Many elite sports stars earn millions of dollars for their performances. Firstly, their franchises and teams pay them massive amounts of money. Then they receive image rights and huge endorsements. It’s a very lucrative business if an athlete makes it to the top of their sport. However, the reality is that many of these players just don’t earn the money they make.
Today we’ll look at 30 athletes who never came close to earning their massive contracts. Some of them were unproven rookies who franchises threw money at without waiting to see their level. Others were genuinely great players but suffered injuries or aged. There are also strange cases where teams paid over the odds for no apparent reason. Check out the list below via GiveMeSport and Work and Money.
30. Ryan Leaf
One of the most notorious draft busts in NFL history, Leaf never came close to earning his contract. Many people touted him as a better long-term prospect than Peyton Manning. But the second overall pick never lived up to expectations. In fact, the San Diego Chargers probably wished that he never existed because he was so poor for them. Leaf was volatile, inconsistent, and a drug addict to boot.
Somehow he made it through four NFL seasons, but they were a living nightmare for Chargers fans. Meanwhile, he spent five years in jail after robbing prescription drugs. It also didn’t help that they handed him a record $11 million signing-on bonus as part of his contract. As soon as he put pen to paper, he became a millionaire. However, he was a disaster in every way.
Portland really didn’t think this one through. Turner was one of those players with an excellent college record who threatened greatness at the NBA level. However, he never made a single All-Star game despite being a decent player. The Trail Blazers decided to bring him to the West Coast in 2016. There’s nothing wrong with that except for the fact that they overpaid for him.
Turner signed a four-year contract worth $70 million because Portland was dumb enough to offer it to him. Who would turn that kind of money down? His agent deserves a pay rise because it was an outrageous deal. Meanwhile, he only played 217 games for the franchise so he didn’t exactly ‘earn’ his money. Finally, he retired at the age of 31 to focus on coaching.
Most people reading this list will never have heard of Pelle. The Italian soccer player featured for Southampton in the Premier League before he took advantage of China’s crazy spending. The Chinese Super League attracted attention when its clubs threw money at European and South American players to tempt them east. In sum, Pelle was happy to allow them to change his life.
He moved to Shandong Luneng in 2016. Based in the city of Jinan, they made him the seventh-highest paid player on the planet at the time. It’s crazy because he was nowhere near the status of the best player in the world. But he was still earning almost $400,000 per week. Finally, after five seasons in China, he returned to his native Italy. Pelle was a very wealthy man.
Russell changed the NFL forever. However, it wasn’t for any good reason. The Raiders thought that they had unearthed the quarterback of the future when they drafted him in 2007. He was stellar for LSU before he made the step up to the professional game. But he only lasted for three seasons in the NFL because his attitude and performances were so bad.
The Raiders handed him a six-year contract worth $68 million. This contract changed the structure of rookie deals because it turned out to be so bad. Meanwhile, he made $39 million in guaranteed money despite the fact that he was appalling for the team. He never came close to earning his massive paychecks. Furthermore, he set the Raiders back for at least a generation.
Ronaldo is one of the greatest players ever. He won almost countless trophies with Manchester United and Real Madrid. Then, Juventus stunned the world and brought him to Turin. This was a shock because the Portuguese icon was in the twilight of his career. However, Juventus believed that he was the missing piece in their bid to win the Champion’s League again.
It didn’t work out. He is earning almost one million dollars per week in Italy but they haven’t come any closer to their goal. In fact, the Italian giants almost missed out on Champion’s League qualification in 2021. While Ronaldo continues to score goals at a prolific rate, his all-around gameplay is in decline. This often makes Juventus’s attack very slow. Overall, his signing was short-term thinking.
Paul’s inclusion on this list may appear strange because he will almost certainly make the NBA Hall of Fame in the future. However, he is also the second-highest paid player in NBA history after LeBron James. This is insane because he certainly isn’t worthy of that bank balance. Of course, nobody can hate on him for maximizing his earning power, but it’s still crazy.
The 11-time All-Star achieved close to $300 million by 2021. That’s a ludicrous amount of money considering the franchises he played for. Oklahoma paid him almost $40 million in 2019, which was insane. It was as though they expected him to singlehandedly change their fortunes but basketball doesn’t work that way. It remains to be seen if Paul wins a ring, but he definitely has a credit rating.
McNabb had a decent career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He never won a Super Bowl with the franchise, but he was definitely a consistent quarterback. The fact that he helped the Eagles to four straight NFC title games convinced the Redskins that he was what they needed. There’s nothing wrong with signing a veteran quarterback but it has to be done the right way.
Somehow, Washington thought it was a great idea to hand the 33-year-old a five-year extension worth $78 million. But it gets worse. McNabb was so poor for the Redskins that they benched him in favor of Rex Grossman. In short, his interception rate across the season was frightening. They made him their third-string QB and tried to make everybody forget about him.
