NFL free agency is the most important part of the offseason outside of the draft. Franchises are able to fill gaps in their roster with players that can be expected to come in and play immediately. This is different from the draft, where players are typically expected to take a bit of time to adjust to the NFL before becoming reliable contributors.
The general consensus is that free agency should be used sparingly by teams. Adding bits and pieces rather than using it as the primary method of constructing a roster.
The rationale behind this thought is that most often free agents are allowed to hit the open market because their own teams don’t perceive them as being worth what they're asking. When you build through free agency, you’re building with players who weren’t wanted by their own teams. Of course this isn’t the case with every single free agent, but it is true more often than not.
Teams who build through free agency often get burned. The cornerstones of their team are often overpaid to under perform. In addition, while contracts in the NFL are way weaker than what they appear, it still isn’t as if you can get rid of any player whenever you want. Teams are often stuck with these mistakes for several years.
Free agency is very hit or miss. But, as with most things, it's always more fun to look back at the mistakes. So here are the top 15 biggest free agency misses in recent memory.
15 Julius Thomas - Jacksonville Jaguars
Julius Thomas got a massive contract from Jacksonville - $46 million over 5 years with $24 million in guaranteed money. That's quite a lot for an injury prone tight end who struggles with blocking. He got paid as if he was going to maintain the same amount of production he had when Peyton Manning was throwing him the ball.
In his first year with Jacksonville, Thomas played 75% of the games and recorded only 455 yards - likely not what the team expected. Worse than that, his touchdown total dropped from 12 in 2014 to 5. Granted, those aren't bad numbers, but tight ends paid as highly as Thomas should be doing way more than that.
14 Javon Walker - Oakland Raiders
Javon Walker was an incredibly talented player who had success with both Green Bay and Denver. He totaled nearly 1,400 receiving yards in 2004 and then went over 1,000 in 2006. Unfortunately, like many other players, he struggled with injuries throughout his career.
After missing over half the games in 2007, Walker was signed to a risky contract by the Raiders. It was a six year deal worth up to $55 million. The risk didn't come anywhere close to paying off. He failed to record 200 yards combined in his two seasons with Oakland due to a knee injury. He was released and never played in the NFL again.
13 Toby Gerhart - Jacksonville Jaguars
Toby Gerhart had about as much success as a backup running back could have. For the first four years of his career, he was second in line behind Adrian Peterson and did well whenever he was given a chance. Of course, it's certainly understandable why he never got a larger role in Minnesota given who was ahead of him.
He was still considered to be unproven when he signed with Jacksonville for $10.5 million over three years, but the team and many fans were rightfully excited. What they got was a horrendous performance. Gerhart averaged 3.2 yards per carry in his first season with his new team and then 2.2 yards per carry the next. At this point, the once promising running back has been demoted to being a mere full back - a position that half the teams in the NFL don't even bother having anymore.
12 Matt Flynn - Seattle Seahawks
Matt Flynn will always be known for a single game; one where he threw for an impressive six touchdowns against the Lions. It's probably pretty safe to say that no player in NFL history has earned more money for what they did in one game than Matt Flynn.
Fortunately for Flynn, this game was not only the last game of the season, but also the last game of his contract. There was talk of Green Bay applying the franchise tag to Flynn and trying to trade him. While that didn't happen, the backup quarterback did manage to seal a three-year deal with Seattle worth up to $26 million and included $10 million in guaranteed money.
After cashing in, Flynn failed to earn the starting gig. He was a massive disappointment to anyone who had any bit of hope for him. He was eventually dealt to the Raiders, who cut him shortly after.
Matt Flynn is a good example of why one game is not enough of a sample size.
11 Mike Wallace - Miami Dolphins
The burner was considered to be one of Pittsburgh's top players and an impressive steal in the 2009 draft. It came as somewhat of a surprise that such a talented player would be allowed to walk away in free agency (though not completely out of the blue, as Wallace and his former team had their fair share of issues). Wallace signed a five-year deal with the Miami Dolphins worth $60 million that included $30 million in guaranteed money.
Wallace has failed to live up to expectations. After hitting the 1,000 yard mark twice in four years with Pittsburgh, he failed to do it even once in Miami. Rather than being the high-end number one wide-out he was supposed to be, Wallace performed more like a mediocre number two and was traded after two years to Minnesota, where he also failed to produce.
10 Dwayne Bowe - Cleveland Browns
Dwayne Bowe was signed to a fairly large contract ($12.5 million over two years with $9 million guaranteed) by the Browns last summer. They were expecting to get a veteran wide receiver to replace the suspended star, Josh Gordon, but what they got was an expensive player to ride the bench.
Bowe had a non-existent impact on the Browns offense. According to Football Outsiders, Bowe received 7.3% of the offensive snaps in 2015 for Cleveland - a stat that is absolutely abysmal. Even Terrelle Pryor saw more time than Bowe.
9 Brandon Carr - Dallas Cowboys
In 2012, the Dallas Cowboys looked to rebuild their struggling defensive backfield. They made one of the biggest free agent signs of the offseason when they inked Brandon Carr to a five-year deal worth just over $50 million, with $26.5 million guaranteed. They also traded up to draft highly touted cornerback Morris Claiborne, but that's a story for a different article.
