The worst contracts in NFL history   

Updated: February 19, 2009

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Print
  • Share

With NFL free agency beginning next week -- 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 27, to be precise -- Page 2 decided to compile the definitive list of the NFL's worst contracts.

Some of these deals are contract extensions. We're also putting the term "guaranteed" money in quotes in some cases. Often, some of the money referred to as "guaranteed" actually comes in the form of roster bonuses, meaning the player must remain on the roster or suffer a team-related injury to collect.

With that said, we proudly present the worst contracts in NFL history:

1. Michael Vick (Falcons, 2004)

Ten years, $130 million potential value, $37 million guaranteed

Memorable contracts
Rank 'em: Worst NFL contracts
Worst contracts in NBA history
Best contracts in baseball history
Worst contracts in baseball history
This deal was struck at the end of the 2004 regular season. It prompted owner Arthur Blank to chirp that Vick would be "a Falcon for life" and initially gave the Falcons salary-cap relief when it kicked in for '05. However, Vick's first two seasons under the deal were underwhelming. He led Atlanta to a 15-15 record while completing just 53.9 percent of his passes. He set an NFL record for a quarterback with 1,039 rushing yards in 2006, but he also made an obscene gesture to fans after a game at the Georgia Dome. Then he was suspended and sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting operation. In 2007, an arbitrator ordered Vick to repay nearly $20 million in bonuses after the Falcons argued he breached the contract. But that decision was overturned in federal court, and he was able to keep all but $3.75 million. For the two seasons he played under this deal, Vick earned approximately $35 million. Vick was also sued for $63 billion by a South Carolina inmate, who alleged the quarterback stole his pit bulls, sold them on eBay and used the proceeds to buys missiles from Iran. The suit was dismissed. Vick filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

2. DeAngelo Hall (Raiders, 2008)

Seven years, $70 million potential value, $24.5 million "guaranteed"
The Raiders traded second- and fifth-round draft picks to acquire Hall from Atlanta. Playing opposite the highly skilled Nnamdi Asomugha, Hall struggled in the Raiders' system and was targeted by opposing quarterbacks. He made three interceptions and 48 tackles in eight games. Then the Raiders cut him to avoid paying $16.5 million in injury-guaranteed bonuses. Oakland wound up paying Hall $8 million for those eight games, then he finished the season with Washington. Never one to doubt his own abilities, Hall has been dubbed "MeAngelo" in some quarters.

3. Brandon Lloyd (Redskins, 2006)

Six years, $30 million potential value, $10 million guaranteed
The Redskins traded third- and fourth-round picks to San Francisco to acquire Lloyd, then showered him with a $10 million signing bonus. Washington quickly found out Lloyd wasn't a legitimate No. 2 receiver, as he caught just 25 passes and zero touchdowns in 23 games. Maybe he simply needed to go against the Redskins' defense to catch a TD pass. Washington ultimately paid Lloyd more than $11 million and released him in February 2008, and he caught on with the Bears last season. In 10 games -- zero starts -- he surpassed his receptions total from his two years with the Redskins.

4. Javon Walker (Raiders, 2008)

Six years, $55 million potential value, $16 million "guaranteed"
Despite being released by Denver after missing half the 2007 season because of injury, the Raiders lavished a gigantic contract on Walker In March 2008. Three months later, he was beaten and robbed of $100,000 in jewelry and $3,000 in cash in Las Vegas. He played in seven games for the Raiders, catching 15 passes and one touchdown before being placed on injured reserve. He's due $27 million in the first three years of the deal. The Raiders probably would have been better off signing a prospect with more upside.

5. LeCharles Bentley (Browns, 2006)

Six years, $36 million potential value, $12.5 million guaranteed
It was supposed to be a successful homecoming when Bentley, a Cleveland native, signed on to join the Browns' offensive line. He was coming off his second Pro Bowl in four seasons with the Saints. But he ruptured a patellar tendon on his first play of training camp, which led to a series of staph infections that he said almost led to the amputation of his leg. It's not exactly fair to blame a player for injuries, so Charles doesn't deserve the same scrutiny as the players mentioned above. Nevertheless, it was a horrendous deal for the Browns. The team paid him $16 million, and he played zero games. On the bright side, it made a few Cleveland fans forget that Juan Gonzalez got paid $600,000 for going 0-for-1 for the Indians in 2005.

