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May 05, 2020

Worst Week: Philadelphia's worst free agent signings of the past 25 years

Eagles Sixers
nnamdi-asomugha_050620_usat David Maialetti/Philadelphia Daily News/MCT/Sipa USA

Former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, right, stands on the sideline with teammate LeSean McCoy.

Every franchise makes mistakes. When building a roster, there is often no telling how a particular trade or free agent signing or draft pick might go wrong. A front office needs to have optimism in order to succeed.

But, being blind to consequences can be costly. As we continue Worst Week (and we certainly hope you have the stomach for more carnage), we are now going to do our best to compile the 10 worst free agent signings of the last 25 or so years. We already looked at the worst all time trades, and the worst all-time draft picks — but unlike those two top 10 lists, we are going to limit this one in scope. Why? Well, we only have so much time, and there have been many more free agent signings by the four major sports teams in this city, historically, then trades.

When compiling our list, we were mindful of the amount of money paid to the free agent (relative to the sport and to inflation) when compared to the expectations the player had when they were signed. We are also mindful that the vast majority of these signings-gone-wrong ended with the local team either buying out the player, trading them or cutting them. We'll focus on the deal's and performance more than on how the team's wiggled their way out of their bad decisions. Many of the players we will document are notorious in this city, so this could be fun.


More Worst Week: Draft picks | Trades


But first, like we always do, here are a few free agents who sucked... but not enough to make the Top 10:

Dishonorable mention:

Derian Hatcher, Flyers defenseman | 4-years, $14 million

Hatcher was 33 years old when the Flyers looked to tag him as their new veteran defenseman, and he wound up being pretty washed up. Over three seasons with the Flyers, the 6-foot-5 former eight-time All-Star scored just 11 points per season (he averaged almost three times that prior) and was minus-18 while missing 39 total games. 

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies closer | 4-years, $50 million

Papelbon is the Phils' career leader in saves. He was never terrible in Philly — he made two All-Star games, had a 2.31 ERA and saved 123 contests. But the Phillies were a combined 63 games back during his three full seasons at Citizens Bank Park. Why was such a terrible team paying so much for a closer? Papelbon was also, frankly, a terrible teammate.

David Bell, Phillies third baseman | 4-years, $17 million

The Phils overpaid for Bell, plain and simple. They've overpaid a lot of third basemen as they've been unable to replace Mike Schmidt for almost 30 years. Bell hit .195 during his first full year in Philly. He got better but was never consistent and was always frustrating. He was a waste of a lot of early 2000s money.

Kwame Brown, Sixers center | 2-years, $5.7 million

Brown played in 22 games and scored 1.9 points per game. After those 22 games, he never played another NBA game again. He later became the fifth overall pick in the BIG3.

Danny Tartabull, Phillies outfielder | 1-year, $2 million

The former All-Star had seven at bats as a Phillie and had no hits. That's it. He got paid the full $2 million. Maybe it was George's fault.

And now, here's a look at the worst money this city ever spent...

10. Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles

2011 | CORNERBACK | SIGNED 5-YEAR, $60 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 32 GAMES, 4 INT, 95 TACKLES, 17 PD

During the spring of 2011, the Eagles were building a Dream Team. Yes, you remember. Asomugha was the top available free agent available on the market, and the Birds threw him a gigantic contract — one he would serve just two of five years of. 

His first year was solid, as he racked up three interceptions and five passes defended while making it to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but something happened the next year. In 2012, his age-31 season, he just flat out sucked. He sucked so bad the Eagles had to restructure his deal enough so that they could release him. Here's a frame of reference for how quickly he had fallen from the top free agent in all of football. In 2013, the year after Philly cut ties with him, Asomugha inked a one-year deal with the 49ers worth a meager $1.35 million. He was waived by San Fransisco on November 4.

9. Elton Brand, Sixers

2008 | POWER FORWARD | SIGNED 5-YEAR, $82 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 13.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG (IN 246 OF 348 GAMES)

Brand was... fine. He missed 65 games over the four years he was in Philly due to injuries, and never was even close to the same player he was pre-Sixers:

 PPGRPGBPG
Pre-Sixers20.310.22.1
With Sixers12.77.21.3

That is definitely not the production the Sixers paid for — and though he did start at center and contribute a little bit during Philly's 2012 playoff run (the last one before The Process), his time as a Sixer is not remembered favorably. He's still trying to make it up to the team, as he currently serves as their GM. 

