Every NFL Team's Worst Free Agent Signing: NFC North
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 NFC North squad's worst free agency pickup.
- Chicago Bears: Sam Hurd
- Detroit Lions: Scott Mitchell
- Green Bay Packers: Martellus Bennett
- Minnesota Vikings: Fred Smoot
Chicago Bears: Sam Hurd
He had more than football on his mind.
An undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois in 2006, Sam Hurd signed with the Dallas Cowboys. In his rookie year, he made his first catch off Tony Romo's first professional pass and also saw a lot of playing time on special teams. In 2009, he led the team with 21 special teams tackles and was named the special teams captain.
During his time with the Cowboys, Hurd had some great training camp and preseason performances, but he never developed as a consistent wide receiver. In five years in Dallas, Hurd finished with 45 receptions for 630 yards and two touchdowns while registering 60 tackles and three forced fumbles on special teams.
His Time With the Bears
In 2011, Hurd signed with the Chicago Bears on a three-year deal worth $5.15 million. He was named the special teams captain but didn't even last a full season.
On December 14, Hurd was arrested in Chicago for allegedly attempting to purchase and distribute large quantities of cocaine and marijuana, and he faced federal drug charges in the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas. ICE began an investigation that July during the NFL lockout.
The complaint alleged Hurd had negotiated to pay $25,000 per kilogram of cocaine and another $450 per pound of marijuana. The authorities believed he was connected to a group of dealers arrested in California in hopes of starting a drug empire. The Bears released him four day later, and Hurd was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Detroit Lions: Scott Mitchell
For a while, he was the poster boy for bad free agency signings.
A fourth round pick in 1990 out of Utah by the Miami Dolphins, Scott Mitchell spent his first three seasons mainly as Dan Marino's backup. When Marino tore his Achilles during the fifth game, Mitchell stepped into the starting job, throwing for 1,773 yards and 12 touchdowns. Still, Miami would lose their final five games to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
His Time With the Lions
In 1994, Mitchell signed with the Detroit Lions on a three-year deal worth $11 million. The team hoped they finally found a competent quarterback to pair with the electric running of Barry Sanders.
He struggled in his first season, which ultimately ended with teammate Lomas Brown purposely missing a block that led to his injury. Things were looking bright in 1995 as he set club records by passing for 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions, but he threw four picks in the 58-37 loss to the Eagles.
His second contract with Detroit is ultimately why he lands here. In 1997, he resigned with Detroit on a four-year deal worth $21 million with $8 million guaranteed. That year, Mitchell went 10 of 25 for 78 yards and an interception in his only other playoff start. In 1998, he lost his starting job to rookie Charlie Batch. In five seasons with the Lions, he threw for 12,647 yards, 79 touchdowns, and 57 interceptions.
In all, the signing was a disappointment for many reasons. It was obvious early on that Mitchell wasn't an accurate passer and collapsed under pressure more than once. Considering the talent of wide receivers like Herman Moore and Brett Perriman, it shouldn't have been hard to make the Lions a great all-around offense. While Barry Sanders was able to carry the team through the regular season, the playoffs were a different story as Mitchell never rose to the occasion. Mitchell spent his final years in Baltimore and Cincinnati before retiring in 2002.
Green Bay Packers: Martellus Bennett
Packer fans have a right to feel cheated on this deal.
A second round pick in 2008 out of Texas A&M by the Dallas Cowboys, Martellus Bennett was used mainly as Jason Witten's backup for four seasons. In 2012, he signed with the Giants and finished with 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns.
Bennett signed a four-year deal with Chicago in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl the following year after registering 90 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns. In 2016, he was traded to New England to play alongside Rob Gronkowski. When Gronk was placed on injured reserve, Bennett became the starting tight end and set a career high with seven touchdown catches. In Super Bowl LI, he recorded five catches for 62 yards as the Patriots defeated Atlanta in overtime.
His Time With the Packers
In 2017, Bennett signed with the Green Bay Packers on a three-year deal worth $21 million. Packer fans were elated about the signing as the team hadn't had a dynamic tight end since Jermichael Finley and believed he would be the perfect red zone target for Aaron Rodgers. However, Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6, and Bennett was released the following week.
The decision was due to the team claiming he failed to disclose the severity of a shoulder injury—although Bennett says his shoulder got worse playing in Green Bay and claimed that the team doctors pressured him to play. Afterwards, he initially planned to have surgery on his shoulder and then retire; however, he was claimed by the Patriots once again. He lasted just two games before he landed on injured reserve.
In seven games with the Packers, he finished with just 24 receptions for 233 yards and no touchdowns. If it's any consolation to Green Bay fans, the Patriots would go on to lose Super Bowl LII, and Bennett didn't receive a second championship ring.
Minnesota Vikings: Fred Smoot
He is best remembered for an off-field incident rather than his on-field play. (By the way, it gets weird.)
A second round pick in 2001 out of Mississippi State by the Washington Redskins, Fred Smoot proved to be a steal of the draft. In Smoot's four years with the Redskins, he collected 16 interceptions and was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2004 while forming an impressive duo with Champ Bailey.
His Time With the Vikings
In 2005, Smoot signed with the Minnesota Vikings on a six-year deal worth $34 million, including $10.5 million in bonuses. After averaging four picks a year in Washington, he managed just three interceptions in two seasons with the Vikings. But the big cause for concern was his alleged planning of the infamous "Love Boat" scandal that season.
The incident involved several Vikings players who had rented a boat on Lake Minnetonka and reportedly hired prostitutes to have a "sex party" on the boat. Smoot allegedly performed sexual acts on the women involved with sex toys in front of the boat's crew. Formal charges for the Boat Scandal were filed on December 15. Smoot was also alleged to have organized the whole party, an accusation he has repeatedly denied.
In 2006, Smoot pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a watercraft in connection with the Love Boat scandal. He agreed to pay a $1,007 fine and perform 48 hours of community service, but he was not suspended by the team or the league for the incident. He also missed the final game of the 2006 season after breaking his jaw in a car crash. He was released by Minnesota following the 2006 season. Smoot would return to Washington to play three more seasons before retiring in 2010.