Five worst contracts in NFL history

Michael Vick touchdown
Michael Vick's contract features among the worst ever. Photo from TNYT.

With the draft and free agency at the forefront of every front office’s agenda, it’s time to deal with cap space and contracts.

This means it is the perfect time to take a look back fondly, or not, at the worst contracts in NFL history.

5. Nick Foles, QB – Jaguars: 4-year deal/$88 million

As you read the title of this entry you are already probably finding it difficult to visualise Nick Foles in a Jacksonville uniform, and that is why he is on our list.

After Super Bowl LII, Nick Foles was the coolest kid in town after a Super Bowl MVP performance which resulted in his Philadelphia Eagles defeating the infamous New England Patriots and Tom Brady in the game they’re most famous for winning.

This was admittedly an epic achievement. Yet, when the Jaguars decided to give him $88 million dollars to try and do it in the regular season, fans rightfully winced at the thought of it. The worst part is that $45 million of it was guaranteed money. Foles was unproven and his only real NFL tape as a starter was an insane postseason fairy tale, but the Jags believed. It did not pay off.

In return for their 2019 investment, they received four starts – and they lost every single one – 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and a fourth-round pick. That pick came when just a year after they signed him, they traded him to the Bears. This trade cemented one of the worst free agency signings in NFL history, and I think it is by far the worst contract in recent years. Four starts, only three touchdowns and as if trading him for a fourth-rounder wasn’t bad enough, they also had to absorb $18.75 million of dead money on their cap for the pleasure of his business.

Even though this is one of the worst contracts in NFL history, most people will forget about this deal when the Jags draft Trevor Lawrence, but at least now you won’t.

4. Deion Sanders, CB – Washington: 8-year deal/$56 million

$56 million might not seem like a lot of money reading this now, but when Deion Sanders was the most exciting player in the NFL, that was some serious money. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989 and he set the league on fire in the ‘90s. From 1991-1999 he made it to the Pro Bowl every season but one, and he won two Super Bowls. He was one of the fastest players in the league and he dominated as one of the best cornerbacks of all-time. Unfortunately, however, we are not talking about a contract he received in this period, this is the contract that he signed in the year 2000, when he was 33-years old.

Yes, the Washington Redskins signed him to an eight-year deal when he was 33. Obviously, Tom Brady is currently rewriting the rules on age, but someone who is playing at the cornerback position being given what at the time represented the biggest contract that a cornerback had ever seen before when he was 33 seems insane. Oh, and did I mention that Sanders retired after one season of the deal?

It was a disaster, and while it is one of the worst contracts in NFL history, I would actually go as far as to say that for my money this was the worst deal at the time it was signed that features on this list.

3. Sam Bradford, QB – Rams: 6-year rookie deal/$78 million

This entry isn’t just about Sam Bradford. This is about rookie quarterback contracts. If I wrote a top 10 list for worst contracts it’s very likely 10 of them are rookie deals for QB’s drafted at the top of drafts. JaMarcus Russell gets an honourable mention here, too.

The thing which I think makes Sam Bradford’s contract so iconic in my mind is the impact of it. This was the last time that we got to see someone fall into the contract trap that had been laid for NFL teams for decades.

In 2010, the St. Louis Rams drafted him with the first overall pick and signed him to a six-year deal which would cost them $78 million, with $50 million guaranteed.

There is an obvious element of risk involved in paying any football player, injuries – and we’ll get to that – and just generally disappointing performance from a player you paid for will always be a problem (thus the existence of this list), but with a rookie QB who hasn’t played a snap yet? That’s a different level.

Sam Bradford was a Ram for five years, and he only started 49 games. He missed 31 of them through injury. In those 49 games, he only won 18 of them. Just one year after Bradford was drafted, the 2011 collective bargaining agreement resulted in a rookie wage cap that has put an end to undoubtedly the most common cause of a bad contract in the NFL. RIP awful rookie contracts. RIP Sam Bradford’s career.

2. Michael Vick, QB – Falcons: 10-year deal/$130 million

When Michael Vick burst onto the scene in 2002 as the new starter for the Atlanta Falcons, football changed forever. The version of the sport that the likes of Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray play now didn’t exist 25 years ago.

Vick was the first truly elite dual-threat quarterback, and he held the rushing record until the 2019 season. He ran rings around everybody and his passing ability wasn’t bad either. Then, in 2004, he signed a 10-year contract extension for $130 million, including the most money that had ever been guaranteed to a player at the time, $37 million. This was a huge investment, but the Falcons believed that their revolutionary QB would be worth the money.

I want to make it clear; this deal was always risky one, but of all of the contracts on this list, this is the one where you have to feel bad for the front office who made it. Only three years after signing the deal, the news broke that Vick had been implicated in the uncovering of an illegal dog fighting operation.

He was accused of funding the operation, holding it on his property and even directly participating and handling fights and even worse. Vick ended up being sentenced to 23 months in jail and his time with the Falcons was over.

After he was released, the NFL then served him a two-year suspension from the league. He did return to football, but never as a Falcon, meaning that their 10-year, $130 million contract only bought them three years. They recouped a little bit of money when they received partial reimbursement for his signing, but this deal still set back the Falcons by years and they didn’t really recover until Matt Ryan showed up in 2008. It wasn’t their fault, but this will never be forgotten when talking about the worst contracts in NFL history.

1. Albert Haynesworth, DT – Washington: 7-year deal/$100 million

The worst contract in NFL history. The infamous deal that brought defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to the Washington Redskins.

Apologies to Washington fans for featuring you twice, but you already knew this one would be up here. Haynesworth was a good player over in Tennessee, and he earned a move, but when Washington gave him a 7-year $100 million contract, it did not go how they hoped.

Haynesworth declared – infamously – when he signed: “You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust.” Well, damn, Albert, now we remember you as both a bust and a liar.

While Dan Snyder made plenty of bad signings, this is the worst of the worst. The defensive tackle clashed with the coaching staff, didn’t participate in workouts, showed up to training camp out of shape and generally didn’t act professionally.

He only started 12 games for Washington over a two-year period. What should have been a deal for a dominant interior defensive lineman through 2016 actually ended up with a headache that they could only relieve by trading him away to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick for a draft two years away. He lasted about three months with New England, who waived him, then even less than that with Tampa Bay. Haynesworth did next to nothing after receiving a blockbuster deal and now goes down not only as the bust he promised he wouldn’t be, but the recipient of the worst contract in NFL history.

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About Tyler Arthur 36 Articles
Tyler is an NFL writer who has had a love for American Football since he discovered the sport when he attended De Montfort University, where he studied Journalism, and played wide receiver and eventually quarterback. While at QB, he led the DMU Falcons to a division title in his final year before graduating. His passion for the game, and enjoyment of learning and understanding the nuances and details of the sport led him to start writing about it. Years later he has taken advantage of numerous opportunities involving writing, attending games and events and co-hosting a podcast. More of his work can be found on The Touchdown, Gridiron Hub and Read American Football. Tyler is a Las Vegas Raiders fan and he also enjoys baseball, in which he is a Chicago Cubs fan. He loves fantasy football and his other hobbies include video games and chess.

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