When people hear the term "terrible sports contract," two assumptions are often made. First, the agreement in question must have been orchestrated by a greedy team owner, with terms deliberately designed to bilk the athlete. And second, the athlete must have been a young rube who signed the contract without consulting a lawyer first. While these scenarios have surely played out many times in the past, they're not the only ones possible.
Sometimes, a terrible contract is actually terrible for the franchise. In these cases, the team can be forced to live with unintended consequences for several years, at a cost of millions of dollars. It’s often a compound humiliation as well, as any agreement between the player and the team has almost certainly been drafted and vetted over the course of many billable hours by the team’s own very expensive attorneys.
Unfortunately for franchise owners, there is no legal team on earth that can protect them from short-sighted management decisions, or from trades that didn’t work out as expected. So as hard as it may be to believe that a major sports organization wouldn’t have all their contractual ducks in a row, it happens, sometimes at a cost that nobody anticipated.
What are some of the sports contracts that had terrible consequences for the teams that wrote them? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 28 July 2011
On July 28, 2011, the Washington Redskins traded Albert Haynesworth to the New England Patriots, and parted ways with a player who cost them a lot of money. His performance with the Tennessee Titans had caused the The New York Times to describe him as “the most dominant defensive tackle in the league,” and owner Daniel Snyder acquired him on his first day of free agency with a $100 million, seven-year contract.
Haynesworth was repeatedly penalized for disciplinary reasons, and he openly criticized his team’s defensive coordinator in the press, a big no-no for any athlete. In 2010, he failed a team physical and was mocked by the satirical publication The Onion with the headline, "Report: Albert Haynesworth Just A Mound Of Ice Cream And Hot Dogs." He earned an unpaid suspension from the team in December 2010 for "conduct detrimental to the club," and this cost him approximately $847,000. However, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to his $100 million contract, 41 percent of which is guaranteed.
Alex Rodriguez is a living legend. Since his 1994 debut with the Seattle Mariners, he’s been declared one of the best players in baseball, and he’s broken longstanding records, including a home run record set by Babe Ruth. In 2007, the Yankees signed him to a 10-year contract worth $275 million,and it was the highest-paying contract in the history of the sport.
The previous record was a 10-year, $252 million contract from the Texas Rangers that also went to Rodriguez. Despite his nearly flawless performance with the team, they decided that his contract was simply too expensive and traded him to the New York Yankees, buying out the remainder of his contract for $67 million.Rodriguez went on to excel as a Yankee, and it had to be tough for the Rangers to see the player they had just traded leading his new team to the World Series, while still paying him to do so.
Alexei Yashin is a Russian hockey player. The New York Islanders acquired him from the Ottawa Senators in 2001 for a 10-year, $87.5 million contract, and the team made it to the playoffs, something they hadn’t managed in eight years. Sadly, that was the high point, and fans and the sports commentariat alike noticed that his performance was slipping.
Yashin suffered a knee injury in 2006 that sidelined him until the following year. After a disappointing return to the team, the Islanders called it a day and bought out what was left of his contract for $17 million. This decision ultimately amounted to a recurring nightmare for the team’s bottom line, as it requires them to keep paying him over $2 million a year until 2015.
Bobby Bonilla was an outfielder for several baseball teams, notably the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets. He committed 67 errors in two seasons as a Pirates third baseman, but despite that record he was signed to the Mets in 1992 for a five-year contract worth $29 million. He left the team in 1995 for the Baltimore Orioles, but returned in 1999.
Bonilla’s performance was a disappointment, and the Mets decided to cut him loose. However, he still had a year left on his contract and almost $6 million left of his salary. Rather than just cut him a check and get rid of him, the team made a deal to defer payment for 12 years, to accrue interest annually at 8 percent. The deal sure worked out for Bonilla, who received his first $1,193,248 check in July 2011 and will keep getting them every year until 2035.
Ben Wallace is a center for basketball’s Detroit Pistons. He played for them from 2000 to 2006, but the Chicago Bulls had made him an irresistible offer, namely a four-year, $60 million contract. They even let him keep his signature headband on, despite a team rule that prohibited them.
Wallace’s two years with the Bulls were notable mainly for knee injuries that compromised his game and gave him a six-point average. In 2008, the team decided to cut their losses and get rid of him, but he still had two years left on his contract. The Bulls traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers, though they were stuck with a $30 million bill for the remainder of his contract.
Allan Houston is the assistant general manager of basketball’s New York Knicks. He also used to play for the Detroit Pistons, then signed as a free agent for the New York team, where he stayed for nine years. He was an asset to the team for most of that time, with a consistently high-scoring average and an instrumental role in leading the team to the 1999 NBA Finals. With that record, the Knicks didn’t hesitate to renew his contract in 2001.
The new contract guaranteed him $100 million over six years. However, knee injuries began to plague him, and in the 2003-2004 season he missed 32 games. By late 2005, he was forced to concede that he couldn’t continue and he announced his retirement, almost a full year since the last time he had actually set foot on the court.
When the New York Knicks signed Stephon Marbury to a four-year, $76 million contract in 2004, expectations were high. He had been a standout member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns, and made the All-Star Team in 2001. Things went south with the team almost immediately. Marbury had made the Olympic Dream Team in 2004, but they lost to Puerto Rico in a humiliating 92-73 defeat, the first time in history that a team composed of NBA players had received such a thrashing.
In 2005, he regularly clashed with head coach Larry Brown, and by the end of the season, his public feud and poor performance led The New York Daily News to crown him "the most reviled athlete in New York." The team hired new manager Isiah Thomas, but it did nothing to improve Marbury’s attitude. After being put on the team’s inactive list in 2008, the Knicks bought him out, and today he plays for the Chinese Basketball Association.
Nate Odomes played football with the Buffalo Bills, the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. His glory days were in the early 1990s, when he was considered one of the NFL’s greatest defensive backs, and in 1993 he signed a four-year, $8.4 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
Odomes never made it to the field. Before starting training camp in 1994, he injured his knee so badly that it prevented him from playing for the entire season. Further injuries kept him out of the game through 1995, as well. He didn’t play a game again until his debut with the Atlanta Falcons in 1996. In all, he never played a single game with the Seahawks, who had paid him more than $8 million.
LeCharles Bentley played football with the New Orleans Saints from 2002 to 2005. He was lured away from the Saints by the Cleveland Browns in what appeared to be an ideal situation. The team would sign him to a six-year, $36 million contract and he would get to play in his own home town of Cleveland. It was win-win all around.
In 2006, before his first season with the Browns had begun, he suffered a knee injury on day one of training camp. His left patellar tendon had been torn, a devastating injury that brought his first season to a close before it had even started. After four operations and a staph infection, Bentley looked like he might finally be able to play again. However, it never happened, and in June 2008 he was released from the team.
JaMarcus Russell is a quarterback who signed to the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL Draft for a $61 million contract, with $32 million guaranteed. In 2009, coach Tom Cable benched him for a generally mediocre performance. By the time the season ended he had the least passing touchdowns or passing yards of any qualifying NFL quarterback, as well as the worst completion percentage and quarterback rating.
Russell was released from the team in 2010. Shortly thereafter, the Raiders filed a lawsuit to get back the $10 million they paid him for the three seasons left in his contract. The pay was part of his guarantee, however, making it likely that the team paid him $10 million to not play for them.