Commentary

White ranks as greatest free agent of all time

The late Reggie White ranks as the greatest free agent of all time. Find out who else is in the top 10.

Originally Published: February 28, 2008
By David Rose and Russell S. Baxter | ESPN.com

Reggie White, Deion Sanders and Curtis MartinUS PresswireReggie White, Deion Sanders and Curtis Martin all had sizable impacts after they signed as free agents.

Below are 10 greatest players to hit the open market since 1993, which was the first year of free agency in its current form:

1. Reggie White, defensive lineman
Signed with Packers in 1993

The first year of free agency in the NFL saw one of the best defensive players in history make a surprising move that helped return the Packers to championship form. White left the Eagles and signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Packers in 1993.

White would play six seasons in Green Bay, recording 68½ sacks and winning defensive player of the year honors in his final season with the Packers in 1998. The Packers reached the postseason in all six of White's season with the team. His Super Bowl-record three sacks in Super Bowl XXXI against the Patriots helped give the Packers their first Super Bowl title in 29 years.

2. Deion Sanders, cornerback
Signed with 49ers in 1994 and Cowboys in 1995

Sanders made free-agent magic for two teams in back-to-back seasons. After five seasons with the Falcons, he parted ways with the team and signed a one-year contract with the 49ers in September of 1994. In 14 games with the 49ers that season, Sanders had six interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, and was named the defensive player of the year as the 49ers won their fifth Super Bowl title.

After the Cowboys saw the 49ers end their two-year reign as Super Bowl champions, the Cowboys signed Sanders to a long-term deal in September of 1995. Sanders would help lead the Cowboys to their third Super Bowl title in four seasons. He played five seasons in Big D.

3. Curtis Martin, running back
Signed with Jets in 1998

Then-Patriots head coach Bill Parcells selected Martin in the third round in the 1995 draft. When Parcells eventually wound up with the Jets, he knew he had to have his man. In '98, the Jets signed Martin to a six-year, $36 million offer sheet, and when the Patriots declined to match, New York ensured the services of a player who would wind up as the league's fourth-leading rusher of all time.

After rushing for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first three seasons with New England, Martin turned that trick in seven straight years with New York. In 2004 at age 31, he totaled a league-best 1,697 yards, becoming the oldest player in NFL history to lead the league in rushing.

4. Marcus Allen, running back
Signed with Chiefs in 1993

After 11 sometimes tumultuous seasons with the Raiders, Allen found a new NFL life when he signed as an unrestricted free agent in 1993 with one of Oakland's most-hated rivals -- the Kansas City Chiefs.

Allen teamed with Joe Montana to pay immediate dividends. Allen would lead the AFC with 15 total touchdowns (12 rushing, 3 receiving) and helped lead the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game that season. In all, Allen scored 47 of his 145 career total TDs in five seasons as a Chief, before retiring following the 1997 season.

5. Adam Vinatieri, place-kicker
Signed with the Colts in 2006

If you can't beat them (consistently), then take away their players. The Colts' signing of Vinatieri was not only a major addition for Indianapolis (which had grown wary of unpredictable PK Mike Vanderjagt), but hurt the rival Patriots, who had won three Super Bowls the previous five years.

Vinatieri, a one-time rookie free-agent find (signed by the Patriots in 1996), was very pivotal during Indianapolis' Super Bowl run in '06. He set an NFL playoff record by scoring 49 points in the same postseason (14 field goals, 7 PATs), including all of the Colts' points in a 15-6 victory at Baltimore in the AFC divisional playoffs.

6. Priest Holmes, running back
Signed with Chiefs in 2001

Talk about making the most of a career. Holmes was an undrafted free agent signed by Baltimore in 1997 and was a very productive player, starting against the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. But in 2000, the same year the Ravens won that NFL championship, the organization drafted RB Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall selection, and it was Lewis who gained 100-plus yards rushing in the Super Bowl.

Holmes was signed by the Chiefs in '01, and a good career became great before injuries in recent years forced him to retire. It's worth noting that in his first four seasons with the Chiefs, Holmes totaled 5,482 yards rushing, caught 225 passes for 2,163 yards and scored 76 touchdowns in 54 games. In his four seasons with the Ravens (1997-00), Holmes ran for 2,102 yards, caught 88 passes for 585 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 48 games.

7. Plaxico Burress, wide receiver
Signed with Giants in 2005

Burress assured his place on this list with 35 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLII. And this is a guy who had no receptions in his first postseason game with the Giants back in 2005 against the Panthers. Burress has 3,227 receiving yards and 29 TD receptions in three seasons after signing a six-year, $25 million contract with the Giants prior to the 2005 season.

Burress, who played five seasons in Pittsburgh, predicted a Giants win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, and then hauled in the game-winning TD pass from Eli Manning in the final minute to help give the Giants the Super Bowl title.

8. Lorenzo Neal, fullback
Signed with Chargers in 2003

It would be wrong to just focus on Neal's days in San Diego, but we'll use that as a jumping-off point because that's where the former Fresno State product currently resides. The well-traveled fullback has been a free agent (and once-traded) sensation for many teams (Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Titans, Bengals and Chargers) after beginning his career with New Orleans in 1993. The veteran has paved the way for 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing performances (including the last five by RB LaDainian Tomlinson) and has been named to four Pro Bowls (including 3 straight with the Chargers).

9. Mike Vrabel, linebacker
Signed with Patriots in 2001

Who knew that a relatively obscure signing would turn into one of the most important players for the team of this decade. With the Steelers' surplus of outside linebackers, Vrabel became a free agent following the 2000 season. He signed a three-year, $5.29 million contract with the Patriots.

In seven seasons with the team, Vrabel has collected 44 sacks, including 12½ sacks during the 2007 season in which he was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Also in New England, Vrabel has caught 10 passes (including playoffs), with all 10 going for touchdowns. He has TD receptions in both Super Bowl XXXVIII versus Panthers and Super Bowl XXXIX versus the Eagles.

10. Steve Hutchinson, guard
Signed with Vikings in 2006

It wasn't long ago that Seahawks LT Walter Jones and then-teammate Hutchinson were considered the best left side in the league, helping RB Shaun Alexander capture NFL MVP honors in '05. But inexplicably in '06, Seattle opted to designate Hutchinson a "transition" player rather than give him the "franchise" tag, and the crafty Vikings signed the blocker extraordinaire to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet that was virtually impossible for the Seahawks to match.

And because there's no compensation for a transition player (opposed to a pair of first-round draft choices for a franchise player), it's the Vikings who are now in the discussion (with LT Bryant McKinnie and C Matt Birk) as the team with the best left side in the league -- one that now paves the way for RB Adrian Peterson.

David Rose and Russell S. Baxter work in the research department of ESPN.