The 10 Worst Contracts Given in NFL Free Agency Last Decade

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIMarch 5, 2020

The 10 Worst Contracts Given in NFL Free Agency Last Decade

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    NFL free agency is always an exciting time for fans as they eagerly wait to see who their teams will sign. However, overpaying a player with boom-or-bust potential can sometimes blow up in an organization's face, as we've seen plenty of times over the past decade.

    One of the biggest free-agent busts of all time, falling just outside this article's time frame, came when Washington offered defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth a $100 million deal in February 2009. Missed offseason workouts, a failed conditioning test and subpar play eventually led to the two sides parting ways and an aggressive cap hit to Washington's books.

    While it's impossible to know how a player will pan out after he's signed, we can look back after the fact and evaluate how each one lived up to his contract. To define the worst deals of the decade, we'll have to measure expected play against actual performance, along with whether each player was able to finish his contract with the team that signed him.

    With that in mind and this year's free-agency window approaching, let's take a look at the 10 worst contracts in the NFL since the start of 2010.

10. Colts Lock Up Andre Johnson on 3-Year Deal

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    As one of the most dominant wide receivers of the past two decades, Andre Johnson was a star for the Houston Texans before age started to get the best of him. That didn't keep him from being a hot commodity on the free-agent market in 2015.

    The Indianapolis Colts, after being torched by Johnson in the AFC South for 12 seasons, decided to sign the veteran receiver to a three-year, $21 million deal, hoping to give quarterback Andrew Luck some additional weapons after Reggie Wayne's retirement.

    Johnson had a wide-open opportunity to have a big role in the Colts offense right out of the gate, but his production was limited. In 16 games, he recorded just 41 receptions for 503 yards and four touchdowns.

    The wear and tear on Johnson should have been apparent after a significant drop-off in production with the Texans in 2014, but the Colts still decided to sign him anyway. It was one of many poor decisions by former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who made some particularly bad moves back in 2013.

    Johnson was cut after just one season and only played one more year in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans before retiring.  

9. Packers Give Jimmy Graham $30M

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    After Jermichael Finley suffered a spinal cord injury during the 2013 season that essentially ended his career, the Green Bay Packers struggled to find a big-play tight end to replace him.

    New general manager Brian Gutekunst felt the pressure to make a splash at the position after taking over for Ted Thompson at the beginning of 2018. Former New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham was available in free agency, and the Packers were ultimately the ones who landed the veteran red-zone threat.

    Graham was given a three-year, $30 million deal that made him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL, and he had the highest cap hit of any player at the position during the 2019 season. 

    In two seasons with the Packers, he hasn't lived up to that massive contract. Despite playing in all 32 regular-season games, the veteran has caught just 93 passes for 1,083 yards and only five touchdowns. For perspective, he caught 10 touchdowns during his final season with Seattle in 2017.

    A lot of Graham's explosiveness has left him at 33, and his connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers has felt off at times. There's a good chance the Packers will cut him before the 2020 season, making this one of the few bad moves by Gutekunst early in his tenure as general manager. 

8. Nick Foles Signs for $88M with Jaguars

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    It's only been a year since former Super Bowl champion Nick Foles signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the high-profile acquisition is already looking like one of the worst moves made in recent times.

    Foles was arguably the hottest name on the quarterback free-agent market for the 2019 offseason. He had been an extremely productive backup behind the oft-injured Carson Wentz, leading the Eagles on an epic Super Bowl run in 2017, during which he posted a 115.7 passer rating in the postseason while completing 72.6 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and a single interception.

    The following season, Foles continues his strong play, posting a solid 96.0 passer rating while helping lead the Eagles back to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling to the New Orleans Saints.

    The Jaguars had enough confidence in Foles to offer him the chance to be their franchise quarterback with a four-year, $88 million deal. But instead of going off for a big 2019, he suffered a broken clavicle in Week 1 and had the spotlight taken from him by rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II.

    Minshew Mania took Jacksonville by storm, and after returning from his injury, Foles was eventually benched for the younger quarterback. ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler reported that he could now be on his way out with Jacksonville looking to trade him.

