Written By Jason Voorhees
Bryce Harper mania has swept the town of Philadelphia like no other free agent signing in the history of Philly sports. Its all you hear about on talk radio. Its all that you see across social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sports television is littered with Bryce Harper content and this includes national media outlets like ESPN and Major League Baseball Network. In fact, Bryce Harper apparel has even made news by setting the all-time record for jersey sales in a 48 Hour Period.
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...
20) Jake Arieta
CONTRACT: 3 Years, $75 Million Dollars
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.
19) Elton Brand
CONTRACT: 5 Years, $82 Million Dollars
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.
18) William Fuller
CONTRACT: 3 Years, $8 Million Dollars
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.
17) Peter Forsberg
CONTRACT: 2 Years, 11.5 Million Dollars
When Peter Forsberg was traded along with a massive package to acquire the rights to Eric Lindros in 1992; no one could have ever predicted that he would have more individual and team success than Lindros. However; that's exactly the scenario that took place as Forsberg enjoyed a much longer career as well as his ability to help lead the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup Championship.
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.
16) Pedro Martinez
CONTRACT: 1 Year, $1 Million Dollars
When Pedro Martinez signed with the Phillies in 2009, he was a shell of his former Hall of Fame self. However; at the time the Phillies were in the thick of another playoff push and the organization hoped that his addition would provide a much needed spark to the rotation. Also, taking a flyer on a future Hall of Famer for a $1 Million Dollar salary was a no brainer. Pedro had spent the offseason working out privately in hopes of landing a new contract. When he remained unsigned during the winter, Martinez entered the World Baseball Classic to showcase his arm.
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.
15) Johnathan Papplebon
CONTRACT: 4 Years, $50 Million Dollars
Johnathan Papplebon ultimately became one of Philly fans most hated players. However; his signing was one of their tops as far as free agents go. The Phillies signed the free agent closer in 2012 to replace their former closer Ryan Madson who left the team in free agency. In his first season as the Phillies stopper, Papplebon did not disappoint saving 38 while appearing in a career high 64 games. He posted a stellar 2.44 ERA with 92 Strikeouts in 70 Innings. Of course, the Phillies failed to make the playoffs despite Papplebon's all-star first season.
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.
14) Asante Samuel
CONTRACT: 6 Years, $56 Million Dollars
In 2008, Asante Samuel was one of the most sought after free agents in the NFL. Within minutes of the beginning of free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles had swooped in and scooped Asante up. Samuel was brought in to shore up a sub par secondary and help get the Eagles back to the playoffs. Samuel had previously won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots while becoming one of the best shut down corners in the league. He had carved his niche with the perennial contenders and now wanted top test the waters of free agency to get back to the big game after a last minute heartbreaking loss to the Giants the previous season.
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.
13) Nigel Bradham
CONTRACT: 2 Years, $7 Million Dollars
Nigel Bradham was not a huge name signing by any means. In fact, when the Eagles signed him as a free agent in 2016, he was relatively unknown around the NFL outside of the Buffalo Bills. However; Jim Schwartz (Eagles Defensive Coordinator) had coached Bradham during his tenure in Buffalo and knew that the Eagles were getting a player well above his value at a position of need at linebacker.
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.
12) Troy Vincent
CONTRACT: 5 Years, $16.5 Million Dollars
In 1996, the Eagles made Vincent one of the highest paid cornerbacks in NFL history at the time. Vincent had previously starred at cornerback for the Miami Dolphins. He was already one of the best corners at the time of the signing and Vincent maintained his elite status throughout his entire career with the Eagles. In fact, Troy made five consecutive Pro-Bowls for the team from 1999-2003. In 2002, he also cemented his name as one of the best "people" in the NFL after winning the NFL Man of the Year Award.
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.
11) Ricky Waters
CONTRACT: 3 Years, $6.9 Million Dollars
"For Who, For What." This line will forever live in infamy as the legacy of Ricky Waters in Eagles history. However; he truly was one of the best free agent signings in Eagles history. Watters signed a free agent contract with the Eagles coming off a fresh Super Bowl victory with the San Francisco 49ers. He quickly made fans forget those famous comments as he further established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL.
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.
10) Jeremy Roenick
CONTRACT: 5 Years, $37.5 Million Dollars
Jeremy Roenick was already an elite player in the NHL in 2001. The Flyers brought Roenick in to fill the void left by one Eric Lindros. At the time it was one of the Flyers biggest free agent moves of all-time. It did not take long for Roenick to become a fan favorite as he lead the team to the Atlantic Divison title during his first season. He led the Flyers with 46 Assists and 67 Points while posting a plus/minus rating of +32. Unfortunately, the Flyers were bounced in the first round by the Ottawa Senators.
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.
9) Daniel Briere
CONTRACT: 8 Years, $52 Million Dollars
After finishing last in the NHL during the 2006-2007 season, the Philadelphia Flyers again decided to make a huge splash in free agency when they signed Daniel Briere, making him the highest paid player in the NHL in 2007. Briere became a superstar while playing for the lowly Buffalo Sabres and spurned the Montreal Canadians to instead sign in Philly and become a Flyer. That season, the Flyers went from last place to making it to the Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a regular season in which he was second on the team in scoring; Briere recorded 9 goals and 7 assists (16 Points) in his third consecutive semi finals appearance.
