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The largest NFL free agent contracts are usually a waste of money

The last five years are littered with millions of dollars of unrealized expectations from free agency. Here's a closer look at the two largest contracts handed out every spring since 2011 and how those players and teams have fared.

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The markets have been open for less than two days and already teams are tossing around cash like a bunch of drunks in a casino riding a hot streak.

The Jaguars pried 26-year-old defensive tackle Malik Jackson away from the Broncos with a gargantuan six-year, $90 million deal. The Giants, seemingly making up for all those years they spent watching the action from the sideline, gave Olivier Vernon, 25, a five-year, $85 million deal. They also inked former Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison (five years, $46.3 million) and re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul. Teams like the Texans, Dolphins and Jets were heavily involved in the festivities as well.

Most of these teams' fanbases are celebrating these moves today. That's the beauty and magic of the NFL. Thing is: over the past five years we've learned that signing the most expensive free agents doesn't always lead to success. In fact, it's usually a harbinger of rough seas ahead, for both the teams dishing out the cash and the players signing those major deals, though there have been a few exceptions (all numbers via Spotrac).


Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles, five years, $60M

This didn't work out for any of the parties involved. The Eagles added a number of pieces along with Asomugha (Ronnie Brown, The Other Steve Smith, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Vince Young) and were tabbed The Dream Team by Young, who was brought in to back up Michael Vick. Instead they went 8-8, missed the playoffs and the Asomugha contract quickly morphed into one of the league's worst. Two years later he was released and he wound up earning just $21 million from Philadelphia.

Johnathan Joseph, Texans, five years, $48.75M

This actually turned out to be one of the better long-term deals handed out over the past five years. Joseph helped transform the Texans defense into one that could carry the team to the playoffs despite having Matt Schaub under center. Joseph, who made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and '12, played out the first four years of his deal before restructuring it and signing an extension in 2015. Joseph to date has earned $48.3 million from Houston over the past five years, and is due $7 million in each of the next two seasons.


Peyton Manning, Broncos, five years, $96M

The best deal among this bunch. Manning gave the Broncos everything they could have hoped for: an MVP season, multiple division titles and playoff trips and, finally, a Super Bowl win. Denver president John Elway did essentially force Manning to take a $4 million pay cut last offseason. But Manning earned that back in incentives and wound up making a total of $77 million over the past four years before retiring this offseason.

Mario Williams, Bills, six years, $96M

Williams, after clashing with new head coach Rex Ryanwas released this offseason with two years left on his deal. And yet he still cashed in on $67.4 million over four years and has already signed with the Dolphins. He did give the Bills three monster seasons (sacks totals of 10.5, 13, 14.5) but could never quite lead them to the postseason.


Mike Wallace, Dolphins, five years, $60M

This free agent crop was probably the worst among these five years and Wallace is emblematic of that. He was brought in to open up the offense, provide Ryan Tannehill a deep threat and help carry the Dolphins out of their constant mediocre state. Instead he gave them two sub-1,000-yard seasons and failed to boost the team's win total. Wallace was traded to Minnesota last offseason for a fifth-round pick and was recently released after reportedly not being open to restructuring that deal. He walked away having made $37 million off this contract.

Andy Levitre, Titans, six years, $46.8M

Signing a guard to a big-time deal is always a questionable move; this one from the Titans showed why. Levitre lasted just two years in Tennessee. Levite was never fully healthy with the Titans and last year was traded to the Falcons, where his deal was restructured. He's made $26.5 million over the past three years.


Aqib Talib, Broncos, six years, $57M

No team has been better at targeting the right free agents to throw cash at than the Broncos. This deal for Talib is a perfect example. Talib played a major role in Denver's Super Bowl season this year and still has plenty left in the tank.

Jairus Byrd, Saints, six years, $54M

This contract, on the other hand, did not go as planned. Byrd was supposed to be the heart of a revamped Saints defense that could help New Orleans get back to the Super Bowl. Instead it now looks like one of the worst deals in the league. Byrd played just four games in 2014 and just 13 games last season and has just one interception in a Saints uniform. He's looked nothing like the All-Pro safety he once was and the Saints defense has become one of the league's worst. That's obviously not how either side envisioned things turning out, but at least Byrd gets to keep cashing those checks.


Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins, six years, $114.4M

No one attacks free agency like Dolphins head decision-maker Mike Tannenbaum, and this deal was a prime example. It remains the largest deal ever handed out to a defensive player -- only Miami tore it up just one year in. The deal was restructured this offseason; Suh, who recorded just six sacks last season, will make up $13.5 million this year after making $26.5M last season.

Darrelle Revis, Jets, five years, $70M

Revis hasn't demanded a new contract yet, which might be a new record for him. He wasn't his typical unbeatable self last season. But he was still one of the best cornerbacks in the league and a key cog of a stellar Jets defense.

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So, what can we learn from this look back at the biggest deals handed out over the past five seasons?

The Broncos are really good at free agency; the Dolphins are not

Elway knows when to spend and who to bet on. It's not just the Manning deal (which was a no-brainer), or even the Talib contract, which turned out to be brilliant. The Broncos have also added guys like DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders. They've essentially become the anti-Patriots, a team that looks to free agency to plug all its holes.

The Dolphins, well they're a whole different story. Not much has gone right for them since Dan Marino retired and yet they keep going back to the same tricks, namely overspending on over-hyped talent. The Wallace and Albert deals have been major busts and no non-quarterback can live up to the deal that Suh signed. There are a lot of reasons Miami hasn't made the playoffs in seven seasons. Bad free agent moves are one of them.

Cornerbacks are gold

In the new NFL no position is harder to play than cornerback, which is why so many teams are desperate to find elite shutdown players. If the league is now all about passing then defenses have to figure out ways to slow opposing aerial attacks. They can do so with pass rushers and cornerbacks, and there are more of the former than the latter. And so you have guys like Revis, Joseph, Talib and Asomugha all cashing in. That's one of the reasons the Panthers had to tag free agent Josh Norman -- allowing him to hit the open market would have been very dangerous -- and it's also why the the Giants are ready to spend on Janoris Jenkins.

Big free agent signing don't equal big wins

This is perhaps the most glaring thing from this list: of the 10 players mentioned above, only three (Manning, Talib, Joseph) made the playoffs with the team that signed them to a big deal. There's a reason Bill Belichick stays on the sidelines every offseason during free agency; it's just not the best way to go about roster building in a league with a hard cap and where players are done by the time they hit 30.