Sports Superstars Who Threatened To Leave Their Teams High & Dry

Darren - June 8, 2022

Sports Superstars Who Threatened To Leave Their Teams High & Dry

Darren - June 8, 2022


28. Niki Lauda

Lauda knew better than anybody about the risks of Formula 1 racing. The former Ferrari driver almost died after a fiery crash in Germany. He competed in the Fuji Grand Prix in 1976 a month after his return. But he refused to complete the race because of heavy rain (via The Guardian).


This race cost Lauda the championship but he shrugged because he said his life was more important. He left his teammates high and dry but it’s understandable after his traumatic experience. Most of the other drivers didn’t even want to race that day but they agreed to compete.


27. Fernando Torres

Torres became a Liverpool icon because of his incredible scoring record for the team. However, things went downhill for the Spaniard as he suffered injuries. Then he lost faith in the team and threatened to leave his team high and dry in 2011.

Chelsea signed Torres for a then-record British fee of over $55 million. This left Liverpool in a state of panic because they lacked a star forward. Then they infamously splurged millions on Andy Carroll, who became one of their worst signings ever. But they also bought the brilliant Luis Suarez (via The Guardian).

Bleacher Report

26. Khalil Mack

Mack became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history when he joined Chicago in 2018. However, the road to Chi-Town was a grueling one after an intense contract holdout. He missed the Raiders’ entire preseason program because he wanted a lucrative extension.

This was also a defining moment in the NFL because it signaled a new age of player power. Oakland didn’t want to trade him but he didn’t leave them much choice. Mack didn’t care about leaving his teammates high and dry because he wanted what was best for his career (via NBC Sports).

25. D.K. Metcalf

Metcalf joined the ranks of wide receivers searching for a payday in 2022. He read the room and took his chance at securing a massive extension. The likes of Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill made a killing after securing moves. He put the ball in the Seahawks’ court (via NFL.com).

CBS Sports

The wideout skipped the team’s mandatory minicamp because he wanted to make a statement. He knew that this could result in fines because it’s a risky tactic. But Metcalf was optimistic that it would secure him a new contract with Seattle – or another franchise.

24. Russell Wilson

Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. He won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks and should have had a second ring. But he became tired of Seattle’s inability to compete and regression. In the end, he wanted to leave and pursue a new challenge.

However, this left his team hanging because he was their leader. Nonetheless, Wilson had to make the right decision for his career and that brought him to Denver. He hopes to prove to Seattle fans that he made a good choice by leading the Broncos to glory (via Seattle Times).


23. Dimitri Payet

Payet was one of West Ham’s most exciting players during his time in London. The French star had sublime skills and also scored some amazing goals. He became a fan favorite because he was a class above the rest of the team. But Payet never wanted to leave France and this became a problem.

Sports Illustrated

When Marseille came in with a bid for the international star, Payet went on strike. He burnt bridges with the Hammers fanbase, which was unfortunate because he could have been a club icon. He moved back to the south of France to play for his hometown team (via Squawka).

22. Georges St-Pierre

St-Pierre is arguably the greatest UFC fighter in history. He remains the most successful welterweight in history. After a contentious victory over Johnny Hendricks in 2013, he took a hiatus from the sport (via MMA Fighting).

After four years he returned and defeated Michael Bisping to become a two-weight champion. But then he immediately vacated the title to leave the UFC hanging. This catapulted the middleweight division into a mess and it took another two years to stabilize.

21. Dalton Schultz

Schultz joined the ranks of NFL players who refused to participate in organized team activities in 2022. The Cowboys’ tight end wants Dallas to give him a new long-term extension. He also knew that he put the team in a precarious position.

The Browns gave David Njoku a hefty new deal and made other tight ends notice. Schultz recognized his bargaining power and decided to exploit it. It threatened to leave his teammates high and dry but the NFL is a ruthless workplace (via NFL.com).

Sky Sports

20. Raheem Sterling

Liverpool signed Sterling as an exciting teenager and developed him into an electric forward. It appeared as though he was the future of the team but he rocked them when he demanded to leave. This infuriated Liverpool who poured millions into his development but they didn’t stand in his way.

Football Espana

Sterling didn’t believe that Liverpool was in a position to compete for the top prizes. He also knew that Manchester City would pay him more money so it made sense. City signed him for almost $50 million and Sterling won many honors with the oil-rich franchise (via Bleacher Report).