De Gea was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. After a tough start to his Manchester United career, the Spaniard developed into an elite player. However, his form declined in 2020 and Dean Henderson became a genuine threat to his place in the team. Henderson actually played ahead of De Gea at various points, despite the Spaniard’s massive contract.
Every time De Gea sat on the bench, it made him the most expensive backup goalkeeper in the league. This quite simply didn’t make sense because he wasn’t earning his salary. However, Henderson had youth on his side and the advantage of being English. This instantly made him connect with fans who wanted to see him play. Every dog has their day and De Gea found this out.
There’s no doubt Martin had a decent career. However, the power forward never reached his full potential. The reason for this was because he suffered some bad injuries during his time with the Nuggets. That’s the reason why he makes this list because he made massive money during his time in Denver. He was bringing in the dollars like they were about to expire.
Martin’s knees were as reliable as an alcoholic in a brewery. He endured some terrible problems in both of them and spent a lot of time on the sidelines. Despite this, he was earning a lot of money because of his six-year contract worth $83 million. In hindsight, this was a terrible deal for the Nuggets because of his minimal impact. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Overeem had a glittering MMA career. He made his name with PRIDE and K-1 before joining the UFC. While he never won the heavyweight title, he became a fan favorite. Meanwhile, he was earning some of the biggest paychecks in the organization. This was great when he was at his peak, but not so good when he went into decline. In a sport where promoters prefer to underpay fighters, Overeem went the other way.
In short, the Dutch star took home between $500,000 and $700,000 dollars per fight. This was a staggering amount of money and also made him one of the company’s highest earners. Finally, in 2021, the UFC cut him because it simply wasn’t worth paying him that much. A new generation of fans didn’t remember his previous brilliance of years past. They were paying for nostalgia but it reached its expiry date.
Tom Brady was New England’s quarterback for 20 seasons. Throughout that period, Cassel was the only other signal-caller to play the majority of a season. When Brady missed 2008 with injury, Cassel became the starter. The Pats finished with an 11-5 record and narrowly missed the playoffs. However, Cassel enhanced his reputation because of his performances.
The Kansas City Chiefs decided to take the plunge. To sum up, it was disastrous. He was earning $11 million per season in Missouri despite the team’s dire performances. Cassel threw 16 interceptions in his first season with the franchise and didn’t improve. It was a dark time for Kansas because they had no hope of winning with Cassel as their starter.
Davis’s last great season with the Baltimore Orioles was back in 2015. That was before the franchise decided to make him one of the highest-paid players in MLB. The more we look at his contract, the worse it appears. In fact, many analysts regard the hitter as MLB’s worst-ever contract bust. That’s a dire tag, but unfortunately, Davis is definitely worthy of this dubious honor.
He was a two-time MLB hit leader and this convinced Baltimore to hand him a $168 million extension. To sum up, this proved ludicrous. Since the contract, Davis broke the record for the longest hitless streak in MLB history. The previous record was 0-for-46. Somehow, Davis extended his to 0-for-54. Finally, he broke that streak against the Red Sox. In the end, he became a parody of a baseball player.
Oscar was one of the most Chinese Super League’s most surprising signings when he joined Shanghai in 2016. The Brazilian midfielder was a regular starter for Chelsea at the highest level of the sport. But when Shanghai swooped, he found himself unable to turn down the riches available. It was a choice between enhancing his legacy or ensuring his family’s financial security for generations.
In the end, he went for the latter option. Shanghai agreed to pay him almost $500,000 per week. It was insane money and it’s difficult to say he was earning it because of the league’s standard. In recent years, China changed its laws to prevent clubs from throwing obscene money at overseas players. This was because it was obviously unsustainable and saw some teams go out of business.
Oden had one of the most disappointing careers in NBA history. The Portland Trail Blazers used the first overall pick on him in 2007 after he had an amazing season for Ohio State. Then, he had knee surgery and missed the entire year. Things didn’t get much better for Oden. The seven-footer had all of the physical qualities to achieve greatness but couldn’t stay on the court.
Finally, Portland lost patience and waived him because they couldn’t keep him fit. But the crazy thing was that he earned $231,646 per game played. Meanwhile, Oden went three years between NBA games before playing for the Miami Heat. That was probably the best season of his pro career because he helped them to the Finals. They didn’t win but fans saw glimpses of what Oden could do.
The NFL is a dangerous business and players deteriorate very quickly. Walker is a fine example of this situation because he was great for Green Bay. This convinced the Denver Broncos to bring the wide receiver to Colorado. However, there was a major risk involved because Walker was coming off an ACL tear. No one knew how effective he would be after this injury.
