5 Best Free Agent Acquisitions in New York Giants History

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2014

5 Best Free Agent Acquisitions in New York Giants History

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    The NFL calendar resets at 4 p.m. EST on March 11.

    At that time, free agency opens up, and those with contracts set to expire with their current teams will be unrestricted to the opportunities provided by the league's 31 other ball clubs. The New York Giants, looking to add talent after a 7-9 season, will begin their hunt at that moment.

    Through the years, the Giants have acquired hundreds—maybe thousands—of free agents. Many are forgettable; some are mere camp bodies that never see the field outside of preseason exhibitions. Others are stopgaps, admirably filling in at a position of need for a season or two before continuing the trail of an NFL journeyman.

    And yet there are a handful of free agents who have made a lasting impression with Big Blue, carving their names into the annals of Giants history. Not all of New York's greatest football heroes began their careers in the city that never sleeps—they were imported, instead, as free agents.

    This article will commemorate and rank the top-five free agency acquisitions in New York Giants history, based on each player's historical significance and on-field impact with the team.

Honorable Mentions

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    Some unforgettable players joined the Giants as free agents but found themselves on the outside looking in when it came to this list. A few of them are highlighted below:

    P Jeff Feagles (2003, Seattle): Feagles joined the Giants back in 2003, and he punted in New York for the next seven seasons. Along the way, Feagles—who played for the Patriots, Eagles, Cardinals and Seahawks before joining the Giants—became one of the most accomplished punters in NFL history. He retired after the 2009 season at the ripe age of 43 with 513 of his 1,713 career punts coming in Giants blue.

    S Antrel Rolle (2010, Arizona): Rolle, now a team captain, was made the highest-paid safety in NFL history when he signed with the Giants back in 2010. That money was well spent, as Rolle has quickly developed into one of the team's most vocal leaders. He started in Super Bowl XLVI and was named second-team All-Pro in 2013.

    OL Kevin Boothe (2007, Oakland): Boothe, who was originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2006 (sixth round, No. 176 overall), was picked up by the Giants before the 2007 Super Bowl season. At first, he was a versatile reserve. In 2011, however, he became a starter en route to another league title. He has started every game since that season at either guard or center.

No. 5: C Shaun O'Hara (2004, Cleveland)

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    The Giants were in need of a center in 2004, and Shaun O'Hara, a former undrafted free agent who became a starter with the Cleveland Browns, was on the market. O'Hara agreed to a three-year, $5.4 million deal to come play in New York.

    O'Hara snapped to Eli Manning during the future franchise quarterback's rookie season. Before long, he was a mainstay along a stalwart New York O-line. O'Hara started all 97 of the games he played in his Giants career; from 2005-2009 he missed only one game.

    In seven seasons with the Giants, O'Hara got better with age. After anchoring the offensive line to a Super Bowl victory in 2007, the center made the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons. In 2010, his final season as a Giant and in the NFL, O'Hara was invited to Hawaii despite missing 10 games with a nagging left ankle injury.

    The Giants underwent a mini-rebuild of their offensive line before the 2011 season. O'Hara, as well as veteran guard Rich Seubert, were both unexpectedly cut after undergoing offseason surgeries. The futures of 34-year-old O'Hara and 32-year-old Seubert were uncertain at best.

    The New Jersey native and Rutgers graduate was grateful for the time he spent with the Giants, despite its abrupt and unanticipated ending. In an interview with ESPN New York following his release, O'Hara described his tenure with Big Blue as "a great ride."

No. 4: QB Kerry Collins (1999, Carolina/New Orleans)

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    After a troubled start to his NFL career, Penn State product Kerry Collins was offered a second chance at stardom with the Giants. The Carolina Panthers spent the fifth overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft on Collins, but drinking problems led to his release and eventual signing with New York in 1999.

    Collins claimed the starting quarterback gig in the second half of the 1999 season, usurping Kent Graham's first-string duties. Over the next five seasons, Collins enjoyed the most consistent stretch of his career. From 2000-2002, he did not miss a single game.

