Cash Only: Athletes Who Sold Their Souls To The Highest Bidder

Darren - December 12, 2023

Cash Only: Athletes Who Sold Their Souls To The Highest Bidder

Darren - December 12, 2023

Money makes the world go around and this is very true in professional sports. Most athletes have short careers and want to maximize their earnings. There’s nothing wrong with this but some bring it to the next level. They sold their souls to the highest bidder and didn’t care about public perception.

Some of them put their morals to one side because the potential money was too good. Others cannily signed contracts with teams in particular areas like Florida. We’ve seen players like Shohei Ohtani earn insane amounts of money after leaving their old teams. Check out the list below.

Hello! Magazine

Tom Brady

Brady spent 20 seasons with the New England Patriots before he finally departed for new pastures. Some folks will say he wanted to prove he could win without Bill Belichick. Others claim that he wanted a final new challenge and experience before retiring. But there’s a reason why he joined the Buccaneers over the Raiders or his beloved Niners.


Florida’s tax laws made it attractive for him because he could milk as much of his final contract as possible. He signed a two-year $50 million deal with Tampa Bay because it was the best financial option. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s also true that he joined the highest bidder (via Fox Sports).


James Harden

Harden’s defenders will instantly say he left his franchises because he’s chasing rings. But in terms of pure wins, he’s had as much success as a construction worker trying to get Megan Fox’s number. The former Rockets and 76ers star is one of the most difficult personalities in the sport and sold his soul to the highest bidder (via A.S.).

The Sports Rush

Check out his contract situation because that’s a big reason why he joined the Clippers in 2023.  Remember, he declined a $161 Nets extension because he wanted to be eligible for a $236 million contract the next year. Then he left the Sixers because they wouldn’t pay him what he believed he deserved after achieving exactly nothing.


Conor McGregor

McGregor is one of the most lucrative athletes on the planet but there’s more to this story. He’s also arguably one of the biggest sellouts because everything changed after he fought Floyd Mayweather. The Irishman became a two-weight champion in the UFC but recognized his limited earning opportunities.


He somehow talked his way into a boxing match with Mayweather and convinced the world he had a chance. In the end, Mayweather dominated ‘Notorious’ but McGregor made an estimated $100 million. He was never the same MMA fighter after this because he no longer had the same extrinsic financial motivation (via Essentially Sports).


Jordan Henderson

Saudi Arabia shocked the world in 2023 as it began signing some of the biggest names in sports. The Saudi government owns four of their national league’s top teams and bought a clutch of top players. These included Liverpool captain Henderson after Al-Ettifaq offered him over $900,000 per week.


However, Henderson attracted massive criticism because he was an outspoken advocate of LGBT+ rights. He sold his soul to the highest bidder and lost the respect of the entire community. Henderson dug a massive hole for himself in a humiliating interview where he claimed it wasn’t about the money (via The Athletic).

Sky Sports

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton is an outspoken climate activist which is noble on paper. The Formula 1 icon says that he tries to reuse everything. He claims to buy recycled toothbrushes, deodorant, and other products. This is great but there’s one glaring flaw with his logic: his sport has a 23-race calendar around the world.


The carbon footprint is insane because teams are moving cars and dozens of people around the globe. Meanwhile, he signed a new two-year deal worth almost $200 million with Mercedes in 2021. It’s safe to say that the supercar-owning driver is a little bit of a hypocrite (via The Guardian).

Sports Illustrated

Albert Haynesworth

Haynesworth seriously tarnished his legacy after he joined Washington as a free agent. He developed a reputation for being one of the NFL’s top defensive players during his time with the Titans. Washington decided that his veteran skills and guile were worthy of a $100 million contract (via The U.S. Sun).

AP Photo

The Buccaneers offered him $135 million but he had more guaranteed cash in the capital. However, Haynesworth lost all motivation after he signed the deal. He ballooned up in weight and became one of the league’s laziest players. Finally, after joining the highest bidder, he became one of the worst signings ever.


Justin Gaethje

Gaethje is one of the most exciting fighters in MMA today but this doesn’t make him a good person. The lightweight contender attracted massive criticism when he traveled to Chechnya to hang out with regional warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov invited him and a couple of other UFC fighters to attend his son’s birthday.

Moscow Times

Remember, this is the same Kadyrov that’s currently on the U.S. sanctions list. He has allegedly held pogroms against the LGBT+ community in Chechnya and brutally suppresses political dissent. Furthermore, he’s one of Vladimir Putin’s loyal cronies in the Ukraine conflict. Gaethje sold his soul to the highest bidder and lost the respect of many (via Sportskeeda).

Fox News

Kyrie Irving

Irving is another volatile NBA star who loves dollars more than anything else in the world. We can’t blame professional athletes for trying to maximize career earnings. After all, it could be over for them in the blink of an eye if they have an injury. But there’s an unofficial code of conduct that Irving has never pretended to follow.


