In this era of long-term, big-money contracts, teams in the National Football League are prone to making expensive mistakes when signing free agents—and no team is immune to it.
In some instances the signs were all there for a team to catch a bad apple before signing him, but for whatever reason the NFL squad just simply missed the mark. In other cases, it isn't always so obvious, however that doesn't make it any less painful.
Paying any player an obscene amount and getting absolutely nothing in return can set a franchise back for years. Some of the biggest contracts can hamper a team financially for years, leaving it short in several other important positions that can't be improved because there is too much money tied up in what can ultimately be a useless player.
Signing the wrong player can have a systemic impact throughout the organization, from the front office right down to the locker room. Coaches get fired because of lackluster players hurting the team's record and general managers are embarrassed and ultimately get canned for the bad decisions they make.
Injuries, criminal activity and just flat-out poor play can all make for a failed investment and can sink a team's free agent before he even gets his feet on the ground.
No team, and thus no fan, is safe from this scenario. If nothing else, this is what we all have in common as sports fans; our teams make stupid mistakes with their money.
Let's take a trip down memory lane on this bumpy road of free agent failure with the worst of the worst signing for each team in recent memory.
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32 Arizona Cardinals - Ted Ginn Jr.
When Ted Ginn Jr. signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract in 2014, the Cardinals hoped he could be the deep threat their offense needed after proving valuable in that regard for the Carolina Panthers the year before.
After just one season and 16 games played, Ginn proved to be an utter failure for the Cards. He caught just 14 passes for 190 yards and never found pay dirt in the passing game. He did retain some value as a returner, however one return for a touchdown in 16 games doesn't warrant the contract Ginn received.
After fellow receiver and deep threat John Brown emerged, Ginn was no longer needed and the Cardinals decided to save what money they could by releasing him after his lone campaign in Arizona. Ironically, Ginn would prove to be a great signing for the Panthers the following year, as he enjoyed a career year in 2015.
31 Atlanta Falcons - Ray Edwards
A post-lockout signing, Edwards was one of the more consistent pass-rushers in the game when the Falcons signed him to a five-year, $30 million deal ($11 million guaranteed) in 2011. Edwards had totaled 29.5 sacks in five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and it looked like a good idea to pair him with top pass-rusher John Abraham.
The only concern was Edwards was coming off knee surgery and there was no telling if he'd be the same again, which clearly made him an expensive risk. Edwards never lived up to his contract and instead he notched a pathetic 3.5 sacks in his first season in Atlanta.
After just nine games (four starts) into his second year, Edwards was cut by the Falcons with zero sacks and nine tackles. Adding insult to injury, the Falcons were 8-1 when making the move, meaning not even a good team could hide the horrid play of Edwards, who never played in the NFL again.
30 Baltimore Ravens - Domonique Foxworth
The Ravens were looking to make a splash at the cornerback position in 2009 and it seemed like Foxworth was the right guy when the team signed him to a four-year, $27.2 million deal, which happened to be one of the richest contracts in team history at the time.
It was also one of the biggest mistakes the team has ever made. Unfortunately for Foxworth, it was a knee injury that slowed him down and forced him to miss all of the 2010 season and play in just two games in 2011.
Granted, Foxworth did have a solid first season with the Ravens after posting 53 tackles, four interceptions and 16 pass deflections, but he ended up playing in just 18 games total for Baltimore. He was released prior to the 2012 season in which he was due to make $5.65 million and never played another snap in the NFL.
29 Buffalo Bills - Mario Williams
Buffalo's worst free agent signing in recent memory is a fault of their own and has very little to do with Williams himself, who recorded double-digit sacks in each of his first three seasons with the Bills before falling off a cliff in his fourth and final year.
Coming off a 6-10 season in 2011 under former head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills decided to drop an astonishing six-year, $100 million contract ($50 million guaranteed) on Williams in 2012, the largest deal for a defensive player up until that point. While Williams remained healthy and was quite productive, it was insane for the Bills to expend that much in financial resources on one player when there were plenty of holes to fill.
