Sadly and perhaps tellingly, putting together a list of the worst free-agent signings in the history of the NFL is not hard. Here's a look at the bottom 20 over the past 20 years:
1. DT Albert Haynesworth – Some people argue that Haynesworth deserves a category all to himself for his slothful waste of a seven-year, $100 million contract. Haynesworth signed the deal in 2009 and was out of Washington before the start of the 2011 season. He was out of football after that season. He didn't get all the money, but he got way more than he ever deserved, spending most of the money on boats and legal settlements.
2. QB Jeff Garcia – For five years, Garcia was one of the great feel-good stories in the NFL. He was a San Francisco Bay Area guy (grew up in Gilroy and went to San Jose State) who played in the CFL before returning for a five-year run with the 49ers. But in 2004 at age 34, Garcia signed a four-year, $25 million contract with Cleveland. Except for the money, everything else was a disaster as Garcia played poorly and didn't mesh with Browns fans. He was gone after one season.
3. WR Javon Walker – After four good seasons in Green Bay and two years in Denver, Walker signed a six-year, $55 million contract with Oakland. Fortunately for the Raiders, Walker made only $21 million of it before being cut in 2010. However, he caught only 15 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown in that time as he was largely plagued by injuries.
4. WR David Boston – In 2003, Boston signed a seven-year, $47 million contract ($12 million guaranteed) with San Diego after being let go by Arizona. Boston put up decent numbers (70 catches, 880 yards, seven touchdowns) with the Chargers, but was so difficult to deal with that San Diego shipped him after that one year. He was traded to Miami, where he was eventually suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs and was plagued by injury. He played just five more games in his career.
5. CB Deion Sanders – Sanders' career burned so bright that he not only appears on the top free-agent signings list twice, he's also the only guy to make both lists. In 2000, Sanders signed a seven-year, $56 million contract with Washington (a team that makes regular appearances on this list). After one season of mediocre play and a baseball career that also fizzled out, Sanders quietly retired from the Redskins following a settlement that required him to return $2.5 million of his $8 million signing bonus. Money for nothing.
6. DE Bruce Smith – At age 37 and desperately needing a place to finish his chase of the all-time sack record, Smith joined Sanders in grabbing a chunk of Dan Snyder's money in Washington. Smith got a five-year, $23.5 million contract, including a $4.25 million signing bonus. He played four years and his stats weren't all that awful (29 sacks), but his play was so uninspired that it was like watching a metronome counting off time (or in this case, sacks) until Smith was done. He finished his career with 200 sacks, just ahead of Reggie White's 198.
7. WR Andre Rison – “Bad Moon” came to Cleveland in 1995 after catching at least 80 passes for an average of more than 1,100 yards with Atlanta over the previous five seasons. He proceeded to flop around for only 47 receptions and was out of Cleveland after just one season. He had signed a five-year, $17 million deal with the Browns, but it was really just a harbinger of a tortuous end to his career.
8. DB Larry Brown – Brown reached the apex of his career in Super Bowl XXX, helping Dallas to a win over Pittsburgh when he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to get two interceptions. Al Davis thought enough of Brown's good fortune to turn it into a real fortune, handing Brown a five-year, $12.5 million contract in 1996. Brown lasted all of 12 games over two seasons with Oakland (another team that makes regular appearances on this list).
9. WR/returner Desmond Howard – Like Brown, Howard turned a Super Bowl MVP performance (his came the very next year when his kickoff return for a score helped Green Bay win the title in the 1996 season) into a big payday from Oakland. This deal was fortunately less than half of what Brown got (four years, $6 million). He also lasted just two seasons with the Raiders.
10. DB Adam Archuleta – After five pretty mediocre seasons in St. Louis, Washington (that's four appearances in the top 10), thought enough of Archuleta to give him a seven-year, $35 million contract. That was despite the fact that Washington had this guy named Ryan Clark at the same position. Like so many flops, Archuleta fell hard and fast, lasting only one season with the Redskins.
11. QB Neil O'Donnell – O'Donnell's glory moment came in 1995 when he led Pittsburgh to the aforementioned Super Bowl against Dallas and Larry Brown. Like Brown, O'Donnell hit free agency. Like Brown, O'Donnell flopped. The Jets gave the New Jersey native five years and $25 million in 1996 and the Jets proceeded to go 1-15, although O'Donnell played only six games (all losses) because of injury. He lasted one more season with the Jets before being pushed out by Bill Parcells.
12. LB Jeremiah Trotter – The failures of Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders never even made Daniel Snyder flinch in 2002 when he gave Trotter – a linebacker who couldn't run anymore – a seven-year, $36 million deal. Two years later … you know the story.
13. LB Adalius Thomas – It's hard to call Thomas a complete flop, given that he helped New England nearly go undefeated in 2007, his first season there. However, for $35 million (including $20 guaranteed), Thomas is, by far, the biggest mistake in the Patriots' free-agent history. Thomas had wowed Bill Belichick with his speed at the Pro Bowl in 2006. Thomas then annoyed Belichick with his attitude in 2009 and was let go after the season.
14. RB Lawrence Phillips – One of the most malignant personalities in NFL history had worked his way out of St. Louis and Miami by 1996, when San Francisco thought it was wise to give him a three-year, $5.625 million contract. Phillips didn't see much of that deal, working his way out of San Francisco after eight games and only 144 yards rushing.
15. WR Alvin Harper – Harper is proof that you don't give big money to guys who aren't primary players on great teams. Harper left Dallas for Tampa Bay and a four-year, $10.6 million contract in 1995. Harper was a big-time speedster in Dallas who benefitted from having Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman around him. The Bucs weren't quite that good at the time and he was out of there after only 65 receptions, 922 yards and three touchdowns.
16. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh – There is another adage among veteran players who are not stars: know your place. Houshmandzadeh had a great role in Cincinnati and turned down a similar contract to sign with Seattle in 2009 for five years and $40 million ($15 million guaranteed). He got to Seattle and the Seahawks found out all the things that he couldn't do very well, such as run. He was out after one season and out of the NFL after three.
17. QB Jeff George – Aside from a nice 10-game run with Minnesota in 1999, anybody who spent much time or energy on George was going to get little in return despite his immense talent (he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1990 for a reason). In 2000 with Washington (where have you seen those words put together before?), George not only took up the Redskins' time and energy, he took a four-year, $18 million contract as well.
18. DT Dana Stubblefield – The Redskins illustrated generosity before Dan Snyder took over in 1999. In 1998, Stubblefield left San Francisco after getting 15 sacks in '97. From 1998 to 2000, Stubblefield had seven sacks with the Redskins after the team signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract.
19. RB Ahman Green – Green is the prototype example of why you don't give money to running backs at age 30. After putting up six 1,000-yard seasons with Green Bay, Houston gave Green a four-year, $23 million deal in 2007. He started all of six games and rushed for all of 554 yards in two seasons.
20. RB LaMont Jordan – The Raiders are probably feeling a little left out after this run of Redskins, so here's a candidate. In 2005, Jordan got five years and $27.5 million from Oakland after being a backup for four years with the New York Jets. Jordan did crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first season, but was back to bench duty the next year and out of Oakland by 2008.
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