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BUSTS APLENTY: The NFL’s most notorious free-agent signings since 1993

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Quarterback Jeff Garcia (four-time Pro Bowler with the Niners) was a high-profile flameout in his lone season with the Browns (2004), losing seven of 10 starts and averaging only 157 yards passing in 11 appearances.

The NFL calendar moves at a breakneck pace, even during the so-called quiet days of the offseason.

For instance, the NFL Scouting Combine launches next week in Indianapolis; and soon after that, coinciding with the start of the league’s new business year (2020), the free agency period will reach its three-day flurry in mid-March.

Which brings us to this: Not all free agent classes have been created equal, dating back to the advent of league-wide unrestricted free agency in 1993.

Along those lines, not all teams are blessed with great decision-making abilities during this big-money, high-pressure period.

To wit, BATSBY Sports offers the 20 most notorious signings of the Free Agency Era, a countdown which primarily brings infamy to the premium positions of quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback.

1 – DT ALBERT HAYNESWORTH, REDSKINS

OLD TEAM: Titans
CONTRACT: 7 years, $100 million
YEAR: 2009
SKINNY: In hindsight, it’s laughable that a number of NFL teams whispered the word tampering regarding Haynesworth’s landmark deal with the Redskins (first $100 million contract for D-linemen), just hours into NFL free agency. 

(NOTE: Unlike today’s rules, the NFL didn’t provide clubs with a three-day negotiating window for free agents.)

From the outset, Haynesworth (two-time All-Pro with the Titans in 2007-08) was an unqualified bust in Washington, collecting only 6.5 sacks and 43 total tackles in two seasons with the Redskins. 

Even worse, Haynesworth was routinely chided by head coach Mike Shanahan for his lack of conditioning, discipline and/or laziness throughout out his D.C. tenure. 

The real kicker: Despite only two years in Washington, Haynesworth still walked away with $41 million in guarantees.

2 – QB JEFF GARCIA, BROWNS

OLD TEAM: 49ers
CONTRACT: 5 years, $25 million
YEAR: 2004
SKINNY: From 2000-03, Garcia accounted for 13,854 yards passing and 121 total TDs (102 passing)

So, it made sense – on paper – for the Browns to reward Garcia with a sizable contract, entering his age-34 campaign.

For his Cleveland debut that September, Garcia tallied two TDs and helped the Browns put a 20-3 smackdown on the hated Ravens.

So far, so good … huh?

However, for the following week versus Dallas, Garcia completed just eight passes (on 27 attempts) and appeared lost throwing to a receiving corps of Andre’ Davis, Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt. Ouch. 

Things did not improve from there, either.

In his only season with Cleveland, Garcia merely collected three victories, 10 TD passes and 144 completions in 11 games.

3 – QB ELVIS GRBAC, RAVENS

OLD TEAM: Chiefs
CONTRACT: 5 years, $30 million
YEAR: 2001
SKINNY: In the Super Bowl era, the Ravens are the only franchise to forsake their Lombardi Trophy-winning quarterback for a new opening-day starter the following season. 

In 2001, Baltimore dropped Trent Dilfer and inked Grbac to a high-end deal, which included an $11 million signing bonus. 

For that season in Baltimore, Grbac’s last in professional football, the 31-year-old passed for a respectable 3,033 yards, but floundered with a below-average TD/INT ratio of 15/18

Making matters worse, Grbac tossed three interceptions (and zero TDs) in the Ravens’ divisional-round playoff loss to the rival Steelers (January 2002). 

Soon after that, the presumably healthy Grbac abruptly retired from the game.

4 – CB NATE ODOMES, SEAHAWKS

OLD TEAM: Bills
CONTRACT: 4 years, $8.4 million
YEAR: 1994
SKINNY: It’s impossible to find a live-action shot of Odomes playing a regular-season game with the Seahawks … for one simple reason: 

He never played a down for Seattle. 

