These Are The Best NFL Free-Agent Signings Of All-Time

Football | 3/27/20

Kirk Cousins once said, “every player looks forward to free-agency.” Now, he can’t speak for everyone, and we certainly can’t either, but we know a decent amount of athletes that would agree with Cousins. Some players come off scary injuries, or teams don’t have as much faith in them anymore for whatever reason. Another possibility is that a franchise might not have enough money to re-sign a great talent. Whatever the case, we know that Rich Gannon was delighted to know the Raiders would give him a chance, even with his career in decline. He went on to play fantastic football. Here are the best free-agent signings ever.

Plaxico Burress To The Giants

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Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary
Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

In 2005, the New York City Giants offered Plaxico Burress a lucrative six-year deal and he signed on the dotted line. Without hesitation, he became their number one receiver and made it look easy.

In four seasons, he had two years with at least 1,000-yards and a total of 33 touchdowns. He may have had some off-field issues, but what he meant to the Giants on the field during the height of the Eli Manning era was worth every penny paid.

The Saints Become Instant Contenders

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Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints did what the San Diego Chargers failed to in 2006 and that’s put an elite talent at quarterback. Worried about his injury history, the Chargers chose Phillip River to replace him, and the rest if history.

Brees was an instant success in New Orleans and even won the Super Bowl just as the city was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Brees isn’t just one of the greatest free agent signings ever, he is one of the greatest QBs of all-time.

Warner Heads To The Desert

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Similarly to how the Chargers questioned Brees, the Giants didn’t see Kurt Warner getting back to the Super Bowl level after leaving St. Louis. Too bad, because the Arizona Cardinals picked him up in 2005 and Warner resurrected his career.

He didn’t have the strongest first year, but he remained diligent and eventually led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in the 2008 postseason. They lost to the Steelers, but we don’t think Josh McCown (Arizona’s former starter) would have even gotten close to the AFC Title Game.

Rice Moves Across The Bay

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Robert B. Stanton/Getty Images
Robert B. Stanton/Getty Images

The legend that is Jerry Rice continued well after his stint in San Francisco. Perhaps, it was the muggy Bay area air, because Rice stayed around and just went down the freeway to play with the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders signed him after the 49ers didn’t retain Rice due to already having Terrell Owens and wanting to clear salary cap. After signing in Oakland after the end of the 2000 season, he helped them get to a Super Bowl in 2002. The Silver and Black didn’t win, but Rice played a major role.

Kickin’ It For Decades

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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe, like many other teams, the New England Patriots didn’t think Adam Vinatieri could keep going at the same efficient pace for ten more years. After the 2005 season, the Indianapolis Colts picked up the free-agent and he only got better.

Vinatieri had an 81.9 percent success rate playing with the Patriots compared to 86.4 percent with the Colts. He holds the record for most career points, field goals made, consecutive field goals made, and a few more.

With Love, Nick Foles

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Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

For someone who contemplated retiring before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, we cannot think of anyone else who is happier than Nick Foles. Deciding to stick to the game he loves was the best decision he probably ever made.

The City of Brotherly Love certainly appreciates what he did for them. The Kansas City Chiefs gave Foles a chance in 2016, but that was it. The Eagles stepped up to the plate and hit a home run by signing Foles, who out-dueled Tom Brady in the Super Bowl in place of an injured Carson Wentz.

Sharper Than Sharpe?

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Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Only Shannon Sharpe can turn being a 7th-round pick into becoming an all-world tight end in just over a decade. The Denver Broncos had Sharpe for ten years, where he dominated, but would leave in 2000.

The Ravens didn’t hesitate in signing the offensive juggernaut, and the results were beautiful. He immediately helped them win a Super Bowl, and in the two seasons with Baltimore, he led them in receptions once. He got the job done his whole career.

Primetime In Dallas

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PAUL K. BUCK/AFP via Getty Images
PAUL K. BUCK/AFP via Getty Images

Deion Sanders won a Super Bowl in 1994 with the 49ers, and immediately signed with a new team, the Dallas Cowboys, in 1995. Primetime Deion Sanders got a seven-year deal with Dallas and became a shutdown corner as well as a threat on returns.

It’s safe to say both Sanders and the Cowboys benefited from this deal. Dallas brought home a championship in Sander’s first season on the roster. Is it safe to think that wouldn’t be the case had Sanders stayed in San Francisco?

A Gamble On The Future Helped The Broncos

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Due to a neck injury, Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season and the Colts figured it was time to focus on the future. They went ahead and drafted Andrew Luck (who isn’t playing now), and Manning signed with the Denver Broncos.

After getting slaughtered by a young Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLVIII, he would return for Super Bowl 50. Matching up against the Carolina Panthers, Manning and the Broncos won this time and Manning rode off into the sunset.

Harrison Returns To The Steelers Just In Time

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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

All-Pro defensive back James Harrison looks like a tank on the field. Harrison started his career in Pittsburgh in 2002 but would go on to bounce around other teams for a few years.

