Top Free Agents in Philadelphia Sports History

Last week the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to one of the biggest contracts in professional sports. The deal is worth a massive $330 million, and will see Harper in red pinstripes for the next thirteen seasons. This is already one of the biggest Free Agent splashes in the city’s history. It also has the potential to become the greatest signing in Philadelphia since the Declaration of Independence.

Adding Harper to this list right now seems irrational; the ink has barely dried on his contract. If this list were to be re-written in thirteen years however, he could land at the top.

10. Michael Vick

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Vick was suspended from the NFL in 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting scandal. After serving prison time, the Eagles took a shot on the once electrifying Quarterback. He was signed to a one year deal worth $1.6 million. In 2010 Donovan McNabb was traded to Washington, and Kevin Kolb was injured. This opened the door for Vick, who made the most of his opportunity. Vick showed the same speed and elusiveness he possessed with the Falcons prior to his arrest. Added to his artillery was an upgraded ability to pass the ball. Combined with a fresh outlook post-prison, Vick seemed like he was new and improved.  After a brief (and one sided) Quarterback competition, Vick was named the starter over Kolb.

The Eagles made the playoffs that year and Vick was runner up to league MVP.  Looking like the modern Randall Cunningham, Vick provided the team with a shot in the arm and made them contenders again. A highlight waiting to happen, Vick will be remembered most in Philly for two games in particular; the Monday Night Massacre against the Redskins and the Miracle at the Meadowlands No. 2. Vick was resigned to be the long term starter, but injuries ended his consistent play. Nick Foles played very well in Vick’s absence, which led to the former starter signing with the Jets in 2014.

9. Cliff Lee

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Cliff Lee first made his Phillies debut in July of 2009 when he was obtained from Cleveland before the trade deadline. The Phils reached the World Series that year, with Lee going 2-0 in his starts against the Yankees. After stints in Seattle and Texas, Lee agreed to come back to Philly on a five year $120 deal.  Lee became a quarter of what was known as the “four aces” joining Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt in the starting rotation. Perhaps even better than that was the fact that Lee chose to sign with the Phillies over the Yankees who could offer more money.

Lee totaled five seasons with the Phillies, last pitching in 2014. His career in Philadelphia included a 2.94 ERA, two All-Star game appearances, and some Cy Young consideration. Lee’s tenure in Philly had its ups and downs. But when he was on, he was one of the best pitchers in the majors.

8. Jim Thome 

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The Phillies of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were perennial losers. With a new stadium opening in 2004, management yearned for a new face of the franchise. Thome was brought in on a six-year, $85 million contract to usher in a new chapter of Philadelphia baseball. His first season in Philadelphia was a great success. Thome finished the season just one homerun short of the franchise record then held by Mike Schmidt. The next seasons saw Thome miss time due to injury, which opened the door for a young Ryan Howard.

As a result, Thome was dealt by the Phillies to the White Sox in 2006. He never made the playoffs in Philadelphia, but played a pivotal role in shifting the team from mediocre to respectable. His signing made Philadelphia a baseball destination, and opened the door for other attractive free agents.

7. Troy Vincent

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After having success with the Dolphins early in his career, the Eagles signed Vincent to become the team’s starting Cornerback. Vincent immediately helped solidify the backfield in his first season with the team. His play continued to progress, and in 1999 he earned his first of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections. Three of those seasons included All-Pro Honors as well.

Vincent was a cover specialist, which was perfect for the scheme ran by Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson. This gave Safety Brian Dawkins more room to roam and makes plays. The Eagles of the early 2000’s were continuously playoff contenders, in large part due to Vincent and their secondary. Vincent is still in the top ten for career interceptions in team history, and in 2008 was named to the Philadelphia Eagles 75th anniversary team.

6. Jon Runyan

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The Andy Reid led Eagles were filled with talented players. Names like McNabb, Dawkins, and Westbrook immediately come to mind. But one of the best players of that era was Right Tackle Jon Runyan. Reid knew for his team to win he had to protect his franchise Quarterback. Runyan signed a six-year $30 million deal to do just that. It was the highest contract for a lineman at the time, and Runyan proved to be worth every penny.

He started 190 consecutive regular season games for the Birds, while earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2002. He, along with Tra Thomas, provided one of the best Tackle duos in franchise history. His sportsmanship could have been questioned at times, but one thing that is for sure is he became one of the best Free Agents to ever wear the winged helmet.

