Year in and year out, NFL teams pay top dollar for elite free agents in the hopes that those players are the missing piece necessary to turn around an ailing franchise or push a playoff contender to the Super Bowl.
While you often see free agents pay off in big ways for teams, much like the Denver Broncos’ acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning, fans are more likely to bemoan a signing as horrible.
Free Agency is a necessary evil for many teams, one that can cripple a franchise for years if a signing doesn’t pan out.
While the 2016 NFL free agency group has had some major hits, such as Malik Jackson in Jacksonville and Zach Brown in Buffalo, we are here to bring you the 10 biggest busts of the 2016 class.
Sean Smith, cornerback, Oakland Raiders
Touted as a lengthy lockdown cornerback while with the Kansas City chiefs, Sean Smith capitalized on a fantastic 2015 season opposite rookie sensation Marcus Peters by nabbing a four-year, $40 million dollar deal from the Oakland Raiders.
At age 28, it seemed Smith was just hitting his prime as an NFL player, and moving to an aggressive defense on an up-and-coming team in Oakland seemed ideal.
What Smith failed to realize was that he no longer had an elite safety duo to help clean up any mistakes.
Week 1, Smith was torched time and again by the smaller, quicker New Orleans Saints duo of Brandin cooks and Willie Snead.
The duo combined for 15 catches to the tune of 315 yards, of which nine catches and 172 yards were courtesy of Willie Snead, whom Smith was matched up on for the majority of the game.
Consider it a harbinger of things to come for Smith, as he has been in and out of the lineup with injuries woes, as well as suffering from less-than-ideal safety help on the backend with an aging Reggie Nelson and rookie stud Karl Joseph.
While Joseph has been sensational in limited viewing for the Raiders, the team curiously went heavy Cover One early in the season, leaving a declining Nelson to cover far more ground than one should expect for the former Bengals star.
It has allowed teams to exploit Smith’s weakness against smaller wide receivers, as the Raiders rarely flip their cornerbacks.
While Smith has begun to resurge in recent weeks, he has not proven himself worthy of the $40 million contract bestowed upon him in the offseason and has a large amount of work to do if he ever hopes to live up to the price tag.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback New York Jets
The leader of a startling 2015 New York Jets team that had it’s first winning season since 2010, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Jets to 10 wins, largely due to a resilient defense as well as passing for over 3,900 yards and 31 touchdowns.
In a contract year, many expected Fitzpatrick to garner big money as an impending free agent.
That never came to fruition, as Fitzpatrick only received serious interest from the Jets. After waiting for the entire offseason, Fitzpatrick signed a one-year, $15 million dollar deal that had $12 million guaranteed on the eve of the start of training camp.
Sending a shock wave through the NFL community, the Jets were immediately inserted as favorites to come second in the AFC East, behind perennial Super Bowl favorites the New England Patriots.
Instead, Fitzpatrick has a 57 percent completion mark and has thrown 10 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, just one off his season total from 2015 despite starting six fewer games at this point in the year.
Fitzpatrick was replaced by Geno Smith, who played admirably before tearing his ACL. Bryce Petty was the most recent to replace him, and you can fully expect Fitzpatrick to work some voodoo magic in order for Petty to fail spectacularly, allowing him to regain his job.
It really is the only explanation for how a man can play so poorly and continually get the chances he does — that and blackmail.
Chris Ivory, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last year’s version of Chris Ivory was a Pro Bowl running back selection, based on the strength of a 1,000-plus yard season as a member of the New York Jets.
This year’s version of Chris Ivory is currently on a 3.7 yard per carry pace and has put up 350 rushing yards.
Call it a slight drop-off.
Now, one can argue that Ivory went from a very good Jets team to a floundering Jacksonville organization with few weapons, but that would be a misnomer.
The 2015 Jaguars’ offense was absolutely loaded at wide receiver, featuring two 1,000-yard receivers, including an All-Pro caliber Allen Robinson.
To add to that, they had former All-Pro tight end Julius Thomas coming off of injury and added a top-tier offensive tackle in former Pittsburgh Steeler Kelvin Beachum.
Instead of flourishing as one would expect in an offense with so many weapons, Ivory battled injury before producing mediocre numbers while splitting time with second-year pro T.J. Yeldon.
Not ideal for a player you just signed to a five-year, $32 million dollar contract.
While the entire Jaguars offense has floundered under Greg Olson and now Nathaniel Hackett, one would expect Ivory to churn out more than 350 yards this year.
Definitely a free agency bust here.
Ladarius Green, tight end, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers felt as though they had scored an athletic marvel in former San Diego Charger Ladarius Green.
A major mismatch at the tight end position with his combination of height, athleticism, and soft hands, Green was supposed to become yet another weapon in the passing game for Ben Roethlisberger.
Fast forward to week 14 and Green has missed the majority of the season due to complications stemming from concussions, complications bad enough that some expected Green to retire.
When Green has been on the field, he has been largely ineffective outside of a game against the New York Giants.
With the Steelers on the hook for a four-year, $20 million dollar contract, they can ill afford to make a hasty decision regarding Green.
While many expected him to overtake Antonio Gates as the Chargers’ tight end of the future, Green never seemed to be able to put it all together in San Diego, and things don’t seem to be looking good in Pittsburgh either.
No matter which way you look at it, this has been a major bust for the Steelers.
Tashaun Gipson, free safety, Jacksonville Jaguars
Gipson was on top of the world following a fantastic 2014 season with the Cleveland Browns that saw him net his first Pro Bowl berth.
Fast forward two years, and Gipson is now widely criticized by fans as the worst player on a floundering Jaguars defense.