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.
8) Jim Thome
CONTRACT: 6 Years, $85 Million Dollars
On December 6, 2002 the Philadelphia Phillies signed free agent slugger Jim Thome to one of the largest contracts in MLB history at the time. Jim Thome brought something to the Phillies that they had been lacking in forever; star power. Thome had an impressive debut season for the Phillies mashing 47 Home Runs. He batted .266 knocked 131 RBI and scored 111 Runs. The Phillies plan was to sign Thome in the middle of their slow rebuild to enhance fans into buying season tickets. The plan worked as fans flocked to see Thome in red pinstripes.
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.
7) Jon Runyan
CONTRACT: 6 Years, $30 Million Dollars
As an offensive tackle, Jon Runyan did not play one of the DIVA positions in the NFL. However; during his career he had a "DIVA" impact on the game at his position. In February of 2000, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Jon Runyan to a 6 Year/$30 Million Dollar contract, which at the time made him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Runyan had a penchant for being a dirty player and he brought a swagger to the Eagles that had not been seen since the days of Buddy Ryan. The Eagles imagined Runyan as the anchor of the most important unit on the team; the offensive line that would ultimately protect Donovan McNabb for his entire career and Runyan made good on that dream.
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.
6) Cliff Lee
CONTRACT: 5 Years, $120 Million Dollars
When Cliff Lee signed his free agent contract with the Phillies in 2011, he was no stranger to the team. In fact, only two seasons earlier in 2009, Lee had been acquired in a trade at the MLB deadline and helped the team make its second consecutive World Series; almost singlehandedly helped them win. Of course that team ultimately lost to the New York Yankees and Lee was subsequently traded away after the team acquired Roy Halladay. Well its amazing in sports how things seem to always come full circle and now Lee was back in red pinstripes.
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.
5) Alshon Jeffery
CONTRACT: 1 Year, $14 Million Dollars
In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles were able to land top free agent wideout Alshon Jeffery on a one year prove it deal. Who would have known then that this signing would go down as one of the Eagles most important signings ever. Jeffery quickly solidified himself as the Eagles Number one passing option and gave Carson Wentz a much needed weapon in their upstart offense. During his first season, Jeffery provided the Eagles a true number one receiver option catching 57 Passes for 789 Yards and 9 Touchdowns.
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.
4) Malcolm Jenkins
CONTRACT: 3 Years, $16.25 Million Dollars
Malcolm Jenkins has quietly turned himself into one of the best Free Safeties in the NFL today. In 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him as a free agent, much to the dismay of many fans. Fan favorite Brian Dawkins had been jettisoned a few years earlier and any safety that was signed in the town would never live up to Dawkins legacy. Of course, fans in Philly have since forgotten those incredulous doubts about Malcolm. Although, Malcolm may never be the elite talent that Dawkins was on the field, he arguably has become the same type of leader for the Eagles on that same field.
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.
3) Pete Rose
CONTRACT: 4 Years, $3.2 Million Dollars
When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Pete Rose in 1979, they had won the NL East three consecutive years. They had two 101 win campaigns and another over 90, but yet they still failed to even make it to the World Series. That is why the team chose to sign Pete Rose as they felt that he would be the difference maker that the team had been lacking. Rose certainly did not disappoint as he helped lead the Phillies to their first World Series Championship win in 1980. The team earned three division titles, two World Series appearances and one World Series Championship during Rose's tenure.
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.
2) Nick Foles
CONTRACT: 2 Years, $11 Million Dollars
There is not much more we can say about Nick Foles and his importance to the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the fans. Foles legacy in Philly has been forever cemented and he will always be known for leading the team to its first Super Bowl victory in history. Not only did Nick Foles lead the team at the most important position on its biggest stage; Foles put up numbers during that postseason run that are among the tops of NFL history. During the teams upset of the New England Patriots, Nick Foles went 28 of 43 Passing for 373 Yards and 4 Touchdowns. He also caught a Touchdown pass on one of the most iconic plays in Super Bowl history, "The Philly Special."
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.
1) Bryce Harper
CONTRACT: 13 Years, $330 Million Dollars
When MLB analyst Jon Heyman tweeted out..."Breaking: Bryce to the Phillies" the longest free agent saga in history had finally come to an end. The Philadelphia Phillies had finally gotten their man. Although Bryce Harper has yet to play a meaningful game for this franchise, his signing has been the most meaningful in history for a number of reasons. First of all, he signed a 13 year contract at age 26, which could arguably take him to age 39 which in baseball language could be his entire career. Secondly, the "no opt-out/no-trade" clause. This means that Bryce Harper does in fact want to be in Philly and this is a career partnership that will ultimately define the next great regime of Phillies baseball.
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.
About Jason Voorhees
Jason resides in Norristown, PA and writes about all things sports and heavy metal music.