Today marks the one week anniversary of the Bryce Harper signing in Philly. Last week Harper inked a professional sports record breaking contract of 13 Years for $330 Million Dollars. While taking in all of the Harper energy, I couldn't help but wonder what were some of the biggest free agent signings in Philadelphia sports history. So with that thought, I have decided to compile my own top 20 list of Top Free agents in Philly sports.
For the record, this was a difficult list to draft and obviously there will be some notable names that are missing when its all said and done. However; as I have stated in the past, these lists are and always will be controversial due to differences in opinion. Likewise, the parameters of the list ensures that the players on here at least enjoyed some success and also brought success to the team. For that reason, players like Nnamdi Asomugha, Matt Geiger, DeMarco Murray, Danny Tartabull, Gregg Jeffries, Vincent LeCavalier, and Ilya Bryzgalov did not make the cut.
Here we go...
The Philadelphia Phillies signed Jake Arieta to a three year 75 million dollar contract in 2018. Arieta had been one of the leagues most dominating pitchers in MLB over the past few seasons. In 2015 he went 22-6, while posting a 1.77 ERA and 236 Strikeouts en route to a Cy Young Award Victory. Then in 2016 he helped lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908.
Arieta was mediocre at best during his first season with the Phillies going 10-11/3.96ERA/138 Strikeouts in only 172.2 Innings of work. However; it was announced this offseason that Arieta had played parts of the season with a partially torn meniscus which definitely could have contributed to his subpar season.
He has shown tons of promise this spring and seems poised for a comeback run which would be huge for a team with playoff aspirations. Jake makes the list due to his prowess and history; as well as his contributions in turning the Phillies around last season in which they were able to contend until a last month collapse. Arieta's legacy here is still unwritten and he could jump up on the list with sustained success...we shall see.
Although Brand often appears on NBA "Worst Free Agent Signings of All-Time" lists...he still makes this list due to his pedigree and also the fact that he did help the team make the playoffs in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. On July 9, 2008 the Sixers signed Brand as a free agent and at the time he was expected to help the team return to greatness.
Unfortunately, Brand was injured early in the season, and would have season ending shoulder surgery on February 5th, 2009. It was an extremely disappointing ending to the start of Brand's Sixers career. During the 2010 season, Brand appeared in 76 games and averaged over 13.0 Points per game, despite the team missing the playoffs.
However; he would rebound one year later in 2011-2012 by averaging 15.0 Points per game and leading the team to the playoffs. Of course, it was a one and done series and off to the next. The following season, Brand was able to build on his success and that success saw the Sixers make an improbable run to the conference semifinals. Brand was out of basketball only a few seasons later. And even though his Sixers legacy did not end with a championship, he was able to bring some excitement back to a team that had been starving for that since the departure of one Allen Iverson.
William Fuller was one of the most prolific pass rushers in the NFL during the late eighties and early nineties. In 1994, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him as a free agent. Of course, Pro Bowl Defensive Linemen were no strangers to the Birds who employed all-time greats in Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, and Jerome Brown. Fuller had big shoes to fill and he did not disappoint.
Fuller had 9.5 Sacks his first season with the team which earned him his first of three consecutive Pro-Bowls. He followed that up with back to back 13 Sack campaigns while leading the team in forced fumbles with 8. Fuller was a force to be reckoned with during his tenure as an Eagle. He was also able to help the team make the playoffs in back to back years. He recorded a sack and had six tackles in the 58-37 wild card win against the Detroit Lions in 1995.
Of course, the Eagles lost the following week to the Dallas Cowboys In the Divisional Round and were bounced out the following season by he 49ers. William Fuller may not be the greatest free agent in Philly sports history; however, he may just be the greatest free agent bargain if you take into account the contract vs. his production. William Fuller was an excellent free agent signing and has the numbers to prove it.
In 2005, after a year away from the NHL, Forsberg decided to return and when the Avalanche were caught in a salary cap situation, he signed with the Flyers. Of course, the Flyers were getting their once prized draft pick back, with a chance to finish something that he never got started. Although his stay with the Flyers was marred by injury, he was still able to put up impressive numbers in that first season. Despite only playing in 60 games, he scored 75 points (19 Goals/56 Assists) and lead the Flyers to the playoffs. Unfortunately, they were bounced out in the first round to the Buffalo Sabres.
He never got off on fresh ground the following season due to injuries and was ultimately traded away. Although his second stint in Philly was short lived, he did bring a ton of leadership to the team and he mentored a lot of the young Flyers players. It was a huge signing at the time and Peter surely packed the seats at The Wells Fargo Center. Definitely one of the bigger free agent signings for the Flyers.
