View Full Version : The top 20 free agent signings of all-time

03-10-2009, 09:49 PM
The top 20 free agent signings of all-time

The best bargain buys of all-time? Mike Kemmeter offers his list of the top 20 signings since the start of the free agency era in 1993
By Mike Kemmeter, senior pro football writer

20. Adam Vinatieri, K, Indianapolis Colts
Five-year, $12 million contract in 2006
The three-time Super Bowl champion left the New England Patriots for their arch-rival in the AFC. In his first season, Vinatieri helped the Colts to their first Super Bowl championship. The then 34-year-old kicked three field goals in the 38-34 win over his former team in the AFC championship game that season. In his three years with Indianapolis, he has made 68-of-82 field goals (83 percent). His success rate was 82 percent over his 10 seasons in New England.

19. Kevin Greene, LB, Carolina Panthers
Two-year, $2 million contract in 1996
Greene only spent one year in Carolina because of a dispute over his contract, but in his lone season with the Panthers, he was the leader on a defense that carried the team to the NFC championship game. It was only Carolina's second season in the league. Greene was 34 years old when he left Pittsburgh for the Panthers, and he was named a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in his lone season in Carolina. He led the NFL in sacks with 14. He also returned one of his three fumble recoveries for a touchdown.

18. Bryce Paup, LB, Buffalo Bills
Three-year, $7.6 million contract in 1995
Paup played in his first Pro Bowl during his final season in Green Bay, in 1994, and built on his success in Buffalo. In his first year with the Bills, Paup was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year. He was the league leader with 17 sacks and Buffalo went on to win the AFC East before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. Paup played three seasons with the Bills, and he was named to the Pro Bowl each season. The team also made the playoffs in 1997, losing in the first round to Jacksonville.

17. Mark Schlereth, G, Denver Broncos
Three-year, $2.4 million contract in 1995
Schlereth is best known now for his role as a NFL analyst for ESPN, but the one-time Pro Bowl player from Washington was a key piece of Denver's offensive line when the team won back-to-back Super Bowls. Schlereth played in one Pro Bowl for the Broncos, in 1998, and started 81 games over six seasons.

16. Michael McCrary, DE, Baltimore Ravens
Three-year, $6 million contract in 1997
McCrary became the best pass rushing defensive lineman for Baltimore's vaunted defenses of the late-90s and early 2000s. After spending four seasons in Seattle, McCrary made an immediate impact during his first year in Baltimore, with 14 sacks. He made the Pro Bowl that season, and the following one, in 1998, after recording 11 sacks. In 2000, McCrary was a part of one of the best defenses in NFL history, and the Ravens went on to beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

15. Keenan McCardell, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Signed contract in 1996
After leading the Browns with 709 receiving yards in 1995, McCardell left for Jacksonville and had four seasons with at least 85 catches and 1,100 yards over a six-year period. Playing alongside Jimmy Smith, the two comprised one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the late-90s. McCardell played in one Pro Bowl for Jacksonville, before leaving for Tampa Bay in 2002

14. Joe Horn, WR, New Orleans Saints
Four-year, $11.2 million contract in 2000
Horn started only two games during the first four years of his career in Kansas City, but he broke out in New Orleans. During his first season with the Saints, Horn caught 94 passes for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns. He would play in three straight Pro Bowls and a total of four during his seven-year career in New Orleans. Over a five-year stretch ending in 2004, Horn caught at least 80 passes a season and topped the 1,000-yard mark twice. The Saints won the NFC West in 2000 and the NFC South in 2006 before advancing to the NFC championship game, where they lost to Chicago.

13. Marcus Allen, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Signed contract in 1993
The Hall of Famer resurrected his career with the Chiefs, after spending 11 years with the Raiders and eventually landing in owner Al Davis' doghouse. In his first season in Kansas City, Allen led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12 and he was named the league's comeback player of the year. That helped the Chiefs to an AFC West division title in 1993 before they lost to Buffalo in the AFC championship game. The next season, Kansas City was a wild card team, losing in the first round. The Chiefs won their division again in 1995, but lost to Indianapolis in the divisional round.

12. Jon Runyan, T, Philadelphia Eagles
Six-year, $30 million contract in 2000
Runyan was a fixture on Philadelphia's offensive line for nine straight seasons, never missing a game between 2000 and 2008. During those eight seasons, the Eagles made the playoffs six times, reaching the NFC championship game in four straight seasons (2001-2004). Runyan started in Super Bowl XXXIX, which Philadelphia lost to New England. Including three years in Tennessee, Runyan started 192 consecutive games. The 35-year-old is currently a free agent.

