These Former NFL Superstars Went Broke
We’ve all had tough times when it comes to money. Sometimes, we think we’re making sound investments, but in all actuality, we end up getting burned. The same thing occurs with professional athletes. With presumably a bunch of money to play with, there are times when the aim is to make more money by dipping into what appears to be a lucrative opportunity. However, as we’ll learn in this piece, that isn’t always the case.
The former University of Texas star had a brief yet lucrative stint in the NFL. As a former top-10 pick, Young surely made a pretty penny during his career as a professional quarterback. Unfortunately for Young, the vast majority of that wealth has disappeared. Less than 10 years after being drafted, Young reportedly filed for bankruptcy (claiming he was $10 million in debt). He also sadly suffered from a reported case where a financial advisor had swindled some of his money — using it inappropriately. The most shocking stat: Young filed for bankruptcy despite making more than $25 million as an NFL quarterback.
When Tiki Barber decided to call it quits in 2006, it came as a bit of a shock. After all, the lifelong New York Giant was coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Barber had just polished off his fifth straight 1,200-yard rushing season. The dual-threat back accrued 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage in each of his final three seasons – only three players in NFL history have four seasons of 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage (Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, and Walter Payton). It seemed like Barber was in his physical prime despite being on the wrong side of 30.
Well, five years after retiring, Barber attempted to make a comeback. However, it wasn’t because he missed playing — he allegedly just needed the money. Barber had failed his attempt as a broadcaster and hoped he could latch onto a team despite being 36 years old and away from the game for a half-decade. The NFL didn’t bite and Barber was left unsigned.
Famous for being a good quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (imagine that), Bernie Kosar endured a very tough stretch in the 2000s. In a 2009 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kosar claimed that he spent “eight figures” during the recession. According to the former Brown, he paid millions of dollars to teammates on “un-repaid loans,” did the same for family members, and paid for around 100 school scholarships. Furthering Kosar’s financial troubles, the QB and his businesses filed for bankruptcy in ’09 after accruing $18.9 million in debt. That’s tough to come back from.
The former two-time Pro Bowler was a very solid defensive tackle for the hapless Detroit Lions. In fact, aside from Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, you can make an argument that Elliss has been one of the Lions’ better players over the last 30 years. While a strong athlete on the field, his decision-making off the field has been a bit questionable. Despite making nearly $12 million over the course of his career, he and his family reportedly went through a myriad of financial issues. Elliss ultimately filed for bankruptcy — something that must’ve been difficult considering he and his wife have 12 (!) children. Fortunately, Elliss has turned to the arena of coaching as a means of income. He recently was hired by his alma mater (University of Utah) to coach the defensive tackles. In the process, he’s helped turn his son Jonah into one of college football’s best pass rushers.
In the 2000s, the Baltimore Ravens were known for featuring an elite defense. And while Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed garnered much of the nation’s attention, Chris McAlister was a very good player in his own right. A three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro at corner, McAlister recorded an interception in Baltimore’s Super Bowl XXXV triumph. Unfortunately, the former Raven has fallen on hard times. In 2011, NBC Sports reported that the former star was living with his parents — going on to say that McAlister’s parents were “providing his basic living expenses.” McAlister had earned more than $45 million during his career.
The lefty gunslinger made quite the NFL career for himself. After being selected in the fifth round in 1993 by the Packers, Brunell spent the first year of his career as Brett Favre’s primary backup. The Jacksonville Jaguars recognized Brunell’s skillset and brought him in to be the team’s starter the very next season. Brunell spent nine years in Jacksonville, leading the franchise to four postseason appearances.
From then on, Brunell became a bit of a journeyman – spending time in Washington, New York, and New Orleans (where he won a Super Bowl as Drew Brees’ backup). In total, Brunell reportedly earned over $70 million throughout his NFL career. His bank account shriveled up after a couple of failed business ventures. When he filed for bankruptcy in 2010, it was revealed that Brunell owed $24.8 million in unpaid loans. Brunell has since bounced back as the current QB coach for the Detroit Lions.
Former Pro Bowler Deuce McAllister was a bruising back. McAllister played all eight of his pro years with the New Orleans Saints, rushing for 6,096 career yards and 49 touchdowns. Careers for NFL RB’s can be especially fickle given the nature of the position. Quarterbacks and kickers can play for two decades while it’s rare for a running back to make it even 10 years in the league. Thus, it’s even more important for former RB’s to be careful with their finances.
Despite making over $70 million from contracts during his time in the NFL, McAllister was broke shortly after his career concluded. A failed Nissan dealership in his home state of Mississippi wound up being the main culprit for his loss of funds.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champ, and the 1986 MVP, Lawrence Taylor is regarded as the best defensive player of all time — and some believe he is in the G.O.A.T. discussion. However, the Hall of Fame linebacker has had a turbulent ride post-football. According to TIME, Taylor once claimed he spent thousands of dollars per day on drugs. In addition to testing positive for cocaine twice while in the NFL, Taylor filed for bankruptcy in 1998 following a drug bust. From $50 million to bankrupt, Taylor allegedly lost it all.