Sky Sports

19. Francis Ngannou

Ngannou has an incredible story after he migrated to France as an illegal immigrant. Then he became one of the top UFC fighters on the planet. The Cameroonian possesses amazing punching power and knocks his opponents into oblivion. In 2021, he became the UFC heavyweight champion.

Then Ngannou threatened to leave the UFC hanging by refusing to fight unless they paid him his worth. Some people thought that he was greedy but others pointed at the prize money in boxing. It’s a sticky situation and Ngannou won’t back down (via TalkSport).

18. LeBron James

James was en route to becoming a Cleveland icon with his electric performances for the Cavaliers. However, he rocked the franchise when he announced “The Decision” and left for the Heat. Fans knew that he threatened to leave his teammates cold but believed he’d stay.

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He crushed their dreams of an elusive championship when he departed. It proved to be the right decision at the time because he won a couple of rings in Miami. James returned and achieved redemption with the Cavaliers as he won a title in 2016 (via N.Y. Times).

17. Terry McLaurin

The average human doesn’t have enough fingers on their hands to count all of the wideouts who have had or threatened to have contract holdouts in 2022. McLaurin decided to push the Commanders as hard as he could for a lucrative extension.

McLaurin skipped some of his preseason obligations as a negotiation tactic. He wanted to apply pressure on the franchise ahead of the new semester. The wideout also knew that they had money after they failed to chase an elite quarterback in free agency (via Fansided).

16. Rajan Rondo

Rondo brought toxic energy to the Dallas Mavericks in 2015. Things reached a head in the postseason when he effectively gave up on the court. The coaches made up an injury because his antics infuriated them so much. He never played for the franchise again.

This wasn’t the only time that the polarizing figure infuriated his teammates. Rondo also rubbed the Lakers the wrong way because he sat away from them during games. It was a bizarre move that alienated him and created bad optics (via SBNation).


15. Lionel Messi

Messi became the most famous soccer player on the planet after he lit up the world with Barcelona. He became bigger than the club and had more influence than most of their executives. He forced the team president to quit because he wasn’t happy with the direction they were going.

The Hindu

It appeared as though Barcelona averted a crisis and prevented Messi from departing. But he quit the club for PSG in 2021 and left his teammates high and dry. They had a terrible start to the year before consolidating under the leadership of Xavi (via GOAL).

14. Christian McCaffrey

In 2020, McCaffrey became the highest-paid running back in the NFL. The Panthers’ star had previously made headlines when he played for Stanford. He skipped the Sun Bowl because he didn’t want to risk his health ahead of the NFL Draft (via New York Times).

Nobody blamed him for this decision because an injury could have cost him millions of dollars. But the state of college football meant that he left his teammates high and dry. McCaffrey also disappointed Stanford fans who wanted to see him light up the showpiece event.

Bleacher Report

13. Vince Carter

Carter became a huge fan favorite when he played for the Toronto Raptors. However, everything went South when he decided that he was sick of life beyond the border. But he didn’t go about seeking a trade in the right way. Instead, Carter burnt every bridge (via Sports Illustrated).

Bleacher Report

He gave up playing to his full potential and frustrated his teammates. There were even rumors of a physical bust-up between the player and his head coach. Finally, the Raptors traded him to New Jersey and received garbage in return. Toronto fans loath him now with every fiber of their beings.


12. Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton makes this list for one of the strangest reasons. Unlike some of the other athletes, he didn’t threaten to leave or demand a trade. But he created a problem for Mercedes at the Miami Grand Prix because he wanted to wear his distinctive jewelry (via NBC Sports).


The FIA decided to enforce a ban on non-regulatory jewelry and clothing items. They only allowed exceptions for nose piercings and wedding rings. Hamilton said that he wouldn’t race unless they softened their rigid stance. In the end, he got his way and wore his bling.

11. Ezekiel Elliott

On one hand, Elliott didn’t do anything wrong when he began his contract holdout. But context is an important thing considering what happened the previous season. The NFL hit him with a six-game suspension after domestic assault allegations (via NFL.com).

Elliott didn’t feel any sentiment toward the Cowboys as he demanded that they pay him his full value. Furthermore, he was only in the fourth year of his five-year rookie contract. He threatened to leave his team hanging ahead of the 2019 season.

10. Kenny Pickett

Pickett has the unenviable task of replacing Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. He knows the stadium and the fans well because the city is his home. However, he invited controversy in 2022 when he opted to skip the Peach Bowl (via Fox Sports).

