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Old 01-14-2011, 05:21 PM  
Tribal Warfare Tribal Warfare is offline
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Brees tops all-time best free agents list

Brees tops all-time best free agents list

While many fans around the NFL remain dubious about free agency, pointing at the failure of guys like Albert Haynesworth(notes), fans in Chicago, Atlanta, Green Bay and New York can rejoice.

Free agency has been key to the success of those teams. Highlighted by the six-year, $91.5 million contract Julius Peppers(notes) signed last offseason with the Chicago Bears, who play host to the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game, each of those teams has at least one prominent free agent in a major role. The Atlanta Falcons’ running game is led by Michael Turner(notes), a free-agent pickup in 2008; the Green Bay Packers are still reaping rewards from the 2006 signing of cornerback Charles Woodson(notes); and the Jets have linebacker Bart Scott(notes), running back LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and defensive end/linebacker Jason Taylor(notes) to partially thank for their second straight playoff appearance.



With that in mind, here’s a look at the greatest free-agent moves since the league started formal free agency in 1993:

1. Drew Brees(notes), New Orleans Saints, 2006: Let’s see: What has Brees meant to not only the Saints, but the entire city of New Orleans? Well, he has been the best quarterback in team history. He has won various offensive player of the year honors, and was named Sports Illustrated Man of the Year and Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 2010. Oh yeah, there’s that Super Bowl title he helped win. Then there’s all the charity work he has done to help rebuild the city. Hollywood doesn’t write scripts this corny

2. Reggie White, Green Bay Packers, 1993: In the first formal year of free agency, which White helped start by putting his name to the class-action suit that helped create it, White moved from Philadelphia to Green Bay. He signed what was then a four-year, $17 million contract that seemed astronomical to players, but was just a small sign of what was to come. More important than all of that, White teamed with up-and-coming quarterback Brett Favre(notes) to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl title and back-to-back appearances in the game.

3. Deion Sanders, San Francisco 49ers (1994) and Dallas Cowboys (1995): Over a stretch of two seasons, the balance of power in the NFL swung on one man. In 1994, Sanders left Atlanta for the 49ers and put together his finest season, intercepting six passes, returning three for touchdowns and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year as San Francisco won its fifth Super Bowl. The following season Sanders went to Dallas, which had lost to San Francisco in the NFC title game the previous season, for a then-record, seven-year, $35 million contract. Sanders then helped the Cowboys win their third title in four years. While all of this helped propel Sanders onto the league’s biggest stage and solidified his place as “Primetime,” free agency also worked against him to an extent. In 2000, he signed with the Washington Redskins and never lived up to expectations. Finally, he finished his career with Baltimore as something of a vagabond.


4. Mike Vrabel(notes), New England Patriots, 2001: Vrabel’s 14-year career is about as workmanlike as it gets. Only twice has he had more than 5½ sacks in a season. He’s not particularly fast or imposing. But he is one of the guys who symbolizes the greatness of the Patriots over the past decade, even if he is now playing out the string with Kansas City. Vrabel was signed away from the Pittsburgh Steelers as a lightly-considered ‘tweener, considered not quite big enough for defensive end and not quite athletic enough for linebacker. Yet, he became was one of the stalwarts of a team that won three Super Bowls and came within a miraculous drive by the New York Giants of winning a fourth and going undefeated. Yeah, Vrabel may not seem as good as some of these other guys. But winning is the bottom line.

5. Simeon Rice, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2001: OK, Rice’s production, while very good, never quite measured up to his ego. To hear Rice talk, he was the greatest thing since the invention of the computer chip. In truth, he was a one-dimensional pass rusher who played the run roughly once a quarter. That said, Rice had five straight seasons with at least 11 sacks after signing with the Buccaneers, including 15½ in 2002 and 15 in 2003. In 2002, he helped lead the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl title, barely being edged for MVP honors by safety Dexter Jackson in the victory over the Raiders. Rice’s tenure with the Bucs also ended on a sour note as he and coach Jon Gruden increasingly didn’t get along.

