It was recently announced that Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey has decided to join the Carolina Panthers for the 2011 campaign.
It has been argued that this could be one of the Panther's biggest free agent signings ever.
I am not acknowledging nor refuting this point, but it did get me thinking: looking into team history, what competition does Shockey's signing face?
In this presentation, I will rank what I believe to to be top 10 best free agent signings in team history. I will not include the Shockey signing, but rather leave it up to the readers upon concluding this piece where he may fit.
Whisked away from the Green Bay Packers in 1998, Evans played in the largely mediocre-to-poor years for the Carolina Panthers (1998-2001). This may impact his placement on the list.
What cannot be denied, was Evans' penchant for finding the ball. Over his four seasons with the team, he notched 14 interceptions, including a team record of eight in 2001 (a record that still stands).
He is currently number four on the team's all-time interception list with 14. Evans and fellow defensive back Eric Davis formed a ball-hawking cornerback duo for the Panthers in the late 1990's.
Outside linebacker Lamar Lathon was brought to Charlotte from the Houston Oilers before the inaugural 1995 season. He was tailor-made for Head Coach Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme he brought to the team.
He spent a total of four seasons in Carolina (the fourth he only played in two games), but over his first two seasons, he corralled 21.5 sacks. He earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1996 when he notched 13.5 sacks.
Lathon and fellow outside linebacker Kevin Greene comprised the sack specialist duo "Salt and Pepper". Lathon finished his career in Carolina in 1998, ranking second at the time in team history in sacks with 23.5. His number still stands fourth in the team annals.
While a kicker may seem inconsequential in the large picture of free agency, John Kasay is the lone piece of the inaugural team that is still with the franchise.
Kasay was brought to Charlotte in 1995 after spending his first four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He earned a Pro Bowl berth after the 1996 season.
Since then, Kasay has been one of the most consistent performers for the Panthers. Aside from two years lost to injury (2000, 2002), he has only missed five games in the other 13 years as the Panthers kicker.
With the time he has logged with the team, it is no surprise he is the all-time points leader (1,482), and he has connected on 351 field goals and 429 extra points, which are team records. He is currently third in points scored of all active players, trailing only John Carney and Jason Hanson.
Steve Beuerlein was the first player to play for both NFL expansion teams who entered the league in 1995. Beuerlein was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 with their first pick in the expansion draft. The following year, he latched on to the Panthers.
Originally brought in to mentor then-quarterback Kerry Collins, he was thrust into the starter's role full-time in 1998 when Collins was shipped off to the New Orleans Saints.
In 1999, he enjoyed the finest season of his career, throwing for 4,436 yards and 36 touchdowns, earning a Pro Bowl appearance.
Up until Jake Delhomme went under center for the Panthers, Beuerlein was the career leader in every major passing statistic for the franchise. He still holds the best career QB rating for a starter in team history (87.7). His 1999 and 2000 campaigns still rank first and third respectively for passing yards in team history.
Beuerlein was a member of the Panthers from 1996-2000. His famous last second quarterback draw against the Green Bay Packers during the 1999 season to clinch a 33-31 victory is still recognized as one of the greatest plays in team history.
By the time Maxie was introduced as an inaugural Carolina Panther, he was already a 10 year veteran. Nine of those seasons were spent with the New Orleans Saints.
Although he was only with the team for two seasons, his leadership on and off the field proved integral, as the Carolina Panthers went from being an expansion team to contenders over the course of only one season.
An old teammate in New Orleans of Sam Mills, the two savvy veterans were cornerstones of Coach Dom Capers' defensive scheme.
In 1995, Maxie perhaps enjoyed the finest season of his career, with 89 total tackles and six interceptions. After the Pro Bowl roster was announced that season with Maxie's name not included, his teammates chanted "Pro Bowl, Pro Bowl" as he entered the practice facility, out of sheer respect for the veteran leader.
His career ended in 1997, but the fondness for the original strong safety remains.
Eric Davis spent five productive seasons with the Carolina Panthers after being signed by the team in 1996. He had spent the first six seasons in San Francisco as a 49er.
