Contracts are a huge part of any professional sport, but they prove to be the most vital in the NFL. Each team has to field a 42 man roster, but more importantly they must staff the most diverse group of positions in any sport. That means that if you sink all of your money into one position, the rest of the team can suffer.
Scouts and general managers don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to contracts, but they always have their reasons. Promising college careers, flashes of brilliance in the pros, and sometimes just shots in the dark all contribute to how a team decides to dole out its contracts, but there is no way of knowing precisely how a contract will play out.
There are times when a player performs adequately, there are times when a player exceeds expectations, and of course there are contracts that prove to be simply disastrous. Entire teams tend to suffer when these contracts go south, and sometimes it can affect a team’s record for years. Contracts really got out of control at one point, particularly among NFL rookies. A rookie cap was introduced following the 2011 lockout, due to abominations like Sam Bradford getting $50 million guaranteed before playing a down in the NFL. Ask the Rams how that worked out.
Players can underwhelm for many different reasons. There are times when a player can’t figure out the new scheme they’re in. Sometimes, unbeknownst to the team, the players have huge attitude problems and prove to be a cancerous in the locker room. And there are times when the players just decide to suck. The following is a list of the 15 most disastrous contracts ever signed in the NFL.
15 DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray’s career had been marred by injury, but in 2014 he had an unbelievable season totaling 1,845 rushing yards, 416 passing yards, and 13 touchdowns. Following this success Murray was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 to a five-year, $42 million contract. Murray’s 2015 season was underwhelming as he was only able to post 702 yards in 15 games. Murray was traded along with a fourth round draft pick to the Tennessee Titans in 2016. In return the Eagles received Tennessee’s fourth rounder. We'll see how the rest of his deal works out for the Titans.
14 Jeff Garcia
This just in, the Cleveland Browns have had a rough time finding a starting quarterback. They decided to try out CFL super stud Jeff Garcia in 2004. At the age of 34, Garcia signed a four year contract worth $25 million with the Browns, and in true Browns fashion, had a very underwhelming performance. He threw for 1,731 yards with only 10 touchdowns and 9 picks. Garcia was released before the 2005 season.
13 Matt Flynn
There was no quarterback controversy when Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a single game as a backup, he was backing up Aaron Rodgers after all. This performance did turn some heads around the league, however, and in 2012 he was brought in to compete for the starting quarterback job in Seattle. Seattle signed Flynn to a three-year contract to the tune of $20.5 million with $9 million guaranteed. Flynn would again find himself riding the pine as he lost the job to Russell Wilson.
12 Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe had a very productive career in Kansas City, so it’s easy to see why Bowe could have been an asset to help out Johnny Manziel in Cleveland (ha). Cleveland signed Bowe to a two-year contract worth $13 million with $9 million guaranteed this past season. While this isn’t as massive as other contracts on the list, it’s huge if you consider that Bowe only caught 5 passes in the entire 2015 season. If you divide up his guaranteed money that’s $1.8 million per catch.
11 Ahman Green
Ahman Green was a staple in the Packers' backfield for seven years, so when he became a free agent in 2007 the Houston Texans decided to pick him up. Green signed a four-year $24 million deal with Houston, but he was never able to perform in the Texans backfield. Green was unable to run for more than 300 yards in either of his seasons with the Texans, rushing for 260 yards in 2007 and 294 in 2008. He was released in 2009.
10 Neil O’Donnell
Between Big Ben and Terry Bradshaw, the Pittsburgh Steelers had another quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl, his name was Neil O’Donnell. The Steelers ended up losing that game to the Cowboys, but it led him to signing with the New York Jets the following year for a five-year contract worth $25 million. A few things to note: the salary cap was only introduced in 1994, and a $25 million contract was huge in 1995. A simple inflation calculator tells me that would be worth almost $40 million today. O’Donnell ended up losing every one of his six starts that season.
9 Drew Bledsoe
This one’s just funny. Drew Bledsoe was a competent quarterback for the New England Patriots, and because of that they paid him a 10-year $103 million contract in 2001. Welp, he got injured that year and his backup proved to have a pretty good season, maybe you’ve heard of him? His name’s Tom Brady.
