9. Rocket Ismail, WR, 1999
Fun fact: Rocket Ismail was once the highest-paid football player in North America, but he didn’t even play in the NFL. Ismail, who was going to be selected first overall by the Cowboys in 1991, elected to play in the CFL instead as the Toronto Argonauts signed him to a record-breaking four-year, $18.2 million contract.
That might not sound like a lot in today’s NFL but at the time, his average of $4.55 million per season was $1.3 million more than Joe Montana was making at the same time. For Toronto, it paid off as Ismail helped them win the Grey Cup as a rookie, and he even won the MVP award in that game.
However, he left the league before the 1993 season after being involved in an ugly altercation and the Los Angeles Raiders had his rights since they selected him in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft. He spent three years there but never really broke out recording just 1,357 yards receiving.
Ismail joined the Carolina Panthers in 1996 and finally had a huge season in 1998 when he recorded 69 receptions for 1,097 yards. Dallas then finally got their chance to bring in the kid they coveted since his Notre Dame days.
At the age of 30, Ismail went from being the No. 2 option across from Michael Irvin to the team’s leading receiver when Irvin suffered a neck injury that wound up ending his career. Ismail responded by catching a career-high 80 passes for 1,097 yards with six touchdowns.
A torn ACL cut his second season with Dallas short but he returned to play 14 games in 2001 and added another 853 yards on 53 receptions. His stats wouldn’t have justified the No. 1 overall pick but as a free agent signing in his 30s, Ismail proved to be worth the price.