Athletes Whose Careers Tanked After Getting Paid

It's certainly an exciting moment for a sports fan when their favorite team lands the most sought-after free agent during the off-season with a contract worth hundreds of millions. It's equally exciting when that team locks down the veteran superstar to prevent him from shipping off to the division rivals. But it's also a moment laced with worry because what if the team spent all that cash and ties up its finances for years on a player who doesn't deliver on the investment or the hype?

Usually, fans have nothing to worry about. A player can command $250 million to throw a ball because their reputation of ball-throwing precedes them, and they wind up being just as good as they've always been. But sometimes that truckload of money can act like a curse, and before long, that multi-million dollar baby is either on the injured list for years or out the door on their way to an early retirement. Yeah, those moments are pretty awful, and today, we're going to relive some bad fan nightmares as we take a sad, sickening look at those athletes whose careers took a turn for the worst after a big payday.

The Washington Redskins wasted their money on Albert Haynesworth

Tennessee Titans tackle Albert Haynesworth was a defensive luminary in the 2000s. Sure, some said he was a dirty player, but he got a little better each year, and in 2007 and 2008, he had the best seasons of his career, landing 15 and 22 quarterback hits, respectively, which helped earn his back-to-back selections for the Pro Bowl and the NFL's All-Pro first team. And then right after that 2008 season (which ended with a narrow first-round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens), Haynesworth was a free agent — and one of the most in-demand ones at that. Ultimately, it was the Washington Redskins that won the Haynesworth sweepstakes, likely owing to its offer of an incredible seven-year contract worth $100 million.

But when Haynesworth made it to D.C., it became clear pretty quickly that his presence with the team wasn't a good fit. He declined to participate in both optional pre-season activities and mandatory team workouts. He also pushed back on the coach staff's requirement that he play nose tackle in a defensive plan different than the one used with the Titans. And when he did get on the field, his stats fell off precipitously in what would amount to just two seasons before Washington traded him to the New England Patriots ... who waived him almost immediately.

Gilbert Arenas got into serious trouble after getting paid

Gilbert Arenas wasn't terrible during his rookie year with Golden State, but in his second season of 2002-2003, his production jumped to 18.3 points and 6.3 assists per game, earning him Most Improved Player honors. A free agent immediately after, Arenas landed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Washington Wizards. He quickly became the star attraction on a team that hadn't been a title contender in 25 years. 

The man's wizardly reputation was also boosted thanks to some stellar numbers. In the 2004-05 season, he scored 25.5 points per game and led the team to its first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. His point averages increased in the next two years, and Arenas was named to three straight All-Star squads and three All-NBA teams. Clearly this was the guy that the Wizards should bank its future on, and it literally did that, signing Arenas to a new contract in 2008 — $111 million for six seasons.

And that's when Arenas' career fell apart. He barely played during the 2008-09 season because of knee problems, but he recovered in the next year, showing signs of greatness, including a 45-point game. But then there's that little off-the-court feud with Javaris Crittenton that culminated in the players brandishing guns at each other in the team locker room. Both players were suspended for the remainder of the season, and the Wizards dealt him to Orlando as soon as possible. By the time the final year of his big contract rolled around, Arenas was playing in China.

Amar'e Stoudemire wasn't as good without Steve Nash

Once upon a time, Amar'e Stoudemire was considered one of the most exciting players in the NBA and one of the key ingredients in the Phoenix Suns' deep playoff runs in the 2000s. The 2003 Rookie of the Year and six-time All-Star was a beast in the best sense of the word, almost always averaging well over 20 points and eight rebounds during his Suns years. Of course, some might say that Stoudemire's skills were overstated because he played alongside basketball genius, two-time MVP, and Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash for six seasons. 

Still, the New York Knicks figured Stoudemire was skilled enough in his own right and the player to restore glory to the once-storied franchise, offering him $99.7 million in 2010 to play in the Big Apple for five seasons. So how did Stoudemire do without Nash? Well, kind of like Garfunkel without Simon or Oates without Hall, which is to say he was disappointing. His points and rebounds fell by about 30 percent, and thanks to injuries, he never played a full season again.

After getting paid, Ryan Howard went downhill

In the mid-2000s, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was one of the most dominant hitters in all of professional baseball. While twice leading the big leagues in home runs and runs batted in, he racked up most every award possible, including the National League's Rookie of the Year (2005) and Most Valuable Player (2006), and then he led his team to a World Series win in 2008. 