A two-time Pro Bowler with the Bills (1992-93), Odomes cashed in with Seattle after going to four straight Super Bowls with Buffalo (1990-93)

However, a knee injury sidelined Odomes for the 1994 and ’95 campaigns, forcing the Seahawks to waive him after two nonexistent seasons. 

5 – OG CARL NICKS, BUCCANEERS

OLD TEAM: Saints
CONTRACT: 5 years, $47.5 million
YEAR: 2012
SKINNY: Nicks was among the league’s best O-linemen in his first four pro seasons, collecting two Pro Bowl trips (2010-11) and one spot on the NFL All-Pro Team (2011)

During that span, the Nebraska product was also a durable linchpin for the Saints and QB Drew Brees, starting 61 regular-season outings from 2008-11.

However, everything unraveled once Nicks inked a lucrative deal with Tampa Bay. 

Nicks started in only nine combined games for 2012-13; and a year later, he would contract MRSA  a potentially life-threatening staph infection which can greatly harm surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs and/or urinary tract. 

As a result, the tough-luck Nicks never played another down in the NFL.

6 – QB JAKE DELHOMME, BROWNS

OLD TEAM: Panthers
CONTRACT: 5 years, $42 million
YEAR: 2010
SKINNY: The Browns rarely, if ever, strike gold during free agency. 

For this particular absurdity, Cleveland officials doled out $42 million to a 35-year-old passer with the following meager averages for 2006-09: 2,183 yards passing, 12 TDs. 

Ugh. 

Which brings us to Delhomme’s only campaign with the Browns:

Of the five games played, Delhomme meekly tossed for 872 yards, two TDs … and seven interceptions. 

For what it’s worth, Delhomme’s best season in the pros (2004 – 3,886 yards passing, 29 TDs) contrasts well with Jeff Garcia’s most forgettable NFL campaign (2004 with the Browns).

7 – CB DEION SANDERS, REDSKINS

OLD TEAM: Cowboys
CONTRACT: 7 years, $55 million
YEAR: 2000
SKINNY: Sanders might be a Hall of Famer and one of the NFL’s greatest players of the 1990s. However, in 2000, the 33-year-old had reached the point of no return, in terms of remaining an indomitable centerpiece.

And yet, this didn’t preclude new Redskins owner Daniel Snyder from tossing a fat contract at Sanders (including the $8 million signing bonus), thinking the balance of power in the NFC East would instantly shift from Dallas to Washington. 

But that’s not how things worked out for Prime Time. After one mortal season with the Redskins, Sanders retired to The NFL Today on CBS set, although he would make another comeback with the Ravens in 2004-05 … as a nickel cornerback and safety. 

8 – WR JAVON WALKER, RAIDERS

OLD TEAM: Raiders
CONTRACT: 6 years, $55 million
YEAR: 2008
SKINNY: If the Raiders had lavished Walker with a $55 million contract after his sterling 2006 season with the Broncos (69 catches, 1.084 yards, eight TDs), no one might have said boo. 

Instead, Oakland surrendered top-market compensation to Walker after a deflating, injury-riddled campaign the following year (26 catches, 287 yards, zero touchdowns). 

In his final four games in 2007, Walker tallied seven catches for 57 yards … and yet, he still got crazy money from Raiders patriarch Al Davis. 

Predictably, Walker was a bust with Oakland, catching only 15 balls for 296 yards and one touchdown in 2008 (with quarterback JaMarcus Russell) — and then playing just three games in ’09 (his final NFL season) without a single catch. 

Yikes. 

9 – DE RAY EDWARDS, FALCONS

OLD TEAM: Vikings
CONTRACT: 5 years, $30 million
YEAR: 2011
SKINNY: It’s easy to endorse the Falcons’ rationale for bringing Edwards from Minnesota to Atlanta:

From ages 22-25 (playing alongside likely Hall of Famer Jared Allen), Edwards had wrapped four straight seasons of five-plus sacks — including 16.5 total for 2009-10. 