    It's too early to put him higher on this list. But if he's traded, it would be easy to move him up here as one of the bigger disappointments this decade.

7. Eagles Drop $42M for DeMarco Murray

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    The days of paying running backs big-time money seem to be fading away as the likes of Le'Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon III have had to heavily leverage their positions to get paid. Just a few years ago, it was a lot easier for players like DeMarco Murray to secure big paydays.

    After a strong start to his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, Murray was able to secure a five-year, $42 million contract with the NFC East rival Eagles. The dynamic running back was coming off a career year with Dallas in 2014, leading the league with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

    The combination of a heavy workload in Dallas and a poor offensive scheme fit under head coach Chip Kelly led to a disappointing season in Philly. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and never seemed to play like he did with the Cowboys.

    Ultimately, the Eagles and Murray couldn't make it work. After just one season, Philadelphia traded him to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for a swap of fourth-round picks.

    Murray went on to have a strong bounceback season with the Titans on his way to another Pro Bowl in 2016, but the original contract was an aggressive one for the Eagles to take on.

6. Josh Norman Signs 5-Year Deal with Washington

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    After Josh Norman turned into one of the league's best lockdown corners with the Carolina Panthers, a rescinded franchise tag allowed him to seek a change of scenery in free agency.

    Washington quickly snapped up one of hottest available names in 2016, giving Norman a five-year, $75 million deal with $51.1 million guaranteed, making him the NFL's highest-paid cornerback.

    Despite being a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2015, Norman didn't pan out in Washington. According to Pro Football Reference, he gave up 15 touchdowns when targeted over the past two seasons and allowed a 129.0 passer rating in 2019.

    Last year was arguably Norman's worst as a pro, and Washington released the veteran defensive back in February to save cap space.

    His career may not be over, but his contract in the nation's capital should be considered one of the worst of the decade.

5. Seahawks Trade for Percy Harvin, Give Him 6-Year Deal

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    Percy Harvin took the NFL by storm as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, but his career in Seattle wasn't exactly what Seahawks fans hoped it would be.

    A first-round pick out of Florida, Harvin was the Rookie of the Year in 2009. Along with 790 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver, he earned a Pro Bowl spot as a kick returner with 1,156 return yards and a pair of scores.

    Harvin had some solid seasons after his rookie-year breakout, but a string of illnesses, migraines and injuries kept him from living up to his full potential. The Vikings eventually traded him to the Seahawks in exchange for 2013 first- and seventh-round picks and a 2014 fourth-rounder.

    After Seahawks general manager John Schneider traded away that draft capital, he then signed Harvin to a six-year, $67 million contract with $25.5 million guaranteed. Unfortunately, the former Gator wasn't on the field for nearly that long with Seattle.

    The dynamic receiver started the 2013 season on the physically unable to perform list and didn't see his first game action until Week 11 against his old team. That was the only contest he played during the regular season, and he caught one pass for 17 yards.

    Harvin did return a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl XLVIII blowout over the Denver Broncos, but he was eventually traded to the New York Jets for a sixth-round pick midway through his second season with the Seahawks. He never returned to his old form after that, making his acquisition and six-year contract one of the worst decisions of Schneider's career.

4. Sam Bradford Signs $40M Deal with Cardinals

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    As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Sam Bradford never quite lived up to the hype because of a long string of bad injury luck. That should have been a red flag for the Arizona Cardinals before the 2018 season, but they seemed pretty confident in the veteran quarterback.

    At the start of 2018 free agency, they signed him to a massive two-year, $40 million deal. They weren't done putting major resources into the position, either, drafting Josh Rosen a little over a month later with the No. 10 overall pick.

    The Cardinals willingly put a bunch of money on the line for an older quarterback who had suited up in just two games with the Minnesota Vikings the previous season due to lingering knee issues. 

    Bradford wound up playing only three games with Arizona, struggling in three losses (two blowouts) and tossing just two touchdowns compared to four interceptions. He was benched for Rosen and ultimately cut by Arizona in November.

