Most of us enjoy professional sports for the love of the game, the joy and excitement of watching incredible displays of athleticism, speed, strength and agility. Perhaps we have a particular set of nostalgic connections to a player, a team or a stadium. Others get enjoyment from breaking down both the individual and collective performances into a series of statistics that can be traced and/or compared over time. Very few, however, derive any pleasure out of the financial element of professional sports. Sure, we may gasp with surprise when a player is inked to a record-breaking deal. Perhaps we shudder with disgust upon discovering that our team let a star go because they didn’t want to pay the price or, conversely, overpaid for a player we’ve never really liked. But for the most part, we ignore the money matters, leaving that up to the agents and executives.
Then there are money-related incidents that seem so baffling we can’t help but follow along, clicking the link on ESPN, watching the video, perhaps even constructing our own posts on social media begging to understand why such decisions are made. I’m referring, here, to the practice of spending millions of dollars on absolutely nothing. This comes generally in a couple of forms. The simplest involves teams that pay out remaining portions of contracts to former players. Players sign giant contracts and then, due to the ink-and-paper arrangements associated with these deals, are guaranteed a certain amount regardless of whether they remain on the team or even within the sport at all. The second involves what is known as “dead money”. In the ever-increasing complex world of salary caps, teams are still responsible for cap space dollars associated with players that are no longer on their team. This can be even more frustrating because while the physical currency may not be exchanging hands, it still represents expenditure for the purposes of calculating the total amount that a team is permitted to spend.
The following represents some of the more egregious, current examples of athletes setting their former teams back financially even after they no longer generate revenue by playing for said teams.
15 Jimmy Graham
The Saints surprised everyone by dealing Graham to the Seahawks shortly after signing him to a 4-year, $40 million deal. Though New Orleans got good value in the trade – center Max Unger and a first round draft pick – they had given Graham $12 million in signing bonuses and were left with the responsibility of paying a sizable chunk in dead money. New Orleans will pay $9 million in cap space this season for a guy that now sits on the Seahawks’ injured reserve list.
14 Charlie Weiss
Coaches don’t usually deserve a mention in posts about athletes, but the amount of money Weis still stands to make - even after being fired by Notre Dame and then Kansas – justifies his placement on this list. Weis had a 10-year deal with Notre Dame starting in 2005 but was fired in 2009. That deal saw him continue to make millions (around $18 million in total) from the Fighting Irish until it finally ended this November. Meanwhile, his recent stint as head coach of Kansas ended in 2014 but he stands to make over $5.5 million through next year.
13 JaVale McGee
The 76ers acquired McGee at the deadline last season in exchange for a draft pick from the Denver Nuggets. It seems that Philly is intent on eating bad contracts from other teams to continue their project of building for the future. Even though the Sixers waived McGee, they still paid his salary last season and will pay him another $12 million this season. That’s certainly one way to tank a season.
12 Gerald Wallace
The other part of the Sixers strategy to save money and get young talent is making sure that a) they don’t sign big-money free agents, and b) they don’t fall underneath the cap floor (teams must keep their salary between $63-70 million or risk penalties). This means paying big money for players no longer on the roster. McGee is one, Wallace, at $10 million to do nothing, is another.
11 Ndamukong Suh
Sometimes the financial intricacies of professional sports are a bit puzzling. The longtime Detroit Lions defensive lineman decided to forgo the end of his deal with Detroit to pursue sunnier skies in Miami. However, the Lions are still on the hook for almost $10 million (technically $9.7 million) in dead money even though it was Suh’s decision to leave the team. This leaves the Lions feeling both the financial loss AND the giant hole left in the middle of their defensive line.
10 Rick DiPietro
There must be something in the water in New York that causes team owners and executives to make horrible contract decisions. The beleaguered Islanders goalie signed a 15-year deal in 2006 but injuries dealt a devastating blow to his playing time and he finally negotiated a buyout in 2013. However, the conditions of the agreement still net him $1.5 million each year until 2029.