11. Troy Vincent, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Five-year, $16.5 million contract in 1996
The Miami Dolphins used their transition player tag on the former first-round pick in 1996, but decided not to match the offer sheet that Vincent signed. During his eight seasons in Philadelphia, Vincent was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive years (1999-2003). In 1999, Vincent tied for the NFL lead in interceptions, with seven. He was picked as a member of the Associated Press All-Pro first team in 2002.

10. James Farrior, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Three-year, $5.4 million contract in 2002
Since leaving the New York Jets for Pittsburgh, Farrior has been a big part of a defense that helped the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles in four years. The inside linebacker was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2008. Farrior's best season came in the final year of his original contract with Pittsburgh. He intercepted four passes in 2004, including one that was returned for a touchdown. He also forced three fumbles and recovered three. The AP selected him as a first-team All-Pro.

9. Plaxico Burress, WR, New York Giants
Six-year, $25 million contract in 2005
Burress might be in trouble with the law right now, and his future with the Giants is in doubt, but the controversial receiver helped carry his team to a Super Bowl title in 2007. With the Giants facing the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Burress caught the winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning. Two weeks earlier, he had 11 catches for 154 yards in the NFC championship game at Green Bay. In his first three seasons with New York, Burress caught 29 touchdowns while gaining at least 988 receiving yards. He caught 76 passes for 1,214 yards in his first season with the Giants.

8. Mike Vrabel, LB, New England Patriots
Three-year contract in 2001
While in Pittsburgh for four seasons, Vrabel played primarily on third downs and on special teams. During his eight years in New England, Vrabel helped the Patriots win three Super Bowl championships. The linebacker made the Pro Bowl in 2007, after posting a career-high 12 sacks. He was also a first-team AP All-Pro. Besides his big role in New England's defense, Vrabel also caught eight passes in red zone situations over a four-year span, and all of them were for touchdowns.

7. Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Six-year, $34.5 million contract in 2008
Turner was stuck behind the top running back in the league, LaDainian Tomlinson, during his four seasons in San Diego. Once he got a starting job in Atlanta, he had a spectacular year. Turner helped the Falcons to a surprising 11-5 record and a wild card berth in the playoffs. Atlanta lost to Arizona in the wild card round. Turner gained 1,699 yards on 348 carries during his first season with the Falcons and scored 17 touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler and made the first team of the AP All-Pro team.

6. Deion Sanders, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Seven-year, $35 million contract in 1995
Arguably the best cover corner in history, and a game-breaking returner, Sanders was on the third Cowboys team to win a Super Bowl championship in the 1990s. He joined Dallas after spending one year in San Francisco, where he signed a $1 million contract and won Super Bowl XXIX with the 49ers. The Cowboys captured three NFC East titles during his five seasons in Dallas. Sanders played in four straight Pro Bowls, from 1996 to 1999, and was a first-team AP All-Pro selection from 1996 to 1998. He intercepted 14 passes in five years, returning two for touchdowns. As a returner, "Prime Time" brought back four punts for touchdowns in Dallas, including two in 1998. Sanders also led the league with a 15.6 punt return average that season.

5. Rich Gannon, QB, Oakland Raiders
Four-year, $16 million contract in 1999
Given the state of the Raiders in recent years, Gannon's stint behind center in Oakland is impressive. During his first four seasons, the Raiders won three straight AFC West titles from 2000-2002. Gannon's best season came in 2002, when the then 37-year-old quarterback led the NFL with 4,689 passing yards and he was named the league's most valuable player. The Raiders went to their first Super Bowl since 1983, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. He is still the only unrestricted free agent who wasn't cut by his previous team to win the MVP. Gannon played two more seasons in Oakland, but started only 10 more games.

4. Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Five-year, $8 million contract in 2001
Holmes gained 1,088 yards in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens, but lost his starting job to 2000 first-round pick Jamal Lewis. After two years as a backup, Holmes signed with Kansas City and became the most productive running back in the league for the next three seasons. His best season came in 2003, when he broke the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season, with 27. The Chiefs won the AFC West and lost to Indianapolis in the divisional round. Holmes had injury problems during his final three seasons in Kansas City, but over his first three years there, he gained more than 1,400 yards each year, including 1,615 in 2002. He made the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro for the AP each season.