A model of consistency, Davis recorded five interceptions in each of his five seasons with the Panthers. Like many of his teammates, he was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1996.
Davis, and the aforementioned Doug Evans, formed a deadly corner back duo intercepting seven passes together each season from 1998 through 2000.
His 25 interceptions as a member of the Panthers still stands as a team record, although current defensive back Chris Gamble is only one behind him on the all-time list with 24.
One of the most electrifying players in Carolina Panthers history was outside linebacker Kevin Greene.
Greene originally signed with the team in 1996, in a season where he was voted to the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro as well. That season, he and fellow linebacker Lamar Lathon combined for 28 sacks, with Greene himself gathered 14.5; the duo was dubbed "Salt and Pepper".
While Greene spent the 1997 season in San Francisco, he returned for the 1998 campaign to the tune of 15 sacks. During the 1999 season, he brought opposing quarterbacks down another 12 times, bringing his three-year total with the team to an astounding 41.5 sacks.
Greene still ranks third in team history in sacks (behind only Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers). His performances during the 1998 and 1996 season still rank first and second respectively in team history for sacks.
One of the most prolific pass-catching tight ends of all time, Wesley Walls was brought to the Carolina Panthers in 1996.
In his seven seasons with the team (1996-2001), Walls set team records receptions, yards and touchdowns, while being voted to the Pro Bowl five times in his seven seasons with the team.
During his tenure in Carolina, Walls recorded 324 total receptions for 3,902 yards and 44 touchdowns. He still stands third in team history in most receiving categories (behind Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad).
I am sure this selection may garner some mixed opinions, particularly due to his last season in Carolina (along with that Arizona playoff game). However, when Jake Delhomme was at his best, he was by far one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league.
Delhomme arrived on the scene in 2003, and by halftime of the first regular season game that year, he was the starting quarterback, leading the team to dramatic comeback victory after victory. He won three playoff games, and just came up short in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
In 2005, Delhomme complied one of his best seasons, earning a Pro Bowl nod and leading the team to the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Delhomme missed 16 games between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but in 2008 he led the team to a 12-4 record before ultimately falling completely apart in an NFC Divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. A horrid 2009 season tainted his reputation for many fans and members of the media.
However, all told, "Jake the Snake" led the team to places and relevancy they had never been to or had for a while. He was a fiery guy who got fans excited to watch the team play again. He led the team to three playoff berths (posting a 5-3 record), and an overall 53-37 record as a starter speaks for his ability as well as his intangibles. He also owns every meaningful passing record in team history.
Love him or hate him, Jake Delhomme may be one of the most important players in team history..second only to the next player on this list...
When Sam Mills joined the Carolina Panthers for their first season, he was already 36 years old. To old seemingly to have made such an impact on the franchise that he did.
The nine-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler was the undisputed leader of the team, both on the field and in the locker room. His hard-nose play was legendary. Famed linebacker Lawrence Taylor once said of Mills, "Just once, I'd like to get a hit like he does. It has to be better than sex."
Mills intercepted a pass and returned it to pay dirt to seal the Panthers first win of the 1995 season. In 1996, he had 122 total tackles and 5.5 sacks to get his fifth Pro Bowl appearance.
After his final season in 1997, he stayed with the organization and was made the linebackers coach. He served in this capacity from 1998 through the 2004 season.
A checkup with his physician in 2003 could have shattered his world as he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Mills could have been brought to his knees with the diagnosis. Instead, he continued coaching while receiving chemotherapy treatments multiple times a week. The 2003 Carolina Panthers adopted his "Keep Pounding" motto, and made it all the way to Super Bowl...with Sam Mills still coaching on the sidelines.
Even though his outlook was dim, he continued coaching through the 2004 season, displaying the same toughness he did as a player. When originally receiving his diagnosis, he was given three to four months to live. Through the 2004 season, he had miraculously lived through 17 months of the cancer and treatment.
Sam Mills would ultimately succumb to his bout with cancer on April 18th, 2005. He is still the only player to be voted to the organization's "Hall of Honor". His son, Sam Mill III is still a coach with the team.