The NFL free agent market can be a gold mine for some and a huge source of fool’s gold for others. However, even the best assessors of talent have signed “can’t miss” free agents who turned out to be the equivalent of buying a lemon at a used car lot. Some teams are blinded by marquee names and their past feats from years gone by, or the shiny Super Bowl rings that they won while playing with other organizations. Some teams might even believe that the winning attitudes from these players’ glory days might be more important than what they actually have left in the all-important gas tank. Other teams believe they have zeroed in on a diamond in the rough and have seen something in a player that the rest of the league has missed. And other free agent signings appear to be nothing more than sentimental reunions between coaches and players who had past working relationships on other teams. And still other free agent acquisitions leave entire fan bases scratching their collective heads while they save the phone numbers of their local sports talk radio shows to their cell phones.
Let’s take a look at every NFL team’s worst free agent signing since 2000.
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60 Arizona Cardinals: Derek Anderson
Derek Anderson was a quarterback with the Cleveland Browns from 2006 to 2009. Anderson was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 in what would prove to be his best season as a quarterback in the NFL. Injuries and inconsistency plagued the rest of his tenure in Cleveland. However, the Arizona Cardinals were desperate for some quarterback depth and signed Anderson to a two-year $7.25 million contract in 2010. Anderson some how managed to beat out Matt Leinart to win the starting position. He probably would have been better off as the back up. Anderson played poorly, was benched at one point, and was only 2-7 as the starter that year. He is best remembered for his post game tirade against a member of the media after being called out for laughing on the sidelines while the team was getting their heads handed to them. Anderson was gone after only one season in Arizona.
59 Atlanta Falcons: Steven Jackson
The Atlanta Falcons experienced first hand that NFL running backs’ skills can sometimes erode over night. The Falcons signed former St. Louis Rams star and three-time Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson to a three-year deal in 2013. Jackson played nine seasons in St. Louis where he gained over a 1,000 yards rushing in eight straight seasons following his rookie campaign. What the Falcons didn’t realize was that all the mileage Jackson put on in St. Louis left his gas tank nearly on empty. He rushed for only 543 yards in 2013 and 707 yards in 2014. The old Jackson who was a punishing tank coming out of the backfield week in and week out in St. Louis never showed up in Atlanta. Jackson was released by Atlanta following the 2014 season.
58 Baltimore Ravens: Elvis Grbac
Elvis Grbac was signed by the Baltimore Ravens to replace starting quarterback Trent Dilfer. Despite being the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XXXV one year earlier, Dilfer, the game manager, was dumped by the Ravens in favor of a more prolific passer in Grbac. In 2000 with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was a Pro Bowl selection and passed for over 4,000 yards with 28 touchdown passes. The idea was that Grbac combined with their vaunted defense would make the Ravens virtually invincible. It all looked good on paper but Grbac was a flop on the field. He finished with more interceptions (18) then touchdown passes (15) and threw three picks in a playoff loss to hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was Grbac’s only season in Baltimore and his last in the NFL.
57 Buffalo Bills: Derrick Dockery
Since the year 2000, some Buffalo Bills fans regard guard Derrick Dockery as the worst free agent signing in Buffalo Bills history. The Bills signed Dockery away from the Washington Redskins and made him one of the highest paid guards in NFL history. Buffalo signed him to a seven year $49 million deal in 2007. For that kind of money, the Bills were expecting a little more than mediocrity and as a result he was cut after just two seasons. Dockery was just one of many overvalued, over priced players brought onto an underachieving Bills squad in the midst of a playoff drought. Tackle Langston Walker (2007) and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett (2006) were also free agent busts brought in during this time. These types of personnel moves were huge contributing factors to the firing of head coach Dick Jauron in 2009.
