NFL teams and their fans have been waiting for free agency since last season ended. Salary cap space has been counted and rechecked, ready for splurging on that star capable of turning franchises from losers to winners with the simple change of a jersey.
Millions upon millions of dollars will be spent.
Yes, the NFL’s real gambling season begins Tuesday, and it’s always buyer beware, no matter how smart the deal looks in March.
For every Peyton Manning scooped up at a relative bargain by Denver, there’s an Albert Haynesworth waiting to go bust. The result is dead money hanging around the books for years that not even the league’s rising salary cap can erase completely.
Here are a few of the NFL’s best and worst free agent deals:
Peyton Manning, 2012: Denver won the Manning Watch that March, and he has repaid the Broncos with three straight playoff appearances. That includes a Super Bowl berth after Manning became the NFL’s first five-time MVP in the 2013 season. That five-year deal worth $96 million still seems like a bargain even if Denver has yet to win the Lombardi Trophy that Broncos boss John Elway so desperately wants.
Drew Brees, 2006: Worries about Brees’ torn labrum made some teams back away. That helped the Saints land the quarterback with a six-year, $60 million contract and an $8 million signing bonus. Brees repaid their faith immediately by leading them to the NFC championship game. He followed that with a Super Bowl win in 2010 and a bunch of NFL passing records. The Saints paid up again in July 2012 with a five-year, $100 million deal.
Darrelle Revis, 2014: The New England Patriots may have made the best free agent signing of 2014, landing the cornerback with a one-year deal for $12 million, with a team option for 2015 paying Revis $20 million. The Patriots won the Super Bowl with Revis playing all 16 games and picking off two passes.
Deion Sanders, 1995: Nobody used free agency better than Prime Time. The Defensive Player of the Year helped San Francisco win the 1995 Super Bowl, then cashed in with a seven-year, $35 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys the next year. Sanders helped them win the 1996 Super Bowl.
Reggie White, 1993: The Minister of Defense hit the free agent market, and the Green Bay Packers won the bidding war. White always said that God told him to go to Green Bay, and the Packers paid up with four years and $17 million. White delivered as he helped the Packers to two Super Bowls and one championship.
Albert Haynesworth, 2009: The Washington Redskins wanted the defensive tackle, and they paid up with a seven-year contract worth $100 million just hours after free agency opened. Haynesworth was guaranteed a then-record $41 million in that deal, luring him away from Tennessee. But he clashed almost instantly with coach Mike Shanahan over a conditioning test, and Haynesworth wound up playing only 20 games over two seasons with the Redskins before being traded away to New England in 2011. He lasted six games before being placed on waivers, with Tampa Bay picking him up for seven games. His career ended after that, and he’s now selling burgers in Tennessee.
Sanders, 2000: Yes, Prime Time shows up on both lists thanks to yet another big money deal from Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Before Snyder approved Haynesworth’s deal, he spent another chunk of money luring Sanders away from Washington’s NFC East rivals in Dallas with a seven-year, $56 million contract that included an $8 million signing bonus. Yet Sanders played only one season and intercepted four passes in a Washington uniform before retiring.
Carl Nicks, 2012: An All-Pro in 2011 and a two-time Pro Bowl guard, Nicks never missed a game in four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. That’s why Tampa Bay handed him a five-year, $47.5 million deal in March 2012. But he wound up starting only nine games with the Buccaneers because of an injured left toe, followed by a MRSA infection in his left foot.
Nnamdi Asomugha, 2011: The lockout created a frenzied free agency period in late July 2011, and the cornerback who flourished in Oakland capitalized by signing a five-year, $60 million deal with Philadelphia, $25 million guaranteed. But Asomugha played only two seasons with the Eagles with four interceptions.
Javon Walker, 2008: Oakland ignored the wide receiver’s poor season in 2007 in Denver and signed him to a six-year, $55 million deal with an $11 million signing bonus. That netted the Raiders only 15 catches and one TD, and Walker played only three games in 2009 without a single reception before being released in 2010.
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