The NFL offseason has started and quickly teams have lost their minds with massive contracts and team-altering trades kicking off one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory. The NFL, more so than any of the other major American sports leagues, is a league where teams can go from four wins and last place in their division to an 11-win playoff team in just one season, in part because of free agency. The NFL has a "hard" salary of cap of $143.2 million, meaning that unlike other leagues where teams can go over the cap but are forced to pay a tax, the NFL offers no such luxury. This often forces successful teams into tough decisions about who to keep on the roster.
The NFL also has a hard salary floor of about 90% of the cap, meaning that teams are forced to spend a certain amount which encourages all teams to be active in free agency so teams like the Raiders and Jaguars who are massively under the cap can afford to overspend in order to lure players to their teams. The structure of NFL contracts also makes free agency exciting, with very few players end up playing out their entire contracts, instead being released by teams to save cap space which leads to a pool of viable players every season coming available. This spending frenzy can lead to some bad, short-sighted decisions by teams and owners looking to make a big splash in free agency which is generally not the optimal way to build a team. While teams can use the offseason to add that final key piece, as the Patriots did with Darrelle Revis this past season, they can also set their franchise back by making a few moves that don't pan out. The following list are the top 25 free agency moves that NFL teams would love have back.
25 Antwaan Randle El
Randle El is a former college quarterback that was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a wide receiver who knew they could use his unique skill set in interesting ways. He found success with the Steelers using his athleticism to affect the game in a multitude of ways, most often in special teams as a kick returner. Randle El displayed his former QB skills in Superbowl XL tossing a 43-yard touchdown in the Steelers victory. A theme you will see throughout this list, overpaying for recent Super Bowl winners, the Redskins, who you will also see often in this list, saw that play and offered him a seven-year deal for $31 million, with an $11.5 million signing bonus despite primarily excelling as a special teams role player. Randle El would go on to only exceed 600 yards receiving in one of his four seasons with the Redskins before being released.
Spoiler alert: Washington will be featured heavily on this list.
24 Jake Delhomme
The Carolina Panthers quickly realized they had made a huge mistake in offering Jake Delhomme a five-year extension worth $42.5 million with $20 million guaranteed. To put that into perspective, that means the Panthers would have just gotten rid of him had they kept him for the contract's duration. Delhomme was released 11 months after signing his deal, and the Browns promptly signed him to a two-year contract. The result was another wasted year for Cleveland.
23 Dana Stubblefield
The Redskins run continues, as they pounced on the opportunity to sign the pass rusher to a six-year, $36 million contract in 1998. Coming off a steller season with the 49ers where he recorded 17 sacks and won Defensive Player of the Year, the Redskins chose to believe in that production, despite it being an outlier in comparison to his previous five seasons. Stubblefield would go on to record just seven sacks in three seasons with the Redskins before suffering a knee injury and being released.
22 Ahman Green
Ahman Green is an example of paying for a star player at the wrong end of his career. Green spent 2000-2007 with the Green Bay Packers, becoming one of the best running backs in the league, rushing for over 1,000 yards in six seasons and becoming the Packers all-time leading rusher. The Texans offered the then 30-year-old running back a four-year $23 million contract. In his two seasons with the Texans, Green only managed 554 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Teams are only now slowly beginning to learn that paying a high price for aging running backs is not a sound investment.
21 Deion Sanders
Great players can be bad signings, especially if the timing and contract do not line up to the production. After an exciting career with the Falcons and Cowboys, the Redskins signed the then 33-year-old Sanders to a ridiculous seven-year, $56 million contract in 2000. Sanders is the type of high-profile signing that Dan Snyder loves to make in free agency, but rarely pays off. Sanders played just one season, snatching just four interceptions, at a cost of about $14 million per pick.
20 Bruce Smith
At age 37 and desperately needing a place to finish his chase of the all-time sack record, Smith joined Sanders in the Redskins effort to sign the best players in the league...from 10 years earlier. Smith got a five-year, $23.5 million contract, including a $4.25 million signing bonus. He played four years and his stats weren't completely terrible (29 sacks), but certainly didn't warrant the contract. He finished his career with 200 sacks, just ahead of Reggie White's 198.
19 Jerry Porter
During his eight seasons in Oakland, Porter was a solid, productive receiver in a high-powered offense. He nearly reached the 1,000-yard plateau twice, while also having a pair of nine-touchdown seasons. The Jags decided to sign him to a six-year, $30-million contract in 2008, hoping that he could be the number one option. He lasted one season in Jacksonville, catching 11 passes for 181 yards and one TD. This is a case that happens often to teams like the Jags, Browns or Raiders where players are unlikely to sign unless they are blown away by the contract offer.
18 Daryl Gardener
One sack? You couldn't get us one sack? That's probably what the Denver Broncos were thinking when they were done with Daryl Gardener. Gardener had a solid NFL career before signing in Denver for seven years and $35 million back in 2003. Gardner didn't even last two full seasons with the Broncos, failing to register a sack and totaling just eight tackles. Sometimes it's best to stay in a good situation, but then again, $35 million is hard to say no to.
