Top 15 Greatest Free Agent Signings in NFL History

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NFL free agency begins at 4pm ET today, but while that usually means fans are waiting to hear what big name their team has signed, we must never forget past signings that have put us where we are as a league today. While some players are remembered as free agent busts, securing massive contracts and then never living up to high expectations, the entire goal of free agency is to add that missing piece which will take you over the top and bring you a championship.

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15. Justin Smith – DE
Old Team: Cincinnati Bengals
New Team: San Francisco 49ers

Smith was a monster with the Cincinnati Bengals so it came as no surprise that he was successful in San Francisco. But while he was successful with the Bengals, he broke out with the Niners, being named to four All-Pro teams and becoming a key force in the 49ers dominant defense. The Niners are stout all over the place on defense, but Smith is the lifeblood ant the team isn’t the same without him on the field. Smith is a classic case of a guy who was good before, but didn’t become amazing until he found his footing with a new team.

14. Kevin Mawae  - C
Old Team:
Seattle Seahawks
New Team: New York Jets

Mawae spent some good years with the Seattle Seahawks before signing a free agent deal with the NEw York Jets in 1998. From here, Mawae became on of the best centers to have ever played the game and solidified his argument as a future Hall of Famer. During his time with the Jets, Mawae paved the way for Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin on his way to 8 Pro Bowls and 8 All-Pro teams. Had it not been for a triceps injury in 2005, Mawae’s streak of 177 consecutive starts at center likely could have reached the 200 level but regardless, his signing remains one of the best to have ever occurred in the modern free agency period.


13. Priest Holmes - RB
Old Team: Baltimore Ravens
New Team: Kansas City Chiefs

In 1998, Priest Holmes rushed for over 1,000 yards and even rushed for 200-yards in a single game. This looked to be the peak of Holmes career as he was ousted by rookie running back Jamal Lewis in 2000 and let go by the Ravens following their win in Super Bowl XXXV. But little did we know at the time that Holmes was about to embody everything teams hope for when signing a player in free agency. His contract with the Kansas City Chiefs was inexpensive but Holmes quickly became invaluable, becoming the first undrafted running back to rush for over 1,000 yards and leading the NFL in rushing in 2001. From there, Holmes rushed for over 1,600 yards in 2002, broke the single season touchdown record in 2003 and helped elevate the lowly Chiefs to a playoff caliber contender.

12. Jake Delhomme – QB
Team: New Orleans Saints
New Team: Carolina Panthers

Our first quarterback to crack the list made his career thanks to free agency. After spending some interesting years in New Orleans, Jake Delhomme floated over to the Carolina Panthers in 2003 and his life changed forever. With the Saints, Delhomme was at best a third string quarterback behind Aaron Brooks and Jeff Blake. But once he came to Carolina and John Fox got a hold of him, Delhomme turned into a Super Bowl quarterback, leading the Panthers to a showdown with the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII in his very first season as a starter. After the Super Bowl, his career fizzled but Delhomme helped turn the Panthers around, leading them to the NFC Championship GAme in 2005 and becoming the first quarterback in franchise history be named the starting quarterback for three consecutive seasons.

11. Simeon Rice – DE
Old Team:
 Arizona Cardinals
New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Simeon Rice made a name for himself with the Arizona Cardinals but he took not only himself but his new team to the next level when he signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. After winning Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals in 1996 and helping them get to the playoffs in 1998, Rice signed with the Buccaneers and instantly became an anchor on one of the best defenses in NFL history. Rice’s best season came in 2002 when he helped lead the Buccaneers though the playoffs and to the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl, narrowly missing out on being named Super Bowl MVP. In his six season with the Bucs he recorded 69.5 sacks and remains a fan favorite amongst Bucs fans. 

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Tags: Arizona Cardinals Brett Favre Carolina Panthers Deion Sanders Drew Brees Green Bay Packers Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints NFL Oakland Raiders Reggie White San Francisco 49ers Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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