Analysis: NFL's most notorious free-agent signings since 1993
FEB 26, 2014 3:50p ET
FOX Sports South takes a whimsical look at the NFL's 25 most notorious free-agent signings since 1993 -- the league's first year of modern-day, unrestricted free agency.
To clarify: This listing doesn't simply acknowledge the 25 worst signings of the last 21 years.
It's a combination review of history's most ineffectual contracts, while condemning the short-sighted clubs that continually make disastrous decisions with established veterans.
One more thing: It's easier to quantify a playmaker's impact with a team (or lack thereof), compared to his brethren along the offensive and defensive lines. That said, the nine receivers featured below certainly merit spots in this countdown.
Player: Jason Babin (Linebacker/Defensive End)
Contract: 5 years, $28 million
New Team: Eagles
Skinny: Babin must have been the worst fit in Eagles history, personality-wise, to warrant getting the boot after just 27 games with the club -- and tallying 18 sacks in his first season of the deal. In Year 2, Babin (reported $6 million in guarantees upon signing) racked up a respectable 5.5 sacks with Philly, including one apiece in his final three games with the team.
And yet, that did little to deter the Eagles from parting ways with rush end, allowing him to finish the 2012 campaign with the Jaguars (1.5 sacks in five games).
Player: Scott Mitchell (Quarterback)
Contract: 3 years, $11 million
New Team: Lions
Skinny: Fickle NFL fans can spin it any way they want, but Scott Mitchell is not the worst free-agent quarterback of the last 20 years.
Far from it, actually.
Granted, Mitchell's first season with the Lions in 1994 (1,456 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs) was a lost cause; but in his defense, left tackle Lomas Brown wasn't exactly stonewalling opponents, prior to his quarterback getting injured (see above video).
In 1995, Mitchell became the first Lions quarterback in history to break the hallowed 4,000-yard mark (4,338 yards passing, 32 TDs), while leading Detroit to seven straight wins to finish the regular season and a wild-card berth. And two years later, he rolled for 3,484 yards passing and 19 touchdowns, once again leading Detroit to a postseason berth.
But why let facts get in the way of a good storyline: Detroit fans never warmed to the brooding southpaw, even though he still stands out in the 51-year gap of the Lions trading Bobby Layne (1958) . . . and drafting Matthew Stafford (2009).
Player: Emmitt Smith (Running Back)
Contract: 2 years, $8 million
New Team: Cardinals
Skinny: There are two different prisms to view Smith's two-year stint with the Cardinals:
The pessimist would focus on Smith's 363-yard, two-TD output in 2003, indicating he's the one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent memory.
The optimist would focus on Smith's bounce-back campaign of 1,042 total yards and nine touchdowns (2004), while reminding readers that Emmitt posted either 80 total yards and/or one touchdown 10 times.
They'd also cite this: On Week 4 of his final NFL season (against the Saints), Smith -- the NFL's all-time leading rusher -- pulled off the extremely rare triple double (for non-quarterbacks) of running, catching and passing for at least one touchdown in a single game.
On that October day, Smith amassed 145 yards from scrimmage.
Player: Sean Gilbert (Defensive Tackle)
Contract: 7 years, $46.5 million
New Team: Panthers
Skinny: The case of Sean Gilbert straddles that fine line between free-agent bust and free-agent disappointment.
In 1998, the Panthers signed Gilbert to a then-unprecedented deal for a restricted free agent (among the defensive linemen), while surrendering first-round picks in 1999 and 2000 in the process.
For that inaugural season with Carolina, Gilbert registered six sacks -- the second-highest tally of his career. But injuries and age would become the major knocks against Gilbert the following four years (1999-2002), as his lack of impact played a small part in the Panthers' 1-15 season of 2001.
Which brings us to why Gilbert resides here: From a defensive standpoint, he's the poster boy for the Panthers bottoming out 13 years ago, paving the way for George Seifert's firing and John Fox's subsequent hire as head coach.
Player: Ray Edwards (Defensive End)
Contract: 5 years, $30 million
New Team: Falcons
Skinny: It's easy to endorse the Falcons' rationale for bringing Edwards to Atlanta: From ages 22-25, he had just wrapped up four straight seasons of five or more sacks -- including 16.5 total for 2009-10.
But alas, after a decent first year with the Falcons in 2011 (two fumble recoveries, 3.5 sacks, 26 tackles), Edwards fell off the map the following campaign, registering zero sacks in nine games (four starts) before getting released during the season.