He controversially abandoned the Celtics for the Nets for more money after helping Boston into title contention. Then after everything went wrong in Brooklyn he joined the Mavericks on another massive contract. Irving will go wherever the highest bidder takes him and has no shame about this (via SBNation).


Albert Pujols

Most St. Louis Cardinals fans unanimously agree that Pujols was the one that got away. The Dominican superstar was one of the greatest players of all time. But St. Louis natives believe that he should have stayed in their city and become a franchise icon. Instead, many consider him a sellout and a traitor.

NBC Sports

He signed a $254 million deal with the Angels in 2012 and his decline began. The two-time World Series champion was no longer playing for a contender and his numbers dropped. The future Hall of Famer had already secured his spot in Cooperstown but not by playing in Anaheim (via Bleacher Report).


Lionel Messi

Messi is one of the most famous athletes on the planet and a constant at the top of the Forbes Rich List. The Argentinian icon joined Inter Miami after they agreed to give him a share of their franchise. But that’s not the main reason why the World Cup winner is on this list. No, it’s because of his deal with Saudi Arabia.

Sky Sports

He agreed to become a cultural ambassador for the Gulf nation. In short, this means that they’ll pay him outrageous sums of money to say nice things about the country. Forget about their human rights abuses and medieval attitudes toward women. Messi sold his soul to the highest bidder and didn’t even need the money (via Fox Sports).

Sports Illustrated

Shaquille O’Neal

O’Neal raised eyebrows in 2019 after he signed an endorsement deal with Papa John’s. There’s nothing unusual about athletes working with fast food franchises but this was different. The company’s founder, John Schattner, used racist language during a press conference the prior year.


Many people accused O’Neal of betraying his community and selling his soul to the highest bidder. They paid him roughly six million dollars so he’d probably believe in flat earth theories if they asked him to. It’s easy to judge these athletes from the outside but it still leaves a bad taste (via QSR).


Shedeur Sanders

Sanders is one of the most exciting quarterbacks in college football. However, he’s also one of the biggest beneficiaries of the NIL system. He was playing under his father Deion Sanders at Jackson State. But then Sanders Sr. joined the Colorado Buffaloes. Shedeur followed his dad to the failing school’s program.

Fox News

Now he has a value of over $1.5 million and is earning massive sums of money. Even if he never enters the NFL Draft he will be a very rich man. Sanders knew that joining Colorado would benefit his profile and bank balance. It didn’t matter that the program was garbage because he elevated it (via On 3).

Golf Channel

Dustin Johnson

The Saudi-backed LIV Tour created a schism in the world of professional golf. A civil war began as a clutch of famous names joined the new model. One of their biggest early signings was Johnson, a former world number one, and a two-time Major winner. This was a massive blow to the traditional PGA Tour because it gave LIV credibility.

Yahoo Sports!

Johnson sold his soul to the highest bidder because LIV paid more money for fewer rounds of golf. Critics like Rory McIlroy said that it was blood money and refused to sign exclusively with LIV. Johnson made about $35 million in one year with LIV. For context, his previous total career earnings were $75 million (via Golf Monthly).

Sports Illustrated

Le’Veon Bell

There was a time when Bell was one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL. He was brilliant when he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and had a career year in 2017. He rushed for over 2,000 yards but proceeded to ruin everything by refusing to sign the franchise tag. Then he sat out for an entire season as he demanded more money.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the end, he signed for the New York Jets after his Steelers contract expired. This was a disaster because the franchise didn’t know what it was doing under Adam Gase. Finally, he bounced around the league as a backup but barely played again. He sold his soul to the highest bidder and entered the world of celebrity boxing (via Sporting News).


Lebron James

James’ haters will argue that he quit the Cavaliers twice because he wanted to join the highest bidder. That’s not the full story though because he showed ambition with both moves and has the rings to prove it. However, his dealings with China are another story because he showed that he’s a sellout.

NBC Sports

The NBA icon attracted criticism of hypocrisy after refusing to speak about China’s appalling human rights record. He doesn’t have a problem discussing civil rights in the U.S. However, his Nike deal prevents him from using his massive global profile to do right by the people in the Middle Kingdom (via The New York Post).


DeShaun Watson

It’s fair to say that Watson is one of the grubbiest NFL players today. The quarterback left the Houston Texans under a dark cloud after a horrendous sexual assault scandal. This cost him almost two seasons of football but didn’t stop the Browns from signing him. They destroyed the market by offering him a ludicrous fully guaranteed $230 million deal.

The New Yorker

This was one of the craziest contracts ever because there were no guarantees that Watson would be the same player. We haven’t even spoken about the lack of morals in the situation either. Watson had no problem signing his life away for five years and laughed all the way to the bank (via CBS Sports).


Jon Rahm

Rahm is a two-time Major winner and one of golf’s biggest names. He became LIV’s new shiny toy in 2023 after he signed his soul away. Unfortunately, everyone has a price and he joined the highest bidder. It was a cataclysmic moment for the PGA Tour because they lost a massive star.


