Top 10 Most Hair-Raising Sports Contracts

By Investopedia Staff | October 27, 2009 AAA
Top 10 Most Hair-Raising Sports Contracts

Although many professional athletes toil in relative obscurity, there is a well-publicized minority that makes a killing. These players' hair-raising salaries are shocking in their size alone, but some athletes' compensation is even more disturbing because they fail to live up to the pay they command. Read on for a list of the top multimillion-dollar player contracts that have haunted the teams who signed them.

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10. DeSagana Diop - 6 Years, $32 Million
This 2008 contract should inspire any tall guy who dreams of playing in the NBA. The seven-foot Diop from Senegal broke into the NBA in 2001 after being selected eighth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft, the same draft that gave us the likes of Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph (see the theme here?). Even after averaging less than three points per game throughout his career, the Dallas Mavericks didn't hesitate to give the big man its mid-level exception in the summer of 2008: a whopping $32 million over six years. Proponents of the signing argued that Diop was worth the money for his rebounding and shot-blocking alone. But $5.33 million a year for just under four rebounds and 1.12 blocks per game over his career seems a little rich. The Mavericks must have experienced some buyer's remorse after the signing; Diop didn't even last a full season with the Mavs before they shipped him off to the Bobcats in early 2009.

9. Shawn Horcoff - 6 Years, $33 Million
Following the Oilers' improbable 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run, the team had high hopes for a quick return to the finals. Unfortunately, the team has not made the playoffs since and may be hard pressed to reach the playoffs again this year. A major factor in whether the Oilers are successful this season may hinge on the play of their supposed No.1 center, Shawn Horcoff. Following the 2008 season, in which Horcoff missed the entire second half due to shoulder surgery, the Oilers signed Horcoff to a six-year, $33 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid forward on the team. Since signing the deal, Horcoff has struggled mightily, tallying only 17 goals and 53 points last season. This season, he has recorded only two points in the team's first 11 games. Kevin Lowe, the Oilers' general manager at the time Horcoff's contract was signed, faced criticism for his decision to give Horcoff this sum, and Horcoff's results thus far are nowhere near the numbers the Oilers had hoped for. Compared to other first-line centers and similarly paid players in the league, Horcoff's lack of production sticks out like a sore thumb.

8. Alfonso Soriano - 8 Years, $136 Million
He was supposed to be the next great five-tool player. Alfonso Soriano was the centerpiece of the package that sent Alex Rodriguez and his mammoth contract to the New York Yankees from the Texas Rangers. Following productive years in Texas and Washington, Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs in late 2006. The cubbies hoped that Soriano would be the final piece of the puzzle that would help the "lovable losers" snap their century-long World Series drought. Although Soriano had a productive first year, he has since been slowed by injuries and has yet to help the Cubs get out of the first round of the playoffs. The jury is still out on whether Soriano will become the superstar that many believed he would be by now.

7. Jake Delhomme - 5 Years, $42 Million
Once the feel-good story of league, and a Pro Bowler, Delhomme can't seem do anything right lately. Despite this, following one of the worst playoff performances in NFL history in January, which included throwing five interceptions and a lost fumble in a 33-13 loss to the Cardinals, the Carolina Panthers rewarded their starting QB with a five-year $42 million contract extension, $20 million of which is guaranteed. At the time, many questioned the Panthers' thinking, after a 2-4 start, 13 interceptions and a downright ugly 56.5 QB rating, Delhomme's contract may end up haunting Carolina for years to come.

6. Rick DiPietro, Jr. - 15 Years (!), $67.5 Million
This New England native may be the most highly vaunted goaltender to ever enter the NHL draft. So enthused were the New York Islanders about the prospects of selecting DiPietro first overall in the 2000 draft, that they traded away Roberto Luongo, whom they had selected fourth overall in the draft only three years earlier, a move that haunts Isles fans to this day. Following his best year as a pro in 2005-2006, the Islanders gave DiPietro a contract extension of $67.5 million -over 15 years! The deal shocked the hockey world and has started a trend of general managers giving up extremely long-term deals to players in exchange for a reduced average salary cap hit (much like Marion Hossa and the aforementioned Roberto Luongo). Since the signing, however, DiPietro has struggled to remain healthy; he played in only five games last season and is on injured reserve to start the 2009-2010 season due to chronic knee problems that have many wondering if he'll ever be able to fulfill his end of a deal that changed hockey contracts as we know them.

