Are you like me and desperate for any type of sports discussion? Pro Football Network has you covered with the up-to-date NFL free agency news and, of course, the best draft coverage in football. Check out who the winners and losers are daily and where the remaining free agents are likely to land. Speaking of free agency, I wanted to review where teams have succeeded in the past, so I analyzed and broke down every team’s best free agent signing since 2000. I kick off my review with the AFC teams. I used the following criteria: length of a career with the team, individual performance stats, awards, and team success. Check out your favorite team and share your thoughts.
WR Derrick Mason
— Ravens Insider (@RavensInsider) September 15, 2016
Derrick Mason played eight seasons with the Oilers/Titans before signing as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005.
Mason never missed a game over six seasons with the Ravens, amassing at least 1,000 receiving yards in all but two of those seasons. He never had fewer than 61 receptions in a season with the Ravens, which is quite an accomplishment considering he had the likes of Kyle Boller and Troy Smith throwing him the ball.
The former Spartan finished as the team career leader with 471 catches and 5,777 yards receiving. He also ranks third with 29 touchdown catches and is the only player in NFL history with at least 5,000 yards in returns and 10,000 yards receiving.
Honorable mention: Center Matt Birk
LB London Fletcher
The Buffalo Bills signed London Fletcher from the St. Louis Rams and was the defensive leader on a team that played in two of the last three Super Bowls.
Fletcher led the Bills in tackles in each of his five seasons with the Bills, including a career-high 209 in 2002. He played 80 straight games for the Bills, which was part of an incredible streak of 256 in a row over his 16-year career.
Inexplicably, the Bills allowed Fletcher to sign with the Redskins in free agency in 2007, where he played another seven seasons, making four Pro Bowls before retiring in 2014.
Honorable mention: LB Takeo Spikes
RB Cedric Benson
Cedric Benson wound up with the Cincinnati Bengals after being released by the Chicago Bears in 2008. During his time in Cincinnati, Benson finally developed into the featured running back that everyone thought that he was projected after a standout collegiate career with the Texas Longhorns.
In four seasons with the Bengals, Benson, who led the team in rushing each season, played in 56 games and produced 4,176 yards on 1109 carries with 21 touchdowns.
Benson was in trouble with the law thorough his NFL tenure and finished his career with the Green Bay Packers. Sadly, Cedric Benson was tragically killed at 36 years old in a motorcycle crash in 2019.
Honorable mention: LB Dhani Jones
RB Jamal Lewis
Jamal Lewis was drafted fifth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens and rushed for 7,801 yards during his tenure with the Ravens. Lewis gained 1,364 yards as the featured back for the Super Bowl champion Ravens in his rookie season of 2000.
During the 2003 season, Lewis became only the fifth back in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. His total was boosted by a mammoth game against the Cleveland Browns when he rushed for 295 yards, which was then the NFL single-game record.
His production started to slip after that magical season and was subsequently released, although the Ravens were still holding out hope to resign him but at a lower cost. Lewis decided not to wait and signed a one-year deal with the Browns in 2007.
Plenty of NFL personnel believed that Lewis didn’t have much left in the tank; however, he rushed for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Browns. The caveat was that his carries, yards, and touchdowns have all gone down since 2007.
The injuries and the wear and tear caught up to Lewis, and he was placed on injured reserve in the 2009 season for concussion-related issues. Lewis announced his retirement after the 2009 season.
Honorable mention: Guard Kevin Zeitler
QB Peyton Manning
#TBT – 𝐆𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭 𝐒𝐮𝐩𝐞𝐫 𝐁𝐨𝐰𝐥 𝐌𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) January 30, 2020
This selection was the most obvious of them all.
Peyton Manning chose the Denver Broncos after he was let go by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 due to significant concerns after multiple neck surgeries.
There were serious doubts regarding his health when the Broncos signed him; however, Manning exceeded all expectations. The Broncos won the AFC West in all four seasons he played in Denver. He also led the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances, winning Super Bowl L.
From an individual standpoint, Manning put up the most impressive statistical season by a quarterback in 2013. He broke a plethora of records with 55 touchdowns, ten to five different players. He also threw for a record 5,477 yards while Denver’s offense scored 606 total points.
Manning retired following the 2015 season as the only starting QB to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
Peyton Manning is the best free-agent signing in professional sports history.