So rather than lose his big-hitting services to another team, it made sense for the Phillies to give Howard as much money as possible to keep him on the squad. In April 2010, he signed a whopping $125 million, five-year contract extension ... and then his stats slipped slightly, but they were still good enough to get him in the All-Star Game and tenth in MVP voting. Then Howard started a moderately quick dive into ordinary territory (or at least non-Hall of Fame-level batting work), thanks in part to injuries. He never again batted above .260 or turned out more than 100 RBIs in season, and his ability to knock it out of the park dissipated. Before the contract extension, Howard hit 222 home runs. But afterwards? Just 160.

Carl Crawford's best seasons were behind him when he got his big paycheck

The Boston Red Sox is a team that enjoys making a splash in MLB's free agency season. Some of the organization's biggest stars of late joined as free agents, including Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Adrian Beltre. In another world, Carl Crawford would be on that list, too. After the 2010 season, the Sox signed the outfielder to a gargantuan seven-year contract totaling a cool $142 million, the winning figure in a four-way bidding war. And he seemed worth it. In his nine years with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford showed signs of greatness. He led the American League in stolen bases four times and triples three times, all while maintaining a batting averaged that hovered around .300. Even Brian Cashman, general manager of the Sox's rival New York Yankees, praised the deal, calling it a "great move" for a "great player," according to ESPN.

It's hard to predict these things, but in the end, Crawford's best seasons were already in the books. Over the next two years, Crawford played in just 161 games for the Red Sox or less than a full season. And he didn't play all that well, amassing just 23 stolen bases and 162 hits overall. In the middle of the 2012 season, the Red Sox sent Crawford away, trading him to the Dodgers as part of a nine-player trade.

Josh Hamilton struggled on and off the field

Drafted at age 18 with the #1 pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Josh Hamilton toiled in the minor leagues for years, his development hampered by addiction issues and injuries stemming from a car accident. According to the Orange County Register, in 2002, he became severely addicted to cocaine and failed a drug test with a Triple-A team, receiving a 15-game suspension, a pattern that would continue. By 2005, Hamilton's dependency on drugs and alcohol had gotten so bad that he pawned his wife's wedding ring, and he moved in with his grandmother, having no other option. She got him to think about getting clean, and in January 2006, he enrolled in a sober living program at a Florida baseball academy. 

Remarkably, in 2007, Hamilton had acquired both the sobriety and skills necessary to play ball again. He finally debuted in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds. The following season, he caught fire for the Texas Rangers, amassing 190 hits, 32 home runs, and a .304 average. Despite an alcohol relapse in 2009 and more injury issues, Hamilton was named the American League's MVP in 2010. By the end of the 2012 season, he was so reliably great that the Los Angeles Angels offered him a $125 million, five-year contract. Unfortunately for all parties involved, Hamilton's play didn't match that of his peak years. In two seasons with the Angels, Hamilton hit a middling .250 and .263, respectively, with 31 home runs. After one more season with the Rangers in 2015, Hamilton left baseball.

Rick DiPietro got a big payday ... and then serious injuries

Hockey, like most sports, is about scoring as many points as possible. As such, its biggest stars are the biggest point-getters, like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. So for a team to select a goaltender with the #1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft means they've got to be a pretty special player, a near impenetrable fortress of defense. It's very rare for a goalie to go first in the draft, though it did happen in 2000 when the New York Islanders took the heavily scouted Rick DiPietro. He made good on his reputation during his first several years, saving 90 percent of the pucks that came at him. Islanders management summarily rewarded DiPietro for his hard work, both in the past and in the future (it hoped) with a contract extension worth $67.5 million. That's objectively a lot of money, but when worked out on a per-season average, it's somewhat reasonable ... because the contract was set to last for an unheard of 15 years.

In his first two seasons after securing his finances forever, DiPietro got even better, averaging save averages of .919 and .902, respectively. Then, sadly, injuries destroyed DiPietro's career. He suffered several concussions and blows to his hip and knee that needed surgery. Between 2008 and 2013, he appeared in just 50 games, which put together, is well below a full season. Finally, in 2013, DiPietro officially retired, on account of how the Islanders bought out the last eight years on his contract.

