of any quarterback ever [just 2.11 picks per every 100 pass attempts]. Go figure.
7. Scott Mitchell, Detroit Lions, 1994 – Meet the 1990s version of Matt Cassel: Scott Mitchell. Thrust into action when Dan Marino was lost for the season in 1993, Mitchell played well enough to garner the attention of quarterback-hungry teams when he hit free agency. The Lions rewarded him with the starting job, one which he would relinquish twice in his four-year tenure in the Motor City. Injuries sidelined Mitchell for seven games in 1994, as he watched backup Dave Krieg lead the Lions into the playoffs. Mitchell returned to have a fantastic 1995 campaign, throwing for 4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But the Lions flamed out in the playoffs. Mitchell’s passer rating never again cracked 80 and he was beaten out by rookie Charlie Batch for the starting job in 1999. Much more was expected of Mitchell considering a full arsenal of weapons, including Barry Sanders, Herman Moore and Brett Perriman.
8. Jeff Garcia, Cleveland Browns, 2004 – After failed experiments with former No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch and his former backup Kelly Holcomb, the Browns attempted to reinvigorate the fan base by signing the three-time Pro Bowler Garcia to a four-year, $25 million deal in 2004. Garcia led San Francisco, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to playoff appearances but could barely win a game in his short time in Cleveland. He was 3-7 in 10 career starts for the Browns and posted the rare 0.0 passer rating in his second start. Garcia was cut following the season, exiled to Detroit the next season before resurrecting his career with the Eagles in 2006.
9. David Boston, San Diego Chargers, 2003 – The former No. 8 overall pick, Boston lit the world on fire in 2001 with the Arizona Cardinals. He led the league with 1,598 yards and an average of 99.9 yards per game. Despite being derailed by injuries the following season, the Chargers paid big to get him, handing Boston a seven-year, $47 million contract with $12 million guaranteed. He lasted just one season, catching a respectable 70 balls for 880 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he clashed with teammate Reche Caldwell, head coach Marty Schottenheimer and new general manager A.J. Smith and found himself out of San Diego, traded to the Miami Dolphins for a sixth-round pick. He played five games for the Dolphins after testing positive for steroids and tearing ligaments in his knee twice.
10. Dale Carter, Denver Broncos, 1999 – Carter, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1992, made four Pro Bowls in a seven-year stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. Though he shined on the field, he made just as many headlines off the field, having been arrested on three separate occasions. The Broncos thought a change of scenery, as well as a huge raise, would do the cornerback some good. Denver shelled out $22.8 million over four years to make Carter the league’s highest-paid defensive back. But Carter provided just two interceptions in 14 starts in 1999 and was suspended the entire 2000 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy as a repeat offender. He never suited up for Denver again, and his career withered away in Minnesota, New Orleans and Baltimore.
11. Larry Brown, Oakland Raiders, 1996 – Brown can singlehandedly thank the aforementioned Neil O’Donnell for the $12.5 million he received from the Oakland Raiders in 1996. Brown picked off two passes in Super Bowl XXX to earn the MVP award. However, in only 12 appearances for Oakland, Brown recorded one interception. He was suspended four games for “conduct detrimental to the team” and was released in 1998. A comeback attempt with the Cowboys lasted only four games and produced only one tackle.
12. Chuck Smith, Carolina Panthers, 2000 – Smith finished his career as the Atlanta Falcons’ all-time sack leader. Unfortunately for him, he never got much of a chance to set the mark for the Panthers, who signed him to a five-year, $21 million deal in 2000. He blew out his knee two games into the season and never played again following multiple surgeries. The silver lining in all this? Carolina’s need for a pass rusher due to Smith’s absence led the team to draft Julius Peppers with the No. 2 pick in 2002.
13. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks, 2009 – Tired of losing year after year with the Cincinnati Bengals, Houshmandzadeh (CHAMPIONSHIP!) hit the open market with the intention of latching onto a winning team. He decided to sign with the Seattle Seahawks for $40 million ($15 million guaranteed) after three consecutive years with 90 or more catches. In a strange twist of fate, the Bengals thrived without Whosyourmomma, winning the AFC North with a 10-6 recoed. The Seahawks sputtered right out of the gate and finished 5-11. T.J.’s numbers declined across the board and he was cut before the 2011 season started.
