The Green Bay Packers have been more active in free agency this year than in recent memory. They have signed Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson, and brought back Tramon Williams. Graham was considered the best tight end on the market and Wilkerson was considered the best 3-4 defensive lineman on the market. It’s safe to say that the Packers may have returned to the Ron Wolf era of building a team, when he kicked off the initial free agency by signing the biggest name ever, Reggie White. Earlier this month, NFL.com ranked the 20 best free agent signings in NFL history and the Packers signing White came in at number 1. That go me thinking, who are the Packers best free agent signings since 1992?
Here are the Packers’ best free agent signings.
Reggie White, DE
The top spot is pretty obvious. Reggie White was the biggest prize on the first free agent market and, had a bigger impact than any unrestricted free agent since. When Ron Wolf began recruiting White, Green Bay was the least desired destination in the National Football League. But White shocked the world and signed with the Packers. Reggie was the best ever to play his position, and he transformed the Packers into a complete team that would win a Super Bowl. With Brett Favre on offense and White on defense, the Packers were a remarkable team. He also dispelled the myth that Green Bay was not an attractive place for free agents. The free-agent floodgates opened with the arrival of Reggie.
Charles Woodson, CB
Outside of Reggie, Charles Woodson probably made the biggest impact on Green Bay. Woodson entered free agency with more fanfare than suitors. He waited nearly two months to make his decision, while Ted Thompson patiently courted Woodson to come to Green Bay. Not only did Ted hit a home run, he got a play who would seal his Hall of Fame credentials. He was a catalyst to a defense that brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown.
Ryan Pickett, DT
Thompson snatched Pickett away from the St. Louis Rams, where he had played five seasons. Ryan Pickett was part of the 2006 free agent class that included Charles Woodson. Pickett was a steady performer for the Packers since joining in Mike McCarthy’s inaugural year. Pickett’s game was stopping the run, and he did that duty well for the Packers. The biggest play of Pickett’s career occurred in Super Bowl XLV. With help from Clay Matthews, both simultaneously hit Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall as he was running with the ball and forced a fumble. LB Desmond Bishop recovered, and the Packers went on to score a TD in the ensuing drive.
Desmond Howard, WR / KR
He only played one season (1996) in Green Bay, but boy was it a heck of year. The former Heisman Trophy winner exploded, setting an NFL record in punt return yards and leading the league in punt return average and touchdowns. He is famous for returning a kick for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI after the New England Patriots had drawn to within 27-21 in the third quarter and set Super Bowl records for kick return yards, punt return yards and tied a record for all-purpose yards while winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award. He was a difference maker on special teams and turned the tables through the season in the Packers favor.
Santana Dotson, DT
He turned coordinator Fritz Shurmur’s defensive line from good to great. Santana Dotson signed with the Packers as a free agent in 1996 after previously playing with the Tampa Bay Bucs from 1992-1995. Dotson became part of the best defensive line in the NFL in 1996, when he joined Reggie White, Sean Jones and Gilbert Brown to give the Packers their own version of the “fearsome foursome.” Led by the defensive line, the Packers had the No. 1 defense in the NFL in 1996. He had 26 sacks during his Packers career.
Frank Winters, C
Frank Winters signed with the Packers 1992 coming form the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only was Frankie the fiery leader of the Packers offensive line for over a decade, he was Brett Favre’s bodyguard both on and off the field. Frank played hard until he heard the whistle, and sometimes just a tab bit longer. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2008.
Julius Peppers, DE
Ted Thompson again shocked the NFL and Packer nation by signed Peppers just two days after the Chicago Bears waived him. In his three years with the Packers he registered 25 of his 143½ career sacks. Overall, Peppers has played 15 seasons, including eight with Carolina and four with the Bears. Clearly, it also takes a special athlete to be as productive as Peppers has been in his mid to late 30s. He was a complimentary pass rusher to Clay Matthews on the outside and provided a veteran presence on the defensive side of the football.
Andre Rison, WR
Ron Wolf brought Rison in during the middle of the season after a ugly defeat on Monday Night to the Dallas Cowboys. But everyone has that ever lasting memory from the Packers’ 1996 Super Bowl title where quarterback Brett Favre was running around crazy with his helmet off, after throwing a 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage. Favre, sensing a blitz from the Patriots, changed the play at the line of scrimmage to ’29 Razor’. Rison, ran a post route and found himself wide open down the seam. A play that has gone down in Packers history.
All of these players made an impact during their time in Green Bay, something that we hope this years free agent class can do. Let’s hope that new General Manager Brian Gutekunst hist some free agency home runs like his predecessors have done. Is there anyone that you would add to this list?
Anthony Haag is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He has been a Packers fan since the day he was born and truly bleeds green and gold. He makes annual visits to Lambeau Field and has attended his fair share of games. You can follow Anthony on Twitter at @anthony_haag