Chandler Parsons couldn't live up to the hype

In 2016, three NBA legendsKobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett — all retired. They got out of the way and allowed the next generation of superstars to shine, players like Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and of course, Chandler Parsons

Okay, maybe not Parsons, but in 2016, he certainly looked like a legend or a franchise player, at least from the point of view of the Memphis Grizzlies. Ignoring his two last two seasons in Dallas, where he missed dozens of games due to injury, the Grizzlies signed the 14.2 points-per-game averaging small forward and member of the 2011-12 NBA All-Rookie Team to a massive, four-year deal. Worth an estimated $94.8 million, it was the maximum amount the team could offer. 

Parsons immediately delivered for the Grizzlies ... only not huge numbers. Instead, he delivered more of what he'd been up to for the past few seasons: declining stats and sitting on the bench because of injuries. Memphis got rid of Parsons after the 2018-19 campaign, and he landed in Atlanta. Since signing his lucrative contract, Parsons is yet to play more than half a season or average more than eight points a game.

Eddy Curry's career didn't really pan out

After a quiet rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, 7'0" Eddy Curry established himself as an effective scorer and rebounder. In the 2004-05 season, his fourth with Chicago, Curry averaged more than 16 points per game while also posting 5.4 rebounds. In 2005, the Bulls looked to trade away Curry, and the New York Knicks landed him with a more than ample $60 million contract to be paid out over what the team hoped would be six very fruitful seasons. 

But the Knicks completely overlooked the fact that while Curry's numbers were good, he'd never been on an All-NBA or All-Star squad. They also ignored the fact that he had potentially career-ending health issues. See, that big deal was contingent upon Curry staying strong. If he had to retire early because of his irregular heartbeat or a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, he'd forfeit some of that cash. But Curry passed the physical tests and then hit the court. 

Early on, it seems like the Knicks had made a good investment. In the 2006-07 season, Curry racked up career bests in points-per-game and rebounds-per game. But then he faltered, struggling with both injuries and weight gain. The center's production, and time on the court, significantly dropped off. He went from suiting up for 59 games in the 2007-08 season to just ten over the next two years before sitting out 2010-11 altogether. After some brief, bench-warming stints in Miami and Dallas, Curry retired in 2013.

Joe Johnson was hit with serious injuries

In his first five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, defensive end Joe Johnson was a reliable presence and performer, playing in most if not all regular season games and averaging 11.4 tackles. His 1998 season was so impressive that he was named to the Pro Bowl, an honor he received again in 2000. When the Green Bay Packers signed Johnson for a six-year, $33 million contract in the spring of 2002, it embraced one good omen while ignoring what would turn out to be a bad one. The Packers seemingly paid no mind to how Johnson missed the entire 1999 season due to a ruptured tendon. 

Injuries would continue to haunt Johnson almost as soon as he put on that Packers green. His 2002 season was cut short after five games over a torn left tricep injury, and Johnson's 2003 season ended after six games because of a ruptured quadriceps tendon. In June 2004, the Packers cut Johnson, and he never played another minute in the NFL.

Alex Rodriguez got paid twice and then fell hard

The man some call A-Rod and others call Mr. Jennifer Lopez actually got paid twice. In 2000, he left the Seattle Mariners and signed a $252 million, ten-season deal with the Texas Rangers. Under that first contract, Alex Rodriguez played extremely well, both for the Rangers and after he was traded to the New York Yankees. He was an all-around superstar who routinely led the league in runs, home runs, and other big stats, which made him an annual all-star selection.

Just after the 2007 season — in which Rodriguez was named the American League MVP for the third time after leading in runs, home runs, runs batted in, and total bases — the star slugger re-upped with the Yankees for ten years and to the tune of $275 million — a new salary record for Major League Baseball. (The old record? The $252 million deal Rodriguez inked in 2000.) The 2007 season would also wind up as Rodriguez's last great year. His stats in 2008 dropped drastically as A-Rod began his inevitable decline due to age — he was 32 at the start of that season, after all. But performance-enhancing drugs may also play a role in both the rise and fall of Rodriguez. He's admitted to using steroids between 2001 and 2003. Owing to various PED offenses, Major League Baseball suspended him for the entirety of the 2014 season, after which he returned for two more middling years with the Yankees.