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Deion Sanders signed with the Cowboys in 1995. George Gojkovich/Getty Images

'Honey Badger' to Plunkett: 25 best NFL free-agent signings of all time

While the best teams are usually built through the draft, hitting pay dirt in the free agent market can put NFL teams over the top. These 25 NFL free agent signings stand out as the best in history.

 
1 of 25

2019: Chiefs sign Tyrann Mathieu

2019: Chiefs sign Tyrann Mathieu
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports Images

The Chiefs signed Mathieu to a three-year, $42 million contract to replace safety Eric Berry. Mathieu led a maligned Chiefs defense to its first Super Bowl victory in nearly 50 years and was named MVP by his teammates, after recording four interceptions and 75 tackles during the regular season.

 
2 of 25

2017: Patriots sign Stephon Gilmore

2017: Patriots sign Stephon Gilmore
Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today Sports Images

New England stole Gilmore away from the rival Bills with a five-year, $65 million contract in 2017. The cornerback was an All-Pro for the Pats in 2018 and 2019 and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.

 
3 of 25

2017: Eagles sign Nick Foles

2017: Eagles sign Nick Foles
Matthew Emmons / USA Today Sports Images

Philadelphia brought in Foles to back up second-year quarterback Carson Wentz in 2017. The move seemed somewhat inconsequential at the time, but it helped lead Philadelphia to its first-ever Super Bowl victory. Foles started the final three games of the regular season and went on to win Super Bowl MVP. nb游戏平台 The following year, Foles went 4-1 as a starter during the regular and started again in the playoffs for the Eagles due to more injuries to Wentz.

 
4 of 25

2012: Broncos sign Peyton Manning

2012: Broncos sign Peyton Manning
Robert Hanashiro / USA Today Sports Images

The 2012 NFL offseason was also the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, as the elite quarterback went looking for a new team after sitting out the 2011 season with a neck injury. Led by the recruitment efforts of John Elway, Denver got its Man-ning. Manning put up spectacular numbers in his first three seasons with the Broncos, including a record-breaking 2013 season, but his one Super Bowl victory with the franchise came in an injury-plagued 2015 season as a result of Denver's elite defense.

 
5 of 25

2009: Dolphins sign Cameron Wake

2009: Dolphins sign Cameron Wake
Rich Barnes / USA Today Sports Images

Wake won the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award twice before signing with Miami in 2009. He quickly became a star with the Dolphins, making five Pro Bowl appearances in 10 seasons as one of the league's top pass rushers.

 
6 of 25

2008: 49ers sign Justin Smith

2008: 49ers sign Justin Smith
Brian Bahr / Getty Images

Smith was a good player during his first seven seasons in Cincinnati, but he turned into an elite one after signing a massive six-year, $45 million deal with the 49ers in 2008. During his seven seasons in San Francisco, Smith made five Pro Bowls and recorded 43.5 sacks while missing a total of two games. He also appeared in one Super Bowl with the team.

 
7 of 25

2006: Saints sign Drew Brees

2006: Saints sign Drew Brees
Bob Donnan / USA Today Sports Images

The greatest free agent signing ever? Brees joined the Saints in 2006 as the team returned to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Coming off a shoulder injury, Brees went from being a good quarterback in San Diego to an elite one under Sean Payton with the Saints. Since the signing, Brees has made 12 Pro Bowls in 14 seasons, won one Super Bowl and led the NFL in passing yards seven times.

 
8 of 25

2006: Packers sign Charles Woodson

2006: Packers sign Charles Woodson
Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Coming off an injury-ravaged 2005 season in Oakland, Woodson signed a seven-year deal with Green Bay in his age-30 season. He would be well worth the money, making four Pro Bowls in his seven seasons with the Packers, with a staggering 38 interceptions. He moved to safety later in his time with the Packers and finished his career with Oakland.

 
9 of 25

2005: Cardinals sign Kurt Warner

2005: Cardinals sign Kurt Warner
Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

It looked like Warner could be finished after a year with the Giants in 2004, settling on a one-year deal with the Cardinals. He wasn't much better in his next two seasons with Arizona. However, the former Rams MVP started to turn a corner in 2007 and led the team to a Super Bowl appearance the following year. After another good season in 2009, Warner retired from football. 

 
10 of 25

2004: Steelers sign James Harrison

2004: Steelers sign James Harrison
Justin K. Aller / Getty Images

Harrison wasn't much of a prospect early in his career, going through stints with the Steelers, Ravens and Rhein Fire. He eventually went back to Pittsburgh in 2004 but didn't work his way into the lineup regularly until 2007. That season started a streak of five straight Pro Bowls, with Harrison winning the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year after recording 16 sacks. He also won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh.

 
11 of 25

2001: Chiefs sign Priest Holmes

2001: Chiefs sign Priest Holmes
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

After winning Super Bowl XXXV in Baltimore as Jamal Lewis' backup, Holmes signed with the Chiefs in 2001. He was expected to fight for snaps with Trent Richardson and Co. in the revitalized offense under head coach Dick Vermeil but turned into a superstar almost immediately. His first three seasons in Kansas City rank among the best ever by an NFL running back, as he gained more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage in each season with a total of 61 touchdowns. Holmes was voted the 2002 Offensive Player of the Year. He played only 19 more games over four years following 2003, struggling through injuries.