    In his first full season as the Giants' starter, Collins led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV, where they ultimately fell, 34-7, to the Baltimore Ravens in Tampa, Fla. The NFC Championship that season may have been the highest point in Collins' career; he threw five touchdown passes in a 41-0 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

    During his time with the Giants, Collins passed his way into the New York record books. In five years, he threw for 16,875 yards and 81 touchdowns, completing passes at a rate of 58.5 percent. Collins' exit was just as abrupt as O'Hara's, as the Giants chose to move forward with a combination of veteran Kurt Warner and rookie Eli Manning at quarterback following a 2003 season in which the team won just four games.

    At the time of Collins' departure, only longtime Giants Phil Simms and Charlie Conerly had passed for more yards in Big Blue history.

No. 3: K Pete Gogolak (1966, Buffalo)

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    Free agency as we've come to understand it only came into existence a couple of decades ago, but New York's signing of kicker Pete Gogolak in 1966 caused quite a stir in the pre-merger NFL.

    At the time, the NFL and AFL were rival leagues. While the two leagues competed for incoming collegiate talent, there was a gentleman's agreement to not lure entrenched talent from either league with hefty contracts. That all changed, however, when the Giants caught a glimpse of Gogolak.

    Gogolak, who joined the AFL's Buffalo Bills in 1964, was the professional football's first soccer-style kicker—a method so widely used today that the original straight-ahead, toe-kicking approach has been completely washed from the game. Slipping from a dynastic era, the Giants thought it was worth it to "steal" a one-of-a-kind talent like Gogolak from the rival league, despite the backlash that was sure to follow.

    As expected, the AFL retaliated to the Gogolak signing, spurring a bidding war for star players that ultimately led to a full merger between the NFL and AFL in 1970. Gogolak finished out his career with the Giants, playing until 1974 and retiring as the franchise's all-time leading scorer—a record he still holds with 646 points.

    Had Pete Gogolak never jumped from the AFL to the NFL nearly five decades ago, who knows if we'd be watching the Super Bowl two Sundays from now.

No. 2: LB Antonio Pierce (2005, Washington)

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    The Giants began building around their second-year quarterback, Eli Manning, in 2005. A defensive field general was needed, and the Giants sought out former Washington Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce to play the role. Pierce signed a six-year, $26 million contract to play middle linebacker in New York.

    Pierce filled a cog at middle linebacker for the Giants, bringing with him the exact athleticism New York's second-level defense had been lacking. In his second season with the G-Men, the former undrafted free agent was selected to the Pro Bowl; in his third, Pierce became a Super Bowl champion.

    In five seasons with the Giants, Pierce started all 69 of the games he played—he missed only one game from 2006-2008. He recorded 378 tackles, seven sacks and four interceptions with New York. After playing in just nine games during the 2009 season, Pierce was blindsided with a pink slip and retired from football.

    Equally adept at defending the pass as he was the run, Pierce is widely considered the best Giants linebacker in recent memory. The Giants have not replicated the consistency Pierce provided at the position since his departure half a decade ago.

No. 1: WR Plaxico Burress (2005, Pittsburgh)

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    With linebacker Antonio Pierce acquired to anchor the defense, the Giants awarded quarterback Eli Manning with a dynamic, playmaking receiver during the same offseason. Shunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers after five years of service, Plaxico Burress came to New York in 2005 on a six-year, $25 million deal.

    The effects were immediate, as Manning found Burress early and often that 2005 season. The team's top passing target eclipsed 1,200 yards that season, while also scoring seven touchdowns. Burress became a reliable receiver for the young quarterback, and, though often injured, No. 17 in blue sat out just one game from 2005-2007.

    In 2007, behind Burress' monster playmaking ability, the Giants made it to the Super Bowl and dethroned the previously undefeated New England Patriots. Burress caught the game-winning touchdown in that game—a 13-yarder that gave the Giants a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.

    Few receivers in Giants history could stretch the field or come down with a contested ball like Burress did on a regular basis. Perhaps the greatest receiver in Giants history, as far as natural talent goes, Burress hauled in 244 passes for 3,681 yards and 33 touchdowns in about three-and-a-half seasons with New York.

    Not only is Burress the No. 1 free agent acquisition on this list, he also tops Pierce, Collins and O'Hara when it comes to sudden and unexpected departures from the Giants organization. At a nightclub in late November 2008, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg. The injury and subsequent incarceration ended a promising Giants career 10 games into the 2008 season.