It’s no secret the NFL and its players don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to off-field behavior. And I guess they’re not exactly angels on the field either, but that’s another list for another day.
Whatever the root of the issue may be, it seems like a lot of these highly paid, highly skilled athletes just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. I can’t imagine that having more money than you know what to do with and receiving special treatment everywhere you go can help all that much, but you’d think these guys might wake up and realize at some point that they’re grown-ass men with real responsibilities, and that they could seriously jeopardize their cushy careers playing football for a living with their continued wayward conduct.
Apparently the scandalous players on this particular list had little regard for the consequences of their actions. From drug and alcohol abuse to physical violence to repeatedly and blatantly violating league rules, nothing was too taboo for these guys. They put their material desires ahead of both their teammates and their future livelihood and watched it all come crashing down around them, bringing both a swift and shameful end to what should have been a long and fruitful pro football occupation.
I’m not sure if they ever learned their lesson, but here are 15 former NFL players whose careers, for one appalling reason or another, ended in disgrace, never to play another snap in the NFL again.
15 Ray McDonald
Defensive lineman Ray McDonald parlayed a Florida Class 3A high school state championship in 2000 into a football scholarship with the University of Florida, where he was a team captain of the Gators’ 2006 squad that went 13-1 and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes for the school’s second national championship.
He was cruising right along as a starter with the San Francisco 49ers after they took him in the third round of the 2007 draft and had even signed a hefty five-year, $20 million extension three years prior when his string of domestic violence issues began in May of 2014.
After his third run-in with the law for domestic issues, the 49ers released McDonald that December. He signed with the Bears the following March, but he was arrested several more times after that – for things like false imprisonment and child endangerment – and was released once again that May. A disturbing video of his violent 2015 encounter with his ex-fiancé and their infant son was released last year, all but guaranteeing his NFL playing days done.
14 JaMarcus Russell
He was supposed the Raiders’ saving grace, a godsend from the heavens sent to resurrect the floundering franchise back into its championship-winning form. Skipping out on his senior year at LSU to declare for the draft, Oakland snatched up the big quarterback with the first pick in 2011 with hopes the college standout from Mobile, Alabama could deliver the team out of the dark ages.
Of course, we all know how that ended up going. Whatever work ethic Russell had coming out of college evaporated the second the first paycheck from his $61 million contract cleared.
He never arrived at training camp in shape, fell asleep in meetings and barely even showed up to practice. It showed on the field too. He went 7-18 as a starter in parts of three seasons between 2007 and 2009, threw a good deal more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (18), and was eventually released by the Raiders in May of 2010 as one of the biggest draft busts in the history of the league.
13 Barret Robbins
A former Raider and second-round pick out of Texas Christian University, Barret Robbins’ downhill slide began when the then-29-year-old disappeared less than two days before he was to start at center in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Diego. It was later determined that Robbins was bipolar and having a severe manic episode that led him to take an impromptu celebratory trip to Tijuana, thinking Oakland had already won the title.
But his troubles didn’t end there. After regaining his starting role for the 2003 season, his name showed up on a released list of BALCO clients, and the Raiders subsequently released him the following year when he tested positive for steroids. Since then, he’s been involved in several serious law-breaking incidents, including attempted robbery, attempted murder, assault and drug possession charges. Now divorced from his wife, he never played another down of football after his missed Super Bowl appearance.
12 Shawne Merriman
Though he was widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in the game, ex-San Diego Charger and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman put himself into some pretty undesirable situations. His on-field antics, annoying as they were, weren’t even near the most damaging thing he did to his once promising NFL career.
His first real blemish came in his sophomore season in 2006 when he was suspended four games after testing positive for steroids. Then, in 2009, Merriman was arrested and charged with battery and false imprisonment when his then reality TV star girlfriend and current self-declared Nazi, Tila Tequila, claimed Merriman choked and restrained her when she was trying to leave his home.
Also, in 2011 Merriman was reportedly detained at the Canadian border for possessing drugs, although nothing was ever proven.
From there, he never played another full season of football, battling injury in his final three years in the league until he finally bowed out in 2013, falling well short of where his career was supposed to take him.