6. Shaun Alexander (Seahawks, 2006)

Eight years, $62 million potential value, $15.1 million guaranteed
Alexander enjoyed a career year in 2005: 1,880 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 5.1 yards per carry average. He parlayed those numbers into a massive contract. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Alexander wasn't able to put certain skills to use nearly as often under his new deal. The same offseason Alexander signed this pact, Seattle allowed its franchise left guard, Steve Hutchinson, to sign with Minnesota. Then Alexander broke his left foot in Week 3, and he never regained his MVP form of '05. He rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns over his last two years in Seattle.

  7. Scott Mitchell (Lions, 1997)

Four years, $21 million potential value, $8 million guaranteed
Many NFL followers remember the Lions making a laughable mistake by signing Mitchell away from Miami after he made a mere seven starts in place of the injured Dan Marino in 1993. It was actually Mitchell's second Lions contract which was especially dubious. Mitchell was a relatively hot commodity when he landed a three-year, $11 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus from Detroit in '94, and the former Eagle Scout enjoyed a fine season in '95, with 4,338 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and a 92.3 passer rating. Coming off a mediocre '96 campaign -- a 4-10 record as starter and a 74.9 passer rating -- Detroit lavished Mitchell with an $8 million bonus to re-sign. He improved marginally in '97, and the Lions reached the playoffs behind Barry Sanders and his 2,053 rushing yards. After two poor games to begin the '98 season, Mitchell was replaced by Charlie Batch, marking the end of his time in Honolulu blue. But at least Mitchell never did this.

8. Adam Archuleta (Redskins, 2006)

Seven years, $35 million, $10 million "guaranteed"
Archuleta spent much of his one season in Washington on the bench, despite being the highest-paid safety in NFL history at the time. He earned $5.6 million from the Redskins, making zero interceptions and one sack. Washington traded Archuleta to the Bears for a sixth-round pick in March 2007. The Bears cut him after one unimpressive season, but not before paying a $5 million bonus the Redskins had dodged by making the trade. He caught on briefly with the Raiders but was cut 19 days later during training camp in '08. Archuleta is perhaps better known now as the significant other of former Playboy centerfold Jennifer Walcott.

9. Daunte Culpepper (Vikings, 2003)

Ten years, $102 million potential value, $16 million guaranteed
Culpepper emerged as an effective starter in 2000, but his numbers decreased over the next two seasons. Except for one. He led the NFL with 23 interceptions in '02. Undeterred, the Vikings awarded Culpepper with a lucrative contract extension, which actually paid dividends for two seasons. In 2004, Culpepper enjoyed one of the finest statistical seasons ever by a quarterback, completing 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns with a 110.9 passer rating. Minnesota went just 8-8, but the Vikings did win a memorable playoff game at Green Bay. It all unraveled in 2005, when Culpepper blew out his knee after seven games and was later implicated in some unflattering nautical hijinks, although charges against him were eventually dropped. The Vikings avoided paying Culpepper a $6 million bonus by trading him to Miami for a second-round pick in March 2006. He never regained his 2004 form, and retired from the NFL last September. He has since resurfaced to play semipro football with the Detroit Lions.

10. Larry Brown (Raiders, 1996)

Five years, $12.5 million potential value, $3.5 million guaranteed
While the size of this contract pales in comparison to the ones mentioned above, Brown's signing represented a milestone in NFL free agency. He had just earned MVP honors for Dallas in Super Bowl XXX by picking off Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell twice. Had Brown chosen to stay with the Cowboys, he would have been the third cornerback behind Kevin Smith and Deion Sanders. But the Raiders pounced. So did "Married with Children." Brown went on to start only one game in two seasons in Oakland, recording one interception. Coincidentally, the Raiders signed Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard a year after bringing Brown aboard.

    Worst contract for a player: Ricky Williams (Saints, 1999)

Seven years, $68 million potential value, $8.8 million guaranteed
With rapper Master P serving as his agent, Williams signed a historically dubious contract with the Saints, even though New Orleans had little leverage, having just traded its entire draft to Washington for the chance to select Williams No. 5 overall. The deal called for Williams to earn the minimum base salary each year of the contract, and it was heavily weighted on incentives which were difficult to achieve. Williams earned $3.8 million his rookie season. Conversely, Edgerrin James, who was selected one pick before Williams, earned $14.8 million as a rookie. The Saints also were allowed to exercise an option for an eighth season at no cost simply by sending a letter of intent. The man who was the subject of our favorite Brent Musberger call deserved better.