9 Jared Allen
The former Vikings defensive end signed a big deal with Chicago in 2014. Went it became apparent that they weren’t contenders for a playoff spot, the Bears sent Allen down to Carolina but were forced to eat a larger remainder of his remaining contract money. While Allen helps a stout Panthers defense with Super Bowl aspirations, the Bears are still stuck for nearly $12 million in dead money due to signing bonuses.
8 Steve Young
Many will not remember the USFL, a failed attempt at a league to rival the NFL, but Steve Young has about $40 million reasons to keep them on his mind. The now-defunct league from the early 1980s lured Young with a $40 million guaranteed contract to be paid out over 43 years. The contract is set to increase its payouts over the next several years, giving Young well over $1 million per year until it is fully paid out.
7 Matt Kemp
When the Dodgers decided to part ways with Kemp prior to the 2015 season, they were left with a hefty $107 million remaining for the final five years on an eight-year deal signed in 2011. While the Padres, who picked up Kemp in a deal for catcher Yasmani Grandal, agreed to foot most of the bill, the Dodgers still agreed to pay $32 million of his remaining contract. In 2015 alone, Los Angeles forked over $18 million for an outfielder now playing for a division rival. Even worse, this is not the most money that the Dodgers paid this season for a player no longer on their team.
6 Josh Smith
After a very successful career in Atlanta, Smith signed a four-year, $54 million contract in 2013 to head up to Detroit. Smith proved to be the wrong fit for the Pistons and they released him halfway through the second year of his deal. Still, Detroit picked up the $10 million tab to finish out last season and will still pay out what was due on the last two years of the contract. The Pistons will be paying that over a five-year period until 2020.
5 Chris Pronger
Pronger technically hasn’t retired from hockey because an official retirement would mean forfeiting the remaining sum still owed on his contract (which runs until 2017). Still, the Philadelphia Flyers defenseman won’t play another game of professional hockey again. He will, however, be paid nearly $5 million a year until 2017 to remain on the team but not play. Not a bad early “retirement” plan. The Coyotes traded for Pronger, well at least his contract anyway, from Philadelphia so the Coyotes could reach the cap floor without taking a spot on their roster.
4 Hector Olivera
That’s right, this stand-out Cuban player who didn’t play a single major league game for the Dodgers will still be paid nearly $30 million by his former team. Olivera was party of a large, three-team deal with Miami and Atlanta, but the Braves are only on the hook for about half of his original $62 million contract. While Olivera may develop into a phenom, the Dodgers effectively paid him millions to hang out at a minor league stadium before moving to Georgia.
3 Ken Griffey Jr.
The future hall-of-famer signed a huge deal with Cincinnati in 2000 and the Reds deferred nearly $60 million of the deal to be paid over a longer time-frame. Though it was only a nine-year deal, the specifics of the contract will result in Junior raking in over $3.5 million each year until 2025. For that price the Reds should be demanding that Griffey show up for every game just to sign autographs for the fans.
2 Gilbert Arenas
When Arenas signed the six-year, $111 million deal in 2008 the Wizards were hoping he would be a perennial all-star and potential MVP candidate. Instead, he dealt with injuries and declining performance, causing them to ship him (and his contract) to Orlando. He played even worse down in Florida, so the Magic used the amnesty clause on his contract in 2011. Of course, amnesty still requires that the player be paid in full. This year Arenas made over $22 million while sitting on his couch.
1 Bobby Bonilla
In what may go down as the most absurd contract deal in sports history, Bonilla, who hasn’t played any baseball since the turn of the century, will be paid just over $1 million each year from now until 2035. When he was released by the team in 1999, the New York Mets ownership decided against a simple buyout of the remaining $5.9 million from his contract, instead opting to delay payment 11 years and then mete it out (with interest) over a 25-year period.
As it turns out, the interest on nearly $6 million is rather hefty. When all is said and done, the Mets will pay Bonilla nearly $30 million over 25 years for doing absolutely nothing.
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