In a world where sport has become a business first and foremost, money is at the root of everything. Contracts and average salaries across all professional sports have skyrocketed over the past twenty years thanks to lucrative TV contracts, increased gate revenue and multi-million dollar partnerships with major corporations that have filled the coffers of league owners. In turn, those deep-pocketed, championship-crazed team leaders throw hundreds of millions at the players who they think can take their franchise from a pretender to a contender, from a team looking to get over the hump to one that spits on the hump as it runs right over it.
Sometimes, the money is earned – within the context of sport, of course. Mega stars like Sidney Crosby, Mike Trout and LeBron James have taken their massive contracts and produced at a MVP-caliber level consistently. Those contracts will always be judged as ludicrous to those who aren’t captivated by sport, but within each circumstance those players have “earned their keep.”
There has been many a time, though, where an athlete on the rise has suddenly found himself with a pile of money one can only dream of having access too – enough money to buy a house, a new top end sports car and whatever else his heart desires. He is, in essence, set for life.
Perhaps this is where our problems lie. It’s human nature to want to kick back and enjoy the spoils of one’s hard work once it has resulted in wealth, but that’s not the way it works in sports. Unfortunately, some athletes didn’t get that message – and that’s what has landed them on this list.
15. Chris Johnson
Remember CJ2K? Remember the electrifying, huge runs Johnson used to bust off, en route to his 2,000 yard season in 2009?
Remember how quickly that all evaporated within a couple of years?
Granted, Johnson has resurrected his career under Bruce Arians in Arizona, but there’s no way not to question the shocking drop off in Johnson’s performance and numbers after he signed his mega-deal in 2011. He still rushed for over 1,000 yards in the three seasons after signing the deal, but it was clear the Titans were dealing with a completely different player.
For awhile, Adriano was considered soccer’s next legend to come out of perennial soccer powerhouse Brazil. Tagged as the next Ronaldo by many, Adriano got his career off to a fantastic start with Inter Milan. However, after extending his contract with Inter in 2010, things began to fall off the rails. He bounced around teams in Brazil and Europe, never living up to expectations. Struggles with alcohol, his fitness and questionable off-pitch behavior dragged his performance down and left the soccer world wondering what could have been for the former phenom, rather than basking in what should have been a glorious career.
13. Larry Hughes
Signed to help continue to bring along a still-young Lebron James back in 2005, Larry Hughes became a very rich man when he signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for Hughes or the Cavs, as he put up disappointing (to say the least) numbers compared to what he had done previously in Golden State and Washington, despite playing alongside on the best players in NBA history.
12. Denny Neagle
Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton were supposed to lead the Colorado Rockies to baseball’s promised land, but both pitchers failed to meet expectations during their time in Denver. Neagle lands on this list thanks to his 19-23 record and accompanying 5.57 ERA, and the fact that he gave the Rockies an out during the 2004 season when he was caught soliciting oral sex, which went against the morals clause in his contract and allowed the Rockies to walk away from Neagle, who clearly checked out during his time in Denver for more reasons than just enjoying his money without having to give it his all.
11. Alexander Semin
For the majority of his time in Washington, Alex Semin was about as close to Alex Ovechkin as one can get to this generation’s greatest scorer. Semin pilled up the point in D.C. alongside Ovi, but when it came time to start paying the multitude of big offensive stars on the Caps, Semin was the odd man out. He ended up signing a five-year, $35 million contract with the Hurricanes in 2012 and promptly disappeared as a legitimate offensive threat. Semin only scored six times last season and was ultimately bought out by the ‘Canes, who chose to move on from a player who often seemed disengaged and whose work ethic is constantly questioned throughout the league.
10. Josh Smith
In the summer of 2013, the Detroit Pistons dolled out a 4-year, $54 million dollar contract to Josh Smith – and ended up regretting that deal pretty quickly. Smith was arguably already on the decline while with the Hawks and the big-money deal, combined with the clear lack of fit in Detroit, made that deal that much more difficult to understand. As many anticipated, Smith’s play continue to fall off in Detroit, and it took a 5-23 start to last season the team’s brass to finally say enough is enough and cut ties with Smith, executing a fairly rarely used salary dump in the middle of the NBA season to rid themselves of a player no one really seemed to want to work with.
9. Alexei Yashin
The Islanders pretty much did themselves in with this one – along with the Rick DiPietro deal – and quite honestly it’s amazing to think that the Isles were able to turn it around as quickly as they did.
Alexei Yashin was no doubt a top-end NHL talent in his prime, but $87.5 million over ten years was a ridiculous number from the start, and everybody knew it. To put it in perspective, Sidney Crosby is currently making about the same average salary as Yashin was, nearly fifteen years later.
During his time with the Islanders, Yashin would go on decent stretches which were followed by a string of porous outings that had many questioning his effort level. Those rumblings turned into outcries that last until 2007, when the Islanders had no choice but to move on from the enigmatic Russian.
8. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant runs Los Angeles. At the very least, he runs the Lakers. What he says, goes. What he does is not questioned. He recently signed a nearly $50 million dollar contract extension despite clearly being on the downside of his illustrious career and breaking down more and more with each passing game and subsequent injury.
Kobe lands on this list, though, because it’s become more apparent than ever that this is just about him now. He’ll chuck shots from anywhere on the court and happily take minutes away from the young stars who are going to succeed him once he eventually retires at the age of 67. Kobe will always be Kobe, and we’ll always love him, but it’s clear as day that his “give a f***” meter is cranked all the way down near zero.
7. Barry Zito
It’s hard to truly nail down any particular moment that shows where things went wrong for Barry Zito during his time with the San Francisco Giants – nor is there a moment where we can definitely say he had checked out. However, the telltale signs are there. Pitcher is 102-63 with one team, signs a massive $126 million dollar deal with a rival, and goes 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA and gets left off playoff rosters despite his large price tag. Something doesn’t add up and it’s not hard to make the assumption that the money may have gotten to Barry’s head.
6. Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace signed a four-year, $60 million dollar deal with the Chicago Bulls in 2006 and was expected to help bring back the Chi-Town glory days left behind by MJ during the late 90’s. Wallace started his tenure with the Bulls well enough, but things quickly spiraled downhill as Wallace turned in some of the worst statistics of his career to start the 2007-2008 campaign, all while the Bulls struggled to pick up wins. The team eventually began to sell of parts, including Wallace, who after seemingly checking out in Chicago was sent off to Cleveland to try to help LeBron James win a championship.
5. Gilbert Arenas
The first time the Washington Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas – back in 2003 – the move paid off splendidly. Arenas asserted himself as one of the top players in the NBA and earned his keep.
The second big contract didn’t go as well.
Arenas resigned with Washington in 2008 after opting out of his first deal, putting his signature on a brand new contract with a much larger bottom line: six years, $111 million. Things went off the rails fairly quickly, though, as Arenas inconsistent play, selfish behavior and penchant for bringing guns to work spelled the end of what was once a beautiful relationship, gone sour over time as Arenas started to focus on things other than basketball – namely himself.
4. David Beckham
For as much good as David Beckham did for the image and reputation of Major League Soccer, his actual usefulness on the pitch was practically non-existent.
Beckham made a fortune in coming over to North America, signing on for a cool $250 million over five years back in 2007. While the LA Galaxy have been the toast of the league for the past while, it was in little to no part due to Beckham, who often collected paychecks on the bench and sometimes was even allowed to return to A.C. Milan to play as a sub, despite constantly dealing with injury problems while he was in L.A.
David Beckham is a superstar in every sense of the word and his work to grow soccer in North America will not be discounted here nor anywhere else – but his play during his years here certainly will be.
3. JaMarcus Russell
JaMarcus Russell had a few things going for him when he declared for the 2007 NFL Draft.
Touted as the next great NFL QB, he was in a perfect situation to get drafted 1st overall. Besides all his talents and ability, Oakland was sitting on the clock with a chance for one more Al Davis splash. Sure enough, the Raiders took Russell and promptly handed him one of the largest contracts ever signed by an rookie out of college.
The investment never paid off, as we all know. Russell was never able to take his game to the next level and was repeatedly showing up to the Raiders facility out of shape and overweight while having reported work ethic problems that scared off teams from ever signing him up for a second NFL chance after the Raiders released him in 2010.
2. Ryan Leaf
Like several before and after him, Ryan Leaf was a massive bust. He wasn’t the first and he wasn’t going to be the last, either – but for awhile he was the gold standard.
Leaf and Peyton Manning were expected to go head-to-head for years to come as the new class of golden NFL arms. As history shows, it turned out to be Peyton and some sixth-rounder named Tom Brady, but we’ll stay on topic here. Leaf signed a huge rookie contract and never lived up to it, while consistently marring his image through poor behavior, skipping mandatory events and skirting his responsibilities as a player.
All those reasons combined resulted in the once sure-fire prospect becoming one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
1. Albert Haynesworth
After solidifying himself as one of the most fearsome defensive tackles in the league, Albert Haynesworth stepped up onto the free agency stage and let the love and money wash over him. In the end, it was deep-pocketed Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder who dolled out the number to Haynesworth’s liking – in the neighborhood of seven years and $100 million dollars. Haynesworth’s play fell completely off the map once he landed in Washington. Several years later, former teammate Chris Cooley went off on Haynesworth in an interview with NFL.com, calling him an “awful human being” and stating that the big defensive tackle was only out for the money – to the point where he was hoping to get released from the big contract with the Skins to go sign one more big money deal and keep the guaranteed cash while dogging it on the field.
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