With as much ridicule as the NFL has come under the last few years for this very subject, it’s not surprising that there have been a wealth of players who have simply ruined their careers through their own doing. Specifically, over the last 20 years or so, there’s been an exorbitant amount of players who simply shot themselves in the foot with bad decisions. In many cases, these players were talented, and valued members of their respective teams. Their absence was a detriment to the roster, and in some cases, to the future of the franchise as a whole.
So it’s no secret that the players on this ranking have only themselves to blame. While the pressures of being an NFL player (often high-profile one) can be difficult, there’s no excuse for certain types of behavior, both on and off the field. These players got what was coming to them, and ultimately ruined their career because of their stupidity, which otherwise likely would have been extremely successful. Let’s take a look some of the most notable examples over the years.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players who ruined their career with a stupid move.
15. Ryan Leaf
There have been few, if any, bigger quarterback busts in the history of the league than Leaf was as the 2nd-overall pick in the 1998 draft. The Chargers thought they were getting a franchise player, and one that would turn out to be among the best quarterbacks of all-time. Instead, they got one of the biggest disappointments, which caused innumerable amounts of headaches over the next few years.
Leaf’s temper and work ethic were almost instantaneously a problem, and he clearly didn’t care about learning the playbook inside-and-out.
Ultimately, his failure on the field gave way to an early retirement, and issues with substance abuse later on indicated that he had more issues than just a volatile temper during his playing days. Leaf has gotten it together in recent years, thankfully, but his playing career was a myriad of bad decisions.
14. Willie Snead
This one has flown slightly under the radar, but Snead may have cooked his opportunity to become a top-flight NFL receiver over the long-term. He was productive for the Saints in his two seasons leading up to this one, and he looked to be one of the primary contributors on offense yet again.
But an offseason DUI arrest, followed by a three-game suspension, must have put a sour taste in the mouth of Sean Payton, because he promptly disappeared from the offense upon his return.
Snead did next to nothing this season, and it’s clear that the organization is having trust issues with him. Whether or not it continues will be up for debate over the next offseason, but what is clear is that one of the league’s most promising young players is now not a lock to maintain his status as a contributor on New Orleans and their roster.
13. Ray Rice
The saga of Rice was one of the incidents that kickstarted the scrutiny that the NFL has been under for the past few years.
He was arrested for domestic violence, in the act of knocking out his then-girlfriend in an elevator, and the response from the league was regrettable to say the least. Rice initially received a mere two-game suspension, and then a whirlwind of bad publicity wrapped around the league for the better part of a year.
Rice’s situation certainly set a precedent for how the league will handle similar transgressions in the future. As for Rice himself, he never did play another snap in the league, a year removed from one of his best seasons when the incident happened.
12. Ray McDonald
One of the cornerstone defensive players for Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers teams, McDonald’s career was promptly ended when it was reported that he was under investigation for assault. When he was finally arrested, it was clear that he would never play in the NFL ever again. It was an abrupt end to a relatively successful career, and McDonald’s name was just one of the numerous ones around the league who were in hot water at the time.
McDonald’s series of arrests marred his name for the rest of his life, and it’s clear that he’ll have no involvement with the league whatsoever from here on out.
11. Michael Floyd
Floyd was on an upward trajectory during his early years with the Cardinals. He was considered one of the top young receivers in the league, and played a pivotal role in Bruce Arians’ high-flying passing offense.
Everything seemed to be going right for him, but a DUI arrest in the middle of the 2016 season has seen his career get ruined before everyone’e eyes.
Floyd spent some time with the Patriots and Vikings since then, but only as a peripheral player. He’s come nowhere close to matching the production of his early career, and will go down as yet another player whose individual decisions have cost him the chance to fulfill his potential. It’s a long-shot that he makes any kind of significant impact for another team, and his career is in serious jeopardy at this point.
10. Michael Vick
It’s up for debate as to whether Vick’s career was outright “ruined” by his actions, considering he came back to play in the league for many years after his suspension and oftentimes played quite well, but it definitely halted any kind of momentum he had going into that two-year stretch of imprisonment. Vick’s involvement in a dog-fighting ring surrounding his home in Virginia was the biggest story in the sports world at the time in 2007.
He missed the entirety of two seasons in the prime of his career, and although his comeback with the Eagles had a year or two of viability, this was still something that is a stain on his career resume. In fairness, Vick learned his lesson the first time, and has since kept his nose clean, but there’s no denying that this was a horrible decision that had significant impact on his career.
9. Johnny Manziel
Many knew that Manziel was going to be a disaster from the beginning, as exhibited by his actions and behavior at Texas A&M. The few who held out hope for the glorified backyard quarterback were soon proven wrong, as Manziel immediately proved that he wasn’t up to the task of handling the starting job for an NFL team. It’s tough to even blame the Browns in this scenario.
Manziel made no effort to learn the playbook at a professional level, and was more concerned with partying and hamming it up with celebrities than he was with football.