Honorable Mention: CB Aqib Tali
CB Johnathan Joseph
Johnathan Joseph joined the Houston Texans after five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. With Cincinnati, Joseph made 58 starts in 67 games, recording 272 tackles and 14 interceptions.
Joseph helped improve the NFL’s worst secondary and was a vital part of the Houston defenses throughout the past nine seasons. Since joining the Texans, Joseph has had at least one interception in seven of his eight years with the franchise.
The two-time Pro Bowler has played in eight playoff games with Houston, where he’s produced two interceptions, ten passes defended, and 40 tackles.
Joseph appeared in 133 games (128 starts) and helped elevate the team into playoff contenders, which makes Johnathan Joseph the best free-agent signing in Houston Texans history.
Honorable Mention: Fullback Vonta Leach
Kicker Adam Vinatieri
#Colts Kicker Adam Vinatieri has officially scored the most points in NFL history 👏👏👏
He has 2,547 points, and counting 🙌
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) October 28, 2018
Adam Vinatieri built the most potent legacy for a kicker. Vinatieri is the all-time leading scorer in NFL history. Vinatieri has made some of the biggest kicks in NFL history, including the kick to give the New England Patriots their first title and kicked off the greatest dynasty in league history.
Vinatieri was an unrestricted free agent in 2006, and the Patriots were unwilling to pay the most clutch kicker ever. Vinatieri decided to sign with the Indianapolis Colts, who were the Patriots rivals for the last several seasons.
Vinatieri continued his clutch kicking after 14 seasons with the Colts, whether it was Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck leading the team. He is the last player on the Colts’ roster to win a Super Bowl with the team, as he did so in 2006. He is also the last player left to play on the 2009 team that lost to the New Orleans Saints.
Vinatieri is the only kicker deserving the attention as the best free-agent signing.
Honorable Mention: RB Frank Gore
DE Calais Campbell
Calais Campbell was drafted in the second round out of Miami in the 2008 NFL Draft. In his nine years with the Cardinals, Campbell produced 124 quarterback hits, 107 tackles for a loss, 56.5 sacks, and 42 passes defended.
Campbell entered the 2017 NFL free agency with the Cardinals believing that his best football days were behind him. The Jacksonville Jaguars swept in and gave Campbell a four-year deal worth $60 million.
In his first season in Jacksonville, Campbell was instrumental in changing the defensive culture and had 14.5 sacks while leading the Jaguars defense to the AFC Championship Game. Campbell backed up his 2017 breakout season with ten quarterback sacks the following season.
The former Hurricane made his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl in five seasons and made the Pro Bowl in every single season he has been in Jacksonville.
Campbell has established himself as not only the best free-agent signing with the Jaguars but also one of the top players in franchise history.
Honorable Mention: LB Paul Posluszny
Kansas City Chiefs
RB Priest Holmes
Priest Holmes was undrafted out of Texas in 1997, and the Baltimore Ravens signed him after the draft. In 1998, Holmes rushed for over 1,000 yards with the Ravens and won a Super Bowl.
After winning a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens, Priest Holmes found himself in the free agency pool. The Kansas City Chiefs signed Holmes, getting him at a cheap rate when other NFL teams did not heavily pursue Holmes.
After seven seasons with Kansas City, Holmes held the team records for career rushing yards, rushing attempts, and total touchdowns. Before injuries derailed his career, Holmes racked up an absurd 4,590 yards and 56 touchdowns in just three seasons.
Holmes was a fantastic running back and were it not for being injury-prone near the end of his career, he would still hold all of the team’s rushing records. Holmes went into the Chiefs Hall of Fame during the 2014 season and was one of the Chiefs’ best free-agent signings and bargains in franchise history.
Honorable Mention: Tackle Willie Roaf
Los Angeles Chargers
Center Mike Pouncey
We've agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Center Mike Pouncey. pic.twitter.com/LhaJTIusGW
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) March 19, 2018
Mike Pouncey started all 93 games he appeared in for the Miami Dolphins since being their first-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Pouncey was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2013, then was asked to move to guard the following season where he earned his second Pro Bowl selection. In 2015, Pouncey moved back to center and won his third Pro Bowl berth.
The Dolphins granted his request to be released after the 2017 season after he wouldn’t agree to restructure his contract.
