If a team wants to get better, or maintain the high level of excellence they've achieved, they have on of three ways to do it: the draft, by making trades, or by signing free agents. Of course, they could just as easily hurt their team as much as help them if they go after the wrong player. Yet with the lockout still lingering in limbo, working trades and chasing free agents has been put on the back-burner. But that doesn't mean we can't laugh, or in some cases cry, at some of the worst free agent signings made by men earning millions of dollars, who's decisions could sometimes just as easily be made by monkeys throwing darts at a dart board. Since everyone from Moses to David Letterman loves a top ten list, let's look at maybe the worst free agent signings of the new millennium, with numbers 6-10 in part one today and the top 5 biggest busts, at least according to the committee of one (me), coming in part two tommorrow.
10) Emmit Smith/Edgerrin James (RB Arizona Cardinals)
If you're calling the shots for a team that's struggling to run the ball, throwing money at RBs who used to be great but are now past their prime may not be the wisest strategy. In 2003 the Cardinals signed Smith to a two year, $8 million contract. In return he managed to squeeze out 1,193 yards rushing over his two years in the desert. Amazing what downgrading your O-line will do to your numbers.
After that failed to work, the ever savvy Cardinals decided, "Why not try that same strategy again?" In 2006 they went after pro bowl RB James, signing him to a four year, $30 million contract with an $11.5 million signing bonus. James managed to go over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in '06 and 3.8 yards per carry in '07. After rushing for scant 514 yards on 133 carries in '08, he lost his starting job to Tim Hightower (amazingly a RB they drafted), and after the '08 season, the Cardinals let him go. Hightower is now a free agent and may, whenever this insufferable lockout ends, go elsewhere. But that's OK Arizona because I hear Ricky Williams is available.
9) Daryl Gardner (DT Denver Broncos)
After playing seven years in the NFL with Miami and Washington, the Broncos signed Gardner in 2003 to a seven year $34.8 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus. Ha managed to last only one year in Denver where he was suspended twice, played in only 5 games, and started only 2. The Broncos were so upset with him they refused to pay the remaining $2 million they still owed on his signing bonus and even tried to get back the $3 million they'd already paid. "Anytime you sign a contract, there is an obligation to perform at a certain level and prepare at a certain level," said then Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. The good news for Shanahan is he can now just copy and paste this statement when talking about Albert Haynesworth.
8) LeCharles Bently (C/G Cleveland Browns)
After being named to two pro bowls with the Saints, Bentley decided to try the free agent market where the Browns won a bidding war with the Eagles. They signed him to a six year, $36 million deal that included a $12.5 million signing bonus. On July 27, 2006, on the very first play of their very first 11 on 11 training camp session, Bentlely tore his patellae tendon. He later contracted a staph infection that became so severe doctors considered amputating his leg. He eventually recovered but he never played a single down for the Browns. But since this is the Browns we're talking about, the story doesn't end there. On July 22, 2010, Bentley filed a lawsuit against the Browns for having him rehab in a training facility where other members of the Browns were know to have staph infections. So Bentley earned a total of $16 million, never played a down, and now wants more. Maybe the owners have a point after all.
7) Jeff Garcia (QB Cleveland Browns)
Garcia, hailing from the garlic capitol of the world, had several good years in San Francisco early in his career, and finished with a few good years in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, but sandwiched in the middle was a year in Cleveland where he had a 76.7 QB rating and a 3-7 record as a starter. Not exactly what the Browns were hoping for when they signed him to a 4 year, $25 million contract. But he did have one notable achievement while in Cleveland. He became only the 3rd QB ever to throw at least 25 passes in a game and finish with a 0.0 QB rating. Not even Ryan Leaf managed that.
6) David Boston (WR San Diego Chargers)
In 2003, the Chargers made Boston the highest paid player in team history when they signed the brash receiver to a seven year, $47 million contract, with $12 million guaranteed. He posted solid numbers, catching 70 passes for 880 yards and 7 touchdowns, but it's what he did off the field that hurt the team. Boston was suspended one game after clashing with strength coach Dave Redding and had separate clashes with teammate Reche Caldwell and head coach Marty (how do you spell your last name?) Schottenheimer. Boston was traded to Miami after only one season in San Diego, and has since played in only five games for Miami and one game for the Toronto Arganauts. Not since Southwest had a ruptured fuselage has something come down so fast.