11 Albert Haynesworth
Despite being a first-round selection by the Tennessee Titans out of the University of Tennessee in 2002, Albert Haynesworth is oftentimes heralded as the worst free-agent signing in NFL history. That’s because after he signed a colossal seven-year, $100 million contract with the Redskins in 2009, he only ended up playing 20 games before being traded, then waived, and ultimately released in 2012 at just 30 years old.
Before he landed in Washington, he was considered one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He was a two-time Pro Bowl player and was averaging over 28 tackles per season. But as soon as his hefty contract was signed, he started mailing it in. He refused to participate in offseason workouts, constantly took plays off in games and started multiple feuds with the Redskins’ coaching staff.
Washington traded him to New England in 2011, but they waived him in November of that year, so the Buccaneers claimed him but then released him themselves the next February. He was less than four years into his seven-year deal and hasn’t played since.
10 Joseph Randle
In just his third pro season in 2015, Joseph Randle ascended the Dallas Cowboys’ depth chart to starting running back after previous starter DeMarco Murray left for free agency. He played six games that year, recording four touchdowns, before he went down with an injury.
Little did he know that that sixth game of the 2015 season would be the last of his career.
Randle was arrested that October for stealing men’s cologne and underwear from a Dillard’s department store in Frisco, Texas. The Cowboys subsequently demoted him to a reserve role and then waived him in November. He was also suspended four games by the NFL, though he would never serve them.
He was then arrested twice in 2015 for drugs and assault, twice in 2016 for an outstanding warrant and battery and once this year for disorderly conduct while in jail in Kansas. Now that’s a disgrace.
9 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf is perhaps the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL, especially when you consider he almost went before Peyton Manning for the first overall pick in 1998.
The man was a specimen coming out of college. He’s six-foot-five and well over 240 pounds, with a rocket launcher where his right arm should be. He was a finalist for the Heisman in his junior year at Washington State in 1997, and he was expected to do some big things in the pros.
Welp, that didn’t happen. Leaf was terrible – and not just on the field. He had an awful work ethic and a worse attitude. After just three seasons in San Diego, he had 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions in 18 starts. The Chargers ended up waiving him, and while the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Seahawks all gave him a chance, he never got any better.
After football, he hit rock bottom. He was arrested somewhere in the neighborhood of five or six times for drug-related offenses and served plenty of time in prison when he should have still been tearing up the league.
8 Stanley Wilson
Running back Stanley Wilson struggled with a cocaine habit throughout his six-season NFL career and twice missed entire seasons in 1985 and 1987 because of it.
But it all came to a head on the eve of Super Bowl XXIII when his Cincinnati Bengals were set to play the San Francisco 49ers in Miami. Wilson told his teammates that he was going to retrieve his playbook after a meeting, but just minutes later, he was caught doped up in a restroom, and the Bengals were forced to leave him off the roster for the big game.
It was his third strike with drugs, and the NFL banned him for life. After his exile, Wilson continued to struggle with drugs and was eventually sentenced in 1999 to 22 years in California state prison. And yes, he’s still locked up today.
7 Greg Hardy
A freshman All-American defensive end at Ole Miss, Greg Hardy was an extraordinary talent in college and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round in 2010. He excelled early in his career, even setting a Panthers record with 15 sacks in the 2013 season.
Hardy’s rapid descent from fame began in 2014 when he was found guilty of assaulting his then-girlfriend Nicole Holder by throwing her against a bathroom wall, tossing her on a bed covered with assault rifles and choking her while verbally threatening her life.
He played in one game the following season before being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while his court case played out.
He signed with the Cowboys in 2015 but was suspended for the season’s first four games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. His production then declined, and he behaved poorly, including an inappropriate and all-too-public Twitter tirade. He was not re-signed for 2016, and was arrested on cocaine charges last September. He hasn’t played a game since the end of 2015, and it’s increasingly unlikely he ever will again.
6 Lawrence Phillips
Lawrence Phillips already had trouble with the law in college before he went pro in 1996, but the talented running back won two national championships with the University of Nebraska, so he was attractive to pro scouts.
He played three tumultuous years in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers from 1996 to 1999, scoring 14 touchdowns on 1,453 rushing yards. Perhaps his lowest on-field point was in 1999 when he failed to pick up on blitzing defensive back Aeneas Williams who then laid a devastating hit on 49ers quarterback Steve Young, effectively ending Young’s career.
