Last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett to a one-year deal as an unrestricted free agent. That proved to be a very good move, as evidenced by the franchise tag the Buccaneers put on Barrett just this Monday. In one year, the former Denver Bronco went from a player looking for an opportunity to prove himself to a star edge rusher his team can't bear the thought of losing.
That said, Barrett's signing probably didn't lead the news cycle on March 18, 2019, when it was made official by the team. It wasn't the biggest story of the first week of free agency. Judging simply by contract length and size, the signings that made the biggest waves last year were the likes of Landon Collins in Washington, Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram in Baltimore, C.J. Mosley and Le'Veon Bell with the New York Jets, Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith in Green Bay, Nick Foles in Jacksonville, Tyrann Mathieu in Houston and the Bucs' own Kwon Alexander in San Francisco.
This year is different for the Buccaneers. Barrett may have been an under-the-radar steal but there's nothing low-key about the Buccaneers' first free agent signing of 2019. In fact, it might be considered one of the most momentous player relocations in the 28 years of true NFL free agency. That's what happens when the player many believe to be the greatest quarterback of all time – and perhaps greatest player of all time – joins a new franchise after 20 years and six Super Bowl championships in his first home.
That of course is the Bucs' new starting quarterback, one Tom Brady, the only player in NFL history who can't wear all of his Super Bowl championship rings on one hand. (Without doubling up on a finger, that is. And have you seen a Super Bowl ring? They're massive.) Safe to say that Brady already ranks among the biggest names ever to change NFL teams; if he succeeds in leading the Buccaneers back into playoff contention, he might end up as one of the most memorable signings in league history.
YOU MAY LIKE:
Who else is in that category? We're talking about players who were already superstars and had an established identity with a certain franchise. And we're talking free agents who then switched teams to great fanfare and proved to be a big reason their new teams succeeded.
The closest thing the Buccaneers have probably had to that in their free agency history is defensive end Simeon Rice, who had already established himself as one of the league's best pass-rushers for six years in Arizona. Rice signed with the Buccaneers in 2001 and proved to be the final piece to the puzzle for what would become one of the best defenses in league history. Rice had 69.5 sacks in five-and-a-half seasons in Tampa and was a terror during the team's successful run through the 2002 playoffs.
Could Brady help the Buccaneers win a Super Bowl, too? If so he'll easily join the list below.
DE Reggie White, Philadelphia to Green Bay, 1993
This was the first megastar relocation in the era of true free agency. White was one of the 20 plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit that directly led to the first Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1993, which meant the Eagles couldn't keep him in town by using their franchise tag. They still named White their franchise player, but only to ensure that they would receive draft-pick compensation from the league, which they did to the tune of a first-round pick in 1994.
White went on a five-week national tour of teams recruiting his service and eventually ended up with offers from Green Bay, Washington and San Francisco. He stunned the league by picking Green Bay, which was definitely not considered a glamorous free agency destination at the time, but due to the rules of the time the Packers were able to offer the largest contract. That was a four-year, $17 million deal, which doesn't sound impressive now but was eye-opening at the time.
White was 32 at the time he switched teams, but he had never had a season with fewer than 11 sacks. In 1987 he racked up 21 sacks in just 12 games. During his eight years with the Eagles, he had more sacks (124) than games played (121). It's no wonder he wanted the opportunity to sell his services to the highest bidder. White was also a force against the run, to boot.
He didn't disappoint in Wisconsin. He had another 13 sacks in his first year with the Packers, who broke an 11-year playoff drought. Green Bay made the playoffs in all six of White's seasons with the team, and while the emergence of star quarterback Brett Favre had a lot to do that, White earned a lot of the credit, too. The Packers won one Super Bowl and lost another in that span.
CB Deion Sanders, Atlanta to San Francisco, 1994
Sanders hit the NFL as a fully-realized superstar, a master of self-promotion who backed up all of his own hype. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro during his five years in Atlanta, during which he had 24 interceptions and three pick-sixes. He added another five touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns, and when he broke free he always finished off his TD runs with the high-step.
