- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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There are so many bad contracts in sports. And what I've found is that nothing gets fans more riled up at the office cooler than their favorite teams foolishly spending money. It's not the fans’ money, but they think that awful spending could lead to increased ticket prices, and they don't want that. What makes a contract bad is subjective. Sometimes it's just the largest dollar figure you can find for a flop. Other times it's more about dollars in relation to quality. Here are my worst contracts in sports, broken down by category:
1. NFL: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
Guaranteed money: $39 million
As the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft out of LSU, JaMarcus Russell was lucky to be drafted four years before the rookie wage scale kicked in. Russell turned into one of the biggest busts in NFL history, playing only 31 games and throwing for 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. What makes him a bigger flop is the ridiculous money -- $39 million collected for three years of doing nothing. Let's put this in perspective: It took Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers until November of last year to make $39 million. That's six-and-a-half years of decent work for what Russell basically stole.
2. NBA: Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers
Guaranteed money: $20.8 million
There are guys who have been paid more money than Greg Oden -- Vin Baker and Grant Hill come to mind -- but picking Oden and dealing with his injuries did more than just set the team back. The Blazers will have to live with the fact they picked Oden over Kevin Durant. Now about that contract: By the time the Blazers waived Oden last season, they had paid him $20.8 million for 82 games. That's $253,659 a game or $11,454 per in-game minute.
3. MLB: Mike Hampton, P, Various teams
Guaranteed money: $121 million
I was inclined to go with Mo Vaughn or Albert Belle here, but when you sign a pitcher who doesn't pan out, it's disastrous. After winning two games against the Cardinals in the NLCS with the Mets in 2000, Mike Hampton cashed in big time. The Colorado Rockies agreed to pony up $121 million over eight years. In a joke that will last forever, Hampton told the press he liked Denver because of the quality of schools for his children. In two seasons with the Rockies, Hampton went 21-28 and actually had the worst ERA in the league (for those who qualified) in his second year. Hampton was then traded through the Marlins to the Braves. The Marlins paid Hampton more than $30 million not to pitch and the Braves paid more for Hampton to miss full seasons. Hampton didn't win a game from Aug. 15, 2005, to Aug. 5, 2008. But it's the Rockies’ part of the deal that is embarrassing. It starts with a $20 million signing bonus and another $20 million in salary from those two seasons. It ended with a $6.5 million payment to unload him to the Braves and, to add insult to injury, a $6 million option buyout that they had to pay in 2009. For those scoring at home, that's $52.5 million.
4. NHL: Rick DiPietro, G, New York Islanders
Guaranteed money: $67.5 million
The Islanders took Rick DiPietro as the first overall pick in the 2000 draft and jettisoned Roberto Luongo, who had plenty of great years left. The average annual value of the contract was $4.5 million a season, but the deal for DiPietro was over a ridiculous 15 years. Between a concussion and hip and knee problems, DiPietro hasn't played much, and he's clearly the worst goaltender for the money over the past four seasons, in which he has started only 46 games, winning 14 of them.
5. Stadium deal: Paul Brown Stadium
Public money: $555 million
The Cincinnati Bengals just couldn't win, so the thinking was if they got a spanking new stadium, they'd have more revenue generators and therefore could spend more to win. So along with the Reds' new stadium, the local government helped fund the new Paul Brown Stadium at a real cost to the public of $555 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Well, that didn't exactly work out. In the 12 years before they built the stadium, the Bengals averaged six wins a season. In the 12 seasons in the new facility, they've averaged seven, and that's if you round up. This season? The Bengals are on pace to win six or seven games.