While Gipson had a fall off in 2015 following a stellar 2014 season, no one expected him to get to the point that noted Jaguar writer Hank Jones has left choice words for him every Sunday.
Also *looks around* the only plays I've noticed Gipson are the plays where a RB is juking him in space. Oh
— Season's Hanxings (@HankJoness) September 20, 2016
When you’re lauded for your ball skills but continually blow assignments in the passing game on a weekly basis, fans are definitely going to begin calling for your head.
Do this just months into a five-year, $35.5 million dollar contract, and you’re liable to find a flaming bag of dog poop on your doorstep.
Once touted as an “X-factor for the Jacksonville Jaguars” by the The Ringer’s Danny Kelly after signing as a free agent, a sentiment echoed by Ryan Day of BigCatCountry, Gipson has lived up to the term in the worst of ways.
With Jacksonville hamstrung by a large contract, fans can only hope a new coach can coax out the Pro Bowl talent Gipson once showed.
Coby Fleener, tight end, New Orleans Saints
Fleener is another player in the mold of Ladarius Green — an athletic marvel who was expected to become another target in a pass-happy offense.
Coming out of Stanford in the same draft class as college teammate and fellow Colts draftee Andrew Luck, Fleener was expected to take the league by storm as the top tight end in the 2012 NFL Draft.
So far, that hasn’t held water.
Struggling with blocking, as well as a multitude of poor drops, Fleener left the Colts with little fanfare.
Enter New Orleans.
Salivating over a potential Jimmy Graham clone, the Saints signed Fleener to a five-year, $36 million dollar contract.
So far, Fleener has put up decent numbers, but nothing worthy of those contract figures.
To top it off, he has been anything but reliable as a safety blanket for star quarterback Drew Brees, and his tendency to drop even the easiest of passes has infuriated many a Saints fan.
Throw from Brees is fantastic, but Fleener just isn't good. pic.twitter.com/s6a59WS0mm
— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) December 5, 2016
Fleener will never live up to the contract he was given, and buyers remorse seems to be strong in New Orleans in regards to a once highly-touted tight end prospect.
Junior Galette, outside linebacker, Washington Redskins
Galette was once one of the most-feared pass-rushing outside linebackers in the NFL, his name brought up in the same breath as Von Miller and Tamba Hali.
Now, he is on his second contract with the Washington Redskins after being cut from the New Orleans Saints following a domestic violence arrest in 2014.
Hoping to incur a modicum of revenge, Galette signed the Washington Redskins, a team the Saints faced in the upcoming season.
Galette promptly tore his left Achilles tendon in team workouts.
Believing in the once feared pass-rusher, the Redskins again signed Galette, this time to a one-year, $1.6 million deal.
He then proceeded to tear his right Achilles tendon in a personal workout.
Add in his history of disturbing off-field behavior, and Galette is a two-time free agent bust who Washington would be smart to move on from following the 2016 season.
Mohamed Sanu, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
When Sanu signed his five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Falcons, it was seen as a major head-scratcher by many fans.
A wide receiver who had topped 500 yards receiving just once in his four years with the Cincinnati Bengals, Sanu wasn’t even seen as the best No. 2 wide receiver on his team, let alone in the 2016 free agency pool.
Regardless, the Falcons were in desperate need of a complementary receiver across from Julio Jones and were willing to ante up in regards to money to secure one.
Enter Mohamed Sanu, currently in his fifth year out of Rutgers and attempting to make an impact on a pass-happy offense in Atlanta.
And while Sanu started the season strong, little-known Taylor Gabriel has broken out in a huge way as of late and is stealing snaps from one of the bigger free agent pickups of 2016.
Despite his massive contract, the on-field play speaks volumes and Gabriel seems to be doing all the talking recently, especially on key downs as a secondary option to Jones.
While the Falcons won’t cut Sanu due to his massive cap hit, they would be smart to extend Taylor Gabriel as soon as possible, as he is slated to be a restricted free agent following the season and is clearly taking the reigns from Sanu as the team’s second wide receiver.
J.R. Sweezy, offensive guard, Tampa Bay Bucs
Normally when a player is signed to a five-year, $32.5 million dollar contract it is expected he make some sort of on-field impact with the team.
Sweezy didn’t even get a chance to put on pads, let alone partake in a single minute of practice due to a very mysterious back injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve.
Now, some would say it is common sense not to sign a player to a massive contract who may not see the field, but this is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; they care not for your silly “common sense.”
With a poor track record in regards to signing free agents, Buccaneers GM Jason Licht would be better off extending key players and focusing on improving through the draft.
If he truly to throw away money so badly, here’s a list of Florida charities that would love $32.5 million dollars, because as the saying goes, no one “used to have” a back injury.
Brock Osweiler, quarterback, Houston Texans
In an attempt to save the best (worst?) for loss, we present Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Fresh off signing a five-year, $72 million dollar contract, Osweiler is a player who, for lack of a better term, looks completely lost.
One would think that after sitting and learning behind future Hall of Fame inductee Peyton Manning, Osweiler would be competent enough as a quarterback to warrant justification for at least some of his outrageous contract.
That isn’t the case, sadly.
From an inability to work star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins into the game to rubbing his head coach the wrong way, Osweiler has been a monumental bust for a team many fans felt was a quarterback away from being a potential Super Bowl contender.
Constantly showing up on lists of NFL disappointments, Osweiler has underwhelmed in every facet of the game and is nowhere being close to being worth the $39 million dollars being paid to him for this season alone.
Sadly, with that price tag, as well as head coach Bill O’Brien’s reputation as a quarterback guru, the Texans are hitched to Brock Osweiler for the foreseeable future.