6. Kurt Warner(notes), Arizona Cardinals, 2005: Before the resurrection of Michael Vick(notes), there was the return of Warner. After three injury-plagued seasons with the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants, the Cardinals signed Warner to be a stopgap as they got ready to bring in a young quarterback. While the team eventually drafted Matt Leinart(notes) in 2006, the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt allowed Warner a chance to get back on the field. Moreover, Whisenhunt tailored the offense to Warner’s skills and the result was one of the most improbable events in NFL history: the Cardinals becoming respectable. Arizona made the Super Bowl in 2008, coming within a last-minute drive by Pittsburgh of winning the title.

7. Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders, 1999: Over a series of four seasons, Gannon teamed with coach Jon Gruden (and then Bill Callahan) to give the Raiders their last run of greatness. In that span, Gannon had at least 24 TD passes each season and posted a quarterback rating of at least 92 in each of the latter three campaigns. Gannon ran Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense, featuring ever-changing formations and movement, to perfection. Beyond that, Gannon was the central figure who held the Raiders together amid chaos and led them to the Super Bowl in 2002. He won MVP in 2002 and went to the Pro Bowl in each of the first four seasons.



8. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers, 2006: Woodson went from having the reputation of being the best cornerback in the NFL to actually living up to the hype during the past five seasons with Green Bay. Despite playing much of the time with the Packers after the age of 30, the now-34-year-old Woodson has enjoyed the best years of his career and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He has had at least seven interceptions in three of his five seasons and has 30 overall in that span. He has also become one of the best blitzing cornerbacks in the league, capitalizing on his physical style of play.

9. Kevin Mawae(notes), New York Jets, 1998: After taking over the New York Jets, one of the first things Bill Parcells did was to sign Mawae away from Seattle (the Seahawks have a seeming penchant for giving up great offensive linemen). What the Jets got was the best center of his era and a guy who became a six-time Pro Bowler with them, including two All-Pro selections. If people take a good look at Mawae’s career, he should be a Hall of Famer.

10. Curtis Martin, Jets, 1998: While Martin received more notoriety than Mawae, the two actually go hand-in-hand, which was part of Parcells’ plan. Martin was signed as a restricted free agent after being drafted by Parcells in New England and playing his first three seasons there. Martin’s contract was initially important because it was the first in NFL free agency to feature a “poison pill” clause that made it onerous for the Patriots to match the offer for him. However, Martin made that an afterthought as he had at least 1,000 yards in each of his next seven seasons with the Jets, six times topping the 1,200-yard mark. That was part of a string of 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to open his career. Like Mawae, Martin came to symbolize the kind of toughness Parcells wanted in the Jets.


11. Jerry Rice, Raiders, 2001: While Rice didn’t enjoy the same type of renaissance as Gannon upon getting to the Raiders, he had a strong first two years. Rice topped 1,100 yards in 2001 and 2002, helping the Raiders get to the Super Bowl in 2002. He also caught the 200th touchdown pass of his career after getting to the Raiders, a fact that owner Al Davis likes to trumpet as a trivial tweak of cross-bay rival San Francisco, where Rice started his career.

12. Rodney Harrison
(notes), Patriots, 2003: When the Chargers let Harrison go after the 2002 season, his ninth in the NFL, most people thought he was done. Harrison had become a ponderous safety, seemingly more intent on hurting someone than actually playing good football. Instead, Harrison replaced Lawyer Milloy(notes) in the Patriots’ lineup and helped the team win two more Super Bowls and nearly pull off perfection in 2007. Harrison ended up playing six seasons in New England, half of them being extremely productive and half of them being extremely injured.

13. Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs, 2001: The mere mention of Holmes’ name should have a Pavlovian effect on any longtime fantasy football player. After back-to-back mediocre seasons with Baltimore, Holmes became a stat-mongering force in the NFL. He had at least 2,100 yards rushing and receiving for three consecutive seasons with the Chiefs, scoring 10, 24 and then 27 touchdowns before injuries started to pile up. While Holmes was clearly talented, he also benefitted from running behind one of the great offensive lines of his time and took advantage of the wide-open nature of the Kansas City offense.

