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Arizona Cardinals

Taking a look at every NFC team’s best free agent signing since 2000

Taking a look at every NFC team's best free agent signing since 2000
Photo Credit: USA Today

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 NFL 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 tackled the NFC teams in this review. Don’t hesitate to analyze my AFC breakdown. 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.

Arizona Cardinals

QB Kurt Warner

Kurt Warner had a fairy tale NFL career. Hollywood couldn’t make up a storyline any better than the football life of Warner. The catalyst of the “Greatest Show on Turf” with the St. Louis Rams is a two-time NFL MVP and became the first quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in a Super Bowl.

His romance in St. Louis ended after the 2003 season when a series of injuries and erratic play led to his release by the Rams. Warner made his way to the New York Giants, where his poor play led to the start of Eli Manning’s NFL career.

In 2005, Warner decided to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, where he battled the infamous Matt Leinart to be the leader of the Cardinals offense. Finally, in 2008, Warner was given full reign and led the Cardinals into the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and their first Super Bowl berth.

Warner threw for 377 yards, but the Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII. Warner and the Cardinals made the playoffs the following season before bowing out to the New Orleans Saints.

Warner announced his retirement after the 2009 season and will be known as a smart, quick throwing quarterback who went from bagging groceries to being inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017.

Honorable mention: Guard Mike Iupati

Atlanta Falcons

RB Michael Turner

Michael Turner was the first prize in free agency heading into the 2008 season. The Atlanta Falcons secured his services with a six-year, $34.5 million contract after luring Turner away from the San Diego Chargers, where he was stuck behind Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Turner proved his worth in his inaugural season in Atlanta when he totaled 1,699 rushing yards and a league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns. Turner spent five wonderful seasons with the Falcons, where he exceeded 1,300 rushing yards in three of those seasons and produced double-digit rushing touchdowns in all five of his years as a Falcon.

“The Burner” finished with the most touchdowns (60) in franchise history.  The team won at least nine games in every season with the Falcons while making the playoffs four out of his five seasons.

Honorable mention: Center Alex Mack 

Carolina Panthers

QB Jake Delhomme

Jake Delhomme took over for Rodney Peete in the first game of the 2003 season and went on to lead the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs and its first Super Bowl appearance.

Delhomme produced a 49-30 record from 2003 to 2008 and was the owner of countless team records before Cam Newton came along. However, Delhomme still leads Newton in one crucial category. He won five playoff games for Carolina at quarterback while Newton has won only three.

Delhomme would be released as part of the veteran house cleaning before the start of Ron Rivera’s tenure as a head coach.

Honorable mention: Kicker John Kasay

Chicago Bears

DE Julius Peppers

The Chicago Bears made a gigantic splash in 2010 free agency when they added the 6-foot-7 freak athlete known as Julius Peppers. Peppers was the best defensive player by far in the class and made the Bears defense even more terrifying.

The former Tar Heel did not disappoint in his four seasons with the Bears while never missing a start. Peppers recorded 37.5 sacks and 47 tackles for loss, along with three interceptions and nine forced fumbles.

Peppers finished his NFL career with 159.5 sacks, which ranks fifth on the all-time sack list and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Honorable mention: DT Akiem Hicks

Dallas Cowboys

WR Terrell Owens

Terrell Owens joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2006 after a fallout with his Philadelphia Eagles’ teammates, mainly Donovan McNabb. Owens heroically helped the Philadelphia Eagles get to Super Bowl XXXIX but ultimately fell short against the New England Patriots.

In his three-year stint with the Cowboys, he posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored double-digit touchdowns in each season while missing only one game due to injury.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys were never able to win a single playoff game during Owens’ tenure with the team. Owens was a great player, but he was also known as a malcontent and selfish and was not well-liked by his teammates.

Owens wore out his welcome in Dallas and was subsequently released by the Cowboys after the completion of the 2008 season.