As a postscript, Edwards ($11 million guaranteed upon signing) didn't play for any NFL team in 2013, his age-28 season.
Player: Desmond Howard (Kick Returner/Wide Receiver)
Contract: 4 years, $6 million
New Team: Raiders
Skinny: In 1997, a four-year, $6 million contract for a primary kick returner -- especially the Super Bowl MVP from the previous season (Packers) -- didn't count as some high-stakes investment.
In that respect, the Raiders might have been unfairly condemned for Howard's underwhelming stint with Oakland in 1997-98.
Yes, Howard only caught six balls for 46 yards in two seasons, but at that point in his career, he earned his keep returning punts and kicks. In 1997, Howard posted 1,558 total return yards.
The next year, he had 1,597 combined yards and two touchdowns.
The major problem with the signing: During this period of the Raiders, owner Al Davis developed a reputation for falling in love with Super Bowl MVPs, like Howard or cornerback Larry Brown (SB XXX MVP) -- and wrongfully thinking they could be game-changing stars in the long term.
Player: Elvis Grbac (Quarterback)
Contract: 5 years, $30 million
New Team: Ravens
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 '01 season in Baltimore, Grbac's last in professional football, the 31-year-old threw 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 hated Steelers (January 2002).
Soon after that, the presumably healthy Grbac abruptly retired from the game.
Player: David Boston (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 7 years, $47 million
New Team: Chargers
Skinny: In 1998, the quarterback-needy Chargers traded up one spot in Round 1 to land Washington State's Ryan Leaf (No. 2 overall), easily one of the biggest draft busts of the last half-century.
Five years later, San Diego would once again help Arizona out in a huge way, signing Boston to an elite-level contract ($12 million guaranteed).
In fairness to the Chargers, Boston rolled for 98 catches, 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns in 2001. And factoring in the season before, Boston had accounted for 15 TDs in that two-year span. However, there were two major red flags on Boston, leading up to his deal with San Diego:
1. In 2002, Boston caught only 32 balls for 512 yards and one touchdown.
2. He had become enamored with bodybuilding, taking away the much-needed flexibility of a high-end receiver.
For the record, Boston caught 70 balls for 880 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season with the Chargers, so production wasn't the major issue. Rather, San Diego, most notably head coach Marty Schottenheimer, had grown weary of Boston's immaturity.
As a postscript, Boston missed the entire 2004 season and only caught four passes with the Dolphins in '05 -- his final NFL campaign.
Player: Peerless Price (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 7 years, $37.5 million
New Team: Falcons
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 touchdowns.
It was the supposedly the first 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 a championship puzzle. Instead, his two-year production with Atlanta (109 catches, 1,413, six TDs), although adequate, wasn't commensurate amongst the NFL's highest-paid receivers.
As such, Atlanta waived him before the 2005 season.
Player: Neil O'Donnell (Quarterback)
Contract: 5 years, $25 million
New Team: Jets
Skinny: Jets fans may disagree with the following sentiment, but O'Donnell was not a spectacular bust in his two seasons with New York. He simply had trouble living up to the hype of a big contract.
O'Donnell also had great difficulty -- like Richard Todd and Ken O'Brien before him -- sharing the Big Apple limelight with the ghost of Joe Namath, the winning quarterback for the Jets' lone Super Bowl appearance (1968 season).
OK, so O'Donnell's numbers for the 1-15 campaign of 1996 were deflating (1,147 yards passing, four TDs in six starts). But he rebounded in a big way the following season, throwing for 2,796 yards and 17 touchdowns (with only seven INTs), while putting the Jets on the brink of playoff contention in the AFC.
Hence, the notorious aspect of O'Donnell's inclusion: In hindsight, he gets a large chunk of blame for the Jets' foibles during that turbulent era . . . even though that honor should go to head coach Rich Kotite -- Bill Parcells' bumbling predecessor in New York.
Player: Chester McGlockton (Defensive Tackle)
Contract: 5 years, $30.75 million
New Team: Chiefs
Skinny: It's hard to quantify a defensive tackle's post-free-agency impact (or lack thereof) 16 years later, but McGlockton may be a special case here.
With the Raiders from 1993-97, McGlockton amassed one All-Pro honor, four Pro Bowls and 36.5 sacks. As a bonus, he might have been the prototypical D-tackle for the early '90s.
Sadly, though, McGlockton ($7.4 million signing bonus) would never recapture his all-world form in three seasons with the Chiefs, collecting only seven sacks for a franchise that was seemingly on the brink of title contention in 1997 ... before falling back to earth during McGlockton's time in Kansas City (23-25 overall record).