But alas, after a decent first campaign with the Falcons in 2011 (two fumble recoveries, 3.5 sacks, 26 tackles), Edwards fell off the map the following year, registering zero sacks in nine games (four starts) before getting released during the season. 

As a postscript, the 20-something Edwards ($11 million guaranteed upon signing) didn’t play again after the 2012 campaign.

10 – QB BROCK OSWEILER, TEXANS

OLD TEAM: Broncos
CONTRACT: 6 years, $72 million
YEAR: 2016
SKINNY: Osweiler’s one-and-done debacle with Houston (circa 2016) should serve as fair warning to all future free agents at quarterback, in search of a monster payday:

Don’t sign with any team until meeting the head coach first (in this case, Bill O’Brien), especially when he’s the guy designing the offense and calling plays.

11 – WR ALVIN HARPER, BUCCANEERS

OLD TEAM: Cowboys
CONTRACT: 4 years, $10.5 million
YEAR: 1995
SKINNY: With the Cowboys, Harper played an integral role on two championship teams, averaging an NFL-best 25 yards per catch and racking up eight TDs (1994). 

The Bucs, however, would learn that Harper was more suited to be a balanced offense’s third or fourth option and didn’t possess the chops to carry a middling group in Tampa Bay

For example, tight end Jackie Harris tallied more catches and receiving yards (62/751) than Harper in 1995 (46 catches/633 yards).

The following season, his last with Tampa Bay, Harper merely caught 19 balls for 289 yards and one TD

That year, according to Sports Illustrated, Harper infamously lost a piece of the tip of his left middle finger when a trainer inadvertently cut it with scissors, while applying athletic tape.

12 – WR LAURENT ROBINSON, JAGUARS

OLD TEAM: Cowboys
CONTRACT: 5 years, $32 million
YEAR: 2012
SKINNY: Give Robinson, who was originally drafted by the Falcons, some credit in one respect: He earned this bank heist.

In 2011, with the Cowboys in desperate need of a No. 2 receiver (behind Dez Bryant and subbing for the injured Miles Austin), Robinson emerged out of nowhere to collect 54 catches and 858 yards … along with a Dez/Calvin Johnson-esque run of 11 touchdowns in a 10-game spurt

Upon moving to Jacksonville, though, Robinson was an instant flop, catching just 24 balls (with zero scores) in 2012 – his lone season with the Jaguars. 

Adding to the misery, the 20-something receiver never logged another down in the NFL.

13 – QB MATT FLYNN, SEAHAWKS

OLD TEAM: Packers
CONTRACT: 3 years, $26 million
YEAR: 2012
SKINNY: Flynn ($10 million in guarantees with Seattle) might be the unluckiest asset here, citing two reasons: 

a) An injury precluded Flynn (tied for Packers’ single-game passing-TDs record: 6) from fully participating in his first training camp with the Seahawks. 

b) That absence enabled rookie QB Russell Wilson (Round 3 pick) to earn a full-time starting gig for the regular season. 

(Roughly 18 months later, Wilson and Co. would claim the Lombardi Trophy.) 

Of course, it’s not like Flynn – who was released by Seattle the next season — fared better in other locales: 

In 2013, he spent time with the Raiders, Bills and Packers, ultimately serving as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy in Green Bay. Again.

14 – WR JOE HORN, FALCONS

OLD TEAM: Saints
CONTRACT: 4 years, $19 million
YEAR: 2007
SKINNY: Horn was a flop bet in his lone season with Atlanta (27 catches, 243 yards, one TD). He was 35 and at the end of his professional rope. 

That aside, the Falcons were crazy to think Horn (2005-06 averages: 43 catches and 2.5 TDs) would magically recapture his under-30 form, even if Michael Vick hadn’t received a two-year prison term for dogfighting. 

Horn’s biggest faux pas with Atlanta, however, didn’t occur on the field.