In July, he joined the Phillies in hopes of adding another ring to his finger. Pedro did not disappoint either as he became a fixture in the rotation right away. He helped the team down the stretch going 5-1 in nine starts. He posted a 3.63 ERA while striking out 37 hitters with only 8 walks in 44.2 Innings. The Phillies actually won in Pedro's first seven starts which was the first time that happened in franchise history. Martinez pitched great in the NLCS, although the Phillies ultimately blew the lead In his only start. Unfortunately, he did not fare as well In the World Series start as he was torched by the New York Yankees.
Pedro only played one season with the Phillies and did not help them win their second championship in consecutive seasons. However; Pedro was in fact the spark that the team needed and definitely belongs on the list of top free agent signings, even though his stay was short lived.
Papplebon struggled in his sophomore season and posted a career low in saves as a closer with 29 and a 2.92 ERA while losing some velocity on his fastball. He claimed that he had played with an injury and that was the reason that his fastball dipped. Papplebon also made controversial comments that he had never played for a losing team. 2014 was a bounce back season for the closer as he once again made the all-star team while saving 39 games for the team. He struck out 63 hitters in 66.1 innings while posting a 2.02 ERA. The team still struggled as they continued to rebuild and ultimately missed the playoffs once again.
Papplebon did not endear himself to the fans and he was ultimately jettisoned to the Washington Nationals in 2015. He still makes the top free agent list due to his two all-star appearances and he also became the all-time save leader in franchise history.
Samuel made the pro bowl his first season after posting 4 interceptions for the Eagles. That postseason, he set a record with his fourth interception return of a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. It was a 44 yard beauty and helped get the Eagles to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. That following week against the New York Giants, Samuel again almost found the end zone after a pick of Eli Manning, which also tied a then NFL record with 7 postseason interceptions. The Eagles would make the NFC Conference Championship against the Cardinals.
In 2009, Samuel followed up his great first season with a monster sophomore gig. He tied an Eagles all-time record with nine interceptions. He was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and his fourth overall. Unfortunately, Samuel did not get that ring and he was ultimately traded away in 2012 to the Atlanta Falcons. Still one of the Eagles all-time free agents and he backed up his pedigree with stellar numbers.
Nigel became a fixture on the Eagles defense right away making his mark as the starting strongside linebacker. He posted 102 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception while starting 16 games. Bradham actually graded out at 86.5 which was good enough for the 8th best linebacker in football. Of course, we all know what happened in 2017. The Eagles won the Super Bowl and Bradham was once again wreaking havoc in Eagles defensive scheme. He was one of the leaders of the Defense and definitely outplayed his contract by far as far as production and the ultimate prize was Philly's first Super Bowl victory ever. Rewards were reaped on this one.
Troy Vincent was named to the Eagles 75th Anniversary all team in 2007. He was one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever don Eagle green and will always be remembered for his 104 yard interception return against the Dallas Cowboys in his first season with the team. The interception was an instant highlight reel classic and by itself makes Vincent one of the greatest free agent signings in Eagles history.
In fact, he helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs in both 1995 and 1996. He had three above average seasons as the bell cow of those Eagles teams. In three seasons, he posted 3,794 Rushing Yards and 31 Touchdowns on 995 carries. Talk about a workhorse back. Watters endeared himself to the team as well as the fans while becoming one of the most successful running backs in franchise history.
In 2002, Roenick again led the Flyers in points during the regular season. He enjoyed a very nice postseason scoring 13 points and leading the Flyers to the second round of the playoffs, before again losing to the Senators. However; Roenick forever supplanted himself as an all-time Flyer in 2004. After suffering a broken jaw and multiple concussions during the regular season, Roenick put the Flyers on his back in the Playoffs carrying the team to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jeremy had a postseason to remember scoring 13 points, including a series clinching overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers came up one game short of the Stanley Cup; nonetheless Roenick did more than his part in getting the team to the promised land. Although Roenick never sniffed the Stanley Cup again.
After some injury plagued seasons, Briere again rose to the occasion in 2010. Briere lead the Flyers to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1997. Briere lead all players in playoff points posting a Flyers postseason record 30 Points (12 Goals/18 Assists). During the Stanley Cup alone, Briere provided 12 Points (3 Goals/9 Assists). Unfortunately, the Flyers were bested by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, coming up short of a championship. Briere made himself an all-time Flyer during that playoff run and will always be considered one of their top free agent pick ups ever.