For some reason, the Broncos still wanted to pay Walker $40 million to play for them. It would have been rude of him to say no, so he signed the contract. Unfortunately, his time in Denver was an unmitigated disaster. As well as playing poorly, Walker was in the same car as Darrent Williams when the latter died in a shooting. Needless to say, this had a profound impact on Walker.
Keita joined Liverpool with a glowing reputation. The team was so desperate to sign him that they agreed to pay over $60 million. Then, they loaned him back to his German team RB Leipzig. Finally, he arrived in England and fans licked their lips in anticipation. But he never produced on a weekly basis. To sum up, Keita’s injury record is one of the most miserable ever.
He can’t stay fit. The Guinean is earning $150,000 per week at Anfield but barely steps onto the playing field. This makes him a figure of frustration for fans because they feel that he isn’t contributing. It’s disappointing because he has shown flashes of his ability. Unfortunately, the midfield dynamo hasn’t achieved this on a consistent basis. His future is as muddled as his medical record.
In 2019, the Jacksonville Jaguars made the fateful decision to sign Foles. The quarterback became a hero for the Philadelphia Eagles after he played an integral role in their Super Bowl win. However, they obviously missed the fact that he was a career backup. So why did they feel the need to hand him an $88 million contract?
The worst part of this is that Foles only played four games for the Jaguars. In short, their fans didn’t think Foles was earning his money. But it wasn’t entirely his fault. As the old adage goes, don’t hate the player; hate the game. Foles departed Florida for the Chicago Bears in 2020 and took over as a starter there. But that wasn’t to say he played well there either because he didn’t.
Most people won’t be very familiar with Diop because he wasn’t a special NBA player. The Senegalese player was a giant but that was his main redeeming quality. He played for a number of franchises without really making his mark anywhere. However, there must be something in the water in Dallas because they made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. His contract was terrible for the franchise.
Diop played just 34 games for Dallas despite the fact that he signed a three-year deal. They shipped him off to the Charlotte Bobcats. However, he finished his $32 million deal in Charlotte, so he made all of his money. It was agonizing for Dallas because Diop was earning a fortune while playing for a different franchise. This was incredibly dumb, but that’s sports politics.
After Thibaut Courtois left Chelsea for Real Madrid, the club required an elite replacement. They settled on the Athletic Bilbao youngster Kepa. The Spaniard became the most expensive goalkeeper in the world after Chelsea paid $85 million for his services. Meanwhile, they agreed on a contract of $77 million over seven years. It was a great deal for him but he definitely hasn’t earned his money.
First of all, he isn’t in the world-class bracket that Chelsea paid for. He frequently makes costly mistakes and this caused the club to replace him with Eduoard Mendy. Suddenly, Chelsea had one of their biggest earners sitting on the bench every week. Furthermore, Kepa demonstrated an attitude problem. In one cup final, he refused to come off the field against his coach’s wishes.
Former WWE star CM Punk (Phil Brooks) signed a contract with the UFC in 2014. The promotion’s logic was that the pro-wrestler would bring casual eyes to their events. It took Punk two years to make his UFC debut as he prepared for the event. Finally, he took on Mickey Gall and lost by rear-naked choke. But Punk made about one million dollars from the event.
His take-home pay and endorsements were worth a lot of money. This meant that he was earning thousands of dollars for every minute he spent in the cage. Punk only fought once more but couldn’t get an elusive win. He suffered a miserable, crushing defeat to Mike Jackson in 2018. In the end, fans called him one of the worst fighters in the history of the promotion.
Culpepper an outstanding season in his NFL career. In 2004, he broke the 4,000 passing yard mark and threw 39 touchdown passes in the most productive year of his time in Minnesota. There is always an element of risk in extending a player’s contract if they’ve only had one great season. But the Vikings believed that Culpepper had broken through a ceiling.
He signed a 10-year contract worth $102 million dollars. Unfortunately, it all went downhill again after that. Needless to say, the Vikings traded him after one more season. Furthermore, this left them with a ton of dead-cap money. He was earning money from the Vikings while playing in Oakland and Detroit. It was a disaster of a contract.
The Boston Celtics love to waste money. Hayward and his agent exploited this to their benefit when he signed a contract with the franchise in 2017. After an All-Star season with the Utah Jazz, Hayward used his momentum to pen a massive deal. His four-year contract was worth about $128 million. Then, it was too bad for Boston that he broke his leg soon after.
In short, it’s not easy to play basketball with a broken leg. Even when Hayward returned, he didn’t feature very often for the team. It wasn’t Hayward’s fault but the fact was that he was earning a lot of money for doing very little. Meanwhile, things became even crazier when the Celtics made him a part of a sign and trade deal with Charlotte. This was worth another cool $100 million.
Wentz suffered one of the most bizarre deteriorations in recent NFL history. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback won a Super Bowl with the franchise. After this season, the top brass decided to extend his contract. However, in 2020, his numbers went completely off the cliff with career-lows across the board. These included 15 interceptions, the worst total in the NFL. Meanwhile, he was earning multiple millions of dollars.
