Every NFL Team's Worst Free Agent Signing: AFC East
These teams paid big money to high-profile players with the hope that they would help their team to a championship, but all they got in return was regret. Today, I name each AFC East squad's worst free agency pickup.
- Buffalo Bills: Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker
- Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler
- New England Patriots: Adalius Thomas
- New York Jets: Neil O'Donnell
Buffalo Bills: Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker
They both signed huge contracts and failed to live up to expectations.
A third round pick in 2003 out of Texas by the Washington Redskins, Derrick Dockery was used as a backup as a rookie at left guard and right tackle. By 2004, he gained the starting job at left guard. Together, he and left tackle Chris Samuels formed a solid tandem on the left side of the offensive line. Dockery started 29 consecutive games for the Redskins despite being amongst the league leaders in false starts.
A second round pick in 2002 out of California by the Oakland Raiders, Langston Walker played in 66 games with 33 starts in five seasons. He was also frequently used as a field goal blocker, including for a potential game winner against Denver in 2004.
Their Time With the Bills
In 2007, the Buffalo Bills signed the two linemen in free agency. Dockery signed a seven-year deal worth $49 million with a $18 million signing bonus, the third largest in league history for a guard. Walker signed a five-year deal worth $25 million, including a $10 million signing bonus.
The two played in all 16 games over the next two seasons, but both were released after the 2008 season. They may have given up the fewest sacks at that point in franchise history in 2007, but they didn't help the team much in those seasons as the Bills finished 7-9 in back-to-back years.
Walker was expected to replace Jason Peters at left tackle after Peters left for Philadelphia, but both he and Dockery were cap casualties as the team sought to not spend nearly $100 million between two offensive linemen. Dockery played four more seasons between Washington and Dallas before retiring after 2012, while Walker returned to Oakland for two more years and retired in 2010.
Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler
The team called him out of retirement, and he couldn't get the team back to the postseason.
A first round pick in 2006 out of Vanderbilt by the Denver Broncos, Jay Cutler started his rookie season as the backup to Jake Plummer. Despite a 7-4 record, head coach Mike Shanahan benched Plummer in favor of Cutler. Cutler would go 2-3 as a starter, throwing nine touchdowns and five interceptions. In 2008, he had his best statistical season throwing for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns, but the Broncos lost their final three games to finish 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears in 2009 for Kyle Orton. The following year, he helped Chicago reach the NFC Championship. Cutler initially retired after 2016 to pursue a broadcasting career.
His Time With the Dolphins
In 2017, the Miami Dolphins signed Cutler out of retirement to a one-year, $10 million contract after starter Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL. The move reunited him with his former Chicago offensive coordinator (now Miami head coach) Adam Gase in the hope that he would keep the Dolphins' playoff hopes alive.
Cutler would go on to start 14 games, going 6-8 in those starts, while throwing 14 interceptions to just 19 touchdowns. The team would've been better off sticking with Matt Moore or even trying to call Tony Romo out of retirement. The fact that someone gave Jay Cutler another shot just goes to show how desperate some teams can be.
New England Patriots: Adalius Thomas
Unlike most bad free agency signings, he wasn't exactly a flop.
A sixth round pick in 2000 out of Southern Mississippi by the Baltimore Ravens, Adalius Thomas played behind Peter Boulware as the team won Super Bowl XXXV. He quickly became known for his versatility, being able to play anywhere along the front seven. In 2004, he started all 16 games for the first time in his career.
In 2005, Boulware was regulated to a situational pass rusher and Thomas was named the starting outside linebacker, where he accumulated 84 total tackles and 9 sacks. He also saw limited time at cornerback during that season. He returned three turnovers for touchdowns, making him the NFL's leader in non-offensive touchdowns that season.
Thomas earned his second Pro Bowl selection in 2006 as part of a Ravens defense that finished first in the league en route to a 13-3 record. He was a first team All-Pro after setting a career high 106 tackles and 11 sacks in what was ultimately his most complete season.
His Time With the Patriots
In 2007, Thomas signed with the New England Patriots on a five-year, $35 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. Initially, this was looking like a fine signing as he was a key contributor to the team's near-perfect season. Thomas played mainly inside linebacker before Roosevelt Colvin was lost for the season and moved to outside linebacker. In 2008, he continued to play on the outside and was leading the team with five sacks before landing on injured reserve with an arm injury.
By 2009, things began to unravel. Thomas was one of four Patriots sent home as a result of being late for a morning meeting on a snowy Wednesday morning prior to the Patriots' Week 14 matchup. The next day, he told the media that he called the team saying that he was stuck in traffic but was still sent home upon arriving. He also continued to question the perceived motivational aspect of the decision from head coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff, saying "Motivation is for kindergartners. I'm not a kindergartner."
He was again deactivated for the game against the Panthers. He was released by the team one day after the 2010 NFL Draft.
New York Jets: Neil O'Donnell
I'll be honest with you, I have no idea what the Jets were thinking here.
A third round pick in 1990 out of Maryland by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Neil O'Donnell sat on the bench his rookie year, started eight games in 1991, and became the full-time starter in 1992. That year, he threw for 2,283 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions while being named to the Pro Bowl.
In 1993, he threw for a career-high 3,208 passing yards, and his 1.4 interception percentage was the second lowest of his career. In 1995, he helped Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XXX but threw two interceptions in the second half that would ultimately cost the Steelers the game.
His Time With the Jets
In 1996, O'Donnell signed with the New York Jets on a five-year, $25 million contract, the largest in Jets history at the time. O'Donnell proceeded to go 0-6 as a starter before a shoulder injury ended his season. The Jets would finish 1-15 in 1996. His performance improved in 1997, but he soon fell out of favor with new head coach Bill Parcells and was benched for Glen Foley.
After refusing to renegotiate his contract, he was released before the 1998 season. He would play six more seasons, primarily as a backup, between Cincinnati and Tennessee before retiring in 2004.
The decision to sign O'Donnell to such a pricey contract was head-scratching considering what transpired in Super Bowl XXX. Given that the Jets were so desperate for a quarterback that they signed a guy who threw the two worst interceptions in Super Bowl history, the deal seemed destined to fail.
On his best day, Neil O'Donnell was never going to be a guy who could take lesser talent and make New York a contender. Add in his lack of mobility and questionable toughness and leadership, he is easily the worst Jets free agency signing ever.