The 15 Worst Free Agent Signings in NFL History
Sure, there have been a lot of subpar free agent signings over the NFL’s history. But when we discuss the “worst” we aren’t talking about just “bad” signings — we mean the most abysmal. The biggest wastes of money. The signings that make every list of worst signings because there’s little to dispute how downright terrible they were. Here is, in no particular order, 15 of the worst NFL free agent signings. (Surely you’ve seen the player 15 make headlines in recent history.)
1. Andre Rison, Cleveland Browns
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list that doesn’t have Andre Rison as one of the worst free agency signings in the NFL. “Bad Moon” Rison was a four-time Pro Bowl receiver while he played with the Falcons, ending his last season in Atlanta with 81 receptions for 1,088 yards. But after the Cleveland Browns signed him to a five-year, $17 million deal, his numbers plummeted, and he was released after just one season. To make matters worse, Browns fans had to watch Rison bounce around teams the following year and then win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers.
Next: There’s no denying how bad this signing was …
Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins
Get used to seeing the Redskins. They, along with the Browns, are on this list multiple times. And Albert Haynesworth is far and away one of Washington’s most disappointing free agent signings. In 2009, the highly-touted defensive tackle was inked to a seven-year, $100 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus and $41 million guaranteed. In return, Haynesworth boycotted off-season workouts, fought with new head coach Mike Shanahan, and only logged 2.5 sacks during the 2010 season. This era in D.C. sports ended with Haynesworth being suspended without pay.
Next: Speaking of Washington …
Adam Archuleta, Washington Redskins
The early 2000s were not kind to D.C. sports as far as NFL free agent signings go. Prior to the Haynesworth fiasco, the Redskins signed safety Archuleta to a staggering seven-year, $35 million deal. While Archuleta had previously been successful for the St. Louis Rams, he only made seven starts and was then benched in one season with the Redskins. The following season, he was playing in Chicago.
Next: Troubles at the QB position …
Elvis Grbac, Baltimore Ravens
The Michigan QB product learned from backing up Steve Young in San Francisco, then had a decent run in Kansas City, throwing for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns in his final season with the Chiefs in 2000. That caught the attention of the Super Bowl-winning Ravens, who signed Grbac to a five-year contract worth $30 million. But even with Baltimore’s storied defense, he went 8-6 and threw for nearly 1,000 fewer yards than the season before. (In addition to being sacked 28 times for a loss of 215 yards.) That was Grbac’s last season in the NFL.
Next: It’s not just problems on the field that make a signing bad …
Dale Carter, Denver Broncos
After seven seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Carter inked a four-year, $22.8 million contract with the division rival Broncos. His stint in Denver was hampered by issues off the gridiron, and he was suspended for the entire 2000 football season and part of the 2001 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. (It was also his fourth violation.) Denver waived him the day before the league reinstated him. Then, when the Broncos tried to go to arbitration to get some of Carter’s signing bonus back, he filed for bankruptcy. (Financial troubles followed Carter for the next few years.)
Next: Speaking of off-the-field issues …
Sam Hurd, Chicago Bears
As Nate Peterson of CBS Sports points out, Mike Glennon was probably the Bears’ worst free agent signing from a monetary standpoint. Really, a three-year deal worth $5.15 million doesn’t seem terrible for a special teams player like Hurd. But Hurd’s arrest in 2011 on federal drug charges was reason enough for the Bears to release him. In 2013, Hurd was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Next: This quarterback couldn’t even get a win after this big signing …
Neil O’Donnell, New York Jets
O’Donnell helped pilot the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season — not bad for a guy that was drafted 70th overall in 1990. Instead of staying in Pittsburgh, though, he signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the New York Jets in 1996. He then went 0-6 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He went 8-6 the following season, but fell on bad terms with coach Bill Parcells and was waived in 1998.
Next: While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks …
Jeff Garcia, Cleveland Browns
Garcia made three Pro Bowl appearances while with the San Francisco 49ers but was released after an iffy 2003 campaign. The Browns landed him thanks to a four-year deal worth a cool $25 million. He went 3-7 in 10 starts that season with 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He was gone the following season, bouncing between teams before ending his career playing in one game for Philadelphia in 2009.
Next: Talk about ‘money for nothing’ …
Antonio Bryant, Cincinnati Bengals
You’ve probably noticed that no online stats sheet shows numbers for Bryant in 2010, despite reports that Cincinnati signed the free agent wide receiver to a four-year, $28 million dollar deal. That’s because Bryant never set foot on the gridiron in 2010, getting cut by the Bengals after training camp and then spending a few years away from the NFL. (That’s right — all that money and he never played a game.) To add insult to injury, Bryant was supposed to replace Laveranues Coles, the bad wide receiver signing from the year before.
Next: Here’s proof that injuries can turn any signing into a bad one …
Chuck Smith, Carolina Panthers
After making a name for himself with the Atlanta Falcons — and becoming the team’s all-time leader in sacks — Smith inked a five-year, $21 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. In 2000, however, Smith only played two games for Carolina and registered only one tackle in a season plagued with injuries. He didn’t return to the Panthers the following season — or to any NFL team for that matter.
Next: Speaking of the Carolina Panthers …
Jake Delhomme, Cleveland Browns
A two-year contract worth $7 million doesn’t sound so bad. Until you realize the Browns inked Delhomme to that deal after he had gone 4-7 with eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions the previous season for the Panthers. Then, after beating Seneca Wallace for the starting job out of camp, Delhomme suffered a high ankle sprain and was sidelined. To add insult to injury — no pun intended — Wallace also sustained a high ankle sprain, forcing Delhomme back onto the field. He ended up aggravating the ankle injury, capping off his only season in Cleveland.
Next: Is this where D.C.’s free agency woes started?
Dana Stubblefield, Washington Redskins
There’s a lot of talk about Redskins’ free agency failures under owner Dan Snyder. But it’s often forgotten that one of their biggest busts came before Snyder bought the team when they signed Dana Stubblefield. The defensive tackle was coming off a stellar 15-sack season with the 49ers when Washington signed him to a six-year, $36 million deal in 1998. But Stubblefield only lasted three seasons, battling injuries and logging seven sacks total over his tenure with the Redskins.
Next: This player’s MVP-level play didn’t transfer to his new team …
Larry Brown, Oakland Raiders
Following his Super Bowl XXX MVP performance for the Dallas Cowboys, Brown signed a five-year deal with the Silver and Black worth $12 million, with $3.5 million guaranteed. Saying the cornerback didn’t live up to the contract is an understatement. He only started one game out of the 12 he played in more than two seasons for the Raiders, and only registered one interception.
Next: Even great players make for bad free agent signings …
Deion Sanders, Washington Redskins
Don’t get us wrong — Prime Time was on the right end of a few good free agency signings. But the seven-year, $56 million deal that Washington signed him to when he was 33 years old wasn’t one of them. Sanders was past the pinnacle of his career when he was released by the Dallas Cowboys and joined the Redskins, and contributed a modest four interceptions the following season for Washington. After just one season with the Redskins, Sanders retired.
Next: Last, but certainly not least …
Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a recent free agent signing that has drawn more grief than the deal that brought Brock Osweiler to the Texans. After a couple of solid games for the Denver Broncos in place of an injured Peyton Manning, Osweiler decided he wanted to go somewhere else and be a starter. The Texans went all in on him in 2016, inking him to a four-year, $72 million contract. After getting the starting job he wanted, Osweiler logged 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and was sacked a staggering 27 times for more than 200 yards lost. Needless to say, Houston cut ties with him after just one season — but not before one Texans fan started a GoFundMe to try to buy out his contract.
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