The worst contracts in sports history

A close up of Ricky Williams of the New Orleans Saints taking a break from the action during a game. Photo / Getty Images
A close up of Ricky Williams of the New Orleans Saints taking a break from the action during a game. Photo / Getty Images

Ricky Williams got "screwed".

That's the verdict after FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers on the former NFL star's deal with the New Orleans Saints, dubbed the "worst contract for any player in history" in the sport.

Williams signed the contract in 1999, and it was reportedly worth up to $68 million.
But that was before you read the fine print.

As FiveThirtyEight explained, the contract was driven by "ambitious" performance incentives - so ambitious, in fact, they were bordering on impossible.

The contract is complicated (you can read about it in detail here) but in simple terms, Williams would receive an $8.8 million signing bonus and a minimum base salary totalling $2.3 million over the next seven years.

But for the rest of the cash, he needed to meet mostly extraordinary requirements.

"FiveThirtyEight obtained a copy of the deal, and we calculated how much every running back since 1989 could have earned from it," the report read.

"And we can say without reservation: Ricky Williams got screwed.

"Williams definitely underperformed expectations during his career, but only a fraction of that $68 million was achievable at all, even to the greatest running backs in recent memory."

The report continues: "One of the famous sections of Williams's contract is the 'Special Provisions' - a list of 26 incentives each worth $50,000 a season. Some of these incentives ... have only been hit by the best running back seasons of all time, and a few are practically impossible."

Among the more "nuts stuff" on the contract were incentives for catching 12 touchdowns and averaging 18.6 yards per reception (with at least 32 receptions) - no running back has ever done either in modern football history.

Making it all even worse, the contract stipulated incentive bonuses would be capped at $500,000. So even if he did magically achieve 20 of the incentives, he could only be paid for 10.

But before you get too down about Ricky Williams, there have been plenty of times when clubs were - and still are being - screwed for overpaying players. Here are five such occasions.



Michael Vick. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Vick. Photo / Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons gave quartberback Michael Vick a 10-year contract worth $130 million in 2004, making him the NFL's highest paid player at the time. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season after signing the deal - largely due to his running prowess - but that was the lone highlight. The team went just 15-17 the next two seasons, and that was the last we'd ever see of Vick in a Falcons jersey. He ended up serving a 23-month prison sentence for his role in a dog-fighting organisation and was released.


After a strong NBA playoff performance with Seattle after the 2004-05 season, the New York Knicks somewhat surprisingly gave free agent Jerome James a five-year $30 million offer. He showed up to Knicks camp out of shape and was plagued by injuries. He appeared in only 90 games in four seasons, averaging fewer than three points per game.


When he signed a six-year, $80 million contract in 1998 it made him the highest paid player in baseball based on per-season salary ($13.3m).

But in his very first regular-season game in an Angels uniform, the first baseman chased a foul pop fly into the dugout, tumbled down the stairs and sprained his ankle, sending him to the 15-day disabled list. Combining 1999 and 2000, the big-bodied Vaughn smacked 69 home runs, batted .276 and slugged .503 - not bad, but he also led the league in strikeouts in 2000 (181). Vaughn also didn't provide the leadership the Angels organisation expected, plus health failed him in 2001 when he ruptured his left biceps and missed the entire season. The Angels had enough in December 2001 and sent him to the New York Mets.


Eddy Curry. Photo / Getty Images
Eddy Curry. Photo / Getty Images

Eddy Curry, long criticised for being overweight, landed a six-year $60 million contract in 2005 to join the Knicks. He stuck it out for five of those seasons in New York, but they weren't pretty by the end. He played in just 10 games in the final two seasons.


The Washington Redskins made Adam Archuleta the highest-paid safety in NFL history by signing him to a six-year $30 million contract in March 2006. But he started only seven of 16 games that year. By the end of the 2006 season, he was being used primarily on special teams. Washington ultimately traded him for a sixth-round draft pick to Chicago, where he also languished before spending his final year in the league with the Raiders.


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