8. Demetress Bell, Eagles

2012 | OFF. TACKLE | SIGNED 5-YEAR, $35 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 4 STARTS, 40% OF SNAPS PLAYED

The bright side of this signing is, if the Eagles hadn't royally messed up with Bell, they probably wouldn't have drafted Lane Johnson, one of the best tackles in football right now. That's about where the positives end with Bell. He was never really that good with the Bills, his stop prior to his monster contract with the Eagles. He first became a starter midway through 2009, committed a ton of penalties in a full season on the Buffalo line in 2010, and had his season ended in 2011 with a knee injury.

So the Eagles, of course, signed him to a lucrative contract in 2012 after Jason Peters tore his Achilles' while working out in the offseason. Bell, however, was wrong from the start and was replaced by King Dunlap in training camp. He eventually started five games in Philly, appeared in nine and played just 40% of possible snaps. He was cut after one disappointing season and was signed by the Cowboys the following season. He was cut a month later and never played football again. Luckily, Peters returned as good as ever and the Birds were able to scoop up Lane Johnson to solidify the tackle position for several years to come.

7. Stacy Andrews, Eagles

2009 | OFF. TACKLE | SIGNED 6-YEAR, $38.9 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 2 STARTS

Three years before the Eagles misfired on Bell, they had a similar failure with Stacy Andrews, brother of infamous tackle Shaun Andrews. After being a solid starter for the Bengals for two seasons, the Eagles decided to make a splash and bring Stacy into the fold in Philadelphia, in part to help him keep an eye on his younger sibling. But that didn't work out as planned either.

The elder Andrews brother started just two games on his monster offseason contract, appearing in 10 total. Injuries were a main reason for his inability to contribute... but also, he was just pretty bad and didn't really seem all that interested in football. The Eagles unloaded him to the Seahawks for a seventh-round pick after just one season with the Birds. 

6. Jake Arrieta, Phillies

2017 | STARTING PITCHER | SIGNED 3-YEAR, $75 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 18-19, 4.26 ERA, 42 HR ALLOWED

There's still a chance Arrieta makes good on this deal with some kind of monster campaign in 2020 at age 34. But that's not likely. The oft-injured (he apparently pitched through an elbow injury two seasons ago) former Cy Young Award-winner has not really earned his keep in red pinstripes, losing more games than he's won and allowing way too many home runs.

Arrieta was paid for past performance — which is what veteran MLB contracts tend to do — but with the Phillies flying so close to the luxury tax threshold, one can't help but wonder what the Phils would have been able to invest in had they not been strapped to a middling bottom-of-the-rotation-quality starter to the tune of $25 million per year. There are two options on his contract for 2021 and 2022, and the Phillies are expected to decline these and let him walk next winter.

5. Adam Eaton, Phillies

2007 | STARTING PITCHER | SIGNED 3-YEAR, $24 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 14-18, 6.10 ERA, 45 HR ALLOWED IN 49 STARTS

The Phillies were ramping up to begin contending (they narrowly missed the playoffs in 2006 before winning the first of five division titles in 2007). Adam Eaton was added to the starting rotation alongside Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and eventually Kyle Lohse. 

Why was he added and paid $8 million a season? Your guess is as good as mine. In seven MLB seasons before joining the Phillies, Eaton went 54-45 with a 4.40 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP, 3.2 walks per game and 1.2 homers allowed per game. In two seasons (51 games) in Philadelphia, Eaton went 14-18 with a 6.10 ERA. He allowed more home runs (1.5 per game) and more walks (3.9) than he did with the Padres or Rangers before. 