To make matters worse, Williams (and many fans) felt he was misused by new head coach Rex Ryan at the end of his tenure and failed to buy into the new system. It led to the defensive end's drop in production in 2015 and he was released prior to the 2016 season, saving the franchise $13 million in cap space.
28 Carolina Panthers - Ken Lucas
Lucas getting his nose broken in practice by future Hall of Fame receiver and teammate Steve Smith during his time in Carolina is the most memorable thing about the cornerback's time with the team.
The Panthers signed Lucas to a six-year, $36 million deal back in 2005 to be a shutdown corner and he had a solid first season with 69 tackles, six interceptions and seven pass deflections.
As time went on, his coverage got noticeably worse in his final three seasons with the team and he recorded just seven interceptions combined. Just seven months after getting into the infamous confrontation with Smith, the Panthers dropped Lucas like a bad habit in 2009 because of his Swiss cheese defending. The move saved the Panthers $2.3 million and they looked elsewhere for cornerback help.
27 Chicago Bears - Sam Hurd
Following the 2011 lockout, the Bears inked Hurd to a three-year, $5 million contract. Harmless enough, right? Wrong. Despite not having much financial stake in Hurd, his embarrassing behavior cost Chicago enough.
In his first season in 2011, Hurd caught just eight balls for 109 yards and zero touchdowns— but that wasn't even the worst of it. It turned out football wasn't Hurd's only aspiration as he was planning on creating his own drug empire when he was busted with a kilogram of cocaine sold to him by an undercover cop.
Hurd told the undercover officer he planned on buying and later selling five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week. Once the allegations came to light, the Bears released Hurd and he was later sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013, where he still resides to this day.
There might be a lot of troubled players on this list, however Hurd's transition from receiver to drug dealer to felon in two years certainly is right at the top of the most troubled list.
26 Cincinnati Bengals - Antonio Bryant
The signs were there that Bryant would be a bust before he was signed to a four-year, $28 million deal in 2010, mostly because he was coming off a knee injury that ended his 2009 campaign with the Bucs early. Bryant would then need off-season surgery, which didn't faze the Bengals one bit.
Bryant was productive with the Bucs in two seasons, notching 122 receptions for 1,848 yards and 11 touchdowns, so that contract might have seemed like a good idea if not for Bryant's injury concerns.
The Bengals found out rather quickly that they had made a mistake. Bryant would miss time in the preseason in 2010 with lingering knee issues and was later cut by Cincy just five months after signing. Bryant never played a single game with the Bengals and never stepped on a football field again.
25 Cleveland Browns - Donte' Stallworth
Before signing a seven-year, $35 million deal with the Browns in 2008, Stallworth was never an elite or even dominant receiver in the league, so it was a bit puzzling as to why the Browns paid him so much to begin with.
From there, it was all downhill. First it began with an incident at practice in which Stallworth stomped on the bare foot of teammate Braylon Edwards while he was wearing cleats. Then a pulled muscle forced the troubled receiver to miss the first four games of a season in which he played in 11 games total and could only muster up 17 catches for 170 yards and a single touchdown.
After his first and only disappointing season in Cleveland, Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk in Florida and pleaded guilty to a DUI charge, getting off easy with a 30-day jail sentence (he only served 24 days). Stallworth would find himself suspended for the entirety of the 2009 season and was released by the Browns after being reinstated into the league in 2010.
24 Dallas Cowboys - Greg Hardy
From top to bottom, the Cowboys signing Greg Hardy has to be one of the worst decisions in NFL free agent history. Hardy, an elite pass-rusher who was cut by the Panthers in 2015 after being found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to kill her, was easily the most hated man in the sports world.
Thanks to his right to appeal for a jury trial and a reluctant star witness unwilling to testify (his victim), Hardy was able to escape the charges on a technicality and get off without any jail time. Meanwhile, the incredibly shallow Cowboys and owner/general manager Jerry Jones saw this as an opportunity to improve their defense, soul be damned.
Even though Hardy had to serve a four-game ban, the Cowboys still signed him to a one-year, $11.3 million deal, but Hardy himself was an immense distraction after becoming the poster boy for domestic violence. He even got into colorful confrontations with his own teammates on the sidelines during games and his six sacks in 12 games hardly made it worth it to keep that kind of cancer around.
