Ever since the concept of free agency in professional sports was developed, the idea of players who don’t put forth their best effort after getting a payday has been alive and well. We’ve seen plenty of players in the NFL ranks who just want another seven-figure contract to their name, and nothing more. Once they get it, their play starts to take a dip in quality, and the realization comes upon the team that they got royally screwed over. These kind of player failures in the NFL are the ones that hurt the most, because of the expense paid to acquire the player in the first place.
That’s what makes free agency in the NFL such a risky thing. You’re not only betting on a player’s on-field ability, you’re taking a chance on him from a mental aspect, hoping he doesn’t end up phoning it in because he’s set for life financially. We’ve seen plenty of players who haven’t shown this as well, but for the ones who have, they’re some of the most disappointing signings in NFL history. Sometimes you just can’t guarantee effort, which is arguably the most important attribute of any player.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players who got paid and stopped trying.
15. Dwayne Bowe
Prior to the 2015 season, Bowe was given a new contract by the Browns, in hopes that he could inject some life into their sub-par receiving corps. He was coming off of many successful years with the Chiefs, and while the new contract wasn’t a mega-deal, it definitely had a good bit of guaranteed money involved.
As it turned out, Bowe barely played for the Browns, and barely registered a single statistic. While he was at the point in his career while he probably wasn’t in the position to produce peak numbers, the fact that he barely got on the field was telling of how seriously he was taking this new opportunity. As a result, this was the last season we saw Bowe in the NFL, and he definitely went out with a whimper.
14. Shawne Merriman
Merriman did have several successful years with the Chargers, and for a short period of time, actually looked like the new great pass rusher in the NFL. It didn’t take long for his effort level to dip, however, and he had already been paid well due to the different rules concerning rookie contracts in 2005. In short, Merriman quickly went from a stud to a certified bust.
Following the 2007 season, everything went to hell. Random injuries started cropping up, and questions concerning his effort level emerged as well. In his five NFL seasons after 2007, Merriman never came remotely close to matching the production he showed in his first three seasons. Instead of an All-Pro pass rusher, the Chargers were left with a headache, and had to eventually move on from him in full.
13. Donte Stallworth
After three pretty good seasons with the Saints, Stallworth went on a tour around the league, collecting money from various teams, and then putting forth a mediocre effort. After the 2006 season where he played for one year in Philadelphia, he actually signed two major contracts in the following two seasons; one with the Patriots and one with the Browns. Neither situation worked out, despite both teams giving him multi-year contracts with plenty of cash on the table.
Stallworth continued to bounce around the league, and put up mediocre numbers until his final season in 2012. He never lived up to the potential that many thought he had, and many believed it was due to carelessness more than anything else. Once he had a decent bankroll to his name, the numbers started dropping.
12. Mario Williams
While Williams was definitely a successful pass rusher during his time with the Texans, and then partially during his time with the Bills, his effort level has always been a question with him. In 2012, the Bills gave him what was at the time, the biggest contract ever for a defensive player in NFL history. Williams would play well at times in subsequent seasons, but always have stretches of games where effort was questioned.
He never did end up playing out his six-year contract in Buffalo. Once Rex Ryan was hired as head coach in 2015, Williams began complaining about the defensive scheme. His production and effort level dropped even further, and was off the roster by year’s end. Any way you cut it, Williams could have done more to live up to such a massive contract.
11. Sam Bradford
Luckily for Bradford, he entered the league right before the new rules were instituted on rookie contracts, so he collected a big payday right away. While there was nothing he could do about the crippling injuries throughout his career, there is something he could do about his risk-averse style of playing quarterback, which has seen him on three different teams during the first seven years of his career.
Bradford is an accurate passer, but he also hardly ever takes a chance on a deep ball. This doesn’t cut it for a first overall pick. He knew that he was going to be paid a contract for an elite player, and his game resembles something that you would get out of a value quarterback on the free agent market. Bradford never lived up to the hype, and is laughing all the way to the bank.
10. Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles dropped a hefty contract on Asomugha prior to the 2011 season, based on his play with the Raiders. He was considered to be a shutdown NFL cornerback, and was thought to be a selection that could get the Eagles defense over the hump. Instead, he was downright terrible and lacked the effort you generally see from an elite player. He left all of Philadelphia wallowing in sorrow over the signing.
While it’s hard to blame Asomugha alone for the dreaded “Dream Team” season in 2011, he was undoubtedly a huge part of the failure that ensued over the two years he was in Philly. There was no doubt about it; he was phoning it in, trying (and succeeding) to collect one more big payday before riding off into the sunset. Indeed, his production was terrible, and the Eagles were fools for paying him.
9. Marcell Dareus
For the Bills, the contract extension they gave Dareus in 2015, was like the Mario Williams one, but amplified by 10. Dareus was given a mega-deal prior to the 2015 season, which saw his production drop mightily. He didn’t live up to the money at all, and it’s starting to looking like a big mistake.
To make matters worse, he was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, and when he was on the field, he didn’t produce in the way he was expected to, yet again. That’s two disappointing seasons for Dareus, coming off of one of the biggest contracts for a defensive player of all time. He’ll have to have a turnaround effort in the upcoming campaign, or it’s clear that Buffalo was fleeced in the worst possible way.