Finally, in 2004, the Steelers signed the beast again and he became a staple for the defense. In Super Bowl XLIII, Harrison broke the record for the longest play in Super Bowl history when he intercepted a pass and ran it back for a 100-yard touchdown. He also won the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.

The Fierce And Unexpected Delhomme

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Nick Laham/Getty Images
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Before the Carolina Panthers signed Jake Delhomme in 2003, he played with an NFL Europe team, the Frankfurt Galaxy. When Delhomme arrived in Carolina, he replaced Rodney Peete at quarterback and became the starter for the next seven years.

No one saw that coming. His overall record would become 53-37, plus he led them to one Super Bowl. He wasn’t the most spectacular player on the field, but clearly, he got the job done made the Pro Bowl once.

Woodson Becomes A Cheesehead

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Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The former Heisman winner and Oakland Raider, Charles Woodson, wasn’t someone that every team thought highly of when he entered free agency in 2006. He hadn’t played a full season in four years, but the Packers gave him a chance.

Woodson only missed three starts in his first six years! Woodson helped bridged the gap from the late Brett Favre years to the Aaron Rodgers era and helped bring home a Super Bowl victory in the process.

An Old Gannon Gets It Done

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

“Finally, journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon is getting his chance as a full-time starter,” read an AP article when Gannon signed with the Raiders in 1999. No one expected Gannon to become what he did when he landed in Oakland with coach Jon Gruden.

The team blossomed with Gannon and he went on to become the NFL MVP at 37. After two straight postseason appearances starting in 2000, Gannon finally led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002. It didn’t end in a victory but that’s more than what the Oakland franchise hoped to get out of the veteran.

Curtis Martin Runs Free In New York

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Mitchell Reibel/Getty Images
Mitchell Reibel/Getty Images

Curtis Martin was only 24 when the New England Patriots lowballed the running back, who was a restricted free-agent in 1997. The New York Jets signed the back in 1998 thanks to his former coach being there, Bill Parcells.

Martin would go on to have 1,000 yards in his first seven seasons with his new team in green and had over 1,400 three times. The Hall of Famer only experienced a losing season under .500 once.

Philly Makes A Mistake

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George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

There are some players you don’t let go of, no matter the price. Reggie White was one of them. White played in Philadelphia for eight years and established himself as one of the greatest linemen of his era.

No one thought that the Eagles wouldn’t sign him again, and make him an Eagle forever, but the Packers came knocking. White switched sides and continued to dominate in Green Bay. He eventually helped the Cheeseheads bring home a title.

Michael Turner Makes Immediate Impact

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Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Michael Turner played with the San Diego Chargers from 2004 to 2007. He was only a backup there, so it was no big deal when the Falcons chose to pick him up in 2008.

In his debut with Atlanta, he broke the team’s single-game rushing record against the Detroit Lions. That game, he had 220 yards on 22 carries to go along with two touchdowns. It’s safe to say his three 1,300-plus yards season made it worth Atlanta’s time.

Rod Woodson Completes The Defense

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Bill Amatucci Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images
Bill Amatucci Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

After ten seasons with the Steelers and a year in San Francisco, Rod Woodson became a free-agent in 1998. The 49ers cut him but didn’t realize he would become the missing piece that helped the Ravens become a force on defense.

In Baltimore, Woodson made four straight Pro Bowls and helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV in the 2000-01season. We can’t say for sure if he was a vital piece in bringing home the gold, but we think he was important.

Holmes Becomes A Superstar

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Dave Kaup/Getty Images
Dave Kaup/Getty Images

Priest Holmes won a Super Bowl with the Ravens as Jamal Lewis’ backup, then signed with Chiefs in 2001. Many thought he struggle to find reps in a crowded backfield, but he would become a superstar immediately.

His first three seasons on the Chiefs roster rank as one of the best stretches for a running back in NFL history. Holmes racked up over 2,100 yards from scrimmage in each season and had a total of 61 touchdowns.

The One The Jets Let Get Away

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George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

James Farrior was the 8th overall pick for the New York Jets in 1997, but he didn’t play like a top-ten selection at all. The Jets primarily used him in a position he wasn’t familiar with, and weren’t interested in re-signing him as a free agent.

Farrior landed with the Steelers. It was there that they placed him back at his college position, middle linebacker, and Farrior exploded. He started in 154 games in 10 seasons with the Black and Yellow and helped bring home two Championships.

Mike Vrabel Doesn’t Miss

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Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have had their fair share of stellar free-agent signings, but are any of them as unique as Mike Vrabel? New England’s secret weapon started his career in Pittsburgh in 1997 but wasn’t very successful after four years.

The Patriots signed Vrabel in 2001 as a defensive player, but would occasionally line up as an eligible tight end. A long story short, Vrabel was a key component in the Patriots dynasty. He played eight seasons with the Pats, caught eight passes (which were all for touchdowns), and two more postseason catches both for a touchdown.