After White dominated free agency in its first year, Sanders was the big prize in Year Two. The Los Angeles Times called Sanders "arguably the most powerful defensive weapon in the NFL." His free agency circuit was complicated by the fact that he was also the starting centerfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but he still entertained offers from Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia, among others.
Sanders picked the 49ers because he thought they gave him the best shot at winning a Super Bowl after his five years in Atlanta produced just one winning season. Three other 49er defenders renegotiated their contracts so San Francisco would have room for Sanders' one-year deal. San Francisco was already a dynasty of sorts, coming off their 11th straight playoff season, but it hadn't won the Super Bowl for – oh, the horror – four straight years. The 49ers thought Sanders would put their defense over the top, and they were right.
Neon Deion intercepted six passes for San Francisco, which he returned for an incredible 303 yards, three of them ending in the end zone. The 49ers rolled through a 13-3 regular season and then demolished San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. Sanders had two more picks in the postseason, including one in the Super Bowl.
Notably, Sanders then signed with Dallas the next year and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXX. But since he had only played one year in San Francisco, this move doesn't fit our criteria of a player who had established his identity on another club.
View pictures from QB Tom Brady's NFL career thus far.
RB Curtis Martin, New England to New York Jets, 1998
This one was complicated because Martin was a restricted free agent after the 1997 season and because the Jets' head coach was the same one who drafted Martin to the Patriots in 1995, Bill Parcells. Martin started his career with a 1,487-yard rookie season for the Patriots and had a total of 32 touchdowns in two years before Parcells left for the Jets. That, too, was an unusual situation as the Jets had to trade several draft picks to the Patriots for the rights to Parcells, who left New England acrimoniously.
Restricted free agents don't change teams often because of the draft pick compensation involved, but Parcells was very motivated for a reunion with Martin. The Jets worked up a deal that was not only very lucrative but also included several "poison pills" that made it very difficult for the Patriots to match. And, in fact, New England chose to take first and third-round draft picks as compensation instead. The NFL has since changed the system to keep teams from including such poison pills.
Parcells never got the Jets to the Super Bowl but Martin's 1,287 yards and eight touchdowns in 1998 helped them win 12 games and get back to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Martin would spend eight more years with the Jets and only fail to reach 1,000 yards in his last season, finishing with career totals of 14,101 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
CB/S Rod Woodson, San Francisco to Baltimore, 1998
In terms of an established identity with an original franchise, Woodson's team was the Steelers, not the 49ers. He was a five-time All-Pro over 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, but that run ended with an injury-plagued 1996 campaign that hurt his value in free agency. He couldn't reach a deal with the Steelers, who then drafted cornerback Chad Scott and stopped trying to bring Woodson back. The 49ers eventually signed him to a three-year deal but he was a cap casualty after one season in the Bay area.
Woodson was 33 at this point and considered by some to be past his prime. He signed with the Ravens to reunite with Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis, who had been an assistant in Pittsburgh while Woodson was racking up 38 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. The move rejuvenated his career as he picked off 13 more passes over the next two seasons and returned four of them for touchdowns. In between those two campaigns he moved from cornerback to safety and became a Pro Bowler at his new position, too.
The Ravens made the playoffs in 1999 and went back four straight years, winning Super Bowl XXXVI after the 2000 season behind one of the greatest defenses of all time. As it turned out, Woodson was a long way from slowing down, as he would play six more seasons in Baltimore and Oakland and pick off 30 more passes to finish his career with 71. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
WR Jerry Rice, San Francisco to Oakland, 2001
Speaking of players known as the G.O.A.T., Rice made his case over 16 unbelievable seasons with the 49ers. He racked up 19,247 yards and 176 touchdowns with San Francisco, both of which would be all-time NFL records even without the four-year coda he tacked on in Oakland and Seattle.
Rice was 38 at the end of the 2000 season and the 49ers were expected to release him in the following offseason for salary cap reasons. They offered him a million-dollar bonus if he chose to retire but he wanted to keep playing and found his opportunity across the bay in Oakland. As it turned out, he definitely had some gas left in the tank.