6. Coach contract: Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Guaranteed money not to coach: $8.69 million-plus
Over five seasons, Charlie Weis coached the Fighting Irish to an unremarkable 35-27 record. Kudos to the school for extending Weis a 10-year deal when he didn't deserve it. And props to Weis' agent, Bob Lamonte, who did a tremendous job of maximizing a buyout. Because Notre Dame is a private institution, we don't know how big the buyout is, and won't until 2016, a year after the Irish make the last payment to Weis. But the Chicago Tribune says they've paid Weis nearly $8.7 million not to coach so far and could see a total bill of up to $19 million. Now that Weis is being paid $2.5 million a year to coach Kansas, we hope the folks at Notre Dame thought to put in a standard clause that would reduce the buyout by the amount he is making in another job. But with the way they botched this deal to begin with, who knows what we should expect.
7. Endorsement contract: Alex Rodriguez, Vita Coco
Alex Rodriguez didn't make my worst contract for a baseball player, but there's no contest that A-Rod gets the nod for the most boneheaded endorsement deal of all time. Last year, coconut water company Vita Coco announced a deal with A-Rod, even though, unbeknownst to them, A-Rod had his money parked in Vita Coco's competitor, Zico. In a statement, Rodriguez told me that he now preferred Vita Coco, which was strange because he still had his money parked in Zico, as a significant investor. Zico CEO Mark Rampolla told me that A-Rod put more money into the business than he ever did. A-Rod likely traded a small endorsement deal for what was a bigger piece of the pie for Zico. I'm assuming they made him divest when he publicly insulted them. When you don't even know where you have invested your money, that's when how you know it's time to take a breather.
8. TV contract: Former ABA owners Ozzie and Dan Silna
Ozzie and Dan Silna make millions of dollars every year off the Pacers, Nuggets, Nets and Spurs. You see, in 1976, when those four ABA teams were getting ready to join the NBA, they had to find a way to pay off the owners of the two teams that the NBA didn't want. So they gave Kentucky Colonels owner John Y. Brown $3.3 million, and they agreed, after some negotiating, to give the Silna brothers, who owned the Spirits of St. Louis team, $2.2 million and one-seventh of their television revenue in perpetuity. Wait, what? Yep. At the time, the NBA didn't have much of a TV deal, but since the contract with the Silnas was forever, and because the product was more coveted, the rights fees rose. The New York Times reported in September that the Silnas had accumulated $255 million. They had one thing going for them, former Nuggets general manager Carl Scheer told me: "They had the leverage in the sense that they were the kamikaze. They were going to go for it. If we didn’t agree to that, I was convinced they would take us all down."
9. Gilbert Arenas, G, Washington Wizards
Contract: Six years, $111 million
Although Oden's deal turned out badly for the Trail Blazers, Gilbert Arenas' contract is the worst contract in sports on a dollar-for-dollar basis. In his seven seasons in the league before signing his six-year, $111 million contract, Arenas averaged 22.8 points a game. After that? Arenas averaged only 13 points a game in the next four seasons and played in 121 games because of injuries and a suspension. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of carrying pistols, which he stored in the team's locker room -- without a license. The issue arose when he placed unloaded guns on the locker room chair of teammate Javaris Crittenton after the two had argued. But Arenas had the most amazing luck: As part of the new NBA collective bargaining agreement instituted last season, teams can take any contract they want off their salary cap if they waive a player. The amnesty clause, however, stipulates that a team must actually pay the player. So the Magic waived Arenas but owed him $62 million over the next two and a half years. After an unsuccessful stint with the Grizzlies, no one wanted Arenas this season, but he'll still get $22 million from the Magic.
10. Albert Belle, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Contract: Five years, $65 million
After a clause in Albert Belle's contract allowed him to get out of his five-year, $55 million deal with the Chicago White Sox after just two seasons, the Orioles signed Belle to a five-year, $65 million contract in the 1998 offseason. Belle actually had two decent years -- hitting 60 home runs in 302 games -- but he didn't play the final three years of the deal because he retired with hip osteoarthritis. So the Orioles had to pay Belle $39 million not to ever come to the ballpark. Luckily for the team, a reported $27.1 million came back to them through an insurance policy.