Thankfully even the Cowboys learned their lesson with Hardy, as no team—not even the Cowboys—has taken a chance with the troubled defensive end in 2016. That isn't likely to change now that Hardy has also been arrested for possession of cocaine in recent days.
23 Denver Broncos - Jarvis Green
When new head coach Josh McDaniels took over the reins for the Broncos in 2010, one of his free agent signings came in the form of Green, who signed a deal for four years and upwards of $12 million deal to play defensive end. Like many of McDaniels' moves, this one didn't work out.
Green was never overly productive while with the New England Patriots. In fact, in his previous two seasons before 2010, Green had recorded just three sacks in 27 games before moving on to Denver.
After the Broncos' training camp was finished, Green was out the door as Denver cut ties with him before even playing a regular season game. Green still made out like a bandit, collecting a $2.5 million signing bonus and receiving nearly $800,000 in guaranteed salary.
22 Detroit Lions - Daunte Culpepper
After an 0-8 start to the 2008 season, injuries and abysmal play from the quarterback position, the Lions decided to bring Culpepper out of retirement and make him the starting quarterback to hold things over. Culpepper more than proved he wasn't the same QB who put up great numbers with the Minnesota Vikings.
It was a move that a contending team would make, but the only problem was the Lions weren't even close to contending when they signed Culpepper to a two-year deal. Furthermore, he was a threat to take away playing time from one of Detroit's younger signal-callers on a team that was clearly rebuilding.
Culpepper was absolutely dreadful with the Lions after the veteran found his team on the losing end of every game he played in from 2008-09. Despite drafting QB Matthew Stafford in 2009, the Lions kept Culpepper and wasted more of their money in doing so.
He would play in just 13 games (not all starts) over two seasons with Detroit, completing 54 percent of his passes to the tune of 1,731 yards, seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Mercifully the Lions were able to begin a new era under Stafford in 2009, giving the franchise actual hope.
21 Green Bay Packers - Joe Johnson
Back in 2002 a NFL contract worth $33 million for a defensive player was a lot of money and that's exactly how much the Packers decided to pay Johnson over the course of a six-year deal. He took home a whopping $6 million signing bonus thanks to a productive tenure with the New Orleans Saints that saw him compile 21 sacks in his final two seasons in the Big Easy.
Green Bay didn't come close to getting the player the Saints got, and instead Johnson played in just 11 games over the course of two seasons and fell into just two sacks and 16 tackles. He was even charged with marijuana possession in Georgia.
Johnson would never play another down for the Packers after he was released in 2004. It was ultimately the end of his NFL career as he never took part in a regular season game again.
20 Houston Texans - Brock Osweiler
Yes, I know we're early into the Osweiler era and there's still plenty of time for the jury to hand down its final verdict, but the Texans inking Osweiler to a ridiculous four-year, $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed just doesn't smell right. It was a hefty price to pay for most quarterbacks, let alone one who had played in just 21 games over four years in the league and never really did much to stand out.
Osweiler, who did show some flashes of success, started just seven games for the Broncos in 2015 while Peyton Manning was injured; however Manning later supplanted Osweiler after lackluster play forced head coach Gary Kubiak to re-insert Manning.
While his decent numbers with Denver proved nothing, it was desperation on the part of the Texans that made them pull the trigger on this deal in the hopes of getting out of the rut of poor quarterback play for years.
19 Indianapolis Colts - LaRon Landry
After a stellar season with the New York Jets in 2012, the Colts' 2013 signing of LaRon Landry made all the sense in the world to help bolster their lackluster defense. So, in turn, the Colts handed Landry a four-year deal worth $28 million ($14 million in guarantees).
It ended up being a mess for Indy. Landry would fail to record a single interception in two seasons while never matching his 100-tackle output for the Jets back in 2012.