3. Curtis Martin, RB, New York Jets
Six-year, $36 million contract in 1998
Martin gained 10,302 of his 14,101 career rushing yards during his eight seasons in New York, and he retired as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first seven seasons, and had a career-high 1,697 in 2004. Martin joined the Jets one season after coach Bill Parcells also left New England. The Jets won AFC East division titles in 1998 and 2002, and made the playoffs two other times while Martin was in New York. In 1998, the Jets lost to Denver in the AFC championship game. Martin was selected to three Pro Bowls while with New York, and he was a first-team All-Pro pick by the AP in 2004.

2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Six-year, $60 million contract in 2006
Brees had a successful start to his career in San Diego, but the Chargers let him leave after the 2005 season in favor of Philip Rivers. Rivers was the fourth pick in the 2004 draft. During his first season with the Saints, Brees turned around a team that went 3-13 in 2005. New Orleans finished 10-6 in 2006, winning the NFC South. The Saints advanced to the NFC championship game, losing at Chicago. Last season, Brees challenged Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards. Breese finished with 5,069 yards, just 15 behind the Miami Hall of Famer's 24-year-old record of 5,084. Brees threw for at least 4,400 yards in all three of his seasons in New Orleans, and made two Pro Bowls (2006 and 2008) and one first-team All-Pro team (2006).

1. Reggie White, DE, Green Bay Packers
Four-year, $17 million contract in 1993
White was a member of the NFL's first free agent class and no one had a bigger impact on his new team. He was 32 when he left Philadelphia for Green Bay and he held the league's all-time sack record when he retired in 1998. White was the leader of Green Bay's No. 1 ranked defense in 1996 and he helped the Packers to the title in Super Bowl XXXI, the franchise's first championship in 29 years. The "Minister of Defense" had double-digit sack totals in four of his six seasons in Green Bay. He was named the NFL defensive player of the year in 1998, at the age of 37, after recording 16 sacks. He also forced three fumbles that season. The Hall of Famer was a Pro Bowl selection in all six of his seasons in Green Bay, and a two-time member of the AP All-Pro first team. The Packers retired his jersey number, 92, after his death in 2004. He is currently one of five players in franchise history to receive that honor.


I won't argue the James Farrior belongs on this list, but how do you not include Jerome Bettis?? And we really did let a good one get away in Vrabel. Burress? Not worth the drama and needed to grow up elsewhere.

03-10-2009, 10:00 PM
I definitely wish the Bus was included on that list. However, I am glad to see Curtis Martin on their. I think he is one of the most underrated players in NFL history. All he did was produce.

03-10-2009, 10:13 PM
The Steelers TRADED a 2nd round pick for The Bus- not signed in FA.

That list is rubbish- Michael Turner is 7th after 1 year?? And Farrior is behind Plex as far as value in FA goes?? Drew Brees better value than Curtis Martin & Deion Sanders??

Bleh....agree with Reggie White.....

03-11-2009, 01:01 AM
Ricky Watters (Eagles -> Seattle)

Lorenzo Neal (Bengals -> Chargers) - Man that one blew

Kurt Warner (Giants -> Cardinals)

Bobbie Williams (Eagles -> Bengals) - :D

03-11-2009, 07:33 AM
The Steelers TRADED a 2nd round pick for The Bus- not signed in FA.

That list is rubbish- Michael Turner is 7th after 1 year?? And Farrior is behind Plex as far as value in FA goes?? Drew Brees better value than Curtis Martin & Deion Sanders??

Bleh....agree with Reggie White.....

greene would have also been on the list but he was a trade as well. that list doesnt make sense. how is woodson not on there? he had a lot of very good years after he left pittsburgh

03-11-2009, 08:12 AM
The Steelers TRADED a 2nd round pick for The Bus- not signed in FA.

That list is rubbish- Michael Turner is 7th after 1 year?? And Farrior is behind Plex as far as value in FA goes?? Drew Brees better value than Curtis Martin & Deion Sanders??

My problem with a lot of these "lists" is that they do commit the error of recency.

03-11-2009, 09:54 AM
My problem with a lot of these "lists" is that they do commit the error of recency.

I was thinking the same thing, until I realized Free Agency (At least the current system), didn't start until 1993. So a lot of the great FA acquisitions are going to be recent...

03-11-2009, 04:11 PM
I'd rather have the top drafts, then desperation in FA.