I can’t say that this contract proved to be disastrous for the Patriots who have created the most modern dynasty in the NFL, but Bledsoe never quite recovered. He moved within the division and had a pretty solid season in Buffalo the following season, but had a profoundly mediocre remainder to his career.
8 Percy Harvin
Seattle signed Percy Harvin to a six-year contract worth $67 million. While Harvin was a promising receiver, his locker room presence proved to be too detrimental for the ‘Hawks, even reportedly pulling himself from games.
Harvin didn’t prove to be as productive as Seattle would have liked, missing almost all of the 2013 season due to injury and only going for 133 yards in five games in 2014. Eventually the distractions proved to be too much and Harvin was traded to the Jets.
7 Ndamukong Suh
Did I spell that right? Granted, this one is a bit speculative, but it’s hard to get behind a contract worth $114 million with a whopping $60 million guaranteed, especially when that player has been voted the dirtiest player in the NFL. Miami hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years, and while Suh is a talented player and a definite destructive force in the middle of the field, they’re not really in the position to spend that type of money on a defensive tackle. He disappointed in his first season, and Miami missed the playoffs yet again.
6 Aaron Curry
Aaron Curry was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and was immediately signed for a six-year contract for $60 million with $34 million guaranteed. Seattle drafted Curry fourth overall and it was regarded as an overall safe pick, but history would prove Curry to be ineffectual. The Seahawks named him the starter in his rookie season, but he was pulled in favor of K.J. Wright after only two games in his second season. Today, Aaron Curry is widely regarded as a bust.
5 Michael Vick
Another victim of circumstance, although this one is far less funny. Michael Vick was touted as the most exciting player to watch in the NFL in a time where that apparently meant something. He was - at the time - the most successful mobile quarterback the league had seen in generations and was a true enigma for defenses to try and figure out, so accordingly Atlanta gave him a whopping ten-year $130 million contract with $37 million guaranteed. Thing is, Vick apparently had a penchant for dog fighting and he got caught. This became a nationwide scandal and Vick was dropped by the Falcons. The league determined that he knowingly participated in illegal activity and was forced to pay back $20 million of his signing bonus.
4 Colin Kaepernick
That’s right, I’m going there. Kaepernick showed promise on the field when he originally filled in for an injured Alex Smith in 2012. He touted a 98.3 quarterback rating in the regular season and a massive 100.9 in the postseason where he brought his team to the Super Bowl. In 2013 he led the Niners to a 12-4 record, which earned him a huge six-year contract worth $126 million with $54 guaranteed, but San Francisco hasn’t had a winning record since. Kaep only won two out of the eight games he started last season which opened the door for trade talks. The problem is, who will take him?
Kaepernick’s contract does not reflect his current state of play, so no team in their right mind would take him, and San Francisco can’t cut him lest they incur cap fines. It seems for now that the Niners are stuck with an under-performing player who’s being paid $20 million a year. Ouch.
3 Ryan Leaf
The Ryan Leaf debacle is particularly interesting because in 1998 there was great debate over who was the more valuable draft pick, him, or Peyton Manning. Time kind of proved Manning to be the more successful quarterback, but there should have been red flags at the draft.
When Manning was asked what he’d do if drafted first overall, he said he believed work was just getting started and he’d have to practice and work to fit in with his team.
Leaf said that he was going to go party in Las Vegas.
The Chargers signed Leaf to a four-year contract worth $31.25 million with $11.25 guaranteed and were unable to secure a winning season until 2004.
2 JaMarcus Russell
There was a lot of buzz around JaMarcus Russell when he was drafted. He was a huge player for the quarterback position weighing close to 300 pounds. The Raiders drafted him first overall but they were unable to come to contract agreements which resulted in Russell not reporting into training camp and even missing the first game of the regular season. Russell was eventually granted a six-year contract worth $68 million with $31.8 guaranteed. Russell never proved his value in the NFL and was released after the 2009 season.
1 Albert Haynesworth
Albert Haynesworth was a talented and imposing presence on the D-Line. Haynesworth signed a seven-year contract worth $100 million in 2009 with the Washington Redskins with $41 million guaranteed. Haynesworth presented trouble from the beginning by not showing up to training camp and being unfit to pass a basic fitness test. He never produced for the Redskins and has since been widely regarded as the worst contract signing in the history of the NFL.