Clinton Portis is a cautionary tale for any young professional athlete. There was a time in which the former running back was on top of the world. He was an elite player at his position, and Portis was enjoying the considerable money he was making as a member of the Washington Football Team. Reports indicate that the combination of an expensive lifestyle — coupled with some very faulty investments — led to Portis losing nearly all of the $40+ million he made over his illustrious career.
Johnny Unitas was one of the greatest football players of all time, but his financial decision-making was dreadful. After putting together a Hall of Fame career that spanned over 18 seasons, Unitas made a series of unfortunate transactions that would ultimately lead to the QB filing for bankruptcy. Unitas took out several loans in an effort to stabilize a circuit board company he had purchased. Things went south in a hurry as Unitas declared bankruptcy while reportedly enduring debt of over $3 million.
William ‘Fridge’ Perry
William “Fridge” Perry was an integral member of the iconic Super Bowl-winning 1985 Chicago Bears team. Outside of Walter Payton and Jim McMahon, Perry was arguably the most recognizable (and popular) member of the team. At the time, Perry was still just a rookie but his impact was felt on both sides of the field (Perry was primarily a defensive tackle but also rushed for three touchdowns in ‘85 as a fullback).
Despite making a sizable amount throughout his career (thanks to contracts and endorsements), Perry eventually lost his entire fortune. The Fridge had allegedly burnt through his entire bank account and even had to auction off his 1985 Super Bowl ring. Perry’s fall from grace is a truly sad outcome for one of the most beloved players in Chicago sports history.
As a player, Warren Sapp was one of the best talents of his generation. During the prime of his career, Sapp dominated at defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the course of nine seasons with the Bucs, Sapp was a four-time All-Pro, a seven-time Pro Bowler, the 1999 AP Defensive Player of the Year, and helped lead Tampa to a Super Bowl victory. Unfortunately, the Hall of Famer has had a few problems since retiring. Despite earning over $75 million during his career, Sapp filed for bankruptcy in 2012. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sapp was $6.7 million in debt at the time of the filing.
Andre Rison is proof that even a Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler can go broke from unwise financial decisions. Rison was the focal point of the Atlanta Falcons offense through the early 90’s. In just his second season, Rison ranked second in receptions (82), second in touchdowns (10), and third in yards (1208). While his career did take a downturn after leaving Atlanta, Rison still managed a Pro Bowl appearance with the Chiefs and was a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in his final season. Rison has been very candid about his financial woes in the past, even being one of the stars of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled Broke. He has said that he hopes his story will help future athletes be smarter about managing their funds.
Mark Ingram Sr.
Younger fans know Mark Ingram, the veteran running back who made three Pro Bowls as a member of the Saints and Ravens after a stellar career at the University of Alabama. His father, Mark Ingram Sr., was a talented player in his own right. Ingram Sr. was a wideout who played 10 years in the league. He was the leading receiver in Super Bowl XXV for the winning squad, the New York Giants. Unfortunately, he made some poor decisions following the end of his career. In 2008, Ingram was sentenced to prison for bank fraud and money laundering. He earned an additional two years for jumping bail to see his son play in the Sugar Bowl. Ingram was released from prison in 2015.
Archie Griffin played in the NFL for seven seasons after being selected in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft. However, most know him as the first collegiate player to win two Heisman awards. The former Buckeye was on top of the college football world as he was virtually unstoppable in both ’74 and ’75 as he ran all over opposing defenses. However, even Heisman Trophy winners are not exempt from facing financial distress. After failed runs as a shoe store owner, Griffin declared bankruptcy — all before the age of 30.
Disgraced running back Ray Rice played his last NFL game in 2013. Up until then, Rice was known as a productive running back for the Baltimore Ravens — even making three Pro Bowls and having two seasons of over 2,000 scrimmage yards. His career came to an abrupt and troubling end after a video surfaced of him physically assaulting his then fiancé, Janay Palmer. Rice was suspended and ultimately was never given another chance in the NFL. The Ravens pulled all of his jerseys from the team stores, and all of his endorsement deals (Nike and EA Sports included) terminated their relationship with Rice. He lost millions and also lost his career.
Adrian Peterson is one of the great running backs of his generation. Fast and powerful, Peterson could outrun or run over just about any defender standing in his way. It was clear from his days at Oklahoma that he would become a premier player at the NFL level. Peterson was selected seventh overall in the 2007 NFL Draft and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He won the league MVP in 2012 after becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards. Based on his NFL contracts alone, Peterson made over $103 million. Unfortunately, he trusted the wrong people when it came to his earnings. In 2019, it was reported that Peterson owed over $8 million in lawsuits — and that he was virtually broke as a result. A player as great as Peterson was, he simply made questionable decisions off the field.
