Every player picked for the National Football League has the potential to make a fortune. Their first NFL deal typically begins at the age of 26-27. Most players stay in the league for 4-5 seasons, earning an average of $2.2 million each year. That means they can retire at 32, with at least $9 million in savings – enough to spend $200,000 a year until they hit 80.
But, while successful lawyers and doctors are well-off with a six-digit salary, not many pro athletes can say the same. Football stars are especially notorious for over-spending on luxuries and making poor lifestyle choices. A recent ‘Sports Illustrated’ study reported that 60% of all NFL players end up in debt just four years after retiring, while another 18% declare bankruptcy within the same time-period.
We listed the NFL’s 15 highest-earning players who ended up completely broke. Huge mansions, flashy jewelry, crazy parties and ‘baby mamas’ – these guys had it all. But, soon enough, all they had left were mortgage foreclosures, repossessions, divorces, and credit card debt.
Follow along to find out who they are and how they lost their millions!
15. Travis Henry – $18 Million
Over the course of his first 2 NFL seasons, Travis Henry set a new “Longest Overall Rush Distance” record, receiving a Pro Bowl pick in 2002. By 2007, Denver offered him an extended deal worth a whopping $25 million. Though his talent, skill and impact are undeniable, no one was sad to see Henry lose everything. And we do mean everything – his football career, vast fortune and his freedom were all gone in 2008, when he was arrested for running a large cocaine-trafficking operation. Of course, Travis Henry is also known as the NFL player who fathered nine kids with nine different women.
Henry paid $4,000,000 for a plea-deal that reduced his mandatory sentence to 3 years in prison. After his release, the cocaine-smuggling NFL all-star was right back in court, this time for not paying child support. Obviously, Henry can’t afford $170,000/year in alimony – he’s jobless and $2 million deep in debt.
14. Bernie Kosar – $29 Million
After setting a record for “Most Consecutive Passes Without Interception,” Bernie Kosar could have stayed in the league for at least five more seasons. But he sustained an off-the-field leg injury and decided to leave on a high note. Unlike most of his colleagues, the all-star quarterback didn’t touch his NFL earnings before retirement. Unfortunately, his career-ending injury was just the start of Bernie’s bad-luck streak.
After a brutal divorce, Kosar invested into his financial adviser’s business, which turned out to be a pyramid scam. He declines filing for bankruptcy until he pays back a few personal loans – particularly, the $500,000 he borrowed from the Cleveland Browns.
13. Vince Young – $33 Million
Vince Young made a name for himself before even starting a professional career. His 2006 Rose Bowl rush was hailed as “the single greatest individual performance” in the history of College Football. Needless to say, he was a first-round NFL pick and the 2007 Rookie of The Year.
The quarterback was also a 2-time Pro Bowl Pick, earning him the nickname “inVINCEable.” After six seasons, his earnings totaled $33,000,000.
His spending habits give some insight into how Young lost his fortune. As a rookie, he spent $5,000 a week at Cheesecake Factory. During his superstar years, Vince picked up the tab (around $6,000 according to an employee) for everyone at a local TGI Fridays, where the team hung out after practice. And after each home game, he’d down $700 shots of ‘Louis XIII’ at a Nashville bar.
To fly home from a 2007 game, VY bought out every seat on a Southwest Airlines plane – that’s 120 seats for a 2-hour flight. And, in 2010, his credit card issuer denied a 1:00a.m. request for $8,000 in singles. Young probably just shrugged and decided to use $20’s to ‘make it rain’ at the club instead.
Someone should have told Vince that being inVINCEable on the field didn’t mean his career was too. After multiple injuries received in 2011, no one was willing to sign him. Young filed for bankruptcy in 2014, claiming assets worth one million and a debt of over $10,000,000.
12. Tiki Barber – $35 Million
Former New York running back Tiki Barber earned a cool $35,000,000 during his 9 years with the Giants. Barber holds records for “Most Total Yards in One Season” (2390), “Most Rushing Attempts in Franchise History” (2,217) and “Most Rushing Yards Per Career” (10,449). If it wasn’t for the ensuing scandal about Tiki’s private life, he would likely still be a multi-millionaire.