Landry would play in 23 games in total for the Colts and even served a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. Landry never amounted to the difference-maker the Colts thought they were getting, thus he was released in 2015 to save $2 million in cap space.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars - Jerry Porter
Jerry Porter signed a lucrative six-year, $30 million deal ($10 million guaranteed) with the Jaguars in 2008 after eight mediocre to good seasons with the Oakland Raiders. There was no logical reason as to why the Jaguars felt the need to give Porter so much money.
The problems with Porter were plentiful. Not only was he seen as bad in the locker room, Porter was a no-show on the field. He would catch just 11 balls in 10 games for the Jags, totaling 181 yards and one touchdown.
That's right, folks: that was one expensive touchdown. After realizing their mistake, the Jags cut ties with Porter in 2009 in what was one of the most expensive gaffes in team history. The Jaguars always seem to save their money for years, only to overpay on one mediocre free agent.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Kendrell Bell
Bell was a huge splash for the Chiefs back in 2005 as the linebacker signed with KC for a seven-year, $35 million deal ($10 million guaranteed) to give some much-needed help to its defense.
It was a super risky move for a team in desperate need of defense. Bell, who was a former Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001, was coming off sports hernia surgery in 2004, missing 13 games that season. There were certainly questions about his health moving forward, but that didn't matter to the Chiefs.
Quite predictably, the Chiefs ended up being disappointed in their investment despite Bell actually staying healthy for the most part. Bell never came close to being worth the money spent after posting a dismal 2.5 sacks and 98 tackles in 43 career games through three seasons with the Chiefs. He was released in 2008 and never played another NFL game.
16 Los Angeles Rams - Cortland Finnegan
Although he had a nice start to his Rams career that had many believing he'd be worth the money, something happened to Cortland Finnegan and his play quickly fell off a cliff. The Rams figured his previous experience playing under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee would make him an easy fit with the team.
The Rams needed help defensively and pegged Finnegan as their man, signing him a five-year, $60 million deal in 2012. Finnegan started strong with three interceptions in his first three games, but saw his play steadily decline as his time in St. Louis went on.
After playing 16 games in 2012, Finnegan managed to play in just seven games in 2013 because of a fractured orbital bone, his last season with the franchise. Finnegan consistently got burned in coverage and was relegated to nickel corner duties before being released in 2014.
15 Miami Dolphins - Jake Grove
Knowing full well that Grove had a checkered past with injuries, the Dolphins still attempted to add to their offensive line by signing the center to a four-year, $29.5 million deal that eventually blew up in their face.
Grove predictably dealt with an injury during his time in South Beach and started in just 10 games during his only season with the Dolphins in 2009. Before the 2010 season began, Grove was beaten out for the starting job by fellow lineman Joe Berger, to further add to his bust status.
Not exactly what the Dolphins had envisioned when they threw $14.5 million in guaranteed money. Grove losing his starting job in 2010 was the final straw and Miami released Grove to save themselves from wasting more money on the disappointing center.
14 Minnesota Vikings - Fred Smoot
Smoot became more well-known for his antics off the field than on it during his time in Minnesota, and that's never a good thing.
On top of being a lackluster cornerback for the Vikings after signing a six-year, $34 million deal in 2005, Smoot got himself involved in the now infamous "Love Boat" scandal in his first season with the team. Smoot was blamed as the planner of what was reportedly a wild party involving escorts and he was one of three players convicted on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges.
In all Smoot would play in 25 games during his two seasons with the Vikes and never lived up to his contract, posting just three interceptions and regularly getting burnt by opposing receivers. Apparently Smoot was a better party planner than he was a cornerback.
13 New England Patriots - Jonathan Fanene
Looking for help up the middle defensively, the Patriots made a play for Fanene, a defensive tackle who had spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals up until that point.
The three-year deal worth $9.85 million wouldn't have been too painful if Fanene had actually taken the field in a regular season game and been a solid player. Unfortunately for both sides, Fanene would never get his opportunity.
A knee injury for the defensive tackle forced him to miss practice and the Pats' first two preseason games in 2011, so head coach Bill Belichick decided to move on from him. The Pats tried to get out of paying Fanene his signing bonus and other money by claiming Fanene failed to disclose his knee injury to the team.