14. Steve Hutchinson(notes), Minnesota Vikings, 2006: Like Mawae, Hutchinson is a potential Hall of Fame offensive lineman (he is the John Hannah of this era) who somehow managed to get out of Seattle. The Seahawks inexplicably put the “transition” tag on him following the 2005 season, allowing the Vikings to use a poison pill clause to get Hutchinson away from them. He has gone on to make five straight Pro Bowls with the Vikings after being a perennial Pro Bowler with Seattle.

15. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles, 2009: It has been only two seasons, including only one as a starter, so it’s hard to rank Vick any higher than this at this point. However, assuming the Eagles keep him (which people around him believe will happen), he has a very good chance to rocket up this list and into the top five. In his first season as the starter, Vick was a legitimate MVP candidate for much of the season. If the Eagles can build an offensive line around him, he could actually win an MVP, if not a Super Bowl, with them.

16. Antonio Pierce
(notes), New York Giants, 2005: Pierce was an undrafted backup for his first three seasons with Washington before getting a chance to start one year. After that, the Giants snatched him up and he became the brains of New York’s great defenses over the next three years. While not the most talented guy, Pierce was both a tackling machine and a passionate student of the game. In 2007, he was responsible for defensive players gathering to meet in addition to mandatory team activities throughout the playoffs as the Giants put together three stunning defensive performances and upset 18-0 New England in the Super Bowl. Sadly, injuries ended his career quickly.



17. Ed McCaffrey, Denver Bronocs, 1995: Once upon a time, McCaffrey was a third-round pick by the New York Giants, an outstanding all-around athlete. However, after three middling seasons, he played for one year with San Francisco, earning a Super Bowl ring as a backup. He then was signed by Denver and became a superior possession receiver for quarterback John Elway and coach Mike Shanahan, teaming with fellow wide receiver Rod Smith and tight end Shannon Sharpe for form a vastly underrated receiving corps that helped the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls.

18. Darren Sharper(notes), Saints, 2009: While Sharper’s 2010 season was limited because of injuries, his 2009 season was simply brilliant (and a huge bargain). Sharper enjoyed the best season of his 14-year, five-Pro Bowl career as he had nine interceptions, including three he returned for scores and compiled an NFL-record 376 return yards for the year. Of course, the crowning moment of the season was helping the Saints win the Super Bowl.

19. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons, 2008: While quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) and wide receiver Roddy White(notes) have become the stars of the Falcons as they get set for their second playoff appearance in the trio’s three years together, Turner has become the foundation of the team. His bullish, productive running style has produced more than 3,900 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns in the regular season over those three years. Most important, the Falcons have posted three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. That’s impressive for an organization that never had even back-to-back winning seasons previously.



20. Terrell Owens
(notes), Cowboys, 2006: Say what you will about Owens – and there’s plenty to say – but during his three years in Dallas, he was really productive. Yeah, he was a pain in the butt, too, but he put up some serious numbers that the Cowboys failed to take advantage of. During that time, he had 235 catches for 3,587 yards receiving and 38 touchdowns. He also helped the Cowboys to a 13-3 record in the 2007 season, which tied the franchise’s best mark (set in 1992) and gave Dallas the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The playoffs ended with a dramatic loss to the Giants, who then went on to win the Super Bowl.
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Old 01-14-2011, 05:39 PM   #2
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So glad to see Priest on that list. I think he should be higher but the lack of playoff appearances and one and done season hurt his value here.
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Old 01-14-2011, 05:47 PM   #3
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Old 01-14-2011, 05:49 PM   #4
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Old 01-14-2011, 06:19 PM   #5
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Old 01-14-2011, 06:28 PM   #6
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[quote=Tribal Warfare;7355502]Brees tops all-time best free agents list



11. Jerry Rice, Raiders, 2001: While Rice didn’t enjoy the same type of renaissance as Gannon upon getting to the Raiders, he had a strong first two years. Rice topped 1,100 yards in 2001 and 2002, helping the Raiders get to the Super Bowl in 2002. He also caught the 200th touchdown pass of his career after getting to the Raiders, a fact that owner Al Davis likes to trumpet as a trivial tweak of cross-bay rival San Francisco, where Rice started his career.
[b]



Not so happy was Al Davis when Marcus Allen scored his 100th TD against his Fraiders.
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Old 01-14-2011, 07:20 PM   #7
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