17 Adam Archuleta
Adam Archuleta built his career with the Rams but predominantly stood out at a special teams stud who also played safety. The Redskins made Archuleta the highest-paid safety of all time up to that point, handing him a seven-year, $35 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. One of the worst signings by the Redskins, Archuleta started just seven games before moving to special teams and being traded for a 6th round pick just one year later.
16 Mike Vanderjagt
Signing a kicker in free agency is generally a bad idea as there are very few kickers worth more than the minimum salary. Vanderjagt was one of the most accurate kickers in history at the time of his signing but had a history of criticizing his team, most notably Peyton Manning. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus. In just one season with the Cowboys, Vanderjagt made just 13 of his 18 field goal attempts before being released.
15 Jairus Byrd
One of the more recent contracts on this list, looked bad at the time but after one year of watching his performance plummet, looks like a catastrophe. Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million contract which was heavily back-loaded to allow for the Saints to save some space to re-sign Jimmy Graham. Byrd excels as a roaming free safety with solid range and play-making skills, but the Saints chose to misuse him as more of a line of scrimmage safety in his first season. The contract, among others, has put the Saints in such a bad cap situation they have traded Jimmy Graham, along with other key players. I am sure Drew Brees would love to have Graham next season over Byrd.
14 Laurent Robinson
Laurent Robinson was a one-year wonder when the Jaguars signed him. The Dallas Cowboys were his third team when he had a career year with 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. He had four touchdowns in his first four seasons combined. It is generally a poor decision to sign the third receiver on another team to be your top receiver. Robinson had the luxury in Dallas of teams focusing on the other receivers, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Jacksonville saw the chance to sign a productive receiver for their young team and Blaine Gabbert and offered him a five-year deal worth $32.5 million, including $14 million guaranteed. However, he caught 24 balls with no touchdowns in his only season in Jacksonville. Robinson has since struggled with concussion issues, one of the reason he has not popped up on any team since, ending his NFL career at age 27.
13 Alvin Harper
Alvin Harper excelled for many years in Dallas, opposite Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Playing beside Irvin greatly inflated Harper's production, who went on to struggle without Irvin drawing heavy coverage and Aikman throwing him the ball. Harper was given a four-year, $10.6 million contract by Tampa Bay and spent just two years with the team. He recorded under 1,000 yards total between the two seasons and scored only three touchdowns.
12 Jeff Garcia
Beware of the career backup that comes in and plays well for a limited amount of games (re: Matt Flynn). The Browns perennial search for a viable quarterback led them to make a poor decision and overpay for the marginally talented Jeff Garcia. Garcia was given $25 million over four years but played just one. He appeared in only 11 games and threw for 1,731 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Garcia had been modestly successful as Steve Young’s replacement in San Francisco but that was a quarterback-friendly west coast offensive system that suited Garcia's ability to throw on the move and lack of arm-strength. Garcia only played one of the four years on the deal, bolting for Detroit after going 3-7 in 10 starts with the Browns.
11 T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Similar to Alvin Harper, Houshmandzadeh excelled with the Bengals with Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson as his teammates. After putting up respectable numbers during his tenure in Cincinnati, Houshmandzadeh signed a five-year $40 million deal with the Seahawks with $15 million guaranteed. Despite putting up solid numbers, 79 catches for 911 yards, he was released after just one season. He signed in Baltimore for a league minimum the following year and is now out of the league.
10 Larry Brown
The Raiders and the Redskins like to challenge each other for worst free agency spending. Larry Brown was a Dallas Cowboys cornerback that parlayed an unlikely Superbowl MVP award into a massive new contract with the Raiders in 1996, five years for $12.5 million (a good chunk of money at that time). During that Super Bowl, Brown intercepted two Neil O’Donnell (next on this list) passes to help the Cowboys to the championship, but not all interceptions are created equal and these two were gifts thrown right to him by a struggling quarterback.
There is a long and continuing history of teams overpaying for players who just won the Super Bowl. Imagine if Malcolm Butler had been a free agent this offseason. Brown would go on to play in just 12 games in for the Raiders, only one a starter. The Raiders released Brown after two seasons. Brown went back to the Cowboys in 1998, but appeared in just four games. His career was finished at age 29.
9 Neil O'Donnell
Paying for a player coming off a trip to the Super Bowl is usually a bad idea. You will always be paying top market value, and likely will be overpaying for what you saw in one game. O'Donnell led Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl against Dallas and hit free agency that season. Another trend you see on this list is overpaying for homegrown talent; sometimes its great to have the hometown star on your team, but you need to make sure he's a star. The Jets gave the New Jersey native five years and $25 million in 1996 and the Jets proceeded to go 1-15, although O'Donnell played only six games (all losses) because of injury. He lasted one more season with the Jets before being pushed out by head coach Bill Parcells.
8 Andre Rison
Andre Rison recorded over 1,000 yards receiving in four of his five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before being wooed to play for the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland gave Rison $17 million over five years, but would he would go on to play only one year with the team. Rison struggled with injuries and attitude issues as it appeared he was not giving much effort.
