The Green Bay Packers are not known for big free agent signings. In stead, they are better known for drafting and developing their own talent. There have been times, though, when they have made significant moves in free agency. Throughout their history, a few big names have come to Green Bay and have made a name for themselves or added to their legacies. Here, we take a look at the five best free agent signings in Packers’ history.
#5- Za’Darius Smith: Current Packers Linebacker
Brian Gutekunst boosted the defense significantly ahead of the 2019 season when he signed Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius Smith. In four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Za’Darius Smith accumulated 18.5 career sacks. He was coming off of a career-year in 2018 when he had a career-best 8.5 sacks.
Since coming to Green Bay, though, Za’Darius Smith has become one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. In his first season with the Packers, Smith had 13.5 sacks, blowing his previous career-best out of the water. Last season, despite a slow start, Smith still accumulated 12.5 sacks, giving him 26 in two years in Green and Gold. In both season, Smith was named to the Pro Bowl.
Ever the team player, Za’Darius Smith restructured his contract earlier this offseason to help the Packers create cap room. The team used the savings to sign Aaron Jones to a four-year $48 million contract. In this sense, not only does Smith make an impact on the defensive end, but he is also, in part, responsible for Jones being retained by the Packers.
#4- Frank Winters: Long-Time Packers Center
Prior to coming to Green Bay, Frank Winters played for three teams in five seasons. He began his career with the Cleveland Browns where he spent two seasons. In 1989, he spent the season with the New York Giants. Winters then went on to play for two years with the Kansas City Chiefs. At none of these stops was he given the opportunity to start.
In 1992, Winters signed with the Green Bay Packers, the team with which he would spend 11 seasons. At first, he played left guard, but then moved to center in 1993. He spent the last 10 years of his career snapping the ball to Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
Frank “Bag o Donuts” Winters is still one of the most beloved linemen in Packers’ history. He was known for his grit and tendency to play until the whistle blew. Not to be forgotten is the fact that he was the anchor of the Packers’ offensive line during the Super Bowl XXXI win, which ended the franchise’s decades-long championship drought.
Since his retirement, no other Packers’ center has played for the team as long as Winters did. He truly set the standard for the modern-day center in Green Bay in terms of longevity.
#3- Willie Wood: Packers Undrafted Free Agent in the Hall of Fame
Willie Wood is very different than the other players on this list in that he was signed as an undrafted free agent. As far as undrafted free agents go, he may very well be the greatest in all NFL history.
Willie Wood became one of the best defensive players in the history of the NFL, being name to five First Team All-Pros and eight Pro Bowls. He was a member of the first two Super Bowl championship teams, and won three NFL Championships with the Packers prior to the Super Bowl era.
What many do not know of Wood is that he was so intimidating, even Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke was afraid of him. Nitschke joked that he was afraid of missing tackles because if he did, he knew Wood was going to give him a death glare.
Willie Wood was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. He passed away in February of last year.
#2- Charles Woodson: Hall of Fame Defensive Back
Charles Woodson had a great start to his career as an Oakland Raider. In his first four seasons, he had made four Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pros. However, his last four years of his first stint in Oakland were not nearly as productive. By the time he hit free agency in 2006, there were not many teams interested in his services. In fact, just the Packers and Buccaneers were rumored to be tied to him. The Packers wound up signing him, and the move propelled both parties to new levels.
In his first season with the Packers, Woodson had a then-career high eight interceptions. In 2008, his third season with the Packers, he made the Pro Bowl again after intercepting seven passes. 2009, though, would be one of the most legendary seasons in team history by an individual player. Woodson had nine interceptions, three of which we returned for touchdowns. He also forced four fumbles and deflected 18 passes. For his efforts, he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The following season, 2010, he helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV, despite breaking his collar bone in the game. He led the NFL in interceptions with seven in 2011, and made his final First Team All-Pro. After an injury-shortened 2012, Woodson returned to the Raiders to finish his career.
He was recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
#1- Reggie White: Hall of Fame Defensive End
By far the greatest free agent signing in Packers’ history was that of Reggie White. In the first eight seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, White had made six Pro Bowls and six First Team All-Pros. He had also accumulated double-digit sacks in each of his first eight seasons.
The Green Bay Packers, of course, were not (and are not) known for signing big-name free agents. In a comical story recounting his recruitment of Reggie White, former head coach Mike Holmgren says that he called White at his home. When the free agent defensive end did not answer, Holmgren left a message that said, “Reggie, this is God. I want you to sign with the Packers.”
White, of course, was also an ordained minister and found the joke to be quite humorous. In any case, he chose Green Bay and immediately made the Packers’ defense one of the best in the NFL. In his six seasons with the Packers, White made six Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pros. Most importantly, he helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI. In that game, he recorded a record three sacks against the Patriots.
In 1998, his last as a Packer, Reggie White had 16 sacks and made his final Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro. He retired for the 1999 season, but did play in 2000 for the Carolina Panthers.
Reggie White passed away on December 26, 2004. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
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