Every NFL Team's Worst Free Agent Signing: AFC West
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 West squad's worst free agency pickup.
- Denver Broncos: Daryl Gardener
- Kansas City Chiefs: Kendrell Bell
- Los Angeles Chargers: David Boston
- Oakland Raiders: Larry Brown and Desmond Howard
Denver Broncos: Daryl Gardener
He was known more for what he did off the field than anything he did on the field in Denver.
A first round pick in 1996 out of Baylor by the Miami Dolphins, Daryl Gardener was a physical gem at 6'7" and 295 lbs. In his first seven seasons in Miami and Washington, the self-proclaimed "modern-day gladiator" racked up 204 tackles, 19 sacks, and five fumble recoveries.
His Time With the Broncos
In 2003, Gardener signed with the Denver Broncos on a seven-year, $35 million contract, including a $5 million signing bonus. Shortly after signing his deal, he got into a fight at a Denver IHOP and injured his wrist, which required surgery. He would miss five games recovering from the incident.
He was also suspended twice by the Broncos for conduct detrimental to the team. This stemmed from Gardener bad-mouthing head coach Mike Shanahan to the press, calling him "a little man." He played in just five games in his one and only season in Denver and was released after the season. After his release, Gardener and the Broncos reached an undisclosed agreement when the team tried to reclaim his $5 million signing bonus.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kendrell Bell
Injuries kept him from being the player he once was.
A second round pick in 2001 out of Georgia by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kendrell Bell proved to be a perfect fit for the "Blitzburgh" defense. As a rookie, he started all 16 games, finishing with 83 tackles and nine sacks while being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In 2002, he missed four games and parts of two others with a knee injury. In 2003, he set a career high in tackles with 99 and recorded his first career interception. The following year, he only played in three games due to two separate knee injuries.
His Time With the Chiefs
In 2005, Bell signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on a seven-year deal with $10 million guaranteed. The deal was a head-scratcher as he dealt with multiple knee injuries in Pittsburgh, and many other teams just offered one-year, prove-it deals. Bell ultimately went with the Chiefs as they were the only team to offer a multi-year contract.
He managed just 2.5 sacks in three seasons in Kansas City and never reached 50 tackles in a year. Bell was released following the 2007 season and was forced to retire due to repeated knee injuries.
Los Angeles Chargers: David Boston
He had so much talent, but he never achieved it with the Chargers.
A first round pick in 1999 out of Ohio State by the Arizona Cardinals, David Boston flashed big potential almost from the start. By his second season, he was the full-time starter and finished with 70 receptions for 1,156 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2001, he was named to the Pro Bowl after leading the league with 1,598 receiving yards to go along with 98 catches and eight touchdowns.
His Time With the Chargers
In 2003, Boston signed with the San Diego Chargers on a seven-year deal worth $47 million with $12 million guaranteed. Things went bad quickly; after the opening day game, head coach Marty Schottenheimer suspended Boston for a game for getting into a fight with the team's strength coach.
While his stats weren't horrible—70 receptions for 880 yards and seven touchdowns—he did have a consistent knack for dropping passes, which he attributed to his "bad hands." In the end, the Chargers had enough of his poor work ethic in practice, falling asleep in team meetings, drug and alcohol abuse, and clashing with teammates and coaches after one season.
Boston was traded to Miami the following offseason for a sixth round pick. He played in three more injury-riddled seasons with Miami and Tampa Bay before being released after being arrested for a DUI.
Oakland Raiders: Larry Brown and Desmond Howard
Al Davis gave big money to two Super Bowl MVPs, and neither of them panned out.
A 12th round pick in 1991 out of TCU by the Dallas Cowboys, Larry Brown was initially so frustrated by the whole process, he walked away from training camp. By the fourth game of his rookie year, he became the starter at right cornerback and finished second on the team with 18 passes defended. In 1992, he led the league with 11 passes defended while helping Dallas to two consecutive Super Bowl victories.
When the Cowboys were about to sign Deion Sanders in 1995, Brown was nearly demoted to nickel corner, but Kevin Smith tore his Achilles and Brown was able to remain the starter. He went on to have his best season opposite Sanders, finishing with a team-leading six interceptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Brown went on to be named Super Bowl XXX MVP after intercepting two passes that set up two Dallas touchdowns.
Brown's Time With the Raiders
In 1996, Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders on a five-year deal worth $12.5 million with $3.5 million guaranteed. He was an absolute failure with the Silver and Black. He started just one game in two seasons in Oakland and only had one interception. By 1997, he was demoted to a backup role and suspended for four weeks by the team for conduct detrimental to the team.
History has shown Brown was an average-at-best cornerback who was the product of the Cowboys system—and for one shining moment, he was the recipient of two of the easiest interceptions in Super Bowl history. In reality, he went to the worst possible team for his skill set in the Raider's man coverage team, and he was more of a zone corner. He was released after the 1997 offseason and played one final season with Dallas before retiring from football.
A first round pick in 1992 out of Michigan by the Washington Redskins, Desmond Howard's performance as a receiver was secondary to his skills as a punt and kickoff returner throughout his career. Though he recorded just 92 receptions in his first four seasons, he excelled as a punt and kickoff returner. When he couldn't prove himself as a receiver, Washington released him after the 1994 season.
In his one season in Jacksonville, he had just 26 catches and one touchdown. Howard's big break came in 1996 with Green Bay as he led the league in punt returns, punt return yards, punt return average, and punt return touchdowns while helping the Packers to Super Bowl XXXI.
In the big game, Howard set a Super Bowl record with 90 punt return yards and 154 kick return yards, including a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown that cemented the Packers' victory. His performance won him the Super Bowl MVP award, and he is the only special teams player to win the award.
Howard's Time With the Raiders
In 1997, Howard signed with the Raiders on a four-year deal worth $6 million. He may have led the league in kick returns and kick return yards in his first season in Oakland and had two punt return touchdowns in year two, but he was next to useless on offense. Howard managed just six catches for 46 yards on offense, and the Raiders went 12-20 in his two seasons in Oakland.
I really don't know what Al Davis was expecting from Howard. He had played for three different teams in the three years before Oakland signed him and never had 1,000 yards receiving in a season. How Davis thought he would suddenly develop into something more than just a return man is beyond me. Howard spent his final years in Detroit before retiring after 2002.
$18.5 Million Wasted on These Two Players
In the end, the Raiders might as well flushed $18.5 million down the toilet as neither Larry Brown or Desmond Howard did anything to make the Raiders relevant once again.