Rison was also caught up in the Browns as it was announced they were leaving for Baltimore, a situation out of his control but his reaction to did not endear him to the fan-base. Rison caught just 47 passes for 701 yards and three touchdowns. Rison never regained his Pro-Bowl form.
7 David Boston
David Boston looked like a blossoming star when he caught 98 passes for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns in 2001. Boston had a career that was clouded with stories about his attitude problems and rumored steroid use. The Chargers paid him $47 million over seven years, hoping to provide Boston the stability he needed to reach his potential. His career with the Charger started off decent with 70 catches and seven TDs in his first year. Boston would go to play just one season in San Diego before being shipped off to Miami for a sixth-round pick.
6 Javon Walker
There have been many Raiders on this list, but Javon Walker stands out as the worst one. Walker had built a strong career playing in good offenses in Green Bay and Denver, but had been dealing with injuries in 2007. In 2007 Walker struggled with injuries and caught 287 yards and no touchdowns at age 29.
Ignoring injury concerns is another theme throughout this list and the Raiders disregarded any durability issues and his reduced productions, offering the wide receiver a six-year contract worth $55 million. Walker would go to play just 11 games for Oakland before retiring. In those 11 contests, he caught just 15 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown for a whopping return on investment of $3.6 million for each catch.
5 LeCharles Bentley
LeCharles Bentley was a solid lineman early in his career with the Saints, making the Pro Bowl twice, at both guard and center. Bentley hit free agency in 2006 and his hometown Cleveland Browns saw an opportunity to bring home one of their own and offered Bentley the largest contract ever at the time for a center; $36 million, with $12.5 million guaranteed.
Bentley suffered a severe knee injury during practice in 2007, but it was the subsequent staph infection that held him back from regaining his form. Bentley spent 72 days in the hospital and had four surgeries on his knee but by the end of it very little remained but scar tissue and his career wouldn't be able to go on. Sometimes when you're a franchise like the Browns, bad things just happen to you.
4 Nnamdi Asomugha
Sometimes a front office and coaching staff combine to make some puzzling decisions. After spending his early career with the Raiders and building a reputation as the best man-to-man cornerback in the league, Asomugha hit free agency as one the biggest targets in recent years. Nnamdi was the biggest signing in a flurry of Eagles moves that led Vince Young to coin their team, the Dream Team. Looking back its even more ludicrous that the signings of Vince Young, Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins led to being called a Dream Team.
Asomugha never came anywhere close to his form with the Raiders. He was released just two years later and is now retired. To think, there was once a debate as to whether he was better than Darrelle Revis.
3 Antonio Bryant (twice)
Some players are such dynamic athletes and show just enough flashes of their talent that teams continue to make the mistake and fall for their potential. After a solid season in Cleveland where he put up a modest 1,009 yards and four touchdowns, the 49ers signed Bryant to a four-year $14 million contract. Bryant would go on to struggle both on and off the field, failing multiple drug tests and being released from the team in 2007.
Bryant got another chance to redeem his career in Tampa Bay and had the best season of his career with 1,248 and seven touchdowns, showing the athleticism that made him a budding star. Bryant followed this season with an disappointing, injury plagued season and was released by the Bucs. Despite the poor track record, both in terms of chronic knee issues and off the field concerns, the Bengals decided to sign Bryant to a four-year deal worth $28 million only to terminate his contract just months later after they signed Terrell Owens.
2 Jeremiah Trotter
We may be piling on, but the Redskins and Dan Snyder did this to themselves. Sometimes it's not just that a free agent isn't as good as you thought, it's that the organization he goes to does not have the infrastructure in place for him to succeed. Trotter was named to four Pro Bowls during a very productive career with the Eagles and entered free agency after his career best season with 93 tackles, 10 passes defended, and 3.5 sacks.
Trotter also played for division rivals Philadelphia, so Snyder saw an opportunity to make his team stronger while weakening his opponent. Trotter signed a seven-year, $36 million deal with the Redskins. Trotter could never make the same impact in the Redskins’ scheme, registering only 1.5 sacks in two seasons. He was released in 2004, only to rejoin the Eagles and burn the Redskins again, making the Pro Bowl two more times.
1 Albert Haynesworth
Albert Haynesworth was a dominant force with the Titans when he was on the field but showed signs of chronic injury issues and attitude problems. Coming off two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons as a dominant run stopper and interior pass rusher, the Redskins and Daniel Snyder offered a massive seven-year, $100 million contract. Haynesworth's tenure with the Redskins started off rocky as he gained weight, fought with the coaching staff, showed his frustration with the 3-4 scheme that new coach Mike Shanahan was putting in, and failed fitness drills before his first season.
There was even one instance in which he remained on the ground during a live play and refused to get up because he was too lazy. Haynesworth has since said that he lost his love for the game during his tenure with the Redskins and regrets leaving his situation with the Titans. Haynesworth tallied 6.5 sacks in two seasons before getting released and spending a few months with the Patriots and Buccaneers before leaving the league.
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