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NFL Free Agent Busts from Past Decade Highlight Need to Be Cautious With Media Proclamations

NFL free agency began in earnest yesterday, and early sentiment is already favoring some of the franchises who are WINNING the offseason by dropping gobs of cash on new acquisitions. Denver signed Aqib Talib for a six year, $57 million contract with $26 million guaranteed (due to the inevitable monopoly money nature of the back-end of these deals, the ‘guarantee’ figure is always the most important number), the Saints locked up former Bills safety Jairus Byrd on an almost-identical deal, and the Browns purportedly bolstered their defense with four-year contracts for Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby.

Nobody really knows for sure how any of those or subsequent signings will work out, or what teams have in store for the Draft, but that won’t stop the hot takes from pouring in. These relatively recent free agents didn’t pan out as their teams, and some pundits, predicted they would:

Albert Haynesworth, Redskins (2009)

haynesworth

Original DealSeven years, $100 million ($41 M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about him at the time: Phil Simms: “I don’t know if he’s Reggie White, but he’s close … Everybody on the [Giants] line [needs to] put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason . . . good luck.”

Final outcome: Haynesworth was traded to New England in 2011 for a 2013 fifth round pick; Mike Shanahan recently insinuated that the (other) Redskins bust was lazy and lacks character.


Javon Walker, Raiders (2008)

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs

Original dealSix years, $55 million ($16M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about him at the time: Bleacher Report: “Javon Walker is a big, strong receiver with speed. He is strong enough to get off the line and has the speed to stretch the field. Javon Walker is a No. 1 receiver and a go-to guy who can run all the routes. Walker goes after the ball in the air and has freakish athletic talent … With a QB like JaMarcus Russell, you have to surround him with players he can get the ball to. Reports are that Walker is fully healthy and has been working out in Arizona getting ready for his first season in the silver and black.”

Final outcome: Things went so poorly with Walker’s health and performance — he appeared in 11 games in two seasons, making just 15 catches — that he actually offered to give Oakland their money back. (Al Davis declined.)


Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles (2011)

Philadelphia Eagles v Miami Dolphins

Original dealFive years, $60 million ($25M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about the signing at the time: It should be noted that Asomugha was considered by virtually everyone — including this site — to be the best free agent in the class, but this immediate reaction from Steve Wyche at NFL.com is amusing in retrospect: “I don’t know who is more gangster: the Eagles or Asomugha? Philadelphia used the cover of the Kevin Kolb trade and the Vince Young signing to shield their pursuit of Asomugha. Meanwhile, Asomugha’s agents played a handful of teams off each other before stealthily maneuvering him into a situation where he won’t be viewed as The Savior, but more a Final Piece. The process was cold-blooded. I’m just in awe of how the Eagles and Asomugha pulled this off. Gangster.”

We’d also be remiss to totally neglect Vince Young’s “dream team” comment in this space. (The Eagles would go 8-8.)

Final outcome: After two disappointing seasons, Asomugha was cut during the 2013 offseason. In addition to his performance on the field, there were reports that that the cornerback isolated himself from his teammates, going so far as to eat lunch alone in his car.


TJ Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks (2009)

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals

Original dealFive years, $40 million ($15M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about the signing at the time: LA Times’ Sam Farmer, in proclaiming Seattle NFL offseason ‘winners’: “Whereas Washington made the most eye-catching signing [Haynesworth], the Seahawks made the best pass-catching one. Their offense needs a boost, and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh should give them one. He’s the only NFL receiver who has made 90 or more catches in each of the past three seasons, and now he has a chance to emerge from the shadow of Chad Ocho Cinco and be the undisputed No. 1 guy for a passing offense that finished 29th last season.”

Final outcome: Houshmandzadeh was cut after just one season despite the fact that he was owed $7 million guaranteed in 2010. A few months after his release, Houshmandzadeh said that Pete Carroll (who inherited the receiver’s deal) was “shady” in the way he handled the whole situation.


Adalius Thomas, Patriots (2007)

N.E. Patriots Vs. Miami Dolphins At Land Shark Stadium

Original dealFive years, $35 million ($20M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about the signing at the time: Len Pasquarelli: “Adalius Thomas [was] among the premier players in the unrestricted free agent pool, and the seven-year veteran appears to be a perfect fit for coach Bill Belichick’s trademark 3-4 defensive scheme … He is the kind of hybrid, edge-type player around whom Belichick has traditionally constructed his defensive schemes, a wonderfully versatile athlete who can morph into multiple roles.”

Final outcome: Thomas accumulated just 14.5 sacks in three seasons in New England (he had tallied 28 in his previous three in Baltimore); the most famous moment of his Patriots tenure came when he was sent home by Bill Belichick for arriving late to practice after a snowstorm and quipped that he couldn’t just fly over the other cars in traffic because “It’s not the Jetsons”.


Mike Vanderjagt, Cowboys (2006)

Mike Vanderjagt

Original deal: Three years, $5 million ($2.5 M guaranteed)

Nice thing said about the signing at the time: Jean-Jacques Taylor: To gauge the level of Jones’ commitment to winning, all you have to do is see former Indianapolis kicker Mike Vanderjagt on the roster. It took a three-year deal worth approximately $5 million, including a $2.5 million signing bonus, to acquire the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history.

This is the first time Jones has given a kicker a seven-figure signing bonus.

But he understands Parcells’ ball-control style is frequently going to put the Cowboys in close games, where a fourth-quarter field goal can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Final outcome: The presumably liquored up Mike Vanderjagt lasted ten games in Dallas, going 13 for 18, and never played again.


Honorable mentions (who may or may not have made the list if positive media quotes were more readily available): Jerry Porter (Jaguars, 2008; six years, $30 million – $10M guaranteed; cut after one year); Adam Archuleta (Redskins, 2006; six years, $30 million – $10M guaranteed; traded to Bears for a sixth round pick after one year); Antwaan Randle El (Redskins, 2006; seven years, $31 million – $10M guaranteed; had just one return TD in four years and never finished a season with more than 53 catches); Antonio Bryant (49ers, 2006; four years, $15 million – $5M guaranteed; caught just 40 balls and was released one year later); Antonio Bryant again (Bengals, 2010, four years, $28 million – $8M guaranteed; released in the same offseason in which he was signed); Mike Wallace (Dolphins, 2013; five years, $60 million – $30M guaranteed; might be jumping the gun a little bit, but his inclusion on lists like these seems inevitable)

[photos via USA Today Sports Images]

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