56 Carolina Panthers: Ken Lucas
The Carolina Panthers signed cornerback Ken Lucas away from the Seattle Seahawks in 2004. He had a solid year in 2003 for Seattle where he had six interceptions. The Panthers decided to pony up a six-year $36 million contract to acquire Lucas’ services. He had six interceptions in his first season as a Panther. The Panthers were looking pretty smart for getting their claws into Lucas. However, following that promising season, he became less known for interceptions and more known for being punched out by teammate Steve Smith. As a result, Smith was suspended for two games but ironically it was Lucas who was cut at season’s end. Due to inconsistent play and as a cost cutting measure, he was kicked to the curb in 2009 with two years left on his deal.
55 Chicago Bears: Kordell Stewart
Outside of one Pro Bowl season in 2001 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kordell Stewart was a mediocre quarterback. Stewart could make a lot happen with his feet and had the ability to also play wide receiver and running back earning him the nickname “Slash”. However, the novelty wore off when he became extremely ineffective as a passer. Stewart lost his starting job in Pittsburgh and was sent packing after the 2002 season. The Chicago Bears overvalued the overrated quarterback when they signed him in 2003. Signing a running quarterback who lost more than a step and was never an efficient passer probably wasn’t a good idea. Stewart played horribly in just one season in the Windy City. He finished with seven touchdown passes and twelve interceptions in just nine games.
54 Cincinnati Bengals: Antonio Bryant
Former standout wide receiver Antonio Bryant signed a 4-year, $28 million contract in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Bryant never played a down for them. The Bengals rolled the dice on the injury riddled Bryant and lost. They threw a boatload of money at him despite the fact he missed the final three games of the previous season and had offseason surgery. The Bengals wanted the 2008 version of Bryant who scored seven touchdowns while racking up over 1,2000 yards for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, they probably should have taken a little bit closer look at his 2009 season, which should have been a huge red flag. The Bengals signed Bryant despite declining numbers and injury concerns. Following his cup of tea with the Bengals, Bryant tried to catch on with the Seattle Seahawks but ultimately never played another down in the NFL.
53 Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin III
The Cleveland Browns just signed quarterback Robert Griffin III this past offseason to a two-year $15 million deal. The number two overall draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft is already proving to be a huge free agent blunder. Griffin III showed star potential for the Washington Redskins before a knee injury and declining performance ran him out of town. The Browns paid no mind and signed the struggling quarterback as well as trading their 2016 second overall draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly used the pick to select promising QB Carson Wentz. Wentz has played well this season in Philadelphia while Griffin III was injured in week one and has yet to return. To add insult to injury, Griffin III injured his shoulder due to an ill-advised decision to not avoid contact. There are already grumblings that his career in Cleveland is over and some Browns’ fans might agree that it probably should have never started.
52 Dallas Cowboys: Mike Vanderjagt
In 2006, the Dallas Cowboys thought the missing piece of their championship puzzle might be in the kicking game. They overvalued and over paid for free agent kicker and known trash talker Mike Vanderjagt. Vanderjagt peaked in 2003 when he was a perfect 37 out of 37 on field goal attempts and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Vanderjagt was known more for his big mouth and big misses in 2004 and 2005. Vanderjagt was renamed “Vanderjerk” by New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison before the AFC title game in 2004 and missed a key field goal attempt in a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005. The usually reserved Peyton Manning even referred to Vanderjagt as an “idiot”. Dallas ignored signs of decline as well as the poor attitude and signed the controversial kicker to a three year $4.5 million deal. Vanderjagt was a complete bust in Dallas. He immediately drew the ire of head coach Bill Parcells when he missed two kicks in the pre-season and then refused to be used for kickoffs. Needless to say, Vanderjagt wasn’t long for Dallas and he was released after just eleven games with America’s team.
51 Denver Broncos: Travis Henry
Travis Henry showed flashes of brilliance in six NFL seasons with both the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. He rushed for over 1,000 yards three times and was selected to the Pro Bowl. It was enough evidence for the Denver Broncos to sign Henry in 2007 to a 5-year, $25 million deal. Early on, it looked like the Broncos would get their money’s worth. After four games, Henry was leading the league in rushing. It was all down hill from there. Injuries and his penchant for cannabis derailed his Broncos career. Henry was released after just one season in the Mile High City. He never played another down in the NFL. Henry’s post NFL life has included huge legal issues including drug trafficking and child support of nine children from nine different mothers.