Rice caught 83 passes for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns with Jon Gruden's Raiders in 2001. The next year, with quarterback Rich Gannon putting up MVP numbers, the Raiders led the NFL in offense and Rice remained ultra-productive, with 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven more scores. The Raiders advanced all the way to the Super Bowl, where they met Grudens' new team, the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay would pick Gannon off five times in a dominant win but Rice still hauled in five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
QB Brett Favre, N.Y. Jets to Minnesota, 2009
Favre, of course, established himself with the Packers from 1992 to 2007, starting a remarkable 253 consecutive games in that span. He would eventually retire as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, though those marks have since been surpassed by Brady and two others mentioned below.
Favre was the ultimate "gunslinger" in Green Bay and he made 11 Pro Bowls while winning three NFL MVP awards. His Packers made the playoffs 11 times in his run as the starter, winning one Super Bowl and losing another. He had 61,655 passing yards and 442 touchdown tosses as a Packer. His final outing as a Packer was a loss to the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game.
Green Bay, which had Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings, wanted a quick answer from Favre about whether he was going to return for the 2008 season, but they didn't get one. Eventually, Favre tearfully announced his retirement in March, but in the months to follow he reconsidered and informed the Packers that he wanted to return. By this point, Green Bay was committed to the transition to Rodgers and the eventual result was a trade of Favre to the New York Jets.
Favre actually wanted to be released once it was clear that he could only return to Green Bay as a backup, as this would allow him to join the team of his choice, which was rumored to be the Vikings. The Packers weren't thrilled by that idea, however, and worked out the trade with New York instead. In the end, however, the Jets released Favre after one season and he promptly signed in Minnesota.
Amazingly, at the age of 40, Favre produced one of his best seasons for the Vikings. He threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns and was only picked off seven times. His 1.3% interception rate led the NFL and was the lowest of his career. The Vikings won 12 games, beat out the Packers for the NFC North title by one game and advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Favre's last pass of that game was intercepted in Saints territory near the end of regulation and Minnesota eventually lost in overtime. His second season in Minnesota wasn't as successful and he retired for good at the end of the 2010 campaign.
View pictures from QB Tom Brady's NFL career thus far.
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis to Denver, 2012
Manning is an easy Hall of Famer based solely on his 13 years with the Colts, but he added an incredible second act in Denver beginning in 2012.
The first-overall draft pick in 1998, Manning won four NFL MVP awards in Indianapolis and threw for nearly 55,000 yards and 400 touchdowns. The Colts posted double-digit win totals in 11 of those 13 years, including the last nine in a row. Manning's team won one Super Bowl and lost another and were a threat for the title nearly every single year. He started all 208 of the Colts' games in that span.
The only thing that finally slowed him and the Colts down was a neck injury that proved worse than expected in the 2011 offseason. After surgery on his neck, Manning had trouble regaining his arm strength and was eventually told he needed spinal fusion surgery. As a result he was not ready for the start of the 2011 season and, in fact, never took the field that fall. Not surprisingly, the Colts cratered to a 2-14 record…though that gave them the first-overall pick again, with Stanford's Andrew Luck considered one of the best QB prospects to come along in years.
The Colts gave Manning his release in March to avoid a huge upcoming roster bonus and then drafted Luck. That made the 36-year-old passer one of the most coveted players on the free agent market, despite the possible concerns of his health and arm strength after a year off. Among the teams interested were the Cardinals, Dolphins, Titans and Broncos.
Any concerns about Manning's health wouldn't last long. He threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns in his first year in Denver in 2012. The next year, he racked up 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both of which are all-time single-season records. Over Manning's first three seasons in Denver, the Broncos compiled a 38-10 record and made it to the Super Bowl after the 2013 campaign. Seattle drubbed Denver in that championship game but the Broncos made it back to the Super Bowl two years later in Manning's final season. He struggled during that season with what appeared to be diminished arm strength and was replaced for a stretch by Brock Osweiler. But the Broncos went back to the future Hall-of-Famer for the playoffs and while his numbers in the postseason were modest his team eventually beat Carolina for Manning's second ring.