Terrell Owens is yet another Hall of Famer who has filed for bankruptcy. Over the course of a 15-year career, Owens made roughly $80 million. But while Owens was nearly unstoppable on the gridiron, T.O. struggled to keep up with his finances in retirement. On a 2012 episode of Dr. Phil, the mercurial superstar announced that he was bankrupt. That same year, Owens told GQ that he had squandered nearly all of his NFL earnings — stating that the real estate market, poor investments, and child support payments were to blame.
Michael Vick was the biggest name in the sport during his time with the Falcons. After being drafted first overall in 2001, Vick went on to become one of the most popular players in the sport’s history. Every kid on the block was sporting a No. 7 Falcons jersey in the early 00’s. In 2004, Vick signed an extension with Atlanta worth $130 million for 10 years. He had it made. And then, it all came crashing down. Vick was sent to prison after his involvement in a dog fighting ring. While behind bars, Vick filed for bankruptcy. He eventually got a second chance (in life and the NFL) and made the most of it with the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, he’s also become a rather prominent media pundit in his post-playing career.
The Juice is one of the great running backs in NFL history. The former Heisman Trophy winner for USC went on to rush for 11,236 yards in the pros. Simpson led the league in rushing four times and is one of just eight players to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season.
Of course, most know what happened when his playing career ended. His legal troubles stemming from a 1995 murder case are well-documented, but the financial ramifications haven’t been as publicized. Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case but was ordered to pay out $33.5 million after losing a civil suit. He has only paid a fraction of that sum to this date. In 2008, Simpson was sentenced to nine years in prison following an armed robbery. He’s since come out of jail and has taken to social media quite often with his football takes as a means of staying relevant.
Dawson is considered one of the greatest centers in NFL history. In a career that spanned 13 seasons, Dawson was named a six-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. He helped anchor a Pittsburgh offensive line that paved the way for Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart. The lifelong Steeler was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame following the conclusion of his career. While Dawson made a large sum of money during his career (one of the highest-paid offensive linemen at the time), he eventually lost it. Following a couple of poor investment decisions, Dawson filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
Travis Henry: the former NFL running back who was victimized by his ability to procreate. According to reports, Henry is the father of nine children. The running back position has the shortest lifespan of any on average in professional football. Henry washed out of the league — but not before making nearly $7 million over his career. Large chunks of his wealth allegedly went towards paying child support. One report had Henry owing approximately $170,000 a month collectively in payments for his children. After falling behind on the payments, Henry reportedly was arrested.
In the NFL, everybody gets paid – even the backups. Charlie Batch began his career with the Detroit Lions as a second-round pick. He was the Lions’ starter for four years, but eventually lost his job and signed on with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Pittsburgh, Batch started in just nine games over an eight-year tenure. Batch was Ben Roethlisberger’s primary backup when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.
Batch started two games for the Steelers that year (winning both), and was awarded a Super Bowl ring despite playing zero snaps in the postseason. In 2010, Batch filed for bankruptcy with reports that he owed over $8 million in unpaid loans. The former QB auctioned off his Super Bowl ring in an effort to pay off his debt.
Two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway has done well for himself since calling it quits. After leading the Denver Broncos to back-to-back titles on his way out, Elway began investing in several business ventures with his career earnings. While he made a couple of wise decisions over the years, Elway wasn’t completely impervious to mistakes. The former QB invested $15 million in a Ponzi scheme in 2010 — and ended up losing at least half of his original investment.
Perhaps the most notable financial misstep in Elway’s career was something he decided to not invest in. In 1998, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen offered Elway a 20-percent stake in the team for around $20 million. Today, that 20-percent stake would be worth roughly $400 million. Whoops. The Broncos made it up to their Hall of Famer by naming him the team’s general manager in 2011. His title was upgraded to President of Football Operations later that year. As of 2023, Elway has no official affiliation with the franchise in any capacity.
Dan Marino is widely known as perhaps the most talented QB to never win a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he’s also starting to be known for a more dubious honor. The Pennsylvania native played in an era where football players made considerably less money than they do today. As such, Marino wanted to recoup some of the money he was rightfully owed back in the day. He did so in 2012 by investing a boatload of cash into a company that manufactured hologram images of deceased celebrities (normally used for concerts). Marino reportedly bought 16 million shares in the company. It ended up going bankrupt — which reportedly cost Marino $14 million in the process.
The story of Michael Oher turned sour quickly. At this point, most NFL fans are aware of Oher’s upbringing as it was detailed in the hit movie The Blind Side. Following a rough childhood, Oher was adopted by Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy. He went on to play college football at Ole Miss and was eventually drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens. He played eight seasons in the NFL as both a left and right tackle and went on to win a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.
However, Oher recently alleged the Tuohy’s have benefitted greatly financially from his name while he has been left with nothing. And, Oher claims that the Tuohy’s never even officially adopted him and that the central plot of The Blind Side was a complete farce. It’s troubling to see such a feel-good story go down the drain, and we are not looking forward to hearing more details surrounding the situation as it unfolds.