Picking the best-ever free-agent signing for all 32 NFL teams

Reggie White joining the Packers and Drew Brees joining the Saints are two of the best free-agent signings ever. Getty Images

From Reggie White joining the Packers -- "the Siberia of the NFL" -- to the Saints getting a steal in Drew Brees, NFL Nation reporters choose the greatest free-agent signings of all time for every team.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


Buffalo Bills

Linebacker Bryce Paup

There isn't one obvious candidate here, and I considered linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes, kicker Rian Lindell and others. But my choice is Paup, whom the Bills signed in 1995 to what was then an expensive deal -- three years, $7.6 million -- and he delivered, recording 17.5 sacks as the NFL's defensive player of the year. At least in this case, big spending in free agency yielded the Bills instant impact. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh

This would have been a no-brainer if the Dolphins closed the deal on future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who was close to signing in 2006 before the team had injury concerns. Instead, the pick is Suh, who signed a franchise-record $114 million contract in 2015 and is in his prime. Suh projects to have a long, dominant tenure with the Dolphins. -- James Walker

New England Patriots

Linebacker Mike Vrabel

When the Patriots signed Vrabel from the Steelers in 2001, it hardly registered on the New England radar because he wasn't a front-line player in Pittsburgh. Eight seasons later, he was an instrumental part of three Super Bowl championship teams in New England, playing the linebacker position at a high level and chipping in as a goal-line tight end with a knack for catching touchdowns. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

Running back Curtis Martin

The Jets pulled a free-agent coup in 1998, when they swiped Martin from the Patriots. The Bill Parcells-led Jets cooked up an offer sheet filled with poison pills, causing the Patriots to relinquish their rights to Martin. The Jets had to give up first- and third-round picks as compensation, but it was a franchise-altering move as Martin went on to a Hall of Fame career. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

Defensive back Rod Woodson

The Ravens have signed plenty of big-name players over the years, but Woodson was the first. Convincing the long-time Steelers great to sign with Baltimore in 1998 truly legitimized the fledgling Ravens. He also became a mentor to Ray Lewis and the experienced voice of one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history. The others in the running were Shannon Sharpe, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Adam Jones

Free agency is an event in which the Bengals have largely avoided participating, but they have made some key acquisitions through it over the years. Jim Breech and James Brooks are among the best signings Cincinnati had in the 1980s. Both players were part of Super Bowl teams. But a case could be made that Jones was the Bengals' best free-agent signing ever. He came to Cincinnati with tremendous value, having missed parts of two seasons due to suspensions and other time due to injuries. The time away from football has led to the now-32-year-old being so fresh in his older age that he just went to the Pro Bowl for the first time. The Bengals have been to the playoffs all but one season in which Jones has played for them. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns

Cornerback Frank Minnifield

OK, this may be a stretch, but in 1984, Minnifield got his release from the USFL and became an NFL free agent. He signed with the Browns and joined Hanford Dixon to form one of the top cornerback combinations in the league. Dixon and Minnifield developed the entire "Dawgs" theme, which led to the Dawg Pound, the bleachers in old Cleveland Stadium. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

Linebacker James Farrior

Kevin Greene, Jeff Hartings and Ryan Clark deserve consideration here, but Farrior was an emotional touchstone for two Super Bowl-winning teams. The Steelers signed Farrior, a former New York Jet, in 2001, and Farrior rewarded the faith with more than 700 tackles, the only Steeler to surpass that threshold. In 2004, Farrior earned All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up honors. He played big in big games, notching 2.5 sacks in the Steelers' upset of Indianapolis in the 2005 playoffs. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph

In 2011, the Texans needed help defensively and went out to get it. They got a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips and signed two defensive backs -- notably Joseph, who signed a five-year deal worth $48.75 million after beginning his career with the Bengals. Joseph has been worth every penny. He helped the Texans turn around their defense and has anchored their defensive backfield ever since. Last summer, the Texans gave him a contract extension with an eye toward keeping Joseph in Houston for the rest of his career. He had a strong season in 2015 while also mentoring rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts

Safety Mike Adams

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has swung and missed on many free agents, and former GM Bill Polian was relatively conservative when it came to signing free agents on the outside. But Grigson got it right when he signed Adams in the middle of June 2014. Adams has 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles, a touchdown, 162 tackles, and he has made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons with the Colts. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Wide receiver Keenan McCardell

McCardell joined the Jaguars after five seasons in Washington and Cleveland, and he went on to catch 499 passes for 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns, all of which rank second on the team's all-time lists behind only Jimmy Smith. McCardell spent six seasons in Jacksonville and partnered with Smith to give the Jaguars one of the NFL's top receiver duos. He made one Pro Bowl with the Jaguars (1996). -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Quarterback Warren Moon