Carr hasn't been much more than a barely serviceable starter, clearly falling short of even the most modest expectations. In fact, many thought Dallas would cut him this offseason, despite the fact that it would force the team to eat $7.5 million in dead money. It came as a surprise when the Cowboys decided to keep the expensive, under performing cornerback.
8 Ed Reed - Houston Texans
The Texans brought in the former elite player hoping to squeeze a few more good years out of him before he hung it up and they gave him $15 million over three years, with $5 million guaranteed. What they got was one of the worst defensive performances in recent memory.
He was so bad that the Texans released the future Hall of Famer midway through the season. This was after Reed said the Texans were "outplayed and outcoached" following a loss to the Cardinals. It's generally not acceptable to criticize your team, especially if you're blatantly part of the problem.
7 Ray Edwards - Atlanta Falcons
Ray Edwards entered the league in 2006 and spend his first five years with Minnesota. The edge rushed recorded 16.5 sacks in 2009 and 2010 combined. This earned him a nice contract with the Atlanta Falcons; who were looking to get a player who could properly compliment John Abraham on the other side. They were willing to pay out $30 million over five years to get it, with $11 million guaranteed.
After playing every game in his first year in Atlanta, he managed only 3.5 sacks and 24 solo tackles. Both of those were career lows, excluding his rookie season. Edwards lost the starting job entering his second year with the team and was cut half way into the season following a loss.
Despite only being 27 years old, the pass rusher wasn't signed by any other teams.
6 Derrick Dockery - Buffalo Bills
Derrick Dockery had an impressive four year start to his career with Washington. It was good enough that it earned him a seven-year deal worth $49 million from Buffalo, with $18 million guaranteed. Guards are among the lowest paid positions in the NFL, so a contract averaging $7 million a year is quite the payout.
Sadly, things didn't go all that well for Dockery in Buffalo. He was cut only two years into his contract. Here's the thing though, when most people hear that, they assume that the contract was structured in a way that made it easy for Buffalo to let go of him. That wasn't the case. Buffalo ate $5.4 million in dead money and saved a mere 450k.
At that point, cutting him wasn't a move to save money or anything. It was about not having him on the team anymore. Ouch.
5 DeMarco Murray - Philadelphia Eagles
DeMarco Murray was a very strange signing for Philadelphia. The team had just signed Ryan Mathews and already had Darren Sproles on the roster. In addition, the draft was considered to be deep at the running back. So, the position should've been considered nothing more than a secondary need that could be filled with a mid round pick.
Chip Kelly continued his wild ride when he created an expensive and entirely unnecessary log jam at running back. He snagged standout running back DeMarco Murray away from the team's rival and paid him handsomely, giving him $40 million over five years, with $21 million guaranteed.
Murray managed only 702 rushing yards and a mere six touchdowns in his only year with Philly. Any fan watching the game could tell you that he just didn't look good. That's not supposed to happen with a player who's being paid more money that almost every other guy on the roster.
4 Jared Gaither - San Diego Chargers
Jared Gaither is the age old story of a talented player with major work ethic issues. He bounced around the league quite a bit as you would expect. He spent his first three years in Baltimore and then played for two teams in 2011; Kansas City and then San Diego.
Over the offseason in 2012, San Diego decided to lock up the lineman and signed him to a four year, $24.6 million deal that included an $8 million signing bonus and $13.5 million guaranteed. It back fired horribly, as you might expect. Gaither was cut the very next offseason, where the team decided to just take the $6 million cap hit in order to get him off the team.
He never played in the NFL again following his release.
3 Jairus Byrd - New Orleans Saints
Jairus Byrd entered the 2014 offseason as one of the most highly sought after free agents. Shorty after signing a deal with the Saints (six years - $54 million, with $26.3 million guaranteed), the elite safety had back surgery to correct some issues. He really hasn't been the same player since.
To make everything worse, Malcolm Jenkins has been having a lot of success in Philly - a player that New Orleans let walk after bringing in Byrd.
New Orleans was supposed to be building a contender. They had stars across their team and everything was looking up. Instead, they've just gone spiraling downward and never managed to correct it.
2 Nnamdi Asomugha - Philadelphia Eagles
At the time he hit free agency, there was a debate going on as to who was the best corner in the NFL, Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha. The Eagles, who were busy building their infamous "dream team," were in dire need of secondary help and the former Raider was in their sights.
Because Philly had spent so much money already, few expected the Eagles to be able to afford Nnamdi. It was quite the surprise when it was announced that the Eagles signed him to a five-year deal worth $60 million, with $25 million guaranteed.
At no point during his short tenure with the Eagles did anyone think that he was playing up to expectations. He played like a stopgap - someone who was just there until they could find a player who was actually good.
Of all the free agent mistakes the Eagles have made in recent years, Asomugha has been the worst.
1 Albert Haynesworth - Washington Redskins
With the Titans, Albert Haynesworth was the best defensive tackle in the NFL. He decided to fully cash in on his talents and allow himself to hit the open market. It paid off in spades when he got an insane contract from the Redskins, a seven-year deal worth $100 million that included $41 million in guaranteed money.
After getting his money, Haynesworth appeared to just stop caring. It wasn't that he was just disappointing, he was incredibly bad. If a random UDFA played like Haynesworth did, he would be cut very quickly.
Washington has made quite a few free agency mistakes over the past couple decades, but nothing comes close to their Haynesworth blunder. No free agent signing ever has come close to being this bad.