The Top 5 Free Agent Signings in Green Bay Packers History

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMarch 21, 2014

The Top 5 Free Agent Signings in Green Bay Packers History

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    Reggie White may have been the best free agent signing in NFL history.
    Reggie White may have been the best free agent signing in NFL history.MORRY GASH/Associated Press

    Green Bay Packers' general manager Ted Thompson historically has not been a huge believer in signing big-ticket free agents. Each March, many NFL teams go on lavish shopping sprees, but the Packers tend to add only role players. This year's signing of Julius Peppers is more of an exception to the rule.

    That doesn't mean the Packers haven't made some impact free-agent signings over the years. Here is a look at the top five unrestricted free-agent signings in Green Bay Packers history.

    This list is restricted to modern unrestricted free agency. It does not include players who were not drafted and later signed with the Packers as free agents and does not include the short-lived "Plan B" free agency of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    Players are ranked on their performance after they signed with the Packers. Their statistics, the length of their time in Green Bay and their impact on the franchise are all taken into account.

    Feel free to comment on any player on this list that you feel deserved to be higher or lower or that you believe should not be on the list at all. Also feel free to mention any players omitted from the list that you feel should be here. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

     

5. Ryan Pickett

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    Ryan Pickett helped solidfy the defense line in Green Bay.
    Ryan Pickett helped solidfy the defense line in Green Bay.Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Packers signed former St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Ryan Pickett as a free agent prior to the 2006 season.

    The former first-round pick from Ohio State has spent the past eight seasons in Green Bay. He's appeared in 119 games for the Packers, starting 113 of them. Pickett has been versatile as well as durable, playing both defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle depending on the type of defense the Packers were running at the time.

    Pickett's statistics don't jump out at you. He's had only 3.5 sacks in eight seasons with the Pack, but his role has been more of a run-stuffer and space-eater, someone to occupy blockers to allow other players to make sacks and tackles.

    The team has been successful during Pickett's tenure. He has appeared in 11 playoff games for the Packers and was a starter in Super Bowl XLV.

    Pickett has also been considered a positive influence in the locker room.

    For his longevity, steady performance and contribution to winning teams, Ryan Pickett earned a spot on our list.

4. Desmond Howard

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    Desmond Howard was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI.
    Desmond Howard was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI.AMY SANCETTA/Associated Press

    Desmond Howard joined the Packers prior to the 1996 campaign, and he had a big impact that season on the Packers winning their third Super Bowl championship.

    As a receiver, the former Michigan star didn't do much in '96, catching only 13 passes for 95 yards, a paltry 7.3 yard average.

    But Howard made his mark as a return specialist. He led the NFL in punt returns with 875 yards on 58 chances. He returned three punts for touchdown that season. Howard also averaged 20.9 yards on 22 kick returns.

    In the playoffs, Howard's kick-returning ability was again a lynchpin for the Packers' success. He ran back a punt for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round win and set up another score with a long return.

    Howard was also named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI after compiling 244 combined return yards, including a kick return for a touchdown that closed out the scoring and clinched the win for Green Bay.

    Although he left the Packers after 1996 to sign with the Oakland Raiders, Howard returned for a second tour of duty with Green Bay in 1999.

    Howard didn't last long in Green Bay, but it's doubtful the Packers would have won Super Bowl XXXI without his large impact on special teams during the regular season and the playoffs.

3. Santana Dotson

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    Santana Dotson (No. 71) added pressure for the inside of the defensive line.
    Santana Dotson (No. 71) added pressure for the inside of the defensive line.Associated Press

    The Packers signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Santana Dotson to a free-agent contract in 1996.

    Dotson brought an inside pass-rushing presence to a team that already had the duo of Sean Jones and Reggie White pressuring quarterbacks from the end position.

    Dotson spent six seasons in Green Bay, appearing in 88 regular-season games while starting 83 of them. The former Baylor star accumulated 26 sacks with the Packers, including six in 2000. He had 5.5 sacks in both 1996 and 1997, the two years the Pack went to the Super Bowl.

    Dotson started for the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI and sacked Drew Bledsoe once in Green Bay's 35-21 victory.

    The Packers parted ways with Dotson after the 2001 season, and he retired a year later. Still, Dotson was a big part of the Packers' Super Bowl championship in 1996 as well as the team's return to the big game the following season.

2. Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson ressurected his career and led the Packers to a championship.
    Charles Woodson ressurected his career and led the Packers to a championship.Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Many experts felt that Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson was washed up when the Packers took a chance on him in 2006. He was 29, had been injured the year before and was considered by many to have a bad attitude.

    After seven seasons in Green Bay, Woodson won a Super Bowl, was named to four more Pro Bowls and was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for 2009 by the Associated Press.

    Woodson became a master of baiting quarterbacks, making them think a receiver was open before swooping in to intercept the pass. He twice led the NFL in picks with the Packers, once in 2009 and again in 2011.

    Woodson intercepted 38 passes during his career in Green Bay and returned nine of them for touchdowns.

    He also went on to become a leader in the Packers locker room, helping the team to reach and win Super Bowl XLV.

    The Packers let Woodson go after the 2012 season. He returned to his original NFL team in 2013, the Oakland Raiders

    He is a sure-fire member of both the Packers and the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible.

1. Reggie White

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    Reggie White turned around the franchise's fortunes.
    Reggie White turned around the franchise's fortunes.CHARLES KRUPA/Associated Press

    Reggie White is not only the best free-agent signing in the history of the Green Bay Packers, he was also the most impactful free-agent signing in NFL history.

    White joined the Packers prior to the 1993 season. His signing not only improved the Packers on the football field, he changed the perception of the franchise among players and fans throughout the league.

    White was the marquee player in the first true free-agent class in NFL history back in 1993. Many critics felt that the Packers, who play in the league's smallest media market, would have trouble attracting players in a system where players could choose where they wanted to go.

    Green Bay was the "Siberia" of the NFL and a place with a very small African-American population. For that reason, it had a reputation of being a place where Black players may not have felt completely comfortable living.

    When White agreed to sign with the Packers, he eased both of those perceptions immediately. The biggest star available in free agency was willing to sign on in little Green Bay.

    The Packers had only five winning (non-strike shortened) seasons from 1968 through 1992 or from the time Vince Lombardi retired as coach and White signed with the club. They have had only two losing seasons since 1993.

    White played six seasons for the Packers. The Pack reached the playoffs in each of those six seasons. Twice they reached the Super Bowl and they won Super Bowl XXXI. White also was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his six seasons in Green Bay. 

    While in a Packers uniform, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 58.5 times during the regular season and added eight more in the playoffs. White set a Super Bowl record by sacking Drew Bledsoe three times in Super Bowl XXXI.

    White was inducted into both the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career ended. He passed away in 2004.

    White is by far the best free-agent signing in the history of the Green Bay Packers.