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

High-profile, superstar athletes care about two things when it comes to their careers. First and (sometimes) foremost, they want to win. However, money is also a massive motivator because trophies and medals don’t pay the bills. That’s why some players threaten to leave their teams high and dry because of contract disputes.

The world of sports is a selfish place because the athletes have short careers. It’s often about enhancing their net worth and value as quickly as possible. One injury could change everything so they can’t afford to think about the team before themselves. It may be a cold reality, but it is reality, so check out the list of athletes who threatened to leave their teams hanging via The Sporting News below.

50. Ben Simmons

The Philadelphia 76ers hoped Simmons would propel their team to the next level. But then it all went wrong for the player and the franchise. The Australian cited mental health issues as the reason why he didn’t want to play for the team anymore (via CBS Sports).

This put him at odds with the franchise. He missed the entire 2021 season before Philly traded him to Brooklyn. It’s a shame because he left his teammates in a bad position. The franchise could have taken a more reasonable approach as well.

49. Jessie Bates

The Bengals stunned the NFL with their electric run to the Super Bowl in 2021. They fell narrowly short but excited the masses on the way. Bates played a key role in the showpiece event by intercepting a Matthew Stafford pass (via Cincinnati Enquirer).

However, he didn’t like the Bengals placing the franchise tag on him. He wanted them to pay him properly and this led to a standoff. He threatened to leave his teammates high and dry as minicamps for the 2022 season go on without him.

48. Le’Veon Bell

Bell arguably had the most moronic approaches to a contract holdout ever. He lit up the NFL with the Steelers before overestimating his value. This led to him sitting out for the entire 2018 season after he refused to sign the franchise tag. Then they traded him to the New York Jets.

The running back ruined his career by moving to a dysfunctional franchise. He also let down his teammates because they expected him to play a key role. In the end, he failed to deliver on the field and disappointed the fans (via Independent).

47. Kahwi Leonard

It appeared as though the Spurs and Leonard were a match made in heaven. But he demanded a trade after seven seasons. The worst part of this was how he treated his teammates. They allegedly begged him to play again in 2018 but he rejected them.

Everybody knows that athletes have short careers but there is a moral responsibility too. That’s why Spurs fans despise Leonard now and boo him. Leonard stayed with the Raptors for a season and won another ring so he had the last laugh (via Fansided).

46. Kyler Murray

Murray has become one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL. However, like all superstars, he wants to maximize his career earnings. This led to a contract impasse in 2022. He cited Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen’s massive contracts.

But Arizona had their doubts about paying him this much before he even won a single playoff game. This created the genuine risk that Murray would leave. There is a sense that Murray is overestimating his value because he hasn’t proven anything yet (via SB Nation).


45. William Nylander

Nylander made the Maple Leafs sweat in 2018 when he took his contract negotiations down to the wire. The deadline was 5 p.m. and Nylander signed the deal at 4:55 p.m.. This was because he wanted the franchise to prove its commitment to him moving forward (via Sporting News).


He threatened to leave his teammates high and dry if the franchise didn’t bow down. If Nylander failed to sign, he would have sat out the remaining games of the season. This wouldn’t have helped anybody except himself. Nylander became unpopular when his form declined after the deal.

Football Espana

44. Sadio Mane

2022 was a sublime year for Mane. He was the most important player at the African Cup of Nations. There was even talk of a World Player of the Year award after his exploits with Liverpool. He had a key role in the latter half of their quadruple-chasing campaign.


Then he rocked the fanbase and threatened to leave the team. Mane won everything possible with Liverpool and wanted a lucrative contract. But they wouldn’t pay him more so he demanded a transfer. It was the end of an era and a shame to see (via Daily Express).

43. Aaron Donald

Donald has been the best defensive player in the NFL for several seasons. T.J. Watt is the only man who has come close to the Rams star. Donald helped his franchise win a Super Bowl in 2022. Then he entered a contract impasse with the champions.

Bleacher Report

However, Donald had the perfect trump card. He said that if the Rams weren’t prepared to pay him properly he’d retire. It’s difficult to argue with that because Donald was content to walk away. But he would have left his teammates high and dry with a gaping hole in the roster (via Sporting News).

42. Henry Cejudo

Cejudo made waves when he became the first UFC flyweight to defeat Demetrious Johnson. Then he became a two-weight champion by beating Marlon Moraes for 135-pound gold. He defended that title once before announcing a shocking retirement (via SB Nation).

Bleacher Report

“Triple C” tried to use this as a bargaining technique but this was a massive mistake. The UFC hates when champions vacate and try to extort them so they froze him out. He sat out for over two years because the UFC wouldn’t pay him what he wanted.

Golf Channel

41. Graeme McDowell

Technically, the PGA Tour is a league and not a team, but the principle is the same here. Saudi Arabia threw the world of golf into disarray with their lucrative new competition. They lured several high-profile golfers away from the PGA Tour to play for them instead (via Mirror).

Golf Channel

This was blatant sports washing, but the likes of McDowell said they were doing what was best for their families. However, this raised eyebrows in McDowell’s case because he won over $35 million in his career. He also threw away the chances of being a Ryder Cup captain anytime soon.

The Globe And Mail

40. Alexei Yashin

Yashin was one of the top players in the NHL when he had a massive fallout with the Ottawa Senators. He believed that if he sat out for a season it would coincide with the end of his contract. But Ottawa took him to arbitration court.