5. Daniel Briere

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For some reason, Montreal fans assume that any French-Canadian hockey player must sign with their hometown team. That was the expectation in 2007 when Briere became an unrestricted Free Agent. Instead he landed in Philly on an eight-year $52 million deal. The Flyers were coming off a rare season in which they were dead last in points. Scoring was a need for the team, and they signed the best available option in hopes of turning things around. Briere continued his strong play in orange and black and was routinely found atop the team’s scoring list. He was dubbed “Mr. Playoffs” for his play in the post season. During Philadelphia’s improbable Cup run in 2010, he broke the franchise record for points in a postseason previously held by Brian Propp.

Often times players are signed to massive contracts in hopes of immediately fixing a problem within the team to only make matter worse (see Ilya Bryzgalov). But Danny B was brought in to score goals, and score goals his did. Philadelphia has always been drawn to tough guys who like to fight. Who would’ve known an undersized guy from Quebec would go on to become a fan favorite?

4. Malcolm Jenkins

AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo

For the many, many mistakes Chip Kelly made, he did make one tremendous decision in the Spring of 2014. The Eagles signed Jenkins to a three-year $16.25 million contract. The Philadelphia backfield was lacking without Brian Dawkins, and Jenkins was brought in to help fill the void. Also available that Free Agency class was Safety Jairus Byrd. Many people in the city wanted Byrd to be a Bird, but seemingly got Jenkins as a consolation prize. Five years later and the move has more than paid off.

Jenkins has again secured the Philly backfield and is still considered one of the top Safeties in the game.  The value in Jenkins is his utilization; he’s a football Swiss army knife. While he’s listed as a Safety, he can do the duties of both a Cornerback and Linebacker. Jenkins has been Defensive leader of the team since his arrival, and was instrumental in the team’s victory in Super Bowl LII. This signing alone almost makes the disaster that was the Chip Kelly coaching hire worth it. Almost.

3. Nick Foles

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Speaking of Super Bowl LII…

Despite signing with the Jaguars recently, Foles will forever be a Philadelphia legend. He’s earned his spot beside Rocky and Ben Franklin. Drafted in 2012 to be a backup, he surpassed even the highest of expectations any fan could’ve had for him. Foles became the Eagles starter in 2013 and finished with an incredible 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio. He also threw for seven touchdowns in a game against Oakland, and won MVP at the Pro Bowl. These credentials were not enough for Chip Kelly though, who traded Foles for Sam Bradford. With the Rams, Foles looked like half the player he was in Philadelphia. In fact he even considered retiring from football altogether before Andy Reid talked him into coming back with the Chiefs.

The Eagles signed Foles to a two-year $11 million deal for a second stint in midnight green. That may seem high for a backup, but then again Super Bowls are priceless. Foles of course took over for an injured Carson Wentz in 2017, bested Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII, and cemented his Philadelphia legacy. His second tenure in Philly wasn’t that long, but he delivered to Philadelphia what eluded the city for decades. That alone puts him in the conversation of greatest signing ever.

2. Pete Rose

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The Phillies were serious Championship contenders in the late 1970’s. In fact they were NL East champs three years in a row from 1979-78. Still though the team continued to fall short in October. Rose was thought to be the missing piece of the championship puzzle and signed with Philadelphia on a four-year $3.2 million deal. That number seems insignificant by today’s standards, but at the time it was the richest contract in sports. While with the Reds, Rose was the game’s best hitter. He was also one of baseball’s hardest working players, earning the nickname “Charlie Hustle.”

This diligence and production made him a fan favorite with the Phillies fans. It took just two season for Rose to do what he was brought in to accomplish. In 1980 the Phillies won the franchise’s first World Series. The team also made another World Series in 1983, the last Rose spent with the club. Say what you will about Pete Rose. His off the field life may have dampened the reputation he built on the diamond. One thing that is undeniable though is the impact he had on the city and how he helped the Phils win their first baseball Championship.

1. Julius Erving

Before ever stepping foot in the NBA, Dr. J was already regarded as one of the most exciting basketball players in the world. He won an ABA title while with the New York Nets and was clearly the league’s best asset. That is why when the Nets became part of the NBA merger in 1976, there were numerous teams that called regarding Erving’s services. The Sixers were amongst the potential suiters, and offered a whopping $6 million dollar contract. Half of that went towards the Nets, the other half to Erving. This is also why Dr. J wore #6 while in Philadelphia. Forced to agree to the trade to pay for their berth into the NBA, the Nets reluctantly agreed to part ways with their best player.

Erving was an immediate success in Philadelphia helping the Sixers reach 50 wins in his first season. That led to Finals appearances, and ultimately a NBA Championship in 1983. His number 6 was retired by the Sixers after his playing days, he was elected into the Hall of Fame, and was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. While it completely demolished the Nets, it proved to be the greatest signing in Philadelphia sports history.

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