He was the original, the first. He played in the city of brotherly love for 8 glorious seasons. Despite the Eagles not winning anything White was a pure force of nature, watching him play was like watching a tsunami. In those 8 seasons, he became Philadelphia’s all-time sack leader with 124 sacks in 121 games. With his highest amount coming in 1987 when get this, he recorded 21 sacks in 12 games (The season was shortened). But, to the despair of Eagles fans, in 1993 White became the first big name free agent after a new deal was made by the NFL.
White then signed a 4-year $17 million contract with the Green Bay Packers, famously saying that God had told him to sign there. White continued his dominance over NFL offensive lines for 6 seasons, as he racked up another 68.5 sacks. Most importantly he helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI, their first championship since 1967. It was his dominance that proved the success of free agency for other teams.
He was their leader, their franchise, a man who’d won 4 league MVP’s and brought the Colts their first championship in over 30 years. To be frank, Peyton Manning was the Colts. He had been their number 1 overall pick in 1998 and had played every season since. He brought success to a team that hadn’t seen success in as long as they could remember. However, in 2011 Peyton Manning missed the entire season with a neck injury that required spinal fusion surgery. Without their talisman the Colts went 2-14, meaning for just the third time since 1998 that they didn’t win at least 10 games. Due to their record, the Colts held the first overall pick so made the decision to release Manning in 2012.
Instantly, he became the most sought-after free agent. Manning weighed up his options and decided to take his skills to the Denver Broncos. He signed a 5-year contract worth $96 million and boy did it end up being worth it. I think in Denver Manning exceeded expectations due to his age and coming off neck surgery. He took the Broncos to two Super Bowls, winning one. He won his 5th MVP and was the quarterback for the most prolific offence in NFL history in 2013. He threw for a record 55 touchdown passes that season and became the all-time leader in touchdown passes thrown in history. He retired in 2015 after winning his second ring.
He was drafted 5th overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989 after a storied career at Florida State. Whilst at college he was given the nickname ‘Primetime’ due to his ability to make big plays. It didn’t take him long for people to realise it was correct, as he returned his first punt for a touchdown. Known for his trash talking as well as his playing and fashion style, Sanders certainly backed it up on the field for Atlanta getting 24 interceptions, and in his five years there scoring 10 touchdowns. But he wanted to win, so in 1994 he signed with the San Francisco 49ers. It was here he had his best season as a professional, grabbing 6 interceptions and was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The crowning achievement of his move from the Falcons to the 49ers was an interception in Super Bowl XXIX that helped the 49ers win 49-26 against the Chargers. Deion then decided to court every team in the league for his services; in the end, he chose the Dallas Cowboys. Sanders took his talents and put them to good use as he helped the Cowboys them reach the top of the NFL mountain. He was a key player 27-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. For back to back Super Bowl wins with two different teams due to free agency, Deion had to make my list.
He was one of the best quarterbacks in college football when he played for Purdue, but concerns about his height, lack of arm strength and his production merely coming from an air raid offence. All of this meant that Brees fell to the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft. It took him time to mature into a productive quarterback, he just didn’t do it fast enough, which led to the Chargers deciding to pick Phillip Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft. With this in mind, you would have been reasonable in thinking that Brees folded, knowing his job was in jeopardy. However, he led the team to a 12-4 record and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Despite an early exit in the playoffs, the future seemed bright for Brees; The Chargers gave him the franchise tag for the 2005 season, he had 3,576 yards passing and an 89.2 QBR. But, in the last game of the season, he tore his labrum in his throwing shoulder when he was tackled trying to recover his own fumble. Brees had surgery on it in the offseason, but it frightened the Chargers who offered him a very cheap deal to stay.
So, Brees met with other teams and eventually decided on the New Orleans Saints. He signed a 6 year $60m contract and the rest they say is history. Brees, with the weight of post-Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans on his shoulders has completely turned it around for the Saints. He’s been named to 11 Pro Bowls, 4 All-Pros, been named NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice and set numerous amazing records. But his best achievement was helping bring the Vince Lombardi trophy back to the Big Easy. Brees was named Super Bowl MVP as the Saints defeated Peyton Manning and the Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV, forever etching his name into New Orleans sports lore.
This man was something else! In his final season at the University of Michigan, he led them to a share of the national championship and became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. With this pedigree, Woodson was drafted 4th overall by the Raiders in 1998. He played there until the end of the 2005 NFL season. During his time in the silver and black Woodson was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, went to 4 Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro for three consecutive years. The Raiders reached the Super Bowl in 2002 but were blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After some injuries in 2004 and 2005, the Raiders decided not to offer him a new deal and Woodson became a free agent.
Similarly to White, Woodson a standout on his previous team chose to go to the Packers. In 2006 he signed a 7-year $52 million contract, and it was worth every penny to Green Bay fans when Woodson was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and then the next year he helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV. It was their first title since the championship White had helped bring to Wisconsin. Woodson was also named All-Pro four times and named to the Pro Bowl three times as a Packer, playing both Cornerback and Safety.
Warner’s story is unbelievable, so I’ll quickly summarize it but if you want more details to check out his “A Football Life” on YouTube. So, he wasn’t wholly unknown coming out of college, so much so that after being cut by the Packers. Warner believed his NFL dream was fading to decided to work in a grocery store. But he was picked up by the Rams. After an injury to their starter, Warner became MVP and won the Super Bowl in his first season completely out of the blue. He was the quarterback for one of the best offences in NFL history nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf” till 2003. Then after injuries, he was released by the Rams and picked up by the Giants. There he played poorly, having a 5-4 record and the Giants realised so drafted Eli Manning in 2004. So, Warner decided in 2005 to become a free agent and he signed a 1 year $4m contract with the Arizona Cardinals. He played well enough between injuries that season for the Cardinals to offer him a 3-year extension in 2006.
It was in 2008 where Warner showed his Hall of Fame ability throwing for 4,583 yards with 30 touchdowns. He led the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. After he helped them vanquish the Falcons 30-24 at home, it became the first time the Cardinals had won a post-season home game since the 1947 NFL Championship. Warner wasn’t stopped there, he led Arizona to a convincing 33-13 win over the Panthers, giving them home-field advantage in the NFC Championship game. Which, as you can guess by now with Warner’s magic, they won 32-25 advancing to Super Bowl XLII. Unfortunately for Warner and co, the Cardinals lost 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the magic that Warner brought to Arizona and the magic Arizona brought out in him that puts him on this list.