50 Detroit Lions: Damien Woody
Damien Woody caught the attention of the Detroit Lions due to an extremely impressive resume. Woody was a Pro Bowl center and two-time Super Bowl winner in five season with the New England Patriots. The Lions, looking to improve on a last place finish, signed the former 17th overall pick to a six year $31 million contract in 2004. Woody played very well in his first season in the Motor City and was a Pro Bowl alternate. The Lions had to be feeling pretty good about the investment. However, it was all downhill following that first solid season. Woody’s play declined largely due to injury and he eventually lost his starting position. The Lions fell victim to falling in love with a player’s collection of rings and Pro Bowl selections rather than looking at the big picture. Woody played four seasons in Detroit before signing with the Jets in 2008.
49 Green Bay Packers: Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson was a solid defensive end for eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Johnson was selected to two Pro Bowls and collected 50.5 sacks in the Big Easy. In 2002, the Green Bay Packers inked Johnson to a six year $36 million deal. At the time, the deal was seen as New Orleans’ loss and the Packers’ gain. The Packers hoped the tandem of Johnson and Vonnie Holliday would make for a formidable duo on the defensive line. However, the Pro Bowl caliber Johnson never showed up in Green Bay. In two mediocre seasons, he only played in a total of eleven games. Johnson was released after the 2003 season and the Packers took a salary cap hit as a going away present.
48 Houston Texans: Ed Reed
The Houston Texans had high hopes when they signed nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed to a $15 million deal in 2013. The former Baltimore Raven led the league in interceptions three times and came to Houston with 61 career picks. They had even higher hopes of making the Super Bowl after an impressive 12-4 campaign in 2012. The defending AFC South Champions hoped that one of the all time great NFL safeties along with Pro Bowl Defensive End JJ Watt could carry them to the promise land. No one in Houston thought the promise land would be the cellar. The Texans finished 2-14 and went from first to worst in one season. Reed didn’t even finish the season a Texan. He was cut after not recording one interception, losing his starting position, and speaking out against the coaching staff. He played the final seven games of the season as a member of the New York Jets.
47 Indianapolis Colts: LaRon Landry
LaRon Landry put together a Pro Bowl season with the New York Jets in 2012, which made him a valuable commodity on the free agent market. The free agent safety drew the attention of the Indianapolis Colts who signed him to a four-year $24 million contract. Unfortunately, the Colts overvalued him and never saw the form that made Landry a Pro Bowl selection in New York. He struggled with PED (performance enhancing drugs) violations in Indianapolis in addition to his inconsistent play. It has also been reported that Landry didn’t get along with his Colt teammates. In his final season with the Colts, Landry served a four game suspension for PED use and lost his starting position. He was cut by the Colts after just two mediocre seasons. Landry is currently suspended indefinitely due to his third suspension for PED use.
46 Jacksonville Jaguars: Hugh Douglas
Hugh Douglas had a three-year stretch with the Philadelphia Eagles in which the defensive end was an absolute beast. From 2000 to 2002, Douglas was selected to the Pro Bowl and recorded a total of 37 sacks. He played on an Eagles squad that won three consecutive NFC East Championships. It came as no surprise that he became a valued commodity on the free agent market. The Jacksonville Jaguars scooped him up in 2003 for five years and $27 million. However, at 32 years-old, Douglas was no longer the beast he once was in Philly. The NFL is a cruel world in which players can seemingly age and decline over night. He was mediocre in 2003 and sacked the quarterback just 3.5 times. After just one season in Jacksonville, he was cut during training camp in 2004.