Phillips then played a couple of seasons in the Canadian Football league in 2002 and 2003, but was dismissed from the Montreal Alouettes after being arrested for sexual assault.
In 2005, Phillips was arrested for driving a car into three teenagers and was wanted for multiple other egregious crimes. He was sentenced to over 31 years in prison. He then killed a cellmate before killing himself, ending a troubled lifetime of crime and missed football opportunity.
5 Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth is a sick, sick man, and he committed one of the most disgusting, disgraceful acts of violence in 1999 that permanently ended his NFL career and rightly sent him to jail for a long, long time.
Carruth was found guilty of a murder-for-hire plot when he employed a friend of his to kill his then-girlfriend Cherica Adams, who had become pregnant with his child and refused to have an abortion.
In November of 1999, Carruth and his friend, Van Brett Watkins, followed Adams in her vehicle near Carruth’s home town of Charlotte and ran her off the road, where Watkins shot her four times before the pair fled. Carruth was arrested in Tennessee the following month, and his team, the Carolina Panthers, immediately waived him after parts of just three seasons with the team.
Carruth was sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison and will be eligible for parole next year.
4 Vince Young
This clown had all the talent and potential in the world until he squandered it away like an entitled little millennial brat. Vince Young was a Heisman finalist after leading his Texas Longhorns to the 2005 BCS national championship over the USC Trojans, was a consensus All-American, and even earned the NFL’s Rookie of the Year honor after his first season in the league in 2006.
His downhill slide started in 2008 when he was injured and eventually demoted to the Tennessee Titans’ backup QB slot. He would eventually earn his starting job back only to have issues with the coaching staff. Eventually, his off-putting attitude and entitled behavior caused the Titans to release him after the 2011 season.
The Philadelphia Eagles gave Young a chance the following season, but he continued to stink both on and off the field, and they parted ways with him too. Three more NFL teams subsequently signed and released him, and now he’s a bankrupt, disgraced former NFL quarterback playing in Canada.
3 Ray Rice
You’ve seen the video. It’s hard to watch. One click of the “play” button and anyone in their right mind who sees former Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice clock his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in the face and then carelessly drag her limp body out of the elevator, would suspend him indefinitely too.
After the NFL did that, the Ravens terminated his contract, and Ray Rice never played another down in the league.
That was in 2014, and Rice was having a great career after the Ravens took him in the second round in 2008. He won a title with the team in 2013, and with 37 touchdowns, he is second all-time for rushing TDs by a Ravens player. Now exiled and shamed for his domestic violence episode, Ray Rice is a poster-boy for how not to treat a lady.
2 Johnny Manziel
Where do you even start with Johnny Manziel? He’s a hot mess, a trainwreck, a lost cause, and most importantly, a lost talent who succumbed to the material world over his pro football career and embarrassed himself time after time, tarnishing forever a reputation that could have taken him many places.
He should have been a star. His run-and-gun style of quarterbacking was an exciting addition to the league that proved successful in college. But he apparently didn’t think the rules applied to him.
He caused trouble at every turn after winning the Heisman as a Texas A&M freshman in 2012. He had a drinking habit, and that the was root cause of a lot of his foolhardy ways. He missed meetings, crashed frat parties, charged for his autograph, was arrested more times than once and even skipped town to party in Vegas in a bad disguise the night before a Browns game when he was out with a concussion.
In 2015, Cleveland, who had drafted him 22nd overall the year prior, had finally had enough and released Manziel from the team. The next year, his marketing agency fired him, two separate agents fired him, and he even lost some lucrative endorsements.
He was never able to kick his addiction problems, and what should have been a long and successful career never even got off the ground.
1 Aaron Hernandez
Sadly, he’s not the first murderer on this list, but Aaron Hernandez is probably the most notable. Though he’s not quite this generation’s O.J. Simpson, Hernandez was a star tight end for the New England Patriots and caused opposing defensive coordinators to lose plenty of sleep before he lined up against them. But he ruined it all when he got caught up with some very bad people and ended up taking part in at least one murder and probably two.
He had a known checkered past before he entered the NFL, but like the Patriots are apt to do, they took him in and tried to rehab his behavior while taking advantage of his athletic superiority. He only lasted three seasons in New England before the team immediately released him after he was arrested for the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd.
Found guilty on all charges, Hernandez threw away his career just like that, and will be serving the rest of his life behind bars.