Barber lost his NBC Sports gig after rumors of an affair with a 23-year-old intern were confirmed. In a 2011 Sports Illustrated interview, NY’s favorite NFL star detailed how he and a much-younger NBC intern hid in an attic so they wouldn’t get caught.
What he neglected to mention was that his wife was eight months pregnant at the time. In addition to his fans and admirers, the scandal cost Barber his family and, eventually, his fortune. Just weeks before his divorce, the Hall of Fame’er invested most of his assets into a non-profit. This way, his wife of 10 years and his new-born child didn’t get half of his money. Keep it classy Tiki.
11. Dan Marino – $36 Million
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino is still considered the best player in franchise history. Dan isn’t broke today but, after earning one of the highest salaries of his time, he did go bankrupt and he stayed broke for almost five years. Marino wasn’t much into wild parties – he lost his fortune by making one horrible investment. Instead of a wide portfolio, he put all of his millions into ‘Digital Domain,’ a virtual-reality developer.
The company never achieved a successful prototype and Marino lost everything. Any worthwhile financial adviser would warn him not to “put his eggs in one basket”. Of course, after so many NFL players were scammed by wannabe-advisers, it’s no wonder Dan insisted on making his own decisions.
10. Ray Rice – $38 Million
Unlike most other players on this list, Ray Rice takes his finances very seriously. Then again, he’s the only one who is fully aware he’ll probably never receive an NFL pick again. Rice ‘sat out’ the whole 2014 season after punching his fiance, Janay Palmer, in the face inside a casino elevator. Needless to say, Rice is knuckle-deep in debt and unemployment.
After dealing the KO, he made no attempts to help Janay up or to check for signs of life. When the elevator arrived, Rice dragged his ‘sleeping’ fiance outside. The worst part of this story happened later that year, when Janay became her assailant’s lawfully wedded wife. Now, Ray Rice can show up in public, acting like he isn’t a sociopath, while his wife acts like she doesn’t carry a concealed taser-gun.
9. Aaron Hernandez – $40 Million
Almost a third of today’s NFL players have a police record but, when it comes to real criminals, Aaron Hernandez is in his own league. In 2012, the New England Patriots signed Hernandez to a three-year extension, guaranteeing him $40,000,000 by 2015. Since then, the tight end has been tried for three murders.
Hernandez lost the Patriots deal when he was accused of a double-homicide in 2014. But the drive-by shooting, which he allegedly committed a month before signing the New England contract, was never solved. In 2015, Hernandez was convicted for fatally shooting Odin Lloyd, another member of his gang. At the age of 25, he was sentenced to life in prison.
8. JaMarcus Russell – $45 Million
As the 2007 Sugar Bowl MVP, JaMarcus Russel was quickly picked up by the Oakland Raiders. After signing to a $61-million contract, Russel earned most of the promised 5-year salary within three seasons. In addition to being the only a four-time ‘SEC Offensive Leader of The Week’, he was named ‘Touchdown Club SEC Player of The Year’ (2005), and earned a ‘Manning Award’ in 2006.
Today, he’s considered the second-worst first pick in NFL history (right after Ryan Leaf, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison for braking into someone’s home to steal pain killers.) Russel became the mascot for ‘Purple Drank’ – a mixture of grape soda and cough syrup – after being arrested for ‘drank driving.’ He didn’t officially announce bankruptcy but the IRS sure did – a recent report revealed Russel’s government debt, which adds up to $200,000 in back taxes and late fees.
7. Mark Brunell – $50 Million
With three trips to the Pro Bowl, 17 NFL seasons and a Super Bowl Ring under his belt, Mark Brunell is regarded as the greatest left-handed quarterback of our time. Yet, even with $50,000,000 in NFL earnings, Brunell ended up $22 million in debt by 2011.
Brunell invested over $19 mil. into a Michigan-based real estate company and another nine million into the “Whataburger” fast food chain in 2005. Despite a lack of considerable profits, he then put everything he had left into seven additional business ventures. So, when the housing bubble came down in 2008, Mark’s net worth went into the negatives. He ended up defaulting on $24 million in liabilities, declaring just under $2 million in assets.