45 Kansas City Chiefs: Kendrell Bell
The Kansas City Chiefs were looking to retool their defense when they signed linebacker Kendrell Bell to a seven-year deal. Bell was a standout for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2001 to 2004 where he helped the black and gold win two division crowns. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001. Bell was selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year as well and was a force on the Steeler defense until the injury bug bit him in 2004. The Chiefs ignored the injury concerns that helped him get released from the Steelers. Bell wasn’t nearly as effective in Kansas City as he was in Pittsburgh. He only played three seasons for the Chiefs before being released with four years remaining on his contract. Bell never played another down in the NFL after being released by Kansas City.
44 Los Angeles Rams: Cortland Finnegan
In six seasons with the Tennessee Titans from 2006 to 2011, Cortland Finnegan was a top cornerback. Finnegan was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2008. For a majority of his time in Tennessee, Finnegan’s head coach was Jeff Fisher. He reunited with Fisher in St. Louis to the tune of five years and $50 million in 2012. The reunion got off to a tremendous start with Finnegan recording interceptions in each of his first three games as a Ram. He then hit the NFL wall that many don’t even see coming. His play declined rapidly and he became a defensive liability. After only two seasons in St. Louis, he was out the door. The Rams asked him to restructure his huge contract but when Finnegan refused he was released.
43 Miami Dolphins: Mike Wallace
The Miami Dolphins made a huge splash in free agency when they signed star wide receiver Mike Wallace to a five year $60 million deal in 2013. In four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he put up impressive offensive numbers, was named to the Pro Bowl and established himself as one of the fastest players in the NFL. The Fins pried Wallace away from the black and gold for a king’s ransom. With mounds of money came mounds of responsibility. Wallace was expected to help make Miami a winner. Despite putting up respectable numbers, he wasn’t able to translate those stats into Dolphin victories. The marriage between Wallace and the Fins eventually turned sour. He was benched in his final game as a Dolphin and after just two seasons in South Beach was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.
42 Minnesota Vikings: Bernard Berrian
The Minnesota Vikings were hoping Bernard Berrian could develop into a Randy Moss like wide receiver when they signed him to a six year $42 million contract in 2008. It was an awful lot of money to throw at a wide receiver that hadn’t registered 1,000 yards receiving in a season in four seasons with the Chicago Bears. The Vikings felt it was an investment in a player that was about to become a big star. As it turns out, the Vikings were just star struck and not ahead of the curve on this deal. Berrian never became the “stretch the field” wide receiver they had hoped he would become. After a solid first season, his play dropped off dramatically along with his attitude. Berrian was released during the 2011 season after becoming a discipline issue in Minnesota.
41 New England Patriots: Adalius Thomas
Adalius Thomas signed with the New England Patriots in 2007 for a hefty $35 million. The former Baltimore Raven Super Bowl XXXV Champion and two time Pro Bowler (2003,2006) was supposed to be a defensive piece that would put the Patriots over the top in their quest for a fourth Super Bowl Championship. He almost was. Thomas played well in Super Bowl XLII. He recorded two sacks and forced a fumble from New Giants QB Eli Manning. Despite his solid play, the Pats lost the Super Bowl and their undefeated season in an epic upset. It was all down hill from there for Thomas in New England. He only registered eight sacks over his final two seasons with the Pats (5 in 2008,3 in 2009) after scoring 20 sacks over his final two seasons in Baltimore (9 in 2005, 11 in 2006). Thomas quickly fell out of favor with Bill Belichick and was cut in 2010.
40 New Orleans Saints: Brandon Browner
Brandon Browner established himself as a winner and one of the best corner backs in the NFL in three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and one with the New England Patriots. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and won a Super Bowl in 2013 with the Seahawks. Browner returned to the Super Bowl a year later with the New England Patriots and collected another ring at the expense of his former squad. When the Patriots let Browner walk, the New Orleans Saints jumped at the opportunity to acquire him. The Saints signed him to a three-year $15 million deal in 2015. Browner end up being one of the worst corner backs in the NFL and the most penalized. The Saints released him at the end of the season.
