Ranking the 10 Best Free Agent Signings in Packers History

We take a look back at the 10 best free agent signings in Green Bay Packers history

NFL free agency is just around the corner and while the Packers don’t figure to be as aggressive as they were a season ago when they added four big-ticket free agents, they should be signing a few new players to join the team in 2020.

With that in mind, here is a look back at the Packers 10 best free agent signings of all-time. Keep in mind this list includes only the modern form of free agency that began in 1993. Undrafted free agents, “Plan B” free agents and players signed under rules prior to 1993 are not included here.

The players on this list are judged on the impact they had with the Packers after joining the team. The longer they played in Green Bay and the more they contributed to the team’s success, the higher they’ll be on this list.

Feel free to comment on this list or to mention a player you feel belonged here but was omitted.

10. S Adrian Amos 2019

The Packers signed Amos away from the Bears prior to the 2019 season. Amos gave the Packers what they expected: a positionally sound, intelligent and consistent performer at the safety position.

The Penn State alum started all 16 games for the Packers in 2019, making two interceptions including the game-clinching pick in the end zone during the season opener against the Bears in Chicago.

Amos was also credited with making 84 total tackles and breaking up eight passes.

Amos could climb higher on this list depending on what he does in future seasons with the Packers.

9. DT Ryan Pickett 2006

The Packers signed nose tackle Ryan Pickett as a free agent before the 2006 season. He had spent the previous five seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

Pickett spent eight seasons in Green Bay and was a key starter in the middle of the Packers defense from 2006-2013.

Pickett’s strength was clogging up the middle of the line and stuffing the run. His most productive season in Green Bay was 2006 when he was credited with 64 total tackles.

Pickett was a starter on the Packers 2010 Super Bowl team and played in a total of 11 playoff games for the Packers.

8. DE Sean Jones 1994

Defensive end Sean Jones was a big pickup for the Packers in 1994, giving the team a strong pass rusher on the opposite side of the line from future Hall of Famer Reggie White.

Prior to joining the Packers, Jones played with the Raiders and Oilers.

The native of Kingston, Jamaica, made an immediate impact with the Packers, sacking opposing quarterbacks 10.5 times in 1994.

He spent three seasons with the Packers, recording a total of 24.5 sacks while adding four more sacks in the postseason. He started for the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI which was the final game of his NFL career.

7. KR/WR Desmond Howard 1996

Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard’s NFL career was in jeopardy of being over when he joined the Packers prior to the 1996 season. After three mediocre seasons in Washington and one in Jacksonville, Howard seemed to be on his last chance when he joined the Packers.

The former Michigan star exceled as a return man, leading the NFL in punt returns with an impressive 15.1-yard average and returning three punts for touchdowns.

In the playoffs, Howard continued his magic, returning a punt for a touchdown in the divisional playoff game against the 49ers which helped key the Packers 35-14 win.

Howard was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI after he totaled 244 combined return yards including a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown that clinched the Packers first championship in 29 years.

Howard signed with the Raiders in 1997 but rejoined the Packers during the 1999 season.

The 1996 Packers would not have been as dominant a team without the strong play of Howard on special teams.

6. OLB Preston Smith 2019

Preston Smith joined the Packers after spending the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Washington Redskins. Smith had an immediate impact on the Packers defense, transforming the atmosphere in the locker room and giving the Packers some legitimate pass rush from the edge along with fellow Smith Brother and free agent signee Za’Darius Smith.

Preston finished his first season in Green and Gold with 56 total tackles and 12 sacks. He recorded three sacks and two tackles for loss in the Packers win over the Broncos in Week 3.

Preston was also capable of dropping back into coverage which gave defensive coordinator Mike Pettine additional options on defense.

Smith hopes to build on what was a career-best season in 2019.

5. OLB Za’Darius Smith 2019

Za’Darius Smith became the Packers top pass rusher after signing as a free agent before the 2019 season. The former Kentucky star finished his first season in Green Bay with a career-high and team leading 13.5 sacks. He and Preston Smith helped create a new, fun atmosphere in the Packers locker room while improving the team’s performance on the field.

Za’Darius’ best game came in Week 16 against the Vikings. He dominated the Minnesota offense, recording 3.5 sacks, seven total tackles and five tackles for loss as the Packers clinched the NFC North title with a 23-10 road victory.

Prior to joining the Packers, Za’Darius Smith never had more than 8.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He has now taken his game to a new level and hopes to continue his dominant level of play in 2020.

4. OLB/DE Julius Peppers 2014

Julius Peppers added pass rushing ability and veteran savvy to the Green Bay defense when he joined the team in 2014.

Peppers previously played for the Panthers and Bears before joining the Packers and was 34 when he signed with Green Bay. He still played at a high level, registering 25 sacks in three seasons with the Pack including 10.5 in 2015. Peppers earned a trip to the Pro Bowl that season with his strong performance.

Peppers also forced eight fumbles and knocked down 14 passes during his Packers tenure and was a leader on the defense as well.

Peppers spent two more seasons with Carolina before retiring after the 2018 campaign. He finished his NFL career with 159.5 sacks.