14. Alvin Harper, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995 – Harper led the league in yards per reception and was a major contributor to a pair of Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys squads in 1993 and 1994. Rather than play second fiddle to Michael Irvin, though, Harper followed the big money to Tampa Bay in an effort to kick-start a dormant Buccaneers offense. But Harper could hardly make an impact with his new team. His YPC dropped from 24.9 with Dallas to a paltry 13.8 with the Bucs. He was cut following the 1997 season.
15. Andre Rison, Cleveland Browns, 1995 – The same offseason Harper signed for big bucks with Tampa, Rison, a four-time Pro Bowler in Atlanta, flew north to join the Cleveland Browns. He inked a record five-year, $17 million deal to be the top target. Rison lasted only one season with the Browns, setting career lows in virtually every major statistical category: 47 catches, 701 yards and three touchdowns. Rison would be much higher on this list, but like Garcia, his career was rejuvenated after getting out of C-town. He caught 12 touchdowns for Kansas City after splitting time in Green Bay and Jacksonville.
16. Deion Sanders, Washington Redskins, 2000 – Described as the “ultimate weapon in football” by Dan Snyder, Sanders became the centerpiece of Washington’s 2000 free agent class which also included Mark Carrier and Bruce Smith. He signed an eight-year, $56 million contract with an $8 million signing bonus. Neon had his moments in Washington, but mostly disappointed to resemble the player who made eight of the previous nine Pro Bowls. Strangely, his biggest struggles came in the kick returning game. Curtains closed on “Prime Time” after only one season. Sanders retired and attempted a short-lived comeback in 2004 with the Baltimore Ravens.
17. Ahman Green, Houston Texans, 2007 – The all-time rushing leader in Green Bay Packers history, Green amassed six 1,000-yard seasons in seven years with the team. But the Packers were not interested in retaining Green’s services as he was due to hit the perilous running back age of 30. The Texans feared not, paying out a four-year, $23 million deal. Green was unable to stay on the field, playing in just 14 games for Houston and compiling only 554 yards. He returned to Green Bay in 2009 but did not start. He retired the following offseason.
18. LeCharles Bentley, Cleveland Browns, 2006 – Viewed as the top free agent available in 2006, Bentley backed out of a verbal agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles to sign a six-year, $36 million deal with the Browns. During the first play of 11 on 11 drills in training camp, Bentley tore his patellar tendon. Bentley not only lost his first season with his new team, but he nearly lost his leg as well. He needed a pair of operations to clean out a staph infection which ate away at the tendon. Doctors reportedly considered amputating the center’s leg. He was never able to play an NFL game again.
19. LaMont Jordan, Oakland Raiders, 2005 – Ahman Green and Michael Turner have become the gold standard examples of backups behind star running backs who have made the most of their shots elsewhere. Jordan, though he led the league in receptions by a running back in 2005, largely flamed out after signing a five-year, $27.5 million deal with Oakland. Trapped behind Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, Jordan relished the opportunity to be an every-down back. He ran for 1,025 yards in his first year by the bay, but his next two seasons did not match that total. Justin Fargas took over the starting role in 2007 as Jordan battled back problems. Jordan was then released.
20. Jeremiah Trotter, Washington Redskins, 2002 – And so, we bookend this list with yet another Redskins travesty, going to show that no other team has failed so magnificently at evaluating the market. Trotter was named to four Pro Bowls during a very productive career. He entered free agency coming off of a career year – 93 tackles, 10 passes defended, 3.5 sacks. Snyder enjoyed the idea of taking the heart and soul of the enemy’s defense. So, he signed Trotter to a seven-year, $36 million deal. Trotter could never make the same impact in the Redskins’ scheme, registering only 1.5 sacks in two seasons. He was released in 2004, only to rejoin the Eagles and burn the Redskins again, earning another pair of Pro Bowl trips.