Owens finished up his career after the 2010 season, ranking third All-Time in receiving yards and touchdowns. He was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Honorable mention: Guard Leonard Davis 

Detroit Lions

WR Golden Tate

Golden Tate was a second-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks out of Notre Dame in 2010 and produced 165 catches for 2,195 yards and 15 touchdowns in four seasons in Seattle.

Tate signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent in 2014. He joined the Lions to help take the heat off the Calvin Johnson-Matthew Stafford dynamic duo. In his first season with the Lions, Tate hauled in a career-high 99 passes and finished sixth in receiving yards.

Tate produced four straight seasons of at least 90 catches and three 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Lions.

The former Golden Domer was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2018 season, which was the final year of his contract.

Honorable Mention: Safety Glover Quin

Green Bay Packers

DB Charles Woodson

There were whispers that Charles Woodson was washed up after playing his first eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, and has not made a Pro Bowl in his last four seasons with the Silver and Black.

His resurgence occurred after signing a huge seven-year deal to play for the Green Bay Packers. In his seven seasons in Green Bay, Woodson has been named All-Pro four times as a Packer and has also been selected to four Pro Bowl squads. In 2009, he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Woodson was an integral ingredient of the defense in the 2010 playoff run that led the Packers to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

He is certainly a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 2021. His play-making ability and stellar play with the Packers turned Woodson into the best free-agent signing the Packers have made since 2000.

Honorable Mention:  OLB/DE Julius Peppers

Los Angeles Rams

LT Andrew Whitworth

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Andrew Whitworth in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He was a stalwart left tackle for 11 seasons before the Bengals inexplicably allowed him to go in free agency in 2016.

The Los Angeles Rams were coming off a four-win season and welcoming a new coach in Sean McVay in 2017. Whitworth signed with the Rams and was named an All-Pro in 2017 while helping the Rams capture the NFC West division title.

Whitworth has played in all 16 games in a season 10 times that includes each of the past two seasons. In 2018, Whitworth was essential to the Rams offense that finished as the league’s second-ranked scoring offense while also helping them get to Super Bowl LIII.

The men in the trenches typically do not get the credit they deserve, but in Whitworth’s case, the left tackle deserves the confidence in being rewarded as the best free-agent signing since 2000.

Honorable Mention: WR Robert Woods

Minnesota Vikings

CB Antoine Winfield

Antoine Winfield was the Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick in 1999 from Ohio State University. After five seasons with the Bills, Winfield joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2004 after he was signed to a six-year contract.

He is one of the most prominent named players that the Vikings ever signed as a free agent. The former Buckeye was one of the few bright spots in Mike Tice’s stint as the Vikings head coach.

In 119 games with the Vikings, Winfield racked up 729 tackles, 21 interceptions for two touchdowns, 11 forced fumbles, and 6.5 sacks. Known as a great tackler and a high-level cornerback, Winfield was always matched up against the opposing team’s best player.

Antoine Winfield is one of the greats that ever wore a Vikings uniform and their best free-agent signing since 2000.

Honorable Mention: DT Pat Williams

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees

Drew Brees started his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, and in his contract year, Brees injured his throwing shoulder and underwent surgery. While there were no projected long-term effects,  several NFL teams were hesitant in offering Brees a long-term contract.

Brees had to decide between two teams: New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins. The Saints outbid the Dolphins while Miami chose to trade a second-round selection for Dante Culpepper. The Saints wanted to make a big splash as the team returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The signing of Brees altered the Saints organization and the city of New Orleans. Brees brought back the city of New Orleans to the limelight and made the Saints an NFL force.

The future NFL Hall of Famer led the Saints to their lone Super Bowl title and is widely regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

The Saints signing Brees will always be recognized as one of the best free-agent signings in NFL history.

Honorable Mention: RB Darren Sproles

New York Giants

WR Plaxico Burress

Wide Receiver Plaxico Burress signed with the New York Giants in 2005 after five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

In his first season with the Giants, Burres was the team’s leading receiver with 76 receptions for 1,214 yards and seven touchdowns. The former Spartan was the team’s leading receiver for three consecutive seasons and set a franchise record with 11 catches for 154 yards in the Giants’ NFC Championship win in 2007.

