In what will be a two part series here at Sportsnaut, we focus on the 10-best NFL free agents signings ever. This specific articles will look at numbers 10-6. You will see Hall of Famers mixed in with a player or two who hit lightning in a bottle for a season or two.
Free agency may no longer be the best way to build a roster in the NFL, but there was a time when one key addition could change the landscape of the league. This is also one of the primary reasons that the league went to a hard salary cap.
In any event, here are the 10 best NFL free agent signings ever (part one of two).
10. Charles Woodson, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers (2006)
Coming off a couple injury-plagued campaigns with the Oakland Raiders, Woodson signed a seven-year, $52 million contract with the Packers. As ESPN pointed out, it was a bit of a gamble for the Packers at that point.
Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, one of the last premium players remaining in the free agent market but also a potential gamble given his recent injury history, reached a contract agreement on Wednesday evening with the Green Bay Packers
Woodson ended up earning four trips to the Pro Bowl and helped lead the Packers to a Super Bowl championship over the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2010. He’s currently a free agent in the twilight of his career, but will end up in Canton when all is said and done.
9. Rich Gannon, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders (1999)
Gannon was nothing more than a below-average starting quarterback and a decent backup option in his first 12 NFL seasons before joining Oakland in 1999. In 58 career starts between the Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins, Gannon tallied a total of 66 touchdowns compared to 54 interceptions.
He responded by leading the Raiders to a .500 or better football in all four of the full seasons that he suited up for the team, including a trip to XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
8. Priest Holmes, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs (2001)
Holmes wasn’t much of anything in his four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before joining Kansas City in 2001. He put up one 1,000-yard campaign in hist first full season with Baltimore, but only started 19 games in four seasons with the team.
Once Holmes moved on to the Chiefs in 2011, he put up one of the best three-year stretches in the history of the NFL. He put up over 6,500 yards and 61 total touchdowns in those three seasons. Unfortunately, the Chiefs made the playoffs just one time in those three seasons, falling to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2003.
Holmes would go on to put up one more 1,000-yard season in 2004, but what out of the league by 2006. He did have the distinction of putting up the most single-season rushing yards for an undrafted player until Arian Foster broke that record back in 2010.
7. Rod Woodson, Safety, Baltimore Ravens (1998)
Woodson, a top-10 pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 1987, earned six trips to the Pro Bowl in 10 seasons with his original NFL team before moving on to the San Francisco 49ers in 1997. The Hall of Famer struggled big time in his only season in North Carolina and then moved on to the Baltimore Ravnes the following year.
In Baltimore, Woodson played cornerback for just one season…once again struggling. Looking to prolong his career, Woodson moved to safety the following season. It would be the first of four Pro Bowl campaigns for the defensive back, including a seven-interception performance in 1999. Woodson was one of the true veteran leaders in one of the best defenses in NFL history, as Baltimore hoisted the Lombardi Trophy following the 2000 regular season.
6. Shannon Sharpe, Tight End, Baltimore Ravens (2000)
Before there was Tony Gonzalez, this Hall of Fame tight end was they face of that position in the NFL. Despite going in the seventh round of the 1990 draft from Savannah State, Sharpe quickly created a strong relationship with then Broncos quarterback John Elway.
He tallied seven Pro Bowl seasons and was a key cog on a Denver team that won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 before moving on to Baltimore following the 1999 season. In Baltimore, Sharpe led a pedestrian offense in receiving with 810 yards and five touchdowns. Relying on one of the best defenses in the history of the league, he earned a third Super Bowl title in 2000.
Photo: Brett Davis, USA Today