In the early stages of the Vick-dogfighting scandal, Horn erroneously spoke on the club’s behalf, saying the team fully supported Vick – even though the Falcons organization had been distancing itself from the quarterback. 

It was a debacle, even bigger than Horn’s inflated contract. 

15 – WR ANDRE RISON, BROWNS

OLD TEAM: Falcons
CONTRACT: 5 years, $17 million
YEAR: 1995
SKINNY: It’s scary to think Jerry Rice was not the league’s highest-paid receiver in 1995. 

That honor went to Rison, who enjoyed five rock-solid seasons with the Falcons from 1990-94 (423 catches, 5,633 yards, 56 TDs – including four straight years of double-digit TDs) before cashing in with Cleveland. 

In fact, legend has it Browns owner Art Modell had to secure a loan to cover Rison’s signing bonus … which explains why Modell was secretly hatching a deal to move the franchise to Baltimore (minus the iconic team colors and “Browns” name). 

In his lone year with Cleveland, Rison  who would score a Super Bowl TD with Green Bay in January 1997  caught 47 balls for 701 yards and three touchdowns.

16 – WR JERRY PORTER, JAGUARS

OLD TEAM: Raiders
CONTRACT: 6 years, $30 million
YEAR: 2008
SKINNY: In fairness to Jacksonville, Porter had developed into a reasonable bet for 60 catches, 800 yards and six touchdowns with the Raiders from 2004-07 (when healthy). 

So, it’s not like the Jaguars were throwing a boatload of money at an unproven or untapped talent. 

Porter also had the elite-level speed to boot, making him more attractive in free agency.

The main undoing: Jacksonville tried to shoehorn Porter into the lead-dog role at receiver, even though he was seldom more than a No. 2 or 3 wideout with Oakland. 

As a result, Porter caught only 11 balls for 181 yards and one touchdown in his lone season with QB David Garrard and the Jacksonville offense. It would also be his last NFL campaign.

17 – CB NNAMDI ASOMUGHA, EAGLES

OLD TEAM: Raiders
CONTRACT: 5 years, $60 million
YEAR: 2011
SKINNY: With the Raiders from 2006-10, Asomugha was a two-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler and four-time member of Pro Football Reference‘s double-digit-point Approximate Value Club

In the summer of 2011, soon after the NFL lockout ended, the Cowboys and Eagles fought for Nnamdi.

Dallas even tossed out a national media leak, characterizing Asomugha’s signing as imminent. 

However, Philly swooped in with a mega-contract ($25M in guarantees) – prompting backup QB Vince Young to hail the new-look Eagles as a “Dream Team” – a comment which indirectly set the course for a 4-12 implosion that fall. 

In two seasons with Philly (2011-12), Asomugha collected four total picks.

18 – S ADAM ARCHULETA, REDSKINS

OLD TEAM: Rams
CONTRACT: 6 years, $30 million
YEAR: 2006
SKINNY: The Redskins were roundly praised for signing Archuleta in the spring of 2006, throwing big money at a smart, physical and quick-twitch safety who was seemingly in his athletic prime.

However, the former first-round pick struggled mightily in his lone campaign in the nation’s capital, registering just one pass deflection and one sack over 16 ineffectual outings.

Here’s the kicker: Archuleta wasn’t necessarily ready to hang up his cleats after the Redskins debacle.

The following season, the future CBS game analyst collected two sacks, two turnovers, two pass deflections and four tackles for loss with the Bears, while helping Chicago limit the opposition to mere averages of 19.4 points over the final five games.

19 – WR PEERLESS PRICE, FALCONS

OLD TEAM: Bills
CONTRACT: 7 years, $37.5 million
YEAR: 2003
SKINNY: In 2002, his fourth season with the Bills, Price finally exhibited the traits of a No. 1 wideout in real-world and fantasy circles, catching 94 balls for 1,252 yards and nine TDs

It was the first supposed step in a career full of unlimited promise. But things took a turn for the worse the following winter, soon after Price inked a big-money contract with the Falcons. 