In 1984, the Houston Oilers signed Moon, a five-time CFL Grey Cup-winning QB, and found a Hall of Famer. In 10 seasons with the Oilers, he completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 33,685 yards, 196 touchdowns and 166 interceptions. The circumstances of his arrival were unusual, but Moon ranks as one of the top free-agent additions in NFL history. -- Paul Kuharsky


Denver Broncos

Quarterback Peyton Manning

Manning's arrival in 2012 has resulted in four AFC West titles and two Super Bowl trips. Along the way, the Broncos have won 50 regular-season games, set the league's single-season scoring record in 2013 (606 points) and Manning added several NFL records to his already clogged résumé, including career touchdown passes and single-season touchdown passes. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

Running back Priest Holmes

The Chiefs took a chance in 2001 on Holmes, who had been mostly a backup in his first four NFL seasons with the Ravens. Holmes worked out for the Chiefs better than they had hoped. He finished after the 2007 season as the team's all-time leading rusher, though his record has since been broken by Jamaal Charles. Holmes also set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns in 2003, though that mark has also been broken. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders

Quarterback Jim Plunkett

Long an island of misfit toys who could not get along in other locales, Oakland might be synonymous with second chances. But let's go with the most important position in team sports -- quarterback -- and while Rich Gannon won a league MVP in 2002 and took his team to the Super Bowl, Plunkett, who contemplated retirement after flameouts in New England and San Francisco, is the NFL's ultimate Lazarus tale. He helped lead the Raiders to two of their three Lombardi Trophies. Plunkett it is, then. -- Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers

Linebacker Donnie Edwards

Edwards returned to his hometown in free agency in 2002 after starting his NFL career with the Chiefs. Edwards, who grew up south of San Diego in Chula Vista, finished with at least 100 tackles in four of his five seasons with the Chargers and earned a Pro Bowl invitation in 2002. Edwards also helped lead the Chargers to a franchise-best 14-2 record in 2006. He is a part of the NFL's exclusive 20-20 club, with 28 interceptions and 23.5 sacks in a 13-year pro career.-- Eric D. Williams


Dallas Cowboys

Cornerback Deion Sanders

The Cowboys altered the balance in the NFC when they signed Sanders as a free agent in 1995 away from the 49ers. Sanders signed a seven-year, $35 million deal and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXX and that was in just nine games. He played just one full season and intercepted 14 passes in his five years with the Cowboys. La'Roi Glover might have been a better value signing, considering price and four Pro Bowls, but Sanders brought a ring and that trumps all. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress

Burress signed a six-year, $26 million contract with the Giants in 2005. During his four years with the Giants, they went 41-23, made the playoffs all four years and won the Super Bowl once. (They've made the playoffs only once since.) Burress was the missing piece for the team's passing game -- a true, elite, game-breaking wide receiver the likes of which they didn't have until Odell Beckham Jr. came along. Burress will always be remembered for the disappointing way in which his Giants career ended, when he shot himself in the leg in a New York City nightclub toward the tail end of the team's extremely promising 2008 season. And that ending is why guys like Antonio Pierce and Antrel Rolle were considered for this spot. But Burress' impact on the Giants was undeniable, and for four years, they got more than they could have ever expected from him. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive tackle Jon Runyan

Runyan signed a free-agent deal with the Eagles in 2000. They went to the playoffs that season. They played in the NFC Championship Game five times during Runyan's nine years and made it to one Super Bowl. He never missed a game. The Eagles had some good free-agent signings -- Ricky Watters, Troy Vincent, Jevon Kearse, Connor Barwin, Malcolm Jenkins -- but Runyan stands above them all. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins

Linebacker London Fletcher

Fletcher signed with Washington in 2007, an undersized standout who was past his prime -- he was 31 when he signed. But Fletcher spent seven seasons with the Redskins, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl and became the leader of the defense. Current receiver Pierre Garcon was another good signing, but Fletcher tops the list. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

Defensive end Julius Peppers

The Bears invested wisely in Peppers in the spring of 2010. Although he cost the Bears $42 million guaranteed over the first three seasons of his six-year mega-contract, the veteran pass-rusher notched 37.5 sacks and three Pro Bowl berths from 2010-13. Peppers played a huge part in the Bears' 2010 NFC North division championship, helping anchor a defense that ranked ninth overall and fourth in points allowed. The Bears released Peppers for salary-cap reasons after 2014, but the freakishly athletic defender proved he had plenty left in the tank, sacking the quarterback 21 times (including the postseason) for arch-rival Green Bay. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Cornerback Dre Bly