    Although the contract was a total dud, the Cardinals structured the deal with Bradford's injury history in mind, making it slightly more palatable. Still, when you put that much money on the line for an injury-plagued quarterback, people are going to criticize the move heavily for years to come.

3. Eagles Pay Nnamdi Asomugha $60M

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    The 2011 offseason was an exciting one for fans of the Philadelphia Eagles. However, big-time free-agent signings like Nnamdi Asomugha didn't exactly pan out.

    Asomugha was one of many acquisitions the Eagles made that offseason, leading newly acquired quarterback Vince Young to call them the "dream team". He was given a five-year, $60 million deal during that high-spending offseason after a dominant run for the Oakland Raiders in which he was arguably the best lockdown corner in the league.

    Coming off three straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections, the expectations for Asomugha were incredibly high. Unfortunately, the veteran cornerback had just turned 30 years old that summer, and the scheme fit under new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo (previously the team's offensive line coach) kept him from reaching his full potential in Philadelphia.

    The "dream team" didn't even make the playoffs that year, starting the year 4-8 and then winning four straight in hopes of pulling out a miracle postseason appearance. Asomugha struggled to find his footing throughout his time with the Eagles and was ultimately released after just two seasons with the team.

    Although he couldn't live up to such a hefty contract in Philadelphia, the cornerback was able to retire on a one-day contract with the Raiders and is still remembered as one of the best defensive backs in team history.

2. Seahawks Sign Matt Flynn to 2-Year Deal

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    Despite starting just two games in his NFL career, Matt Flynn was one of the hotter quarterback names in free agency heading into the 2012 season. The Seattle Seahawks probably wished they had gotten a longer look at the career backup before committing to him.

    Flynn was a seventh-round pick out of LSU in the 2008 NFL draft, sitting behind Aaron Rodgers most of his career but stepping in when the future Hall of Famer was injured. Despite rarely seeing the field, he was able to break a pair of Green Bay Packers franchise records in Week 17 of the 2011 season, throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-41 shootout victory over the Detroit Lions.

    For a backup who was set to become a free agent, that performance couldn't have come at a better time. The Seahawks, in the market for a long-term starter at quarterback, decided to offer him a $26 million deal over three years that included $10 million guaranteed.

    While the dollar amount wasn't backbreaking for the Seahawks and their salary-cap situation, the issue is that Flynn never started a game for Seattle. He lost the job to rookie Russell Wilson and threw just nine pass attempts during his brief stint with the team.

    The Seahawks traded Flynn to the Raiders for a 2014 fifth-round pick after just one season, and the former Packers backup started just five more games through the rest of his career.

1. Brock Osweiler, Texans Agree on $72M Deal

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    Not every quarterback who spends significant time behind an NFL legend goes on to become a star in the NFL. The Houston Texans learned that the hard way when they signed Brock Osweiler.

    Osweiler spent his first four seasons playing behind Peyton Manning on the Denver Broncos, but he got a chance to prove himself in 2015 when he took over for the injured starter. He finished the season playing in eight games, throwing for 1,967 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. 

    That was apparently enough for the Texans. During the 2016 offseason, they gave him a massive four-year, $72 million contract that included $37 million guaranteed over the first two seasons.

    Despite getting paid franchise-quarterback money, Osweiler wasn't able to put up the numbers Houston was hoping he could. The team went just 8-6 with him as the starter in the regular season, and the 6'7" signal-caller completed only 59.0 percent of his passes for 2,957 yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

    Although the Texans did win a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in the wild-card round, Osweiler went on to complete 23 of 40 passes against the New England Patriots for 197 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions during a 34-16 defeat in the divisional round.

    Rather than see the contract out, the Texans ended up trading a 2017 sixth-round pick and a 2018 second-rounder to the Cleveland Browns just to have them take on Osweiler's egregious deal after just one season. They got only a compensatory fourth-round pick in return.

    Osweiler never became a franchise quarterback, but he was still able to capitalize while he could by landing that massive contract in Houston.