 
12 of 25

2001: Buccaneers sign Simeon Rice

2001: Buccaneers sign Simeon Rice
Joe Robbins / Getty Images

Rice signed a huge five-year deal with Tampa Bay after five seasons in Arizona. Already a great pass rusher, he took the Bucs defense to another level with 67.5 sacks and one Super Bowl victory in his first five seasons with the team.

 
13 of 25

2001: Patriots sign Mike Vrabel

2001: Patriots sign Mike Vrabel
Joe Robbins / Getty Images

Now the Titans head coach, Vrabel never started an NFL game before signing with the Patriots from Pittsburgh in 2001. He became a key part of the team's defense over the following eight seasons, totaling 604 tackles and 48 sacks and winning three Super Bowls.

 

 
14 of 25

1999: Raiders sign Rich Gannon

1999: Raiders sign Rich Gannon
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

The Chiefs made the controversial decision of sticking with Elvis Grbac in 1999 despite Gannon's success in Kansas City. Gannon signed with the rival Raiders in his age-34 season and made four straight Pro Bowls. He also won the 2002 MVP, leading the league with 4,689 passing yards, but Oakland was blown out by Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.

 
15 of 25

1998: Ravens sign Rod Woodson

1998: Ravens sign Rod Woodson
Michael J. Minardi / Getty Images

Woodson had 10 seasons in Pittsburgh and one year in San Francisco, but he became a free agent in 1998 after the 49ers cut him. After eventually signing in Baltimore, he helped complete one of the greatest defenses in league history. Woodson made four straight Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XXXV in 2000-01 for one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen.

 
16 of 25

1998: Jets sign Curtis Martin

1998: Jets sign Curtis Martin
The Sporting News / Getty Images

Bill Parcells coached Martin in New England during the running back's first two seasons and managed to bring him to the Jets in 1998. Martin signed in New York as a restricted free agent and would spend the rest of his career in New York. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons with the team and led the league with 1,697 yards rushing in 2004.

 
17 of 25

1998: Rams sign Kurt Warner

1998: Rams sign Kurt Warner
Rich Kane / Icon Sportswire

Warner agreed to a futures contract with the Rams in 1998 and became a backup quarterback for the team after playing in NFL Europe. He barely found the field in his first season but was forced into a starting role the following year after Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. The rest is history, as Warner went on to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl and win two MVP Awards in six seasons with the team.

 
18 of 25

1998: Jets sign Kevin Mawae

1998: Jets sign Kevin Mawae
Rich Kane / USA Today Sports Images

New York signed Mawae away from Seattle after his fourth season, and he became a staple on the team's offensive line with six straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1999-2004. He also never missed a start during his first seven seasons with the team before suffering a triceps injury in 2005, his final year with the team.

 
19 of 25

1996: Jaguars sign Keenan McCardell

1996: Jaguars sign Keenan McCardell
Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images

Jacksonville signed McCardell to a lucrative contract in only its second season as a franchise, and it turned out to be a perfect fit. McCardell had his first 1,000 yard season in 1996 and would surpass that mark four times in his six years with the Jaguars. The wide receiver duo of McCardell and Jimmy Smith is still remembered as one of the best of the '90s.

 
20 of 25

1995: Bills sign Bryce Paup

1995: Bills sign Bryce Paup
Robert Sullivan / AFP / Getty Images

Few free agent signings in history got better immediate returns than Buffalo's signing of Paup in 1995. He recorded a league-high 17.5 sacks in his first season with the Bills, winning Defensive Player of the Year after five years in Green Bay. Paup had a total of 33 sacks in three seasons with the team.

 
21 of 25

1995: Cowboys sign Deion Sanders

1995: Cowboys sign Deion Sanders
John Ruthroff / AFP / Getty Images

After winning a Super Bowl with the rival 49ers in 1994, Sanders signed a seven-year contract with Dallas in 1995. "Prime Time" would end up spending only five of those years with the Cowboys but was an All-Pro three times and made four Pro Bowls. Dallas won a Super Bowl in his first season.

 
22 of 25

1994: 49ers sign Deion Sanders

1994: 49ers sign Deion Sanders
Kevin Reece / Icon Sportswire

nb游戏平台After five seasons in Atlanta, Sanders joined the 49ers and won Defensive Player of the Year after recording six interceptions and returning three for touchdowns. The two-sport star also helped lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory.

 
23 of 25

1993: Packers sign Reggie White

1993: Packers sign Reggie White
Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

White was already an elite top defensive lineman in football when he left Philadelphia to sign a four-year contract with Green Bay in 1993. He recorded 68.5 sacks over six seasons with the Packers, winning 1998 Defensive Player of the Year and one Super Bowl.

 

 
24 of 25

1984: Oilers sign Warren Moon

1984: Oilers sign Warren Moon
William R. Sallaz / Getty Images

After going undrafted in 1978, Moon became a star in the CFL with five consecutive Grey Cup victories. He entered the NFL in 1984, signing with the Oilers and eventually proving he could play in the league. He spent 10 years in Houston, leading the league in passing yards twice and winning the 1990 Offensive Player of the Year.

 
25 of 25

1978: Raiders sign Jim Plunkett

1978: Raiders sign Jim Plunkett
Sylvia Allen / Getty Images

Plunkett revitalized his career with the Raiders after San Francisco released him in 1978. He spent two years as the Raiders backup but replaced the injured Dan Pastorini in 1980. Plunkett would go on to win 1980 Comeback Player of the Year and lead his team to two Super Bowl victories before his career concluded following the 1986 season.

 

Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter .


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