Every NFL fan knows Burress for the highlight of the season (career?) when he directly led to the team’s Super Bowl XLII upset of the undefeated New England Patriots with a catch of a 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 39 seconds left in the game.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. Burress was involved in a contract dispute before the start of the 2008 season. Inexplicably, Burress injured himself in an accidental shooting at a New York nightclub. The Giants suspended him for the remainder of the season then subsequently released in 2009.

Honorable Mention: Safety Antrel Rolle

Philadelphia Eagles

QB Nick Foles

Nick Foles is not a great NFL quarterback, but don’t tell that to anyone who is a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Foles secured his place in Philadelphia sports history when he led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52.

In a magical performance, Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns as well as one interception. He also caught a touchdown pass and was named the game’s MVP.

During his time in Philadelphia, Foles went 25-13 as a starter in the regular season and playoffs. He owns the highest winning percentage (.676) of any quarterback in franchise history.

Outside of an Eagles uniform, he is more ordinary and changing teams again after initially leaving the Eagles and heading south to join the Jacksonville Jaguars. Foles spent one forgetful season with the Jaguars, and the team traded Foles to the Chicago Bears to battle Mitch Trubisky to be the Bears’ primary signal-caller.

Honorable Mention: OT Jon Runyan

San Francisco 49ers

DE Justin Smith

Justin Smith produced seven successful seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted in the first round by Cincinnati in 2001. Smith signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers and became the anchor of the Niners defense that made three consecutive trips to the NFC title game from 2011-13 and one Super Bowl appearance.

During his career, Smith started 217 of 221 games played, including a streak of 185 consecutive starts from his rookie season through the 2012 season. He made five Pro Bowls in his seven seasons in San Francisco.

Smith posted at least five sacks in 12 of his 14 seasons, but his career statistics were not the most impressive aspect of Justin Smith’s career, his leadership and relentless will never be overlooked.

Honorable Mention: CB Richard Sherman

Seattle Seahawks

LB Julian Peterson

The Seattle Seahawks signed Julian Peterson to a massive seven-year $54 million contract in 2006. They grabbed a dominating linebacker away from the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers, which would make the Pro Bowl all three seasons in Seattle.

His 24.5 sacks in three years were three more than he accomplished in six seasons with the 49ers.

Peterson made a huge impact, but the team required fiscal flexibility in 2009 and traded him to the Detroit Lions for defensive lineman Cory Redding and a fifth-round draft pick.

Honorable Mention: DE Michael Bennett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DE Simeon Rice

Simeon Rice was regarded as the top pass rusher available during the 2001 market. Rice had 51.5 career sacks in his first five NFL seasons, all with the Arizona Cardinals, including a career-best 16.5 sacks in 1999.

Rice was one of the most prolific pass rushers in the NFL, topping 11 sacks in each of his first five seasons with the Buccaneers. His 56.5 sacks from 2002-05 were the most in the NFL during that span.

In six seasons with the Buccaneers, he produced a tremendous 69.5 sacks, adding four interceptions, 26 passes defended, and 19 forced fumbles.

Rice finished 20th on the NFL’s career sacks list and should be the next inductee into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.

Honorable Mention: WR Vincent Jackson

Washington Redskins

LB London Fletcher

His second appearance in the best free-agent signings since 2000, London Fletcher played seven seasons with the Washington Redskins after signing a five-year contract in 2007. Fletcher started in each game he appeared for Washington, totaling 112 starts, and recorded at least 111 tackles in each season. He made four straight Pro Bowl appearances from 2009-2012.

Fletcher retired as a Redskin following the 2013 campaign. He played 256 consecutive games to finish his career and started in 215 straight, which is still the NFL record for consecutive starts at the linebacker position.

The Cleveland, Ohio native was an undersized 5-foot-10 linebacker whose consistent production and leadership qualities led to his induction into the Redskins Ring of Fame.

Honorable Mention: WR DeSean Jackson

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