Many people instantly accused him of taking blood money and destroying his legacy. There’s a fair chance that LIV will eventually swallow the PGA Tour. But until that happens players have a choice and that’s why there was an outcry. But Rahm is worried about the here and now, so he took the money (via The Guardian).

The New Yorker

Francis Ngannou

UFC haters applauded Ngannou’s decision to leave the promotion behind. It was a stunning decision because the heavyweight champion walked away with his title intact. Then he stunned the world when he signed with the PFL and agreed to compete in boxing matches. He delighted his supporters when he secured a showpiece bout against Tyson Fury.

MMA Fighting

However, there’s a dark side to this that many analysts ignore. Saudi Arabia offered to fund the fight and even created a purpose-built stadium for the event. Ngannou was outspoken about modern slavery in Libya and other countries. But the former migrant sold his soul to the highest bidder here (via ABC News).

Fox News

Arch Manning

Manning shocked the college football world in 2023 when he opted to join the Texas Longhorns. He had offers from the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Remember, these are the two most successful programs of the past decade. Meanwhile, Texas has been treading water for quite some time.


The young quarterback said that he wanted to work with Steve Sarkisian but the reality is murkier. It’s fair to say he believes that playing in Texas will be better for his image and earning potential. He already has trading card deals and numerous endorsements. There’s no sentiment in sport so money was the reason (via Sports Illustrated).

Toronto Sun

Paige VanZant

Nobody expected VanZant’s career to be this way. The blonde bombshell set hearts ablaze when she joined the UFC as a precocious 20-year-old. They instantly put their full promotional force behind her because they recognized her star potential. However, she never reached the top level and walked away as a free agent in 2020.

The Province

Many experts expected her to join the WWE because it seemed like a perfect fit. However, she rocked the combat sports world by fighting in bare knuckle boxing. This didn’t go well for her but she earned a fortune. Meanwhile, after dabbling in the AEW she turned to full-time adult content creation (via Out Kick).

The Times of India

Neymar Jr.

It’s fair to say that Neymar has had one of the most disappointing sports careers ever. He was brilliant for Santos and in his early days with Barcelona. Meanwhile, he became Brazil’s talisman and the face of the tournament when they hosted the World Cup. But most people think that he continuously sold his soul to the highest bidder.

The Hindu

After wasting his mature years in the French farmer’s league, he joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal. The Saudi League team offered him a guaranteed $300 million across two years. Meanwhile, they gave him a 25-bedroom house and pay for everything he needs while he’s in the Kingdom (via Sky Sports).

Sporting News

Kahwi Leonard

Leonard is one of basketball’s least remorseful mercenaries. Everybody thought that he was in the perfect home in San Antonio as Tim Duncan’s heir apparent. But their relationship broke down and he joined the Raptors at the end of his contract. He won an iconic ring in Toronto but again quit the franchise.

NBC Sports

Then he signed a $103 million contract with the Clippers and included an opt-out clause. So far, he appears to be happy in L.A. but nobody knows how long that will last. However, his status as one of the game’s greediest players comes with pressure. Fans expect him to help them win instantly (via The Athletic).

Golf Channel

Phil Mickelson

Mickelson was one of the biggest names of his generation but the golfer is a fading force. He’s in the twilight of his career so that’s why he sold his soul to the highest bidder. In this case, it was the upstart LIV Golf that plunged the sport into chaos. The Saudi investors signed him as one of the faces of the new organization.

Golf Channel

It would be easier to respect him if he admitted it was about the money and that it was too much to say no. But he refuses to admit this and tries to say that golf will bring peace to the world. This is nonsense and many people think that he stained his legacy. That’s a shame because he was a golfing icon (via USA Today Sports).


Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo is possibly the most recognizable athlete on the planet. He has made hundreds of millions from endorsements and contracts with massive soccer clubs in Europe. However, he enraged many fans when he joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr in 2023. He sold his soul to the highest bidder despite having more money than he ever needs.

Daily Post

They will pay him $213 million per season which is an insane figure. Meanwhile, he is also a cultural ambassador which means that they’ve bought him to say nice things about their regime. It’s horrific sports washing because Ronaldo is one of the most influential figures on the planet (via 90 Min).

Fox News

Shohei Ohtani

Everybody knew that Ohtani could sign a record contract after he left the Angels in 2023. But it was still insane to see the Dodgers offer him a $700 million deal. He’s indeed a once-in-a-lifetime player. The Japanese star is a genuine dual-threat and a two-time MVP award winner.

New York Times

He joined the highest bidder because he knew that this was the biggest opportunity of his life. Some people criticized him for staying in L.A. but he wants to win now. Meanwhile, Ohtani cannily deferred the majority of the payments until after his retirement because he wanted to help build a winning roster (via The Guardian).