6. Lawrence Taylor – $55
Though he’s hailed as the best NY Giants linebacker and even as the greatest defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor is known most for being a drug addict. Of course, to Giants fans, Taylor will always remain the player who made New York a regular Super Bowl contender. But the troubled Hall of Famer never recovered from the avalanche of controversy that quickly left him broke and alone. In hindsight, he shouldn’t have publicly admitted to spending $5,000-10,000 a day on cocaine during the height of his career.
Lawrence was sentenced to 90 days under house arrest for filing a fraudulent tax statement. The $800,000 fine that followed dealt the finishing blow to his NFL savings. Taylor’s fame was destroyed in 2011, when he plead guilty to sexual-assault charges involving a 16-year-old.
5. Chris McAlister – $58
No one even suspected New Orleans corner back Chris McAlister was broke until an open hearing revealed attempts to have his child-support payments minimized, citing bankruptcy and unemployment. It turns out that Chris McAlister has been living with his parents since 2010. Furthermore, the three-time Pro Bowl champion considered selling his rings less then two years after retiring.
There’s no word yet on the source of McAlister’s financial trouble. He retired after 11 NFL seasons, earning $45 mil. within his last six years. There are unverified claims of a failed business venture, though no details are known as of yet.
4. Terrell Owens – $80
With 153 touchdowns in 15 NFL seasons, Terrell Owens earned a salary that was almost as inflated as his ego. His never-ending bickering and blaming had team members on edge. Meanwhile, Terrell just won’t stop doing the touchdown dance, even after numerous personal fines and a team penalty in 2010.
In a 2012 GQ appearance, Owens said what everyone in the league wanted to hear – his NFL earnings were completely gone. Of course, the self-proclaimed MVP said his money management skills and lifestyle choices don’t have anything to do with that. Owens blamed his financial advisers, forgetting to mention his four children and the $45,000/month he pays for child support.
3. Warren Sapp – $82 Million
Warren Sapp is one of the very few NFL all-stars to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. By 2002, Sapp has received seven Pro Bowl picks, joined the “Buccaneers Ring of Honor” and earned a Super Bowl ring. The defensive tackle retired after wrapping up a seven year contract that added $36.6 mil. to his NFL total. Today, Sapp’s main assets are 240 pairs of Jordans and a lion-skin rug.
Sapp declared bankruptcy in 2012, citing child support payments of $75,000/month as “unbearable financial strain.” Apparently, he ‘lost’ both his Super Bowl ring and his National Championship ring. According to Sapp, his five baby mama’s continue active legal action to this day. Don’t worry Warren – they probably don’t realize that your Jordans are all size 12.
2. Michael Vick – $130 Million
In 2005, the Atlanta Falcons signed Michael Vick to a record breaking $130,000,000 deal. The NFL’s most promising quarterback received $37 as a signing bonus to (what was supposed to be) a 10-year contract. However, by 2009, Vick was defaulting on a $20 debt by declaring bankruptcy.
In 2007, Vick lost his NFL deal, endorsements and fans after pleading guilty to multiple charges related to dog fighting. He was ordered to return $20 mil of his Falcons bonus and sentenced to two years in prison. After another the three years of unemployment that followed, Vick was picked up by the Steelers.
1. Johnny Unitas – Priceless
Johnny “Golden Arm” Unitas dominated football throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. After scoring an unforeseen 19 touchdowns and totaling 2,900 passing yards, he became the first ever NFL MVP. Because of inflation and living standards among other factors, comparing Unitas’ salary to that of today’s players’ would be irrelevant. For instance, he was paid $62,000 for leading the Colts to a Super Bowl victory.
Unfortunately, even an NFL legend like Johnny Unitas struggled to make a living after he retired from the league. By 1991, he earned a few “real” salaries, not to mention coaching two Super Bowl winners. However, when a bank attempted to collect on a $4-million loan, Johnny had to file for bankruptcy.