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 West squad's worst free agency pickup.
Arizona Cardinals: Emmitt Smith
He is one of the all-time greats, but his latter years are very forgettable. A first-round pick in 1990 out of Florida, Emmitt Smith quickly became the focal point of the Dallas offense winning the offensive rookie of the year award. in 1993, He became the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award all in the same season. By 2002, Smith surpassed Walter Payton as the NFL's all-time leading rusher. He holds every major rushing statistic in team and league history. In his 13 years in Dallas, Smith rushed for over 17,000 yards and 153 touchdowns while being an eight-time pro bowler, five-time All-Pro, lead the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns four times, and was a three-time Super Bowl champion.
In 2003, Smith signed with Arizona Cardinals on a two-year contract worth $8 million. He was brought in to improve their team and also helped them promote it with their local fan base. The signing was highly questionable as Smith just turned 34 and was obviously near the end of his career. The low point of it all came that season when he returned to Dallas and rushed for -1 yards on six carries and left the game with a broken shoulder. He rushed for just 256 yards that year at under three yards per carry. While he did have a better season in 2004 and became the oldest player in league history to throw his first career touchdown pass, he was released after the season. While he was able to mentor future stars in Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Adrian Wilson, the team could have used a running back with fresh legs rather than one with so much mileage. Smith signed a one-day contract to retire as a Dallas Cowboy in 2005 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Los Angeles Rams: Drew Bennett
He was brought in to replace a team legend, but he couldn't rise to the occasion. An undrafted free agent quarterback in 2001 out of UCLA, Drew Bennett signed with the Tennessee Titans and converted to a wide receiver. In 2004, he had a breakout year with 80 receptions for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns while also tying an NFL record by having eight touchdowns in a three-game span. In his six seasons with the Titans, he amassed over 4,000 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.
In 2007, Bennett signed with the St. Louis Rams on a six-year deal worth $30 million with $10 million guaranteed. The team hoped he would eventually replace All-Pro Isaac Bruce as the number two receiver. Bennett couldn't have been less productive as he only started one game in two seasons with the Rams. In that time, he managed just 34 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns. The reality was, his 2004 season was indeed a fluke as it was his only season where he started all 16 games and had over 1,000 receiving yards. In the meantime, Isaac Bruce showed he was far from done having 55 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns. After being released by the team in 2009, Bennett signed with Baltimore but a previous knee injury forced his retirement.
San Francisco 49ers: Nate Clements
He wasn't horrible, but he didn't play up to the level his price tag would suggest. A first-round pick in 2001 out of Ohio State by the Buffalo Bills, Nate Clements began his career as the nickel corner and kick returner before earning a starting role midway through his rookie year. In 2004, he made the Pro Bowl after recording six interceptions, 13 passes defended, and a touchdown. In his six seasons in Buffalo, Clements had 434 tackles, 84 passes defended, 23 interceptions, five interception return touchdowns, and two punt return touchdowns.
In 2007, Clements signed with the San Francisco 49ers on an eight-year contract worth $80 million with $22 million guaranteed. He became part of a revamped secondary that finished 27th in passing yards in 2006. In 1994, the 49ers struck gold by signing Deion Sanders and would end up helping San Francisco win Super Bowl XXIX. Clements was no Deion Sanders. In four seasons with the team, he managed just 10 interceptions and 40 passes defended. He was a solid cornerback, but he wasn't worth elite corner money. Clements was released in 2011 and played two more seasons with Cincinnati before retiring in 2013.
Seattle Seahawks: Matt Flynn
He got a big contract, then lost his job to a rookie. A seventh-round pick in 2008 out of LSU by the Green Bay Packers, Matt Flynn spent much of his time as Aaron Rodgers' backup, beating out second-round pick Brian Brohm. He made his first career start in place of an injured Rodgers in 2010, throwing three touchdowns in a 31-27 loss to New England. Later that season, he would be the backup as the Packers won XLV. In the final game of the 2011 season, he threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in the 45-41 victory, both of which set single-game Packers records.
In 2012, Flynn signed with the Seattle Seahawks on a three-year deal worth $20.5 million with $9 million guaranteed. Seattle expected him to be the starter having learned under Rodgers. However, he would lose the starting role to third-round rookie Russell Wilson. He threw just nine passes in his only season with the Seahawks before being traded to Oakland in 2013. That averages out to $1 million per pass. Flynn would spend the next three seasons between six different teams before retiring in 2016 while Russell Wilson would help Seattle to a Super Bowl XLVIII victory and has become one of the premier quarterbacks today.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on July 13, 2019:
I'm not surprised Drew Bennett was a bust for the Rams, because I have absolutely no recollection of him. Whatever, ya know? Thanks for writing something about the Rams. Later!...