The then-San Diego Chargers jumped in and signed Pouncey to a two-year deal to solidify the offensive line and help the Chargers’ ground attack.
Pouncey was named to this fourth Pro Bowl in 2018 and was voted a team captain before the start of the 2019 season. Unfortunately, his 2019 season was cut short after five games after suffering a neck injury that resulted in Pouncey having to undergo neck surgery and be out for the rest of the season.
Honorable Mention: CB Casey Hayward
OLB Cameron Wake
The Miami Dolphins signed Cameron Wake after a tremendous career in the Canadian Football League. Wake was a two-time CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player and two-time CFL All-Star. He was also voted to be a part of the CFL All-Decade team for the 2000s.
Wake had an excellent career with the Dolphins appearing in five Pro Bowls. He was also a one-time first-team All-Pro and three-time second-team All-Pro. Wake produced 98 sacks in his 10-year tenure with the Dolphins.
He played in a lowly time for the Dolphins, appearing in only one playoff game in his 10-year career. He finished second on the team’s all-time leader for sacks with 98 career sacks.
The former Penn State star became a free agent after the 2018 and signed a two-year deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Honorable Mention: QB Chad Pennington
New England Patriots
Safety Rodney Harrison
Rodney Harrison was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1994 and went to the Pro Bowl twice during nine seasons with the team. In 2003, the Chargers believed that Harrison was past his prime and released him.
The New England Patriots believed otherwise and signed the Strong Safety to a six-year contract. Harrison felt he had something to prove and went out and led all NFL defensive backs in tackles and started every game for his new team. He finished off the season as a first-team All-Pro and as a Super Bowl champion.
Harrison followed up his great inaugural season with an even better 2014 season. He led all NFL defensive backs in tackles again and was dominant in the playoffs. He intercepted four passes, including two in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Harrison is the most significant free-agent signing and always seemed to make the key plays. The Patriots honored Harrison by inducting him into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame in 2019.
Honorable Mention: LB Mike Vrabel
New York Jets
OLB Calvin Pace
Calvin Pace was labeled as a draft bust after being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 18th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Pace ended up playing five seasons with the Cardinals before signing with the New York Jets in free agency in the 2008 offseason.
Pace turned around his career with the Jets, playing in 120 games over eight seasons. He was part of the dominant Rex Ryan defenses and became one of the most productive edge rushers in team history.
Honorable Mention: LB Bart Scott
DB Charles Woodson
— D. Moore (@dvmoore1205) March 21, 2020
Woodson spent eight seasons with the silver and black and led the Raiders to three consecutive division championships and an AFC Championship title in 2002 before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Following the 2005 season, the former Wolverine signed with the Green Bay Packers. He won a Super Bowl there in 2009, and his play reached another level, including winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Woodson returned to the Raiders in 2013 and played until 2015, where he had one of his best seasons. He played all 16 games and was on the field for a team-high 1,100 snaps. He led the team with 160 tackles, including 105 solo tackles and four interceptions.
He holds the unique distinction of being selected to the Pro Bowl in three different decades and is a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team.
Woodson is probably the most complete defensive back of all-time and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.
Honorable Mention: Safety Rod Woodson
LB James Farrior
James Farrior played ten seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers after signing as a free agent in 2001 from the New York Jets. The Jets former first overall draft pick played in 154 games in Pittsburgh, with 30 sacks and 1,078 tackles.
The inside linebacker is the Steelers’ all-time leader with 742 tackles and led the team in that category every year between 2003 and 2009.
Farrior was an essential component in the Steelers run to Super Bowl XL, especially his performance against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional playoffs when he recorded ten tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Farrior led the Steelers defense to three Super Bowls, earning rings in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.
Farrior is considered by many as the Steelers’ best unrestricted free agent signing in the history of the six-time Super Bowl champions.
Honorable Mention: Safety Ryan Clark
TE Delanie Walker
Delanie Walker spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, serving primarily as the backup tight end for Vernon Davis. The Titans signed Walker to replace Jared Cook, who left via free agency.
Walker was among the most consistent players for the Titans during his seven seasons with the team. He had four straight seasons of at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards from 2014-2017 and made three Pro Bowls over that span.
Walker holds the Titans/Oilers tight end record with 28 touchdown catches. He was often the best player on some terrible teams and was a vital cog in assisting to turn the franchise around.
Honorable Mention: Center Kevin Mawae