39 New York Giants: LaVar Arrington
LaVar Arrington left the Washington Redskins on bad terms and it left a sour taste in his mouth. The linebacker claims he turned down other free agent offers to sign with the New York Giants for the opportunity to play his old squad twice a year. The G-Men signed him to a seven year $49 million deal in 2006. The reigning NFC East Champions had high expectations that Arrington could join Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to help form a Super Bowl winning defense. Instead, Arrington played in only six games before being lost to injury for the season. The 8-8 Giants were bounced out of the playoffs in Wild Card weekend. Arrington was released after the season and never played another down in the NFL. At least he got to play the Redskins once and the Giants picked up the win.
36 New York Jets: Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis was one of the most feared cornerbacks in the NFL. Some argue that in his prime, Revis was the greatest shutdown corner of all time. From 2008 to 2011, as a member of the New York Jets, Revis was a dominant force. He was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls and was a first team All Pro three consecutive years. However, rather than pay him, the Jets traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 where he was selected to another Pro Bowl. In 2014 with the New England Patriots, Revis added a Super Bowl title to his impressive resume. With a shiny new ring, he took the free agent plunge in 2015 and was promptly snatched up by the New York Jets. The Jets signed Revis to a five year $70 million deal. After the first year of the deal, it looked like the Jets made a solid investment. Revis was selected to another Pro Bowl, had five interceptions, and at 30 years-old was still showing opposing teams why there was no escape from “Revis Island”. What a difference a year makes. This season, Revis has shown a remarkable decline and there have been retirement rumors as of late. It’s hard to imagine but the Jets could end up releasing Revis at the end of the season if his play doesn’t improve.
35 Oakland Raiders: Javon Walker
Javon Walker was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL when healthy and focused on his craft. When the Oakland Raiders signed Walker to a 6-year $55 million deal in 2008, they were hoping to get the Pro Bowler who hauled in 89 catches for over 1,300 in 2004 as a Green Bay Packer. The Raiders would have certainly settled for 69 catches for over 1,000 yards, which he recorded in 2006 as a Denver Bronco. What the silver and black got from Walker was mediocrity, injuries, and a touch of the bizarre. His Raider stint started off with a beat down in Las Vegas. Walker was in the hospital for four days with broken bones in his face after he was beaten and robbed in Sin City. He played in only eight games that season and only caught 15 passes for a little under 200 yards. Walker followed that up with three games played in 2009 and came up with goose eggs for statistics. He was released in 2010.
34 Philadelphia Eagles: Byron Maxwell
The Philadelphia Eagles paid a king’s ransom in 2015 for the services of cornerback Byron Maxwell. Chip Kelly probably thought it was worth $63 million over six years to acquire the Super Bowl XLVIII champion and member of the Seattle Sea Hawk’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense. However, problems with Maxwell started on day one when he announced to the media that the reason he signed in Philly was for the dead presidents. “The Eagles have a fine organization” might have been a better answer. Maxwell was among the Eagles high profile acquisitions that probably cost Kelly his job. Kelly was fired in week 16 with an unacceptable 6-9 record considering the talent on the roster and the money paid for them. As for Maxwell, he was shipped off after just one season in Philly to the Miami Dolphins in a trade to open up cap space and to also rid Philly of the stench of Chip Kelly.
33 Pittsburgh Steelers: Sean Mahan
Sean Mahan was a solid center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four years from 2003 to 2006. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mahan was not a great player and they over valued him when he was signed to a 5 year $17 million deal in 2007. The Steelers expected greatness but received mediocre and undisciplined play from Mahan in his one season with the black and gold. He was known for being a penalty magnet that killed drives and, as a result, frustrated fans. Also, according to ESPN’s John Clayton, Mahan was overmatched in the tough AFC North due to it being “loaded with big nose tackles in 3-4 schemes”. He just didn’t fit in with Pittsburgh and was shipped out after just one season. Mahan was traded back to Tampa Bay for a seventh round pick.