To little surprise, he never made it past his second season in the league, and entered rehab soon after his departure. Word is that he’ll be soon playing in the CFL, but it’s small potatoes compared to what could have been.
8. David Boston
There have been few more highly-touted receiving prospects than Boston was going into the 1999 draft. While his first several years saw some success with the Cardinals, and he certainly showed the kind of talent that would warrant him being drafted so highly, his attitude was a different story entirely. The Cardinals decided to not resign him for this reason, and problems continued to manifest themselves for the rest of his career.
Boston then butted heads with Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer while in San Diego, and at this point, it was clear that this was becoming a serious problem. To make matters worse, he was suspended for steroid use with the Dolphins in 2004, and was cut by the Buccaneers after getting a DUI in 2006, which ended up being his final NFL season.
7. Aaron Hernandez
One of the league’s most promising young tight ends, on the league’s most potent dynasty at that, Hernandez had a career of success and adoration lined up for him immediately.
But it one of the most chilling stories that has risen out of the NFL landscape in recent history, he squandered all of it in one fell swoop with by committing murder in 2013.
It took the sports world by storm, and persisted for years until he committed suicide last year, aged only 27. We don’t need to go over the details yet again, but the fact that Hernandez saw fit to commit suicide while in prison, reveals all about just how far he had fallen mentally. It was just a terrible situation all around, and hopefully the NFL never has to go through anything like this again.
6. Albert Haynesworth
Widely considered one of the biggest free agent busts of all-time, Haynesworth was every worst nightmare for a big contract signing. He was lazy, gave little effort, and suffered a huge drop-off in production as compared to his time with the Titans. Needless to say, the Redskins were disappointed with the outcome, and Haynesworth was soon cast aside as an ill-timed failure.
The letdown set a precedent for all other free agent signings to follow. More teams began playing closer attention to the person, on top of the player, they were getting in the deal. Haynesworth’s lack of effort was bad for Washington, but it ended up helping a lot of other teams who would have called victim to the same trap in the future.
5. Plaxico Burress
Burress may have completed most of his career by the time his trouble started, but it didn’t make it any less detrimental. The infamous firearm incident, where he ended up shooting himself in the leg and receiving jail time, was certainly one of the stranger sports stories of 2008. It would cause Burress to miss roughly two-and-a-half seasons of play in the NFL, and he was never quite the same upon his return.
Although he may not have been in his prime, it’s still something that has marred his resume all the same. Firearms and athletes don’t always mix, and there’s a fine line between responsibility and stupidity.
4. Josh Gordon
It’s true that to some degree, Gordon’s comeback this season deserves some credit. He was able to return to the league after everybody thought he was done, and he ended up putting up some very good numbers in five games or so. However, it’s going to be difficult for him to replicate that kind of production on a consistent basis, after missing so much time the past few years due to substance abuse issues. Gordon is fighting an uphill battle.
Of course, there also remains the chance that he could relapse, and fall victim to substance abuse yet again. If that happens, his time in the league would surely be over automatically. Even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t change the fact that Gordon is still playing on a bad team, and will need to prove that he can be a consistent threat once again.
3. Rae Carruth
Carruth’s story predates most of the ones on here, and it was one of the most horrific acts committed by an NFL player. He conspired to murder his then-girlfriend, who was pregnant with his first child, with the incentive stemming from the fact that she didn’t want to have an abortion.
It’s pretty clear that Carruth was never on the up-and-up, and struggled with substance abuse as well early on in his (brief) NFL career. The fact that the Panthers essentially wasted a 1st-round pick on him was the least of anyone’s worries.
It was really just a horrible story that showed just how unstable certain people can be, regardless of their profession. Carruth is still serving his prison sentence, but is projected to be released later this year.
2. Dion Jordan
Sure, Jordan made somewhat of a comeback this season which saw him play OK for the Seahawks over a limited portion of the season, but it’s going to take far more than that to rebound his career into the standing of a 3rd-overall pick. Jordan was ineffective when he was on the field for the Dolphins following his selection, and then he promptly got himself suspended multiple times, essentially ruining his career.
We’ll see if he is able to earn himself any playing time in the 2018 season, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be a significant factor at this point. Had he not violated the substance abuse policy on numerous occasions, he’d be in a much better standing to actually show some improvement on a consistent basis.
1. Greg Hardy
Far and away, no player has been met with more disdain for his actions in recent history than Hardy has, and it’s a guarantee that he will never play in the NFL again. His actions of domestic violence have been scorned from every angle, and rightfully so.
Hardy’s despicable acts were the breaking point for the NFL and violence against women.
It was clear that something had to change, and that these situations needed to be analyzed more closely. Besides the Dallas Cowboys, who saw fit to give Hardy a job after his initial suspension, no team has come forth to sign Hardy, and he’ll probably never play another snap. It’s ultimately the right move to stay away from a player like this, and the league knows the backlash would be unbelievable.
Hardy is simply bad news, and managed to ruin his career all by himself.
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