A history of free agency hits for the Eagles

The history of NFL free agency, in one form or another, dates back to 1947, and the first player to change teams was wide receiver R.C. Owens, from San Francisco to the Baltimore Colts, in 1962. The first “unrestricted free agency,” known in 1992 as “Plan B free agency,” directly impacted the Eagles when tight end Keith Jackson was deemed an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Miami Dolphins. A year later, defensive end Reggie White was off to Green Bay via free agency, and the NFL was forever changed.

We are now in an advanced stage, with teams (as of Monday at noon) able to talk to the agents of players whose contracts expire on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and try to work out deals. Nothing can be signed until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, but the framework of deals can be put in place.

While there have been some misses (see the file on Asomugha, Nnamdi, circa 2011), the Eagles have also had some huge hits in free agency. From this perspective, here is a list of the best of the best free agents the Eagles have signed over the years. It should be noted that wide receiver Terrell Owens was acquired in a three-team trade in 2004, and thus was technically not a free agent signing by the Eagles, which is why he is not on this list.

DE William Fuller, 1994

After eight seasons with the Houston Oilers, William Fuller joined the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent and promptly was an impact player. His three-year sack totals: 9.5, 13, and 13, and three Pro Bowls. The Eagles then allowed him to move on to the Chargers in another free agency move. Fuller played just two years in San Diego before his NFL career ended. It was a brief stay for Fuller in Philadelphia, but he contributed 35.5 sacks, leadership, and toughness to an Eagles team in transition with new owner Jeffery Lurie and the coaching reins changing from Rich Kotite to Ray Rhodes.

RB Ricky Watters, 1995

Rhodes wanted his former star running back from the 49ers and he got him. After his, “For who, for what,” first game, Watters was an outstanding player for the Eagles. He was a hard runner, great as a receiver, and a tough blocker. The Eagles wore Watters down as he had an incredible 975 carries and another 161 receptions in the three seasons he played in Philadelphia. Watters was the definition of a workhorse. He had his “diva” moments, but Watters delivered with toughness and consistency and a ton of production – 3,794 rushing yards with 31 touchdowns and 1,318 receiving yards.

CB Troy Vincent, 1996

A member of the team’s Hall of Fame, Troy Vincent signed with the Eagles as a transition free agent from Miami as the Eagles made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – and one the Dolphins couldn’t match. Vincent made the Pro Bowl five times and was twice an All-Pro in his eight seasons in Philadelphia. Vincent recorded 28 interceptions in 118 starts with the team.

WR Irving Fryar, 1996

In only three seasons with the Eagles, Irving Fryar had two of the most productive receiving seasons in franchise history. In 1996, Fryar caught 88 passes for 1,195 yards and 11 touchdowns and he came back the next season with 86-1,316-6, two seasons in which the Eagles had some ups and downs at the quarterback position. Fryar made the Pro Bowl both seasons.

P Sean Landeta, 1999

This is a name that rarely makes the “best free agents” list, but Sean Landeta was one of the greatest punters in team history. He ranks fourth in Eagles history with a 42.8-yard gross average, his net average of 35.9 yards is fourth in the team record books, and Landeta was money with his touch punting and directional kicking. He had a long and distinguished career in the NFL and the Eagles got Landeta for some of his best seasons – 1999 through 2002 and again in 2005.

T Jon Runyan, 2000

The Eagles wanted to make a statement early in the Andy Reid era and they did it by signing Jon Runyan from Tennessee to what was then the most lucrative contract in NFL history for an offensive lineman. Runyan played through 2008 and he was out there every week, overcoming injuries, and adding toughness, durability, and a nasty disposition to an offensive line that was among the league’s best. He turned out to be well worth the investment.

DE Jevon Kearse, 2004

At one point in his career, Jevon Kearse was, indeed, a “Freak,” with his long arms and his extraordinary get-off at the line of scrimmage. A foot injury slowed him, and when he played with the Eagles he was never the dominant player he had been in Tennessee, but Kearse helped round out the defense in the 2004 Super Bowl season. Kearse had back-to-back seasons with 7.5 sacks before more injuries slowed his production.

QB Jeff Garcia, 2006

OK, so maybe it was a one-year thing. But Jeff Garcia came to the rescue in the midst of a failing 2006 season and when Donovan McNabb went down with injury, Garcia came on at quarterback and the Eagles got hot and reached the playoffs. A great leader and a heady player, Garcia’s guts defined the Eagles in that season.

CB Asante Samuel, 2008

A riverboat gambler at the cornerback position, Asante Samuel didn’t hide his intentions: He was on the field to get interceptions. He did just that, recording 23 with two returns for scores, from 2008 to 2011. Samuel was a stable part of a secondary that went through some troubling changes, and he rose to the occasion in clutch moments.

G Evan Mathis, 2011

Part of the “Dream Team” free agent splurge in the work-stoppage offseason of 2011, Evan Mathis was probably the least-heralded of the group and yet he became the most accomplished. Mathis played the best football of his career with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl before an ugly contract dispute with then-head coach Chip Kelly ended Mathis’ time in Philadelphia.

S Malcolm Jenkins, 2014

Still playing outstanding football and one of the great leaders in the locker room and in all of sports, Malcolm Jenkins has been durable and productive in a Pro Bowl career with the Eagles. Jenkins does it all, doesn’t it? Adding Jenkins was a brilliant move for the Eagles in Kelly’s time as the head coach here.

G Brandon Brooks, 2016

Not many people knew about Brandon Brooks when the Eagles reached out in free agency and landed him with a big contract prior to the 2016 season. The Eagles wanted an athletic road grader and that’s what they got in Brooks, a two-time Pro Bowl player in his three Eagles seasons.

LB Nigel Bradham, 2016

New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wanted some players who were familiar with his system, so he led the charge to sign Nigel Bradham from Buffalo in 2016. Bradham has been a solid and dependable and tough player for the Eagles' defense and his re-signing with the team just prior to free agency a year ago was an important move to retain stability on defense.

WR Alshon Jeffery, 2017

The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery?!? That was the sentiment when the Eagles signed Jeffery prior to the 2017 campaign and he has delivered in a big, big way. Jeffery liked his situation with the Eagles so much that he signed a long-term contract midway through his first season here.

QB Nick Foles, 2017

I remember when the Eagles signed Foles prior to the 2017 campaign and he came into our broadcast studio at the NovaCare Complex and I said, “You know, Nick, nobody wants to see you on the field.” Awkward, right? Foles understood what I meant, thankfully: It was all about Carson Wentz and the Eagles building around the franchise quarterback. Obviously, the blueprint changed and Foles stepped in when Wentz was injured late in the 2017 season and, well, you know the rest. Foles, drafted by the Eagles in 2012, came back and became a hero for all time.

CB Patrick Robinson, 2017

A sneaky-great signing for the one year he was here. Patrick Robinson, injury-riddled in his career, came to Philadelphia with a chance to earn playing time at the nickel cornerback position. Not only did he earn time, Robinson starred. His play was a big reason why the Eagles won the Super Bowl. After a season, Robinson became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Saints and promptly had his 2018 season cut short because of injury.

DE Chris Long, 2017

Both Chris Long and Robinson were signed late in free agency in 2017 and both have had impacts. Long has played for two seasons and has been part of the defensive end rotation. He’s been highly productive, energetic, active, and clearly a leader in the locker room, on the field and in the community. The lesson here: Don’t judge free agency by its first week. As Robinson and Long showed, sometimes there are gems unearthed late in the process, too.

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