Free agency is in full swing in the NFL right now, and Jim Reineking of NFL.com recently ranked the 20 greatest free agent signings in NFL history to celebrate the start of free agency this year. And a former Vol topped the list.
According to Reineking, defensive end Reggie White has been the greatest free agent signing in the NFL since free agency began in 1993.
“The most significant free-agent signing in NFL history also occurred in the first offseason that featured free agency,” wrote Reineking. “White was the most coveted player on the market in 1993, and his whirlwind free agency tour featured a memorable Sports Illustrated cover and a surprising destination. The Packers were not expected to acquire White, but his arrival signaled a new era in Green Bay. Years of losing were replaced by a run of success that lives on to this day. With White anchoring the defense and Brett Favre leading the offense, the Packers were bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Wisconsin in White’s fourth year with the team.”
Before White joined the Packers prior to the 1993 season, Green Bay had been stuck in a funk. The proud franchise hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade and had only two seasons above .500 in that same span. The Packers would make the playoffs every year White was with them and won Super Bowl XXXI with him leading the defense.
White was a dominant defensive end for Philadelphia from 1985 to 1992, totaling 124 sacks for the Eagles in eight seasons. At the time, his 21 sacks in the 1987 season were the second-most in a single season in NFL history. He would play six seasons with Green Bay and finished with 68.5 sacks with the Packers.
White’s 198 career sacks are second all-time in NFL history. Only Bruce Smith had more in a career in the NFL, totaling 200.
As a Vol, White still holds the record for most sacks in a season (15) and was the Vols’ all-time leader in career sacks until Derek Barnett passed him in 2016. White’s 32 career sacks as a Vol are now second in program history.
But White wasn’t the only Vol to make the list.
According to Reineking, Vol legend Peyton Manning was also one of the greatest free agent signings in NFL history, coming in at No. 3 on the list.
“Despite a neck injury that eliminated his 2011 season, Peyton Manning became one of the most-sought-after free agents in NFL history when the Indianapolis Colts released him in early 2012,” wrote Reineking. “A free-agent frenzy followed, and the Broncos emerged victorious. Manning didn’t disappoint. After earning Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2012, Manning had a record-setting 2013 MVP season and led the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII. In 2015, Manning capped his illustrious NFL career with a win in Super Bowl 50, and finished his 18-year career owning most major passing records.”
Manning was a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback with Indianapolis even before Denver signed him as a free agent in 2012, and he only added to his legacy with the Broncos. Manning had thrown for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns in 13 seasons with the Colts before he missed the entire 2011 season due to a neck injury that required surgery.
But Manning came back even better than ever after that surgery.
In his second season with Denver, Manning set an NFL record with 55 passing touchdowns in a season, and his 5,477 passing yards were the most in a single season in the NFL as well. He and the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 in his final season in the league despite Manning putting out the worst statistical season of his career that year.
Manning finished his NFL career with the most passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940), and regular season wins (186) in NFL history.
Despite having not played for the Vols in 20 years, he still holds the majority of Tennessee’s passing records as well. He still holds program records for most pass attempts (1,381), pass completions (863), passing yards (11,201), passing touchdowns (89), 300-yard games (18), wins (39), and total offense (11,020) in a career. And that doesn’t even count all the single season or single game records he still holds.