Worst coaching contract: Steve Spurrier (Redskins, 2002)

Five years, $25 million
Washington lured Spurrier from the college ranks with the richest coaching contract in NFL history to that point. The results were poor, however, as the team went 12-20 in two seasons under him. Adding to the sting was the fact that Washington fired Spurrier's predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer, with $5 million left on his deal. Fortunately for the Redskins, Spurrier resigned with three years left on his pact, meaning the team didn't have to pay him the remaining $15 million.

Honorable mention

David Boston (Chargers, 2003): San Diego signed the enigmatic, showboating wide receiver to the richest contract in team history at the time: a seven-year, $47 million deal which guaranteed $12 million over the first two seasons. He clashed with coaches and only lasted one season before being shipped to Miami for a sixth-round pick. Boston's physique seemed to defy logic, and ultimately it did. He was suspended four games for violating the NFL's steroid policy with the Dolphins in 2004.

Daryl Gardener (Broncos, 2003): Denver gave the former Dolphins and Redskins defensive tackle a seven-year, $34.8 million pact with a $5 million signing bonus. He was suspended twice for conduct detrimental to the team and played in just five games for the Broncos, starting two. Gardener was waived after the '03 season and reached an undisclosed settlement with the team when it tried to recoup part of the signing bonus.

Edgerrin James (Cardinals, 2006): Coming off two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, Arizona committed $11.5 million in bonuses to the 28-year-old running back as part of a four-year, $30 million contract. James has earned $25 million of that amount in the first three years of the deal. He has yet to average four yards per carry in any of those seasons, and he lost his starting job in 2008.

Joe Johnson (Packers, 2002): A two-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Saints, Johnson signed a six-year, $33 million deal which guaranteed him $14 million over the first three seasons. He only lasted two seasons, making two sacks and 12 tackles in just in 11 games.

Jevon Kearse (Eagles, 2004): "The Freak" was the beneficiary of an eight-year, $66 million deal with a $16 million signing bonus that made him the highest-paid defensive end in NFL history at the time. He earned $24 million in the first three years of the deal. Kearse had a total of 15 sacks and played in a Super Bowl his first two seasons in Philly. Then he missed most of 2006 to injury and had a poor 2007. He was never named to a Pro Bowl as an Eagle.

Neil O'Donnell (Jets, 1996): Following a Super Bowl season with the Steelers in '95, O'Donnell splashed into free agency with a five-year, $25 million agreement, which included a $7 million signing bonus. He went 0-6 in '96 before a shoulder injury ended his season, and he put up average numbers in '97. O'Donnell earned $11.75 million from the Jets before being cut in June 1998.

Nate Odomes (Seahawks, 1994): Seattle reeled in Odomes with a four-year, $8.4 million deal, which included a $2.2 million signing bonus, after the cornerback was named to consecutive Pro Bowls in 1992 and '93. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in a charity basketball game before even making it to training camp in '94. Then he hurt the same knee in training camp the following season and ultimately never played a down for the Seahawks. Odomes didn't miss a game in seven seasons with Buffalo.

Peerless Price (Falcons, 2003): Atlanta gave up a first-round pick to Buffalo to acquire the former University of Tennessee star, then gave him a seven-year, $37.5 million pact with a $10 million signing bonus. The Falcons cut bait on Price after two mediocre seasons, having paid him $12.5 million in salary and bonuses.

Marco Rivera (Cowboys, 2005): On the heels of three consecutive Pro Bowls with Green Bay, Rivera defected to Dallas with a five-year, $20 million contract. The signing bonus of $9 million equaled the largest ever given to a guard at that point. Although he missed just two games in two seasons as a Cowboy, he underwent two back operations during that time and was cut after the '06 season. With Rivera on the way out, Dallas signed Leonard Davis to a seven-year, $49.6 million contract with $18.75 million guaranteed.

Mike Vanderjagt (Cowboys, 2006): When Vanderjagt received a three-year deal worth up to $6 million from Dallas, he was the NFL's career leader in field goal percentage. He missed five of 18 field goal attempts and was released after 10 games, having been paid $3.31 million by the Cowboys.

Thanks to Jeffri Chadiha, Matt Mosley, Mike Sando, Seth Wickersham and Bill Williamson for assistance in compiling this list.

Thomas Neumann is an editor for Page 2. You can contact him here.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?