4. Demarco Murray, Eagles

2015 | RUNNING BACK | SIGNED 5-YEAR, $40 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 702 YARDS, 6 TD, 3.2 YPC (44 REC FOR 322 YARDS)

Murray was only an Eagle for one season... thank god. For those who have trouble remembering, there was some kind of weird issue during the 2015 season where Chip Kelly — who is the one who decided not only to sign Murry but to do so after trading LeSean McCoy to the Bills for a linebacker who also was terrible — just didn't give Murray the ball the season after he led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns. In Week's 13 and 14, a healthy Murray got eight combined touches in losses to the Cardinals and Redskins. He also famously once sat alongside owner Jeffrey Lurie on a team flight to discuss his unhappiness.

The Eagles were able to get out of the five-year deal when Howie Roseman assumed control again as he was sent to Tennessee along with a draft pick kicker to get rid of the bad contract. Of course, Murray had a bounce-back campaign the following season, you know, when he was actually getting the ball. His brief time in Philadelphia is a perfect reminder of the unusualness and unpleasantness of the Kelly regime.

3. Byron Maxwell, Eagles

2015 | CORNERBACK | SIGNED 6-YEAR, $63 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 2 INT, 2 FF, 10 PD IN 14 GAMES

But wait... there's more. The 2015 Chip Kelly spending spree also included Maxwell, a one-time Super Bowl champion cornerback who, like Asomugha before him, was one of the top players available in free agency. Maxwell came to Philly looking to anchor the secondary alongside Malcolm Jenkins. Instead, Maxwell was easily beat downfield as the Eagles' passing defense was one of the worst in the league (28th in yards, 31st in touchdowns).

This one, at least, has a somewhat happy ending. In what is one of Roseman's greatest ever achievements, the Eagles were able to ship Maxwell and his brutal contract to the Dolphins, along with Kiko Alonso, and swap their 13th-overall pick with Miami's 8th-overall pick. This move would eventually allow the Eagles to move up and draft Carson Wentz in 2016. Maxwell was cut by Miami and went back to Seattle in 2017.

2. Matt Geiger, Sixers

1998 | CENTER | SIGNED 6-YEAR, $51 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: 9.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG

The thing that makes this signing so bad is that it really, really doesn't make sense. Like, at all. Before signing the monster contract he did with the Sixers, Geiger averaged 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds with the Heat and Hornets, playing just 21.9 minutes per game. With the Iverson-led Sixers, he started just 64 times in 328 games, missing 174 of them outright.

His ineffectiveness and inability to stay healthy during the 2000-01 season, his third with the team, is a big reason why the Sixers went out and traded for Dikembe Mutombo ahead of the deadline. During their NBA Finals run, Geiger played in just 8.3 minutes per game. His 2000-2001 season, playoffs included, saw him earn around $12,682 per minute. By contrast, Iverson (the 2001 MVP), earned just $2,535 per minute. 

1. Ilya Bryzgolov, Flyers

2011 | GOALTENDER | SIGNED 8-YEAR, $51 MILLION CONTRACT | STATS: .905 SAVE %, 2.60 GAA, 52 WINS IN 99 GAMES

"Solar system is so humongous big, right? But if you see, the like, our solar system and our galaxy on the like on the side, you know, like, and we're so small — you can never see it — our galaxy is like huge, but if you see the big picture, our galaxy (is like a) small tiny like dot in Universe. Like, and I think like, 'And we have some problems here on the Earth we worry about?' Compared to like ... nothing. Just ... be happy. Don't worry, be happy right now."

Those are words of wisdom that help make us realize that the Flyers' mistake of giving Ilya Bryzgolov $51 was small, when compared to the size of the universe as a whole.

The quote, of course was Ilya "The Universe" Bryzgolov on HBO's 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic between the Flyers and Rangers. It was the second longest lasting impact the goalie ever made on the Flyers. The first? To make room for his $51 million contract, the team had to trade away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Those trades netted Philadelphia Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, two anchors for the team over the last decade or so. But that was just a secondary effect of the Bryzgolov signing. Yes, in stints, he was pretty good. From March 4 to March 13 of 2012 he recorded four shutouts. But he was never able to show consistency or reliability between the pipes. 

He was too outspoken, and rumors suggest he was silenced by the team when it decided to buy out his contract. His NHL career ended with a whimper, as he played in just 40 more games for three different teams after he left the Flyers. But his paychecks have not. The Flyers, as part of their buyout, are paying him around $2 million a year until 2027.


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