Some analysts believed he missed a massive opportunity to drive up his draft stock. Others thought that his fans and teammates deserved more because this was the pinnacle of the season for the Panthers. But Picket did the right thing for his career as a potential NFL starter.

Sky Sports

9. Diego Costa

Few players in world soccer polarize fans like Costa. The Brazilian-born, Spain international is a ferocious presence. Few things please him more than winding up defenders because he is a master of the dark arts. He also had an infamous fallout with former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte.


Costa traveled back to his native Brazil and refused to play for the team. He even threatened to go on strike for a full year because of his poor relationship with the coach. It was incredible drama as the team and fans paid the price for his absence (via Goal).

8. Aaron Rodgers

It looked like the Packers had become a potential championship contender in 2021. But then Rodgers threw a spanner in the works because he wanted to leave. He missed preseason games as Green Bay threw Jordan Love into the mix. Finally, he agreed to stay for another year.

Then fans thought that he was halfway out the door to Denver. Instead, he played the situation perfectly as he flirted with the Broncos and tricked the Packers into handing him a massive deal. In the end, he stayed in Wisconsin with a giant new contract (via Yahoo!).

7. Tom Brady

Nobody would have begrudged Brady if he retired in 2022 following a glorious career. He reportedly did retire but abruptly changed his mind. This was a relief for the Buccaneers’ front office and his teammates because of the lack of depth at quarterback.


They know that Brady won’t play forever but the summer was too early to allow him to leave. If he committed to his retirement they would have had to enter the QB carousel. Instead, they can wait until the 2023 Draft or see who is available in the next offseason (via GiveMeSport).

6. Mohamed Salah

Salah is one of the most prolific players in English soccer history. The Egyptian forward starred for Liverpool as he inspired them to a host of honors. But he caused them to sweat in 2022 when he failed to agree on a new contract. He threatened to leave his teammates high and dry because he wanted more money.


Liverpool didn’t want to break their wage structure. But Salah refused to bow down and also threatened to join a rival as a free agent. It put the club in a precarious position because fans expected them to pay their top player (via Liverpool.com).

5. Conor McGregor

McGregor is unique because he is the UFC’s only true mainstream star. But he has threatened to leave the promotion hanging on multiple occasions. Once he refused to perform his media duties because he was training in Iceland. Then the UFC pulled him from the main event of UFC 200.

The Irishman also retired several times because he wanted to use his power against his employers. This has mixed results because the UFC doesn’t appreciate this. However, McGregor has more sway than any other fighter so he doesn’t suffer any severe consequences (via Independent).

Sky Sports

4. Deebo Samuel

Samuel raised eyebrows in 2022 when he instigated a high-profile contract holdout after the Jaguars overpaid Christian Kirk. Samuel saw that wide receivers could earn more money after Jacksonville foolishly reset the position’s wage structure (via CBS News).

He was one of the 49ers’ most important players in 2021 but held no sentiment for the franchise. Samuel almost joined the New York Jets and opted out of OTAs. Finally, he returned to minicamp with the team to the relief of Kyle Shanahan. But he threatened to leave his teammates high and dry.


3. Roy Keane

Keane was one of the most dominant midfielders of his generation. The Irishman played a crucial role in helping his country qualify for the 2002 World Cup. However, he played a central role in one of the most notorious bust-ups in soccer history (via Mirror).


The Manchester United star stormed out of their camp in Saipan. He left his teammates high and dry because he thought the organization was unprofessional.

2. James Harden

Harden was the Rockets’ most important player. They built the team around his style and bowed to his wishes. Then he threw it all back in their face when he announced that he wanted to leave. This rocked the NBA.

He joined the Nets when they tried to buy a super team, but didn’t stay there for long. Finally, he ended up in Philadelphia and underperformed. It’s been a strange couple of seasons for Harden since he left his teammates high and dry (via Forbes).

1. DeShaun Watson

In 2021, Watson became one of the most notorious figures in the NFL. The Texans suspended him for the entire season after sexual misconduct allegations emerged. But this came after Watson demanded a trade and threatened to leave the franchise hanging (via New York Post).

To be fair, Houston didn’t do themselves any favors by trading DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt before this. Watson believed that they were too dysfunctional to compete with the top teams in the AFC. In the end, the Cleveland Browns swooped in and offered him a foolish NFL-record contract.