There are several ways for an NFL team to show faith in a player.
A team could sign him to an expensive contract or give up significant draft picks for him, or they could throw years and cash at his feet in the hopes of landing a big-name free agent.
Behind the scenes, those teams hold their breath. The NFL is a perilous league, with injuries and other misfortune waiting to happen to anybody. Sometimes those deals work out. Sometimes—oftentimes—they don't.
There's a reason the Matt Fortes don't instantly get the contracts they want. We saw it when we saw the injury to, well, Matt Forte. Players get hurt. It's risky to commit to someone because he could get injured.
Or he could simply not be as good as you thought he was when you gave him all that guaranteed money.
The following are players who were given that trust before this season and, to date, have fallen way short of the expectations.
The 2011 season may not have been what they expected, but, for their teams' sakes, it'll only be an aberration.
This article would have been dedicated to Chris Johnson just weeks ago, but the 26-year-old back who was given an incredible amount of money by the Tennessee Titans in September is finally living up to it.
After running for 100 yards in seven of his first eight games of the season, fueling speculation that he was fat and happy after cashing in, Johnson has roared back to show the form that allowed him to run for over 2,000 yards in 2009.
He's run for 130 yards or more in three of his last four games, and, what do you know, the Titans have won the three times he has and lost the one time he didn't.
He's back to being a potent weapon for the Titans, the one they committed to before the season started.
His year will still look mediocre surrounded by his other stellar seasons, but he's starting to earn the money the team has riding on him.
Nnamdi Asomugha's free agency kicked off the post-lockout hysteria and resulted in one of the most entertaining hot-stove sagas we've seen.
First, he was supposed to go back to Oakland.
Then he was definitely going to Houston.
Then he was definitely going to San Francisco.
Then everyone was wrong—the Jets were getting him.
Then the Cowboys seemed to sign him up, as Jerry Jones was giving a fist bump to his son, before the Eagles swooped in at the 11th hour to sign him for five years and $60 million, including $25 million guaranteed.
The results? Well, the Eagles haven't exactly gotten Darrelle Revis—and when you pay $60 million, that's what you expect.
Asomugha hasn't been awful, notching three interceptions, but his struggles to master the Eagles' schemes after spending his time in Oakland being a dominant-man defender has been one of the storylines of Philadelphia's disappointing season.
The formation of a secondary with Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was supposed to lead to the stingiest pass defense in the league. Instead, Asomugha has disappointed, and the Eagles have slipped to 13th in the league in passing yards allowed and 26th in opponent's passer rating.
The Eagles may not be regretting this signing yet, but it's gotten off to a slow start.
Zach Miller hit the free-agent market this year as one of the league's more underrated offensive weapons.
Coming off of a season in which he totaled 60 catches for 685 yards in a below-average passing attack in Oakland, Miller was viewed as a quality young pass-catching tight end, and the Seattle Seahawks bought the reports, signing him for five years and $34 million.
To Miller's credit, the Tarvaris Jackson-led Seahawks aren't exactly the 2007 Patriots, either, but Miller's production has been alarmingly poor.
He has no touchdowns after 11 games, five games with 10 receiving yards or less and only 18 catches altogether.
That's hardly Pro Bowl-caliber production from a player with a trip to Hawaii on his resume.
Miller is joined in the passing offense by another disappointing big-ticket addition in Sidney Rice, but the former Viking's stats (32 catches, 484 yards, two touchdowns) reflect the missing ingredient of a quality quarterback.
Miller's, on the other hand, belong to a player who just can't get into the offense.
Speaking of which...
Chad Ochocinco wasn't fought over like Nnamdi Asomugha was, nor did he break the bank like Chris Johnson did.
Quite the opposite, actually, as the New England Patriots just got him for some late-round draft picks.
That being said, how can he not be on this list?
Ochocinco's four-plus months in New England have been an odyssey that's provided example after example of playbook confusion and timing misunderstandings.
The six-time Pro Bowler has struggled to get onto the field, passed over by the likes of Wes Welker (no shame in that), Deion Branch (okay...) and Tiquan Underwood (what?).
When he has gotten onto the field, the results have been completely unremarkable. He has only 12 catches and no touchdowns, and he has often looked unsure while running the routes of the Patriots' complex offense.
While the Patriots didn't risk everything in acquiring Ochocinco, they didn't risk nothing, either.
They're paying him $6 million this year and have him on board for two more years. They clearly approached this season with the goal of having him become the deep threat and third receiver option they've been missing.
So far, it hasn't happened, but Ochocinco's been a professional throughout the process. He continues to work well in practice and is still given snaps every week.
His attitude is there, but the production has yet to match it.
At some point while riding the Eagles bench between 2007 and 2010, somehow, Kevin Kolb became a franchise quarterback.
The Arizona Cardinals, desperate for a quarterback to appease their franchise wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, didn't think so, as they landed the University of Houston product in July for the aforementioned Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick.
It was a big risk. The Cardinals were buying potential and were willing to give up a Pro Bowl cornerback and a high draft pick for it. So far, the deal's been a dud.
Kolb's first year as a starter in the desert has been rocky and painful.
He started the first seven games of the season, throwing as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns, putting up a mediocre 77.8 rating and going only 1-6 with his new team.
His season took a turn for the worse when he was sidelined with turf toe in Week 9, forcing Arizona to once again look to the John Skeltons of the league to save the day at quarterback.
The Cardinals made the trade thinking they were getting a franchise quarterback, and so far, Kolb has not shown he can be that.
He's mistake-prone with the ball, has not proven to be durable and hasn't shown the ability to sustain success that is crucial to being an NFL quarterback.
Kolb did manage to return from the injury in time to stun Dallas in a 19-13 overtime win.
He played well, going 16-of-25 for 247 yards, the game-winning touchdown pass and a 109.9 rating. So, as everyone knew going in, the potential is there.
And now, as everyone has wondered, we'll see if Kolb can keep it going.
Once again, the allure of Michael Vick was too much to pass up.
Same story, different team.
This time, it was the Philadelphia Eagles buying into the Vick magic, and they did just what the Atlanta Falcons did in 2005 and signed him to a $100 million contract.
It was Vick's second nine-figure deal, and its specifics included six years and an even $100 million.
When a team calls itself a "Dream Team" and starts off 4-8, it's going to have some players on this list.
And Vick, with his sub-80 rating, 3-6 record, multiple bench visits due to injuries and even (11-11) touchdown-to-interception ratio, certainly qualifies.
The Eagles gave Vick the deal because they were expecting him to build on his MVP-caliber performance from 2010 and grow into an elite quarterback on what was intended to be an elite team.
Instead, he's fallen woefully short. He's looked as brittle as ever, finally missing starts by Week 11, and has reverted to his old inaccurate and inconsistent self.
His slump can be tied directly to the implosion of his team. In 2010, Vick's re-emergence as a dangerous quarterback caused the Eagles to turn heads as a dangerous team.
This year, the lackluster Vick has been at the helm of a lackluster team. It's not a coincidence.
Philadelphia has a backup in Vince Young who has had his share of NFL heroics—but make no mistake, this is Vick's team. He was paid handsomely to be the franchise player. Instead, he stumbled early, the Eagles tripped to the tune of a 1-4 start, and that was it.
With five years left on the deal, Vick has plenty of time for another turnaround. But Vick's career has been characterized by fleeting moments of brilliance, gone as quickly as they come.
The Eagles are praying that last year has some staying power.