By the end of the season, Jalen Hurts was the Eagles’ starter. Finally, the Eagles traded him to the Colts in exchange for a couple of picks. But they suffered a massive amount of dead-cap money in the process. His four-year deal was worth $128 million but he only spent one season of it with Philly. In the end, the franchise became a joke and Wentz was the punchline.
Silva found himself in a similar position to Overeem. However, the Brazilian icon was one of the greatest fighters ever during his heyday. Insanely, he continued competing in MMA until he was 45. But while he had one of the biggest contracts in the sport, he suffered a major decline. Silva has the record for most consecutive wins in UFC history but that is in the past now.
Younger fans don’t recall his spell-binding wins. Instead, they focus on the fact that he lost seven of his last nine fights. This may seem unfair, but it is the reality of professional sports. Unlike Alistair Overeem, the UFC didn’t cut Silva. But they mutually agreed to end their relationship after Silva’s final contract expired. In the end, it was the right thing to do for both parties.
Reeves is a Grizzlies’ cult hero. Many NBA fans regard him as a bust but his first three seasons for Vancouver were decent. The seven-footer had a massive and imposing frame to match his height. Unfortunately, his weight continued to balloon as his time in the league progressed. ‘Big Country’s’ displays for his franchise impressed them and convinced them to offer an extension.
And that’s where it all went wrong for them. The gigantic center put pen to paper on a six-year extension worth $61.8 million. That’s a lot of money for a farm boy from Oklahoma. However, his form deteriorated and he had fitness issues despite earning millions of bucks. It’s a shame because he had so much potential but now people remember him as an expensive mistake.
Coutinho was electrifying for Liverpool, where he was their star player. The Brazilian’s form convinced Barcelona to drop $150 million dollars on him. Meanwhile, they agreed to pay him a whopping $20 million per year. But things didn’t go well for the attacking midfielder at the Camp Nou. He didn’t fit in and soon found himself on loan in Germany with Bayern Munich.
But Barcelona was still paying him a crazy salary. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t exactly earning his money because he was featuring for another team. Then, they had to give Liverpool an extra incremental payment. This was because he met a Champion’s League appearances total. Their agreement didn’t specify that he had to make those appearances for Barcelona. However, he was still under contract so they had no choice.
Wall is clearly a very good player, but it’s too bad that the Wizards didn’t get the best of him. While he is elite on his day, Wall simply didn’t have enough days. He missed the entire 2019/20 season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in his own home. Meanwhile, he was still earning millions of dollars from the injury list. It was even more disappointing because he missed a chunk of the previous season with knee problems.
Rubbing salt into Washington’s wounds was his four-year, $170 million extensions. In the end, he only played for two-and-a-half seasons of it while remaining under contract for the rest. It was a disastrous deal for the Wizards because they weren’t able to maximize his productivity. Finally, they traded him to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Haynesworth was magnificent for the Tennessee Titans. After back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, he became a free agent. The Washington Redskins were desperate to sign him and duly did so. They successfully lured him with a seven-year contract worth $100 million. However, this proved to be one of the worst deals in the history of the franchise. Considering it was the Redskins, that’s horrendous.
But Haynesworth lost his drive and enthusiasm for football as soon as he put pen to paper. His weight ballooned like a polar bear before winter. Meanwhile, his attitude stank worse than a frat house after a party. Unfortunately, Haynesworth was still earning millions of dollars. Eventually, Washington shipped him off to the Patriots but the damage to their accounting was done.
Sanchez was electrifying for Arsenal after they signed him from Barcelona. However, the Chilean forward soon realized that he was never going to win anything meaningful with the London club. Manchester United showed interest in him and he responded enthusiastically. But it didn’t go well. In fact, Sanchez told the Sun that he wanted to return to Arsenal after his first practice in Manchester.
However, at least he made a lot of money. United paid him over $500,00 per week including image rights and bonuses. Things became worse and eventually, the club accepted that they weren’t going to get the best out of him. So they shipped him out on loan to Inter Milan. While the Italians paid a loan fee for this privilege, United was still on the hook for the wages he was earning there.
On the face of it, Simmons has elite credentials. The former NBA Rookie of the Year was a three-time All-Star by 2021. But he received a lot of heat from Philadelphia fans because he didn’t deliver when it counted. They needed him to be a clutch player but he didn’t have that in his locker. The 76ers star had a dire display against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals where his offense was at its worst.
First, he was afraid to shoot and wasted vital opportunities to score. Then he missed easy chances, especially in Game Seven. Across the seven-game series, he attempted just three shots in the fourth quarter. He went missing when the team needed him to stand up and be counted. Philly fans are an unforgiving punch and Simmons felt the heat on social media.