32 San Diego Chargers: Jared Gaither
The San Diego Chargers claimed offensive tackle Jared Gaither off waivers from division rival Kansas City Chiefs in 2011. In 2012, the Chargers signed the talented big man to a four-year $24.6 million contract. The move seemed to make sense except for the fact that Gaither had some serious character issues and it didn’t take long for them to surface in San Diego. Inconsistent play combined with questions about his professionalism and toughness led to a quick exit out of town. No one in San Diego was sad to see him go as it was widely reported that he was unpopular with teammates, coaches, and the organization in general. The Bolts wanted him gone so badly that they took a $6 million cap hit just to get him out the door.
31 San Francisco 49ers: Antonio Bryant
Antonio Bryant has the dubious distinction of appearing twice on this list. It’s hard for teams to pass on such talented players like Bryant. Teams are blinded by the player’s talent, which makes it hard to see the red flags waiving around to warn them of the inevitable. Bryant had huge issues in Dallas that included a jersey throwing incident with head coach Bill Parcells. As a result, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns during the 2004 season. Bryant was very productive in Cleveland and caught the attention of the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. The Niners signed the troubled wide receiver to a four year $14 million deal in 2006. Lack of production and off the field issues (DUI) led to San Francisco releasing him a year later.
30 Seattle Seahawks: Matt Flynn
Matt Flynn was the backup quarterback to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Flynn opened some eyes with an impressive performance in the final game of the 2011 season. Flynn got the starting nod in that game against a pretty good Detroit Lions squad and threw for six touch down passes and 480 yards in a Packer victory. In 2012, the Seattle Seahawks were looking for a new starting quarterback and signed Flynn to a three-year $26 million deal to compete for the job. His competition was the inconsistent Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russel Wilson. Flynn was expected by most to win the job easily due to the investment in him by the Seahawks and that impressive performance against the Lions. The lesson here is that one game does not make a player. Flynn was a pretender and was beaten out by Wilson. Seattle traded him to the Raiders the following season. Flynn never developed into a starting quarterback.
28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Charlie Garner
Charlie Garner was an effective running back for three different teams during a ten-year period. Garner was a talented running back who was also an excellent receiver. He was a key player with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Oakland Raiders. Garner was selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the 49ers in 2000. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John Gruden had past success with Garner in both Philadelphia and Oakland. Gruden and the Bucs signed him to a six-year $20 million deal in 2004. The reunion proved to be bittersweet because a ten-year NFL career as a running back had Garner running on empty. He played in just three games before being lost for the season due to injury. The Bucs released Garner in the offseason.
23 Tennessee Titans: Andy Levitre
Andy Levitre was the 51st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Levitre played four seasons for the Buffalo Bills and was selected to the 2009 NFL All-Rookie team. The guard showed promise and durability in Buffalo. He started and played in every game of his Buffalo Bills career. Levitre was able to turn that solid career in Buffalo into a huge free agent deal with the Tennessee Titians. The Titans inked him to a six-year $46.8 million deal in 2013. Throwing all that dough at a guard might not have been the wisest choice and the Titans also may have overvalued him a bit. Levitre’s Titans’ career was hampered by injury and after just two seasons, he was shipped off to the Atlanta Falcons for a sixth round pick.
13 Washington Redskins: Albert Haynesworth
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has earned a reputation for falling in love with big names. Unfortunately for Snyder and loyal Redskin fans, those big names have not always lived up to the hype. They didn’t work out because they were way past their prime or overvalued. Dana Stubblefield, Bruce Smith, Antwaan Randel El, Dion Sanders, and Jeff George are among those big names that just didn’t get the job done in Washington. However, the name that tops them all is defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl selections with the Tennessee Titans when he became the apple of Snyder’s eye. Snyder signed Haynesworth to a seven year $100 million contract in 2009. Haynesworth did nothing but complain in Washington and was the ultimate malcontent. He butted heads with head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Greg Blache over the defensive scheme. Haynesworth was eventually traded to the New England Patriots where not even Bill Belchick could revive his career.
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