The Globe And Mail

The court ruled that Yashin failed to fulfill the terms of his contract by not playing. This forced the Russian to stay for another season before they allowed him to leave for New York. He didn’t help his teammates by being greedy and shooting himself in the foot (via The Hockey News).

39. Paul Pogba

Pogba is one of the most polarizing players in soccer. He has immense talent as his World Cup win proved. However, Manchester United fans didn’t see the best of him. The team spent almost $113 million to bring him back to Old Trafford from Juventus (via The Sun).


Unfortunately, this transfer was a complete failure. Pogba didn’t see eye-to-eye with the team’s coaches. At one point he even allegedly faked an injury for several months because he wanted to force an exit. He threatened to leave his teammates but they probably wished he did go.

Sky Sports

38. Antonio Brown

Perhaps the humiliation of losing to the Jets was too much for Brown. The Buccaneers trailed 24-10 in the third quarter when he tore off his jersey and walked off the field. He didn’t just threaten to leave his teammates in the lurch but followed through.

Bleacher Report

This infuriated coach Bruce Arians, who said that Brown would never play for the franchise again. This was a major humiliation because Brown was already a controversial figure. He rehabilitated his image in Tampa before ruining it again (via Sportsnet).


37. Ousmane Dembele

Dembele broke out as a wunderkind in Germany and convinced Barcelona to spend millions on him. However, the French international endured a miserable injury record in Spain. Meanwhile, Barcelona had financial struggles in 2022 and wanted to reduce its payouts.


They saw him as expendable and tried to force him to leave. But Dembele refused to go because he didn’t want to lose money or play for a weaker club. Barcelona threatened him with legal action even though they had no case. Dembele was happy to leave them high and dry by staying put (via The Guardian).

36. Kyrie Irving

Irving became a controversial figure when he departed the Boston Celtics for Brooklyn. This made it clear that he was chasing the money. However, he became even more notorious in 2021 when he refused to play for the Nets (via Sports Illustrated).

Technically, he didn’t want to get a vaccine during the global health crisis. New York State made this a mandatory requirement for professional athletes but Irving resisted. He threatened to leave his teammates high and dry. In the end, he followed through and upset a lot of people in the process.

Sky Sports

35. Andreas Christiansen

Most players dream of playing in cup finals and winning medals. At least that’s what fans think, but they’re missing the reality of the situation. Money is an elite athlete’s main motivation because they have to maximize their career earnings in a short period (via The Guardian).

Sky Sports

However, it was still shocking when Christiansen refused to play for Chelsea in the F.A. Cup final against Liverpool. The Danish defender didn’t want to risk injury before a summer transfer. He knew that this would leave his team in the lurch and they duly lost the showpiece event.


34. Brady Tkachuk

Tkachuk is part of the new generation of hockey players milking their value. He had one of 2022’s most high-profile contract holdouts. It was like a Mexican standoff as the Ottawa Senators refused to break first (via THW).


Finally, they agreed to pay him a seven-year deal worth $57.5 million. Tkachuk missed the preseason program and the first three games of the season. His decision to hold out meant that he left his teammates high and dry.

33. Kevin Durant

Oklahoma fans hate Durant because they think he betrayed the franchise. He was one of their key performers in their electric run to the Conference Finals. In the end, Golden State defeated the Thunder. But fans hoped that they’d rebound in style.

However, there was intense resentment when Durant abandoned the franchise for the Warriors. He joined the team that ended their dream the previous season and set them back years. Durant also left his teammates high and dry in their hopes of winning a ring (via The Ringer).

Sky Sports

32. Carlos Tevez

Tevez became a star when he moved from West Ham to Manchester United. The tenacious Argentine was a prolific goalscorer. However, he wanted to make as much money as possible and didn’t appreciate United’s next contract offer.

Then he moved to their nouveau-riche rivals Manchester City. Tevez also had issues with City and refused to play for them. He repeated this when he returned to South America with Brazil’s Corinthians. He went on strike as he left his teammates high and dry (via Sky Sports).

31. Yannick Ngakoue

Ngakoue is another player who resented the franchise tag. He wanted the Jaguars to pay him properly. They didn’t but they planned to keep him anyway. However, Ngakoue refused to play for the team and even had a Twitter spat with the team’s owner.

He told Tony Khan to “just trade him.” Ngakoue didn’t care about leaving his teammates in the lurch because he wanted to maximize his opportunities. The NFL is a ruthless business because careers end in a flash (via SB Nation).

Sky Sports

30. Jack Grealish

It’s a sad reality that players don’t stay with their childhood teams anymore. Instead, these elite athletes chase the money but nobody can blame them. This doesn’t mean that they don’t leave their teammates high and dry. That’s exactly what Grealish did to Aston Villa (via The Athletic).

Sky Sports

The English forward became a Villa icon after his exciting displays for the team. But he wanted more money and the chance of silverware. The writing was on the wall as soon as Manchester City made their interest known. He joined for a massive fee in 2022 and Villa struggled all season.

29. Lamar Jackson

Jackson had a phenomenal 2019 winning the NFL MVP. He broke Michael Vick’s record for most rushing yards by a quarterback as he brought the Ravens to the next level. It appeared as though they had a franchise QB for the next decade (via CBS Sports).

Bleacher Report

But the NFL is a tricky business because money talks. DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes signed mega-money contracts with the Browns and Chiefs respectively. Jackson saw this and kept his cards close to the vest. It put Baltimore in a precarious position because they had to pay or lose their star.


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.

Mandatory Credit:

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.