3. DT Santana Dotson 1996

Santana Dotson gave the Packers defense some much-needed pass rush from inside after joining the Packers prior to the 1996 season.

Dotson teamed with run stuffer extraordinaire Gilbert Brown to give the Packers one of the league’s top DT tandems.

Dotson played six seasons in Green Bay and played on two Super Bowl teams including the Super Bowl XXXI champions. He recorded a sack against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

Dotson totaled 26 sacks during his time with the Packers including six in 2000. His best overall season came in 1997 when he recorded 71 total tackles, forced two fumbles and added 5.5 sacks.

Dotson was a key part of the Packers championship defenses. His final season in Green Bay was in 2001.

2. CB Charles Woodson 2006

Charles Woodson’s NFL career was at a crossroads when he joined the Packers in 2006. He originally didn’t want to play in Green Bay but eventually, he learned to love playing for the Packers and he thrived there.

Woodson was named to four straight Pro Bowls with the Packers between 2008-2011 and was a two-time All-Pro. In 2009, he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press. The former Michigan star led the NFL in interceptions twice while with Green Bay. He pilfered nine passes in 2009 and seven more in 2011. He also returned nine interceptions for touchdowns including a league-high three in 2009.

Woodson was the emotional leader of the defense in 2010 when the Packers defeated the Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV. He will almost certainly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he becomes eligible.

1. DE Reggie White 1993

No free agent signing had a bigger impact on the Packers franchise than Reggie White. When free agency was first introduced in 1993, many people were worried that a small, cold-weather market like Green Bay would have trouble attracting players. But White, the highest-ranked player in that initial free agent class, surprised everybody when he signed with the Packers.

White had an immediate impact, making the Packers defense stronger on the field and providing exceptional leadership off it.

His arrival in Green Bay also helped make African American players more comfortable playing in the league’s smallest city and one with a very small Black population.

“The Minister of Defense” recorded 13 sacks in his first season with the Packers including a game-clincher against John Elway and the Broncos in Week 5.

White had never won a championship on any level during his football career, but in 1996, he finally triumphed when the Packers beat the Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. White recorded three sacks late in the game to help seal the victory.

White played six seasons with the Packers and was named to the Pro Bowl in all six of them. He finished his NFL career with 198 sacks and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 43.

Reggie White’s signing with Green Bay helped turn around the Packers franchise and changed the NFL forever. His impact is still being felt today.

 

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (12)

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HankScorpio's picture

March 07, 2020 at 01:11 pm

I'd switch Santana Dotson and Ryan Pickett on the list.

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GilMartin's picture

March 07, 2020 at 01:27 pm

That's fair. Pickett was a consistent player on the Packers for a long time. Thanks for commenting.

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TheVOR's picture

March 07, 2020 at 02:26 pm

When Ron Wolf was asked about the Superbowl XXXI team, he thinks maybe Bruce Wilkerson.

“That’s an interesting question. The guy that probably made the biggest contribution overall to where we got was Bruce Wilkerson,” said Wolf, who signed the veteran left tackle in April 1996 after the Jacksonville Jaguars released him. “He solidified a position that we were desperate for.”

That's a pretty big endorsement. He belongs on that list. Not sure yet that Amos has done nearly enough to make that list.

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GilMartin's picture

March 07, 2020 at 02:58 pm

I like you mentioning Wilkerson. The Packers definitely needed him in 1996 and he came through in a big way. Thanks for commenting.

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Stroh's picture

March 07, 2020 at 02:42 pm

I'd put Reggie and Woodson as #1 and 1a in no order. Both were huge in all aspects leading the packers to winning SB's. Same for Pickett and Sean Jones. Imo Santana Dotson is too high and should be listed with Pickett and Jones.

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GilMartin's picture

March 07, 2020 at 02:59 pm

Fair assessment. I think Reggie had a bigger historical impact because he was the biggest prize in the first free agent class, so that's why I made him number one, but Woodson had a big impact and isn't far behind. Thanks for the comment.

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Lphill's picture

March 07, 2020 at 05:36 pm

Cullen Jenkins, Keith Jackson , Andre Rison should have a mention.

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stockholder's picture

March 07, 2020 at 09:18 pm

Jackson was a trade.

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Gman1976's picture

March 08, 2020 at 01:02 pm

It’s interesting that 9/10 players listed are defensive players. It makes me wonder if the majority of successful free agents elsewhere are also defensive players.

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Gman1976's picture

March 08, 2020 at 01:03 pm

It’s interesting that 9/10 players listed are defensive players. It makes me wonder if the majority of successful free agents elsewhere are also defensive players.

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Flow49's picture

March 08, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Right now I think Howard needs to be ahead of the Smiths, he was a game breaker and vital part of that Super Bowl teams success. It’s only been one year for the Smith Bros I think that will change, just not today.

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smsapi's picture

March 10, 2020 at 09:38 am

TheTexting is a new way to communicate with users or customers. Its simple, reliable and provides brief yet sufficient information instantly. This is why businesses have opted for it for both internal and external communication.

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