This was a surprisingly difficult call. Reggie Bush had an impact in league perception for potential big-name players to come to Detroit. Glover Quin and Golden Tate have made massive impacts and each made one Pro Bowl. But Bly was probably the best free-agent signing in Lions history. He was a Pro Bowler his first two seasons with Detroit and started 54 games for the Lions, intercepting 19 passes and returning two of them for touchdowns. He is the last Lions cornerback to make the Pro Bowl and is the only Detroit defensive back to make multiple Pro Bowls since Dick LeBeau from 1964 to 1966. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Defensive end Reggie White

When Ron Wolf became the Packers' general manager in 1991, he said people around the league told him he'd never get players to come to Green Bay. He said at the time it was known as "the Siberia of the NFL." Signing White in 1993 changed all that. It's arguably the biggest free-agent signing in NFL history, not just in Packers history. Former Packers president Bob Harlan has often said there were four people most responsible for resurrecting the Packers in the 1990s: Brett Favre, Mike Holmgren, Wolf and White. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Cornerback Antoine Winfield and nose tackle Pat Williams

With all due respect to Brett Favre, who took the Vikings on quite the ride in 2009, Winfield and Williams each went to three Pro Bowls with the Vikings and helped turn the team's defenses of the late 2000s into one of the best in the league. Winfield played nine seasons with the team before the Vikings cut him, and nearly returned for a 10th when then-coach Leslie Frazier campaigned to bring him back in 2013. -- Ben Goessling


Atlanta Falcons

Running back Michael Turner

After serving as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup in San Diego, Turner signed with the Falcons in 2008 and made an immediate impact. He was the league's second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson in '08, amassing 1,699 yards on 376 carries with a franchise single-season record 17 rushing touchdowns. Turner went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards two more times with the Falcons (2010, 2011) while averaging 12 rushing touchdowns per season. Turner averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the 2012 playoffs, when the Falcons made it to the NFC title game. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback Jake Delhomme

The Panthers signed the Saints' backup quarterback in 2003, and he nearly led Carolina to a Super Bowl victory that season. He went on to become the team's all-time leader in wins, pass attempts, pass completions, pass yards and passing touchdowns over a seven-year period. He also led Carolina to the 2005 NFC Championship Game and had eight career playoff wins. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback Drew Brees

This one's a no-brainer. The only question is whether Brees deserves to unseat Reggie White and Deion Sanders, among others, as the greatest free-agent signing in NFL history. Brees came to New Orleans from San Diego after major shoulder surgery in 2006. Not only did he bounce back in remarkable fashion, but he helped resurrect a franchise after four decades of futility, and he helped lift a community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Brees has posted unprecedented passing numbers over the past decade and earned a Super Bowl MVP award. He will sail into the Hall of Fame. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive end Simeon Rice

Rice signed with the Bucs in 2001 and recorded 11 or more sacks in five of his six seasons in Tampa. He had 15.5 in 2002 and 15 in 2003, which was the season the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Rice was perhaps the league's most feared pass-rusher during his Bucs tenure. -- Mike DiRocco


Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback Kurt Warner

It didn't look like it at first, but the Cardinals signing Warner as a free agent in 2005 would help change the franchise and its public perception. On his second contract with Arizona, signed after that initial season, he went on to lead the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl in 2009. They have yet to return, coming within one game this past season. Despite a rocky start to his tenure in Arizona, Warner gave the Cardinals stability. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Offensive guard Adam Timmerman

Free agency hasn't been too kind to the Rams, but they did manage to find a key cog in the Greatest Show on Turf when they signed Timmerman away from Green Bay in 1999. We could cheat and put Kurt Warner here, but this is intended to be signings made in the traditional free-agent period. Timmerman stabilized the interior of that offensive line and helped the offense become one of the most dynamic in league history. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers

Linebacker Ken Norton Jr.

In a three-man race between Justin Smith, Deion Sanders and Ken Norton Jr., my first tie-breaker was titles, making it a two-man deal between Sanders and Norton. So longevity won out. Sure, Sanders and Norton were stalwarts on the 1994 Niners, who won their most recent Lombardi Trophy and tipped the league's balance of power back from the Cowboys, but while Sanders high-tailed it to Dallas the next season, Norton stuck around for seven years and never missed a game in San Francisco, starting all 112 games he played for the Niners and leading them in tackles every season. -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett

The Seahawks signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal in 2013 and have since extended him. Bennett has 25.5 sacks in the past three seasons and is a disruptive force against the run, constantly making plays in the backfield. With his ability to play defensive end in the Seahawks' base look and inside in nickel, Bennett has provided Pete Carroll's unit with great versatility. He has been a key cog in the front seven for a group that has led the NFL in fewest points allowed for four consecutive seasons. -- Sheil Kapadia