During his second season with the Phillies, Thome once again starred while hitting bombs at CBP to the tune of 42 knocks on the season. He batted .274 while producing 105 RBI and scoring 97 Runs. That stellar season earned Thome the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for his play both on and off the field. However; his star power was not enough to help the Phillies get back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, Thome never was able to finish what he started in Philly as he was ultimately injured the following season and subsequently traded away. Thome may not have been in Philly a long time but his legacy as one of its greatest free agents will live forever.
Jon Runyan went on to set an amazing streak by starting 190 consecutive games as an offensive lineman. At the time this was the second longest streak in NFL history for active players. He also played in 18 playoff games during that streak which made the feat even more remarkable. Needless to say, Jon Runyan went on to have one of the best careers for an offensive lineman in NFL history. He is widely considered the greatest Eagles lineman in history and played in some of the teams best games including the Super Bowl loss in 2004. Runyan was also named to the 75th Anniversary All-Eagles team. Great Player...Great Signing.
When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they had assembled one of the greatest pitching staffs in MLB history as the staff was quickly labeled the "4 Aces." The rotation included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The fans and local Phillies media called the rotation "The Phantastic Phour." What made the signing even more dubious was the fact that he turned down more money from the New York Yankees to instead join his old team. He did not disappoint that first season going 17-8, while posting a 2.40 ERA and 238 Strikeouts in 232.2 Innings pitched.
Lee never did win a World Series with the Phillies as his career ultimately ended early due to arm injuries. He did make the all-star team twice during his stay in 2011 and 2013. Lee was highly coveted around MLB and the fact that the Phillies landed him over those other teams like the Yankees and Red Sox made his signing even more important to the team. Lee may not have taken the Phillies to the promised land but he definitely was one of its best signings all-time.
However; Alshon did his real damage in the postseason. In 3 games, Jeffery caught 12 passes for 219 yards and 3 Touchdowns including 3 Catches/73 Yards and a touchdown in the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. After that season it was realized that Alshon had played the entire season with a rotator cuff injury. That offseason he had surgery to repair the shoulder. Jeffery's contract had been extended in December to ensure Alshon would be part of the fold for the next four seasons.
In 2018, Jeffery actually outperformed his 2017 stats in only 13 games. He went on to catch 65 Passes for 843 Yards and 6 Touchdowns. He went on to catch another 11 passes for close to 160 yards in two more postseason games. Unfortunately, the Eagles did not have the same success as they were bounced by the Saints during the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Ironically, the season ended as a pass went through Jeffery's hands for a game ending interception. Nonetheless; Alshon was one of the best as well as most important free agents in Philly history.
Jenkins is undoubtedly the Eagles leader on Defense and has become the unquestioned leader of the entire locker room. Jenkins has also brought upper echelon statistics to the defensive backfield that has made him one of the best safeties in the game. Of course, his pace of play as well as his leadership helped guide the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship in 2017. He was a major factor on and off the field and was once again named to the Pro Bowl. In fact, Jenkins has made the Pro Bowl three seasons for the Eagles (2015, 2017-2108). Jenkins has been huge for this Eagles regime and will continue to be the anchor of this defense for years to come.
The Phillies already had the building blocks of a dominant team, However; they lacked the spark that would put them over the top. Rose provided that spark as he lead the team not only by statistics but also by example as evidenced by his nickname "Charlie Hustle." Rose had been the unquestioned leader of the Cincinnati Dynasty "Big Red Machine" teams and now he was providing the same skills for the Philadelphia Phillies. We all know how Roses' career ended and was ultimately marred by the gambling label that he is known by. However; the mark that he made on this team coming in as a free agent may even make him one of the top free agent signings in total Sports history, let alone Philly sports.
Nick Foles career with the Eagles truly did come full circle. We know how his career began coming out as third round pick and for him to reach the celebrity status that he has reached is definitely well deserved. Foles will never have to pay for a drink in Philadelphia ever again. Foles is a legend in the town and will always be remembered for that magical postseason run of 2017. The Eagles and Philly fans alike are forever indebted to Nick Foles and no free agent list would be complete without mentioning his name.
Bryce Harper is a generational talent that is the face of baseball. The Phillies have landed the biggest of biggest fish in a very long time. Harper is destined to lead this franchise to multiple championships and be their face for the next 13 seasons. What a joy it has been for Philly fans that have taken the free agent ride during the entire winter. Harpers success on and off the field will ultimately define whether this contract was worth the dollars but regardless of the statistics, the meaning of the signing is so much more. Just look at the ticket and merchandise sales since the signing. Bryce Harper is definitely the greatest free agent signings of all time and has set the bar extremely high. Hope that you enjoyed the list...more to come.