The free agency frenzy is right around the corner, where teams are looking for that next player they hope can take them to the next level. Now the truth of the matter is that after all the money gets dished out and it is time for players to prove their worth, things do not go as well as expected. Nevertheless, there are those rare instances where a player does influence the team and help bring success, so let’s look back at the last decade and see which players exceeded expectations.
1) Drew Brees, Saints, 2006
In 2006 after the Chargers finally decided to move on with Phillip Rivers as their quarterback Drew Brees became available to any team, but was recovering from a shoulder injury that had some teams concerned despite Brees throwing 50 touchdowns compared to 22 interceptions, in his last two seasons with the Chargers. The Saints wined, dined, and signed Brees and he hasn’t disappointed winning a Super Bowl and leading the Saints to their most successful years in franchise history, while breaking every Saints record a quarterback can hold.
2) Charles Woodson, Packers, 2006
After playing up and down because of injuries in Oakland, Charles Woodson found himself with Green Bay helping them win a Super Bowl in 2010 season. Charles Woodson not only helped the Packers bring the Lombardi trophy home, he was also a key component for their defense for many seasons even winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.
3) James Harrison, Steelers, 2004
Yes, James Harrison was an unknown that bounced back in forth from the Steelers to the Ravens, with a stint in NFL Europe in between, still he counts as a free agent. When Harrison finally got his chance to shine, he did not disappoint, as he was a key cog in the success the Steelers had on defense in the mid 2000’s that led to two Super Bowl titles. Pittsburgh released Harrison last season, still he will go down as one of greatest Steeler’s of his era, with his five Pro Bowl appearances and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award.
4) Kurt Warner, Cardinals, 2005
When Kurt Warner came to Arizona critics said he was past his prime, and while it took him a few seasons he proved the naysayers wrong leading the Cardinals to their most successful season in 2009, which ended just shy of winning the Super Bowl, losing an epic game to the Steelers. To put things in perceptive Arizona had a 1-4 playoff record in the Super Bowl era before Warner, and in his time with Cardinals he amassed a playoff record of 4-2 and led the franchise to their only consecutive back-to-back playoff trips.
5) Peyton Manning, Broncos, 2012
It has only been two years since the Sheriff came to town, but he has more than proved that his neck injury is behind him leading the Broncos to two straight division titles, while breaking the season records for touchdowns and passing yards in the process. Yes, Manning and the Broncos took a beating in the Super Bowl less than a month ago, still Manning made Denver fans forget quickly about “Tebow Mania” and has a couple more seasons left in him, so the chances of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Denver are still high.
6) Darren Sharper, Saints, 2009
When Darren Sharper signed with the Saints, many critics said his best years were behind him, but he proved them wrong with his nine interceptions in 2009, while being the leader of the Saints secondary during their Super Bowl winning season. Sharper only had one year of success with New Orleans as injuries took their toll on him in 2010, still what he did the year before was more than anybody thought he would do, which is why he makes this list.
7) Justin Smith, 49ers, 2008
Justin Smith signed with the 49ers in 2008 and has been one of their most productive players on defense amassing 38.5 sacks in his six seasons in San Francisco, while being voted to five Pro Bowls. Smith is a key reason the 49ers defense has been top five the last three seasons, while helping San Francisco make it to the last three NFC Championship games.
8) Brett Favre, Vikings, 2009
Brett Favre’s first season with the Vikings was magical, as he had one of his best seasons, throwing 33 touchdowns and 4,202 passing yards, while leading the team all the way to the NFC Championship game, where they lost in a classic game against the Saints. Now, the 2010 season was nothing worth remembering, as the Vikings fell apart and finished the season 6-10, while Favre battled injuries for most of the season, still what he accomplished in his first season with Minnesota was remarkable.
9) Michael Turner, Falcons, 2008
After being stuck behind Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego for four seasons Michael Turner signed with the Falcons in 2008 and became their workhorse, amassing 6,081 yards and a franchise record 60 rushing touchdowns in his five seasons with the team. With his tank running on fumes Turner was let go last season, still in his time in Atlanta he was a key weapon on offense that help the Falcons clinch the playoffs for three straight years for the first time in franchise history.
10) Michael Vick, Eagles, 2009
Not many people thought Michael Vick could be productive again after spending almost two years in prison, nevertheless Andy Reid took a chance on him, and while he did sit on the bench his first season, when he got his chance in 2010 he ran with it, leading the Eagles to a division title. Injuries have taken their toll on Vick through the years, still he did more than any thought possible after being away from the game so long, and gave Eagles fan some awe-inspiring games like the one against Washington on Monday Night Football, where he scored six touchdowns.