Player: Derrick Dockery (Guard)
Contract: 7 years, $49 million
New Team: Bills
Skinny: The Bills are neither the first nor the last NFL franchise to pay a king's ransom to a guard via free agency. But Dockery may be the first one, at least since 1993, to be an unqualified bust after just two seasons.
Ideally, $18 million signing bonuses are earmarked for difference-makers, not healthy cuts within 24 months.
In Dockery's defense, he started all 32 games in the two years with Buffalo. And he hadn't sullied his reputation enough to sign another big-money deal with the Redskins -- the club that drafted him -- in 2009.
All told, Dockery never earned one Pro Bowl or All-Pro designation in 10 NFL seasons.
Player: Alvin Harper (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 4 years, $10.5 million
New Team: Buccaneers
Skinny: At first blush, the poor Buccaneers cannot be faulted for throwing big dollars at Harper heading into the 1995 season.
With the Cowboys, he had played an integral role on two championship teams, specifically averaging an NFL-best 25 yards per catch and racking up eight touchdowns (1994).
In hindsight, though, the Bucs eventually found out that Harper greatly benefited from being the third or fourth option on one of the NFL's most prolific offenses (Cowboys) and didn't possess the chops to carry a middling offense 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, two TDs).
The following season, his last in Tampa Bay, Harper would catch only 19 balls for 289 yards and one touchdown. 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.
Player: Robert Meachem (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 4 years, $25.9 million
New Team: Chargers
Skinny: From 2009-11, Meachem notched a respectable 20 touchdowns with the pass-happy Saints. But when digging deeper, the Chargers might have opened up the checkbook for the receiver, based on a prolific five-game spurt from 2009: 21 catches, 346 yards, six TDs.
Since Drew Brees and Philip Rivers were once teammates in SoCal (2004-05), perhaps the Chargers' brass thought Meachem would be an easy fit in their offense.
But the former first-round pick (2007) was an absolute washout with the Bolts, catching just 14 balls for 207 yards and two TDs in his lone campaign with San Diego.
In fact, he started just three games that year.
Player: Nnamdi Asomugha (Cornerback)
Contract: 5 years, $60 million
New Team: Eagles
Skinny: From 2006-10, you couldn't rattle off the NFL's best cover cornerbacks -- like Darrelle Revis and Champ Bailey -- without uttering Asomugha's name (even if the pronunciation was a little off).
With the Raiders in that five-year span, 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 -- a numbers-based honor bestowed to the NFL's elite-level defenders.
In the summer of 2011, immediately after the NFL lockout came to an end, the Cowboys and Eagles fought tooth and nail for the 30-year-old Asomugha's services. Dallas even played that game of leaking updates to the media, characterizing Asomugha's signing as "imminent."
But Philly swooped in with a mega-contract ($25 million in guarantees). The addition was praised throughout the league. It even prompted backup QB Vince Young (also a free-agent signee) to declare the new- look Eagles a "Dream Team" -- a comment that indirectly set the course for a 4-12 implosion that fall.
In two seasons with the Eagles (2011-12), Asomugha collected four total interceptions. But his impact, as both a defender and presumptive team leader, wasn't close to justifying a contract with an annual value of $12 million.
Player: Andre Rison (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 5 years, $17 million
New Team: Browns
Skinny: It's scary to think that Jerry Rice -- arguably the greatest player in NFL history -- was not the league's highest-paid receiver in 1995. That honor went to Rison, a sublime talent who enjoyed five rock-solid seasons with the Falcons from 1990-94 (423 catches, 5,633 yards, 75), before cashing in with Cleveland.
Speaking of which, legend has it Browns owner Art Modell had to secure a loan to cover Rison's signing bonus . . . which goes a long way toward explaining why Modell was secretly hatching a deal to move the franchise (minus the colors and "Browns" name) to Baltimore the following season.
In his lone year with Cleveland, Rison caught 47 balls for 701 yards and three touchdowns.
Player: Matt Flynn (Quarterback)
Contract: 3 years, $26 million
New Team: Seahawks
Skinny: Flynn (reported $10 million in guarantees with Seattle) might be the unluckiest asset in this countdown, citing two reasons:
For starters, an injury precluded Flynn from fully participating in his first training camp with the Seahawks.
Secondly, that absence provided rookie QB Russell Wilson (third-round draft pick) with a clear path to flourishing throughout the 2012 preseason . . . and earning a full-time starting gig during the regular season.