8. Mike Wallace
After four productive years with the Steelers, which were played on his rookie contract, Wallace signed his big payday with the Dolphins in 2013. It was a multi-year contract, one that indicated that Miami should get some very good play at wide receiver in return. Instead, Wallace never took the next step as a player, and was gone by the end of the 2014 season.
He’s been bouncing around the league for the last couple of years, but effort and attitude have always been a question. He’s raking in smaller contracts now with a couple of different teams, but still producing at roughly the same rate. With more effort Wallace could have been one of the league’s best, but he’s merely a JAG at this point in his career.
7. Byron Maxwell
Enter another cornerback that the Eagles gave a huge payday to, and didn’t produce. Maxwell was coming off of a stint with Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense that was tops in the league at that point in time. He was supposed to be Chip Kelly’s answer to fix the Philly secondary, who had struggled in recent years. Unfortunately, after Maxwell’s play in the 2015 season, and the way the team performed, Doug Pederson was the answer to fix the Philly team as a whole after Kelly had promptly gutted much of the roster in one offseason.
Maxwell was given a huge contract for his stay with the Eagles, and is now playing under the same contract in Miami. It remains to be seen if he can turn it around, but as of right now, it looks like he was just a product of playing alongside players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas on the elite Seahawks secondary.
6. David Boston
Boston is one of the biggest wide receiver busts of the Y2K era, all things considered. He was taken with a top-10 selection during the 1999 draft by the Cardinals. While he had a few productive seasons in Arizona, it wasn’t enough for them to retain his contract. The next move for him was the Chargers, where he signed a massive seven-year deal, expecting him to be an elite receiver for a long time.
That didn’t end up happening. His work ethic and practice habits in San Diego were questionable at the very least, and his interpersonal skills with the staff were under criticism as well. Boston fizzled out of the league a couple years later, and he’s widely considered one of the biggest wastes of talent of his era.
5. JaMarcus Russell
The biggest quarterback bust of the modern era, and perhaps of all time, Russell was the number one overall pick by the Raiders in the 2006 draft. He signed a massive rookie contract, earning a ton of guaranteed money right up front. It all came crashing down right from the beginning. Russell couldn’t play quarterback in the league effectively, and it was obvious to everyone.
He never even got a chance at a 2nd contract from another team, and was out of the league in 2 years. A supreme lackadaisical effort, and a budding codeine habit were just several of the things that made Russell a poor fit for a league like the NFL. That’s to say nothing of his play on the field as well. Overall, just a bad selection, which put the Raiders back even further at the time.
4. Michael Vick
There’s no question that Vick was able to at least somewhat redeem himself later in his NFL career with the Eagles, but during the mid-2000s, his career turned out to be a complete mess. After leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship game in 2004, Vick signed a ridiculously huge nine-year contract with the team, which was supposed to ensure him as the franchise quarterback for years to come. Instead, a mere two years later he was busted on dog fighting charges, and would never play another snap in a Falcons’ uniform.
While he was eventually able to clear some of the air on the incident, there’s no doubt he exhibited a supreme lack of judgement and general carelessness over the entire situation. Playing out just two seasons on a nine-year contract is simply a failure, and while Vick paid the consequences for his actions, he also hurt his reputation in the process.
3. Jay Cutler
One of the most infamously careless players in NFL history, Cutler was given a huge 7-year contract extension by the Bears in 2013. What followed was merely decent play on the field, combined with locker room in-fighting, pouting on the sidelines, and sporadically removing himself from a game due to a suspect injury from time-to-time. In short, Cutler raked in the cash, and gave so-so effort.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Cutler’s attitude has been the primary knock on him as an NFL player for his entire career. It doesn’t work at the professional level, and it’s indicative as to why someone with his talent hasn’t signed with an NFL team yet this offseason, in a quarterback market that should be in his favor. Just a sulking type of player, who’s borderline lazy at times.
2. Colin Kaepernick
Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Kaepernick signed one of the biggest contracts in NFL history, and was supposed to be the 49ers’ franchise quarterback for the long-term. The minute he signed the deal, just about everything for him, and the Niners came crashing down. Putting aside any political opinions, Kaepernick had numerous other on-and-off-field incidents, and a general carelessness about him that permeated throughout the organization.
Many of his actions just weren’t an example of good judgement. Kaepernick’s play on the field also suffered serious regression, and within a year of signing the contract, he wasn’t even the consensus starter on the team. He never cared to take the next step, and fully develop as an NFL quarterback. He played well in the 2012 season leading up to the Super Bowl appearance, but that doesn’t make a successful career. He raked in the profits anyway.
1. Albert Haynesworth
The Redskins’ signing of Haynesworth is widely considered to be the worst free agent signing in the history of the league. After seven productive years with the Titans, Haynesworth went to Washington, and fell completely flat in every way possible. Infighting with the coaching staff, coming into training camp completely out of shape, and a general lack of awareness that made his brief two-year stint painful to watch.
Worst of all, he was given a ton of guaranteed money, and there was nothing Washington could do to reverse that payment. Haynesworth flamed out with terrible production from the Redskins seemingly immediately. He’s unquestionably one of the worst free agent busts of all time, and clearly didn’t give a rip how he performed in his new setting. Haynesworth is the epitome of the type of player that every NFL team should be wary of in free agency on an annual basis.
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