On paper, Price seemed like a perfect fit for quarterback Michael Vick, and perhaps the final piece to Atlanta’s championship puzzle. 

Instead, Price’s two-year production with Atlanta (109 catches, 1,413, six TDs), although adequate, wasn’t commensurate with the NFL’s highest-paid receivers.

 Atlanta waived him before the 2005 season.

20 – DT SEAN GILBERT, PANTHERS

OLD TEAM: Rams
CONTRACT: 7 years, $46.5 million
YEAR: 1998
SKINNY: This case straddles the line separating free-agent bust and disappointment.

In 1998, the Panthers signed Gilbert to a then-unprecedented deal for a restricted free agent (among D-linemen), while also surrendering first-round picks in 1999 and 2000. 

For that inaugural season, Gilbert registered six sacks  the second-highest tally of his career.

However, injuries and age would become the major knocks against Gilbert from 1999-2002, while impacting the Panthers’ 1-15 season of 2001

In fact, Gilbert (the uncle to NFL dynamo Darrelle Revis) may be the poster boy for the Panthers’ bottoming out, paving the way for George Seifert’s firing and John Fox’s subsequent hire as head coach.

BONUS – WR DAVID BOSTON, CHARGERS

OLD TEAM: Cardinals
CONTRACT: 7 years, $47 million
YEAR: 2003
SKINNY: Here’s why Boston finished outside the infamous top 20:

Yes, Boston’s behavior in San Diego was erratic, to be kind.

Yes, his body had undergone serious changes from his early NFL days, through the heavy implementation of weightlifting (and perhaps other stuff).

And yes, Boston didn’t even reside on an NFL roster in 2004, despite being in his athletic prime (26 years old).

However, for that lone season with the Chargers, Boston was a highly productive asset, accounting for 70 catches, 115 targets, 880 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games; and of most importance, the Ohio State product enjoyed two monster games with San Diego that year:

**14 catches, 20 targets, 181 yards, 2 TDs vs. Jacksonville

**9 catches, 12 targets, 139 yards, 2 TDs vs. Cincinnati

BONUS – QB SCOTT MITCHELL, LIONS

OLD TEAM: Dolphins
CONTRACT: 3 years, $11 million
YEAR: 1994
SKINNY: Mitchell’s 1994 campaign (1,456 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs) was a lost cause, just months after signing a record-breaking contract (at the time). 

To be fair, though, O-tackle Lomas Brown wasn’t exactly stonewalling opponents (must-watch link), prior to his passer getting injured. 

In 1995, Mitchell became the first Lions QB in history to break the hallowed 4,000-yard mark (4,338 yards passing, 32 TDs), while leading Detroit to seven straight closing wins and a wild-card berth. 

Two years later, Mitchell rolled for 3,484 yards passing/19 TDs, again guiding the Lions to the playoffs. 

Bottom line: Detroit fans never warmed to the brooding southpaw, even though he stands out in the 51-year gap of the Lions trading away Bobby Layne (1958) … and drafting Matthew Stafford.

BONUS – WR ROBERT MEACHEM, CHARGERS

OLD TEAM: Saints
CONTRACT: 4 years, $25.9 million
YEAR: 2012
SKINNY: From 2009-11, Meachem amassed a highly respectable 20 TDs with the pass-happy Saints. 

However, when digging deeper, the Chargers might have opened up the checkbook here, based on one prolific five-game spurt from 2009 — 21 catches, 346 yards, six touchdowns

Either way, the former first-round pick (2007) was a washout with the Bolts, catching only 14 balls for 207 yards and two TDs in his lone campaign with San Diego (three starts). 

Postscript: Meachem eventually returned to the Saints, but merely tallied 23 catches/2 TDs for 2013-14.


About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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