Oakland Raiders Free Agency: The 11 Best Signings in Raiders History
The Oakland Raiders have a long and successful history, but one thing that may be surprising is that many of the Raider greats were not signed as free agents.
As fans get impatient with the 2012 version of free agency, it's important to remember that the real gems in free agency are rarely high-profile.
In fact, only one or two of the players on this list were a "big name" and many were in the twilight of their careers.
I've come up with a few arbitrary qualifiers and I hope doing so adds a little bit of objectivity to an otherwise subjective list.
The qualifications are:
1. Signed as a free agent;
2. On Raiders for at least two full seasons;
3. At least one season with an approximate value (AV) above 10. AV is a way of comparing seasons and positions to each other and was developed by pro-football-reference.com.
Let's see who made the cut...
11. Kerry Collins
The Raiders won just nine games in Collins' two seasons as a starter, but he put up very respectable numbers:
- 28 games started;
- 7254 passing yards;
- 41 touchdowns.
During his time in Oakland, Collins averaged right around 250 yards passing per game. Unfortunately Collins also threw 32 interceptions and was sacked 64 times in his two seasons.
Despite a porous offensive line and a core of receivers that were overrated in hindsight, Collins produced AVs of 10 and 11.
After Collins, the Raiders would grind through a series of bad quarterbacks that included Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper and JaMarcus Russell.
No one knew it at the time, but the Raiders would have been better off keeping Collins around.
10. Ronnie Lott
Lott had a great career and came to the Raiders at age 32. In his first season with the Raiders, Lott produced an AV of 13 and had eight interceptions, the second highest total of his career.
Lott's numbers during his two seasons with the Raiders:
- 9 interceptions;
- 2 forced fumbles;
- 2 fumble recoveries;
- 196 tackles;
- 1 sack.
Lott's signing paid immediate dividends and the Raiders made the playoffs before losing a defensive battle to the rival Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.
Better known for his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Lott turned out to be a good signing for the Raiders.
9. Rod Woodson
Rod Woodson had one last great season in him at age 37 and it helped propel the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002. Woodson intercepted eight passes, scored twice, recovered three fumbles and had an AV of 14.
If it wasn't for Woodson, the Raiders would have been hard-pressed to make the Super Bowl in 2002. Unfortunately, Woodson couldn't stay healthy during the 2003 season and it became clear his best option was retirement.
Woodson's stats as a Raider:
- 26 games;
- 10 interceptions;
- 2 touchdowns;
- 4 fumble recoveries;
- 110 tackles.
8. Derrick Burgess
Burgess emerged as a deadly pass-rusher in 2005 and lead the league with 16 sacks despite starting only 12 games.
Burgess put up 11 sacks in 2006 and eight in 2007. In his final season with the Raiders, Burgess posted just 3.5 sacks in 10 games.
Burgess came relatively cheaply and put up respectable numbers for a four-year period. It's just too bad he fizzled out in New England.
Burgess' Raiders stats:
- 52 games;
- 38.5 sacks;
- 143 tackles;
- 5 forced fumbles;
- 3 fumble recoveries.
7. Charlie Garner
Garner fell 97 yards short of 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2002, had 91 receptions and an AV of 17. Garner was good in 2001 as well, posting an AV of 13.
Garner missed time with an injury in 2003 and the Raiders took a giant leap backwards.
Garner's statistics as a Raider:
- 39 games started;
- 2354 rushing yards;
- 1905 receiving yards;
- 17 touchdowns.
Garner nearly averaged 100 yards per game from scrimmage during his three seasons with the Raiders and was a key component in the Raiders' prolific offense of the early 2000s.
6. Jerry Rice
How can Rice not be on this list? He's one of the greatest players of all time and he put up ridiculous seasons for the Raiders at ages 39 and 40.
In 2001 and 2002 Rice had on AV of 12 and went over 1,100 yards receiving.
Rice was still putting up respectable numbers at age 42 and could have kept going.
Rice's stats as a Raider:
- 54 games;
- 3286 yards;
- 18 touchdowns.
Rice was a big reason why the Raiders were in position to win a Super Bowl in 2002. His signing as a free agent turned out to be a brilliant move by Al Davis.
5. Jeff Hostetler
Hostetler was signed during the first year of modern free agency and led the Raiders to a playoff appearance in his first season as a starter.
He had some issues with injuries that hurt the team's performance in his third and fourth years with the team, but he played hurt and managed to compile a 33-22 record as the Raiders quarterback, good for a .600 winning percentage.
Hostetler's stats as a Raider:
- 33-22 record;
- 11122 yards passing;
- 69 touchdowns;
- 49 interceptions.
Hostetler wasn't spectacular, but he was still very good and an extremely gritty, tough football player that kept the Raiders competitive.
4. George Blanda
Rules are made to be broken. Blanda didn't have an AV over 10 because he was a kicker, but that doesn't mean he wasn't one of the best free-agent signings in Raiders history.
Blanda spent eight seasons kicking for the Raiders and racked up 863 points. Only the best kickers enjoy job security like Blanda did.
Even when his talent was no longer good enough to play quarterback, Blanda could still kick the ball and that's exactly what Al Davis signed him to do.
Blanda and Al Davis remained close friends for years.
3. Todd Christensen
Todd Christensen was one of the pioneers at his position. The pass-catching tight end didn't exist before Kellen Winslow and Todd Christensen.
Christensen was released multiple times as a fullback, but the Raiders signed him and decided to convert him into a tight end. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Christensen made his first splash and then continued to be dominate in the passing game for five more seasons.
Christensen's statistics would even look impressive as compared to the numbers the tight ends are putting up today—80 or more receptions and 1000 receiving yards became the norm.
- 461 receptions;
- 5872 receiving yards;
- 41 touchdowns.
Christensen's AVs remained above 11 for five years before dipping to eight due to injury in 1987. In 1988, Christensen was injured again and didn't play past the age of 32.
2. Jim Plunkett
Plunkett won two Super Bowls. Enough said.
Despite the two Super Bowl titles, Plunkett only had a few years where played very well. In 1982 and 1983, Plunkett passed for a combined 4,970 yards with 34 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.
He also led eight fourth-quarter comebacks and eight game-winning drives between 1982 and 1983.
Plunkett's Raider stats:
- 38-19 regular season;
- 8-2 playoffs;
- 12665 passing yards;
- 80 touchdowns;
- 81 interceptions;
- 13 fourth-quarter comebacks;
- 15 game-winning drives.
Maybe Plunkett wasn't the greatest quarterback, but he proved himself in the playoffs and when the team needed him the most.
Call him clutch or call him a winner, but Plunkett was the "Tim Tebow" before Tim Tebow, except he won in the playoffs.
1. Rich Gannon
Rich Gannon came out of nowhere to put up MVP-type numbers in 1999 at the age of 34. For four years, he was an unstoppable force at quarterback.
Gannon is the only player on this list to have an AV season of 20; his lowest during that four-year span was 16.
To put Gannon's AV 20 into perspective, it's the exact same AV as the 2011 record-breaking season for Drew Brees.
Gannon's Raiders stats:
- 45-29 record;
- 17585 passing yards;
- 124 touchdowns;
- 50 interceptions;
- 1255 rushing yards;
- 11 rushing touchdowns;
- 9 fourth-quarter comebacks;
- 12 game-winning drives.
Gannon was great for four years before his final two years were derailed by injury. Greatness is rewarded, even if he never won the Super Bowl.