The NFL is currently in the thick of free agency as some of the game's biggest names are on the move. Already we've seen some high-profile players agree to join new clubs, while also seeing some serious money change hands on the open market. It's at this juncture where optimism abounds with the hope that each one of these signings will be a rousing success that helps put their respective clubs over the top. But that's not always the case.
Some of these deals will inevitably sour and not look nearly as promising as they do currently. Take a look at what happened just before the start of the legal tampering period on Monday as an example. The Patriots shipped away tight end Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons for a mere seventh-round pick. That trade comes just two years after New England gave Smith a four-year, $50 million deal that he never came close to living up to and proved to be one of the bigger free agent blunders of Bill Belichick's tenure.
With that in mind, let's take a look back over the last five seasons and highlight some of the worst free agent deals.
Le'Veon Bell to New York
Le'Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 season to get himself out of the clutches of the Steelers and finally reached free agency in 2019. It was at that point that Bell agreed to a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets that he'd never live up to. Bell would play a total of 17 games for the Jets over the span of two years before being released in mid-October of the 2020 season. For what turned out to be $28 million, Bell never had a single 100-yard rushing game for the Jets and had just four total touchdowns.
Antonio Brown to New England
Antonio Brown's NFL path post-Pittsburgh has been a weird one and that includes his hyper-brief stint as a member of the New England Patriots in 2019. After forcing his way out of the Raiders organization, he inked a one-year deal with the Patriots to unite with Tom Brady and Belichick. That marriage only lasted one game, however, as Brown was released less than two weeks after his initial signing due to the wideout's off-field issues. For that lone game, the Patriots paid Brown $9 million, which came as a signing bonus when he first arrived.
Earl Thomas III to Baltimore
After a decorated career in Seattle, Earl Thomas III found his way to Baltimore as a free agent in 2019. At the time, he signed a four-year, $55 million contract with the team, which was the richest contract that the Ravens had ever given to a defensive player in franchise history. What they got for extending themselves to that degree was subpar. Thomas was cut the following August following an altercation with fellow safety Chuck Clark at practice. So, all Baltimore got out of Thomas' tenure was 15 games played over a 17-month stretch with the organization that cost $23.5 million in total cash.
Nick Foles to Jacksonville
After helping Philadelphia to its first-ever Super Bowl championship in 2017 and then serving as the backup in 2018, Nick Foles found himself on the open market in the spring of 2019 and looking to secure a starting job somewhere in the NFL. Not only did he find one, but he inked a massive four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars that was worth up to $102 million with incentives and included $50.1 million guaranteed. That run with the Jags, however, got off to a horrid start as he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1 that forced him to go on IR. He retained his starting job when he returned in Week 11, but then went 0-3 in his next three starts before being benched for Gardner Minshew in Week 13. Foles was then traded to the Bears the following offseason. For a whopping $30.5 million, Foles went 0-4 with the Jags, averaged 184 passing yards per game, and registered three passing touchdowns to go along with two picks.
Kenny Golladay to New York
This is the most recent contract of the bunch and it was a doozy. Starved for wide receiver help, the Giants went into the 2021 offseason and came away with former Pro Bowl wideout Kenny Golladay, who they inked to a four-year, $72 million contract. Essentially upon arrival, the fit with Golladay and New York was nonexistent and he eventually became a nonfactor in the offense. Last season, he appeared in 12 games and recorded just six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. He is technically still a member of the Giants organization, but the team is reportedly planning on releasing him at the start of the new league year and will save $6.7 million off the salary cap.
In 26 total games played for New York, Golladay caught just 43 passes for 602 yards and one touchdown. For that, the Giants paid just under $36 million.
Sam Bradford to Arizona
Sam Bradford made some serious money throughout his NFL career, but none may have come as easy than during his brief stint with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. In March of that offseason, Bradford signed a two-year contract with the team worth up to $20 million and included $15 million guaranteed. Fast forward a month later and the team drafted UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall. Rosen then took over as the starter after the first three weeks of the season and Arizona elected to cut Bradford on Nov. 3 that year. So, Bradford played just three games and earned $15.9 million from the Cardinals.