5. Gilbert Arenas - 6 Years, $111 Million
Definately the wild-card on our list. The self-proclaimed "Agent Zero" has-proved time and time again that we should never discount his talents and his drive. After bursting onto the scene in the 2004-2005 season, Arenas proceeded to wow fans and opponents alike with his clutch play and unorthodox behavior, making him one of the most popular players in the league. However, after only playing a total of 19 regular season and playoff games in the past two seasons due to a knee injury, Arenas needs to have a huge comeback season in order to justify the six-year, $111 million contract he received from the Wizards in the summer of 2008.

"Hibachi", as he's been known to call himself, has gone from superstar to afterthought in a matter of 15 months, but if Arenas has taught us anything, it's that he excels when he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Fans can only hope that a $111 million dollar chip should be incentive enough for Arenas to reclaim his position among the league's best guards.

4. Barry Zito - 7 Years, $126 Million
Zito has probably had the most disappointing drop-off of anyone on our list. The quirky lefty was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his tenure with the Oakland A's in Oakland, where he was selected to the American League All-Star team on three occasions and took home the 2002 Cy Young Award. Following the 2006 season, in which he went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA, the Giants signed Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract, making him the highest paid pitcher in Major League history at the time.

Since signing the deal, Zito has gone 31-43, never posting an ERA under 4.00. Zito has also lost between three and five miles per hour on his fastball, allowing hitters to sit on his once-unhittable curve ball. The Giants have experimented with pitching Zito out of the bullpen, looking for any signs that the once dominant lefty can recapture his form. So far, the results have been mixed.

3. Zach Randolph - 6 Years, $84 Million
Is it possible to be one of the biggest surprises and busts of the same draft? It looks like Zach Randolph may have doen it. After being drafted 19th overall in the 2001 draft, Randolph became one of the best young low-post threats in the league, prompting the Blazers to sign him to a six-year, $84 million extension. Since the signing, Randolph has been traded three times, most recently this past summer by the Clippers to the Memphis Grizzlies. Randolph easily has the worst contract in the league, yet inept general managers such as Mike Dunleavy and Chris Wallace continue to pay this guy more than $16 million a year to poison their teams.

But it's definitely not his numbers that make his contract one of the worst in all professional sports (averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds in three of the past four seasons), it's the fact that Randolph is a ticking time bomb, and has shown little interest in getting into shape. Why would the Grizzlies bring him into a locker room full of young, impressionable players? With two years and $33 million left, expect to see Randolph's contract back in the top three next season.

2. Vernon Wells - 7 Years, $126 Million
Here's another albatross of a contract from the '06 MLB off-season. Recently fired Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi signed Wells to a back-loaded seven-year, $126 million deal on the heels of a decent season in which Wells hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBI. Wells was overpaid the moment the deal was signed, but the Jays had hoped the Gold Glove center-fielder would continue to progress into one of the premier five-tool players in the game. Wells has done just the opposite. With three consecutive sub-par seasons in which he has struggled with various injuries and inconsistency, Wells' poor performance ultimately cost Ricciardi his job (along with a laundry list of over-payments and questionable signings).

With four years remaining on the deal, Wells' contract is virtually untradeable, so the Jays are stuck with an underachieving, overpaid center fielder to build their team around. It may be a while yet before fans in the Great White North get to see some October baseball.

1. JaMarcus Russell - 6 Years, $68 Million
JaMarcus Russell gets the No.1 slot on this list for a reason; in fact, his contract is so bad it deserves its own list. Six-years, $68 million, with $32 million guaranteed. Is there anyone on the planet who could justify this contract (besides Russell himself)? Following the Raiders' 38-0 blowout loss to the Jets this past Sunday, Russell told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I don't think it's me personally". While football is most definitely a team game, you need only look at the numbers to see that yes, it actually is Russell: a 2-5 record this year, with a completion percentage of 46.3, two touchdowns, eight interceptions and a QB rating of 47.2. Those are brutal numbers for any quarterback.

Russell's poor play and perceived lack of interest have many comparing him to another first-round super-bust: Ryan Leaf. The Raiders may be stuck with Russell as their starter for a while, as team owner Al Davis may force the coaching staff's hand at playing Russell to justify his contract, which was signed following his holdout prior to the 2007 season.

While a lot of the other contracts on this list have sent chills up fans' spines, Russell's ongoing deal is the thing of nightmares. Like the other players on this list, his shockingly large contract seems to be haunting his performance. Worse yet, many of these players could be a dark spot on their teams' performance for years to come.

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