As the NFL league year gets underway on Thursday, there are plenty of cautionary tales for teams thinking of being over-aggressive in free agency. Free agent signings can be a useful way to instantly plug holes on a roster, but when they go wrong, they can set a team back considerably.
Every year, at least a few don’t work out the way teams hope. And yet one disaster invariably stands out among the rest. Here are the worst from each of the last 10 years in NFL free agency.
2007 — Derrick Dockery, Buffalo Bills – seven years, $49 million
Buffalo lured Dockery away from Washington by making him the highest paid guard in the league. Two years later, he was back with the ‘Skins after being cut by the Bills.
2008 — Javon Walker, Oakland Raiders – six years, $55 million, $16 million guaranteed
Let’s just say the waning years of Al Davis were not defined by sound decisionmaking. Walker arrived as part of a spending spree of $144 million in total contracts over the course of the week, also including Tommy Kelly and Gabril Wilson. He only caught 15 passes over the course of two seasons of scattered appearances. A few years later, Walker said in an interview that he offered to return the money to the Raiders, though claims the organization told him no.
2009 — Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins – seven years, $100 million, $41 million guaranteed
Among the leaders for worst signing in any sport ever. Haynesworth was a complete washout in Washington. He got in trouble off the field, he gave up on plays, he publicly criticized the coaching staff, who in fairness, didn’t seem to have a great idea about how to use him. All in all, it’s a move that symbolized an era of complete and utter mismanagement with the ‘Skins, though as this offseason shows, some things never really change.
2010 — Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville Jaguars – four years, $26 million; $11 million guaranteed
The Jags threw a decent-sized contract at the former Packers star pass rusher, only for Kampman to make eight unremarkable starts in his first season in Jacksonville. That would mark the end of him as a starter; he appeared in three games for the Jags in 2011 and that was it.
2011 — Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles – five years, $60 million, $25 million guaranteed
Philly was instantly vaulted to Super Bowl favorite status when they landed Oakland’s lockdown corner. Nnamdi was a big letdown in Philly, however, and the team itself wasn’t much better. The Eagles went 8-8 and 4-12 in the final two years of Andy Reid’s tenure there. That said, Nnamdi time in Philly did provide the delightfully bizarre report of him being described as aloof for eating his lunch in his car.
2012 — Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks – three years, $26 million, $10 million guaranteed
The first of the big paydays Flynn reaped for one decent Week 17 performance over a lowly Lions team, he spent most of the 2012 offseason the presumptive starter until Russell Wilson beat him out in training camp. A very fortunate turn of events for the Seahawks. It wasn’t too bad for Flynn, though. He was dealt to the Raiders and got another chance to compete for a starting job, for which he was beaten out, of course.
Also, dishonorable mention to the Jaguars in the 2012 offseason for giving Laurent Robinson a big contract (five years, $32.5 million, $14 million guaranteed) after one pretty good season in Dallas, only for him to do nothing in Duval.
2013 — Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – five years, $41.5 million, $22 million guaranteed
The safety was a Pro Bowler in a stacked Niners defense in 2011 and 2012. Then he completely fizzled out in Tampa around a slightly less impressive surrounding cast. He was rated one of the worst at his position during his stay in Tampa, and had one interception in 27 starts. Two years later, the Bucs unloaded him on the ‘Skins for a sixth and a seventh round pick.
2014 — Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars – three years, $10.5 million, $4.5 million guaranteed
Sure, the Jags didn’t exactly break the bank bringing on the former Vikings back, though Gerhart’s thundering ineptitude made the signing seem even worse than the money indicated. After all, Gerhart had been pretty effective in Minnesota. It was just another one of those moves that make it seem like Jacksonville can’t get anything right.
2015 — DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles – five years, $42 million, $21 million guaranteed
Murray was coming off a rushing title with Dallas when he signed with division rival Philly to be the centerpiece of a multi-pronged Chip Kelly run attack. That never materialized, as he only ran for 702 yards in his only season with the Eagles and was dealt to Tennessee in 2016. Meanwhile, the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott to be their feature back a year after jettisoning Murray.
2016 — Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans – four years, $72 million, $37 million guaranteed
With another year of guaranteed money left, conceivably there’s time for Brock to turn this thing around in Houston. Yet based on a full year as a starter there, few are expecting that to happen. Given that the Texans might be in the market for a veteran like Tony Romo, he may not even get the chance.