The two sides eventually reached a settlement and Fanene's career as a Patriot was over before it started.
12 New Orleans Saints - Brandon Browner
With a desperate need for help in the secondary and a dwindling market at the cornerback position, the Saints gave Browner a three-year deal worth about $18 million in 2015 to upgrade their defense and add a strong presence in the locker room.
More often than not Browner was getting beat badly on deep balls over his head and the two-time Super Bowl winner with the Seahawks and Patriots showed one of the reasons why New England was willing to cut ties with him.
In his lone season in the Big Easy, Browner had an astounding 24 penalties called against him, the most for any player since 2001. He managed to play in every game, but he wasn't much of an asset to New Orleans at that price. Browner would be released prior to the 2016 season, leading to a reunion with the Seattle Seahawks that didn't last very long.
11 New York Giants - C.C. Brown
The Giants needed help in their secondary and head coach Tom Coughlin thought Brown would be the answer to his need, so Brown was signed to a one-year deal in 2009 that didn't seem like a big risk at the time.
Brown was coming off a season with the Texans in which he played just three games after breaking his forearm. The Giants signed him anyway and got zero interceptions for their money in just one season.
The cornerback was often used as the scapegoat for the team's struggles on defense in 2009 and it was enough for the G-Men not to bring him back the following season. Brown wouldn't go quietly into the night though, as he would bash the Giants every chance he got.
10 New York Jets - Kellen Winslow
Signing Winslow wasn't exactly a long-term risk for the Jets after the once-promising tight end signed for one year in 2013. In his only season in New York, Winslow caught 31 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.
Aside from his overall lackluster play, Winslow was an embarrassment off the field for Gang Green. Winslow was suspended four games for performance-enhancing drug use and was even busted for possession of synthetic marijuana in a Target parking lot after the season.
Adding to the story, a woman accused Winslow of pleasuring himself in his car in the same parking lot, although he was never charged for the alleged act. Still, the damage was done and Winslow never played another down in the NFL.
9 Oakland Raiders - Javon Walker
Before joining the Raiders on a six-year, $55 million contract ($16 million guaranteed) in 2008, Walker showed a ton of promise at the receiver position. When healthy for both the Broncos and Packers, the receiver totaled 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns for Green Bay in 2004, and 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns for the Broncos in 2006.
While those were impressive numbers to say the least, Walker also missed a huge amount of time in each of the years after his two successful seasons. Walker played in just one game in 2005 and eight games in 2007 prior to signing with Oakland, so the writing was certainly on the wall that injuries would continue to be a problem.
Walker would spend just two seasons in Oakland for a combined total of 11 games played. In 2008, Walker had 15 receptions for 196 yards and one touchdown, and he didn't fare any better in 2009 after failing to catch a single pass in three games. Walker was released in 2010.
8 Philadelphia Eagles - Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles did their best to build the NFL's version of the "Dream Team" on defense when the team signed Asomugha, one of the most sought-after free agents on the market that year, to a five-year, $60 million deal in 2011.
Asomugha was supposed to be a big part of the team that many pegged to have a Super Bowl season, but instead he was an embarrassment. Not only did the Eagles go 8-8 in what was an epic disappointment, Asomugha was accused of loafing it on defense and not playing up to his enormous contract, which guaranteed $25 million.
The following season wasn't any better with the Eagles finishing 4-12 and Asomugha ending his two seasons in Philly with just 95 tackles and four interceptions. Asomugha was cut in 2013 by the Eagles in order to spread their resources elsewhere.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers - Sean Mahan
Mahan was supposed to be a staple on the Steelers' offensive line for years to come after the center inked a five-year, $17 million deal in 2007. It was an important signing thanks to the increased competition coming from opposing defensive lines in Pittsburgh's division.
The former Buccaneer never lived up to the hype and was overpowered by superior defensive lineman who owned Mahan at the point of attack during the 16 games he played in his only season with the Steelers.
Frustrated with his performance—and the promotion of Justin Hartwig to Mahan's starting position—the Steelers decided to move on from Mahan. To salvage what was left of a lost signing, the Steelers traded Mahan back to the Bucs and received a seventh-round pick in return.