(In just two years, Wilson has one Super Bowl ring, two playoff berths and a 17-1 home record -- including the playoffs.)
Of course, it's not like Flynn -- who was released by Seattle before the 2013 campaign -- fared better in other locales: Last season, he spent time with the Raiders, Bills and Packers, ultimately serving as Aaron Rodgers' understudy in Green Bay.
Player: Javon Walker (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 6 years, $55 million
New Team: Raiders
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 would have said boo about it.
Instead, Oakland surrendered top-market compensation ($16 million guaranteed) 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 Al Davis.
Predictably, Walker was a bust with Oakland, catching only 15 balls for 296 yards and one touchdown in '08 — and then playing three games in '09 (his final NFL season) without a single catch. Ugh.
Player: Joe Horn (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 4 years, $19 million
New Team: Falcons
Skinny: No one should be surprised that Horn failed in his lone season with Atlanta (27 catches, 243 yards, one TD). He was 35 at the time and seemingly at the end of his professional rope.
That said, the Falcons were crazy to think Horn (who averaged only 43 catches and 2.5 touchdowns with the Saints in 2005-06) would magically recapture his under-30 form, even if Michael Vick had never received a two-year prison term for dogfighting (plus other charges).
Speaking of which, Horn's biggest faux pas in Atlanta 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 many players and the Falcons organization were carefully distancing themselves from the quarterback.
It was a debacle, even bigger than Horn's inflated contract.
Player: Jeff Garcia (Quarterback)
Contract: 5 years, $25 million
New Team: Browns
Skinny: With the 49ers from 2000-03, Garcia accounted for 13,854 yards passing and 121 total touchdowns (102 passing), ranking him among the NFL's best quarterbacks of that era.
So, it made sense -- at least on paper -- for the Browns to reward Garcia with a sizable contract, entering his age-34 campaign, even if he was primarily a West Coast Offense quarterback.
And for Garcia's Cleveland debut that September, he accounted for two touchdowns and helped the Browns put a 20-3 smackdown on the hated Ravens. But the honeymoon ended soon after the season-opening win.
For Week 2 against Dallas, Garcia completed just eight passes (on 27 attempts) and appeared lost throwing to a receiving corps that included Andre' Davis, Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt. Ouch.
In his only season with Cleveland, Garcia tallied just three victories, 10 touchdown passes and just 144 completions in 11 games.
Player: Jerry Porter (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 6 years, $30 million
New Team: Jaguars
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 Jagaurs were throwing a boatload of money at an unproven or untapped talent.
Porter also had elite-level speed to boot, making him even more attractive in free agency.
The 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 in his time with Oakland.
As a result, Porter caught only 11 balls for 181 yards and one touchdown in his lone season with Jacksonville. It would also be his last NFL campaign.
Player: Laurent Robinson (Wide Receiver)
Contract: 5 years, $32 million
New Team: Jaguars
Skinny: Give Robinson credit. He certainly earned this bank heist of the Jaguars two years ago.
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 rack up 54 catches and 858 yards -- along with a 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 ignominy, the 28-year-old receiver didn't play a single down in the NFL last season.
Player: Nate Odomes (Cornerback)
Contract: 4 years, $8.4 million
New Team: Seahawks
Skinny: It's darn-near impossible to find a media photo (AP, US PRESSWIRE, etc.) of Odomes in a Seahawks uniform 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).
But a knee injury sidelned Odomes for the 1994 and '95 campaigns, forcing the Seahawks to waive him after two nonexistent seasons.
Player: Deion Sanders (Cornerback)
Contract: 7 years, $55 million
New Team: Redskins
Skinny: Sanders might be a Hall of Famer and one of the NFL's greatest players of the 1990s. But in 2000, the 33-year-old Sanders was at the end of his, uh, prime, as a dominant player.
And yet, that didn't preclude new Redskins owner Daniel Snyder from throwing a fat contract at Sanders (including an $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 in our nation's capital. After one mortal season with the Redskins, Sanders retired to The NFL Today on CBS, although he would make another comeback with the Ravens in 2004-05 . . . as a nickel cornerback and safety.
Player: Albert Haynesworth (Defensive Tackle)
Contract: 7 years, $100 million
New Team: Redskins
Skinny: In hindsight, it's laughable that a number of NFL teams whispered the word "tampering" involving Haynesworth's landmark deal with the Redskins, just hours into NFL free agency.
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 or discipline or attentiveness throughout out his D.C. tenure (see above video).
The real kicker: Despite only two years in Washington, Haynesworth still walked away with $41 million in guarantees.