6 San Diego Chargers - Jared Gaither
After being waived by the Chiefs in 2011, Gaither joined the Chargers and proved to be a bright spot on the team's offensive line at the end of the season, leading to a big contract in 2012.
Thanks to just five games of solid play, Gaither was paid handsomely, landing himself a contract worth $24.5 million over four years. The Chargers paid for a small sample size and, of course, were burned for it.
Gaither, who was also known as "Big Lazy" during his time with the Ravens, would end up on injured reserve in his second and final season with the Chargers, taking part in just four games.
His work ethic was questioned and he was even accused of milking his injuries because of his lack of a desire to still play. Gaither would collect $13.5 million in guarantees even though the Chargers would cut him loose after the 2012 season.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Mario Manningham
Manningham had some good seasons as a member of the Giants and was a Super Bowl hero thanks to a huge catch that helped propel the G-Men over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
So naturally the Niners gave Manningham a look when they needed a receiver before the 2012 season and signed the talented pass-catcher to a two-year, $7.37 million pact. Manningham didn't do much in his first season with just 42 catches for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games.
The San Fran receiver suffered a major knee injury late in 2012 and was never the same again after that. He concluded his time with the Niners after the 2013 season in which he had nine catches for 85 yards in just six games. It proved to be the end of his career.
4 Seattle Seahawks - Matt Flynn
Flynn was a career backup who had started just two career NFL games for the Packers until the 2011 season when one big game would change his life forever.
The New Year's Day game against the Lions saw Flynn throw for 480 yards and six touchdowns while the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers, leading some to believe Flynn could be a starter in this league for years to come. After playing the game of his life, Flynn secured his financial future.
Again another team was fooled by a ridiculously small sample size and the Seahawks forked over $26 million over three years ($10 million guaranteed). Flynn, who was signed to be the starter in 2012, was beaten handily for the starting job by rookie signal-caller Russell Wilson and was later traded to the Oakland Raiders.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Doug Martin
To say Martin's career has been up and down isn't doing it justice. Martin had a sensational rookie season with the Bucs when he had over 1,900 total yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns.
Everything was looking great for Martin until his next two years proved to be dreadful. Martin would play in just 17 games from 2013-14, and nearly had more rushing yards in six games in 2013 than he had in 11 games in 2014.
Thanks to a resurgence in 2015 that saw him rush for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns, Martin got his big money contract (five years, $35.75 million) that some thought unlikely given his injury woes and overall lack of production in the two seasons prior. Not to mention, the running back position has been devalued in recent years and teams are reluctant to hand out boatloads of money to starting backs.
This one has bust written all over it.
2 Tennessee Titans - Andy Levitre
With the Titans in the midst of rebuild mode and in need of a talented offensive lineman, the organization signed Levitre to play guard. He was paid quite well to do it with a six-year, $46.8 million contract that gave Levitre a $10.5 million signing bonus with $13 million guaranteed. Usually, a guard doesn't get that kind of money, but that's how desperate the Titans were.
If nothing else, Levitre started all 32 games for the Titans after signing before the 2013 season. The guard was ineffective during his two seasons and eventually lost his starting job to Byron Bell, who converted from tackle to guard to take Levitre's job.
Seeing as how all was lost, Tennessee pulled the plug on the Levitre experiment and traded him to the Falcons for a sixth-round pick.
1 Washington Redskins - Albert Haynesworth
Last but not least, one of the biggest free agent busts in NFL history goes to Haynesworth, who signed a contract worth $100 million with $41 million guaranteed thanks to the Redskins.
Haynesworth was actually a talented interior presence for seven seasons with the Titans. The warning signs were there, however, as Haynesworth was known for his lack of motivation and work ethic when it came to football.
The Redskins found out firsthand just how bad Haynesworth was, as the defensive lineman skipped workouts, got himself suspended and failed multiple conditioning tests in camp.
Finally the Redskins had enough and traded Haynesworth to the Patriots prior to the 2011 season. Not even the Patriots were able to salvage Haynesworth, proving what a catastrophic signing he was.
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