The Eagles have been one of the biggest players in free agency once again this offseason. It’s a spotlight they’ve found themselves in many times in recent seasons, with mixed results. LeGarrette Blount’s recent signing was likely the final stroke on a class of signings highlighted by Alshon Jeffery.
While dreaming about what these players can accomplish with the Birds, take a look at five of the most successful Eagles to come to the team through free agency since it was instituted in its modern fashion in 1992. This means stars claimed off waivers, like Timmy Brown and Pete Retzlaff, will be conspicuously absent, as will Terrell Owens, whose rights were obtained in a three-team trade with the 49ers and Ravens.
Troy Vincent, CB
The seventh pick in the 1992 draft out of Wisconsin, Vincent began his career with four seasons in Miami. By the time he signed a five-year, $16.5 million contract with the Eagles, Vincent already had 14 interceptions under his belt. At the time, Sports Illustrated said Vincent’s signing, paired with a coming-off-his-rookie-season Bobby Taylor, could give the Eagles “the best pair of corners in the league.” Vincent and Taylor lived up to the hype.
Vincent added to his impressive interception total with 28 more over eight seasons in Philadelphia, peaking with seven in 1999. That year, the first of Andy Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia, was also the first of five straight Pro Bowl selections for Vincent. In 2002, as the Eagles won their second of four straight division titles and reached their second of four straight NFC championship games, he was named a First-Team All-Pro. That same season he was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Vincent has been as visible off the field as he was on it for the Eagles. After leaving Philadelphia for Buffalo in 2004, Vincent became president of the NFL Players Association and is currently executive vice president of football operations for the NFL and one of the league’s most visible representatives.
Jon Runyan, OT
Runyan joined the Eagles in 2000, immediately after appearing in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Titans. The six year, $30 million contract he signed made him the highest paid lineman in NFL history at the time, but the Eagles were getting a bargain.
Over the next nine seasons Runyan didn’t miss a game, starting 144 regular season and 17 playoff contests. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2002, and while he manned the right tackle spot in Philadelphia the Eagles won five division titles and played in five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl.
After Runyan left Philadelphia, his right tackle position saw the exact opposite of the consistency Runyan had provided. Before the team drafted Lane Johnson in 2013, it was manned by a combination of Winston Justice, Dennis Kelly and King Dunlap. Only Justice started a full 16-game season, in 2009.
He was drafted by the Houston Oilers before the start of their final season in Houston and by the end of his career he was the final remaining Oiler playing in the NFL.
Asante Samuel, CB
The second cornerback on this list, Samuel and Vincent are a reminder of happier forays into the free agency pool at that position for the Eagles, before Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell left a bad taste in the city’s collective mouth. Samuel joined the Eagles from New England with two Super Bowl victories already in his resume, including one over the Eagles, and a reputation as the NFL’s fiercest ballhawk. The Eagles paid dearly for his services, committing to $56 million over six years.
In four seasons in Philadelphia he intercepted 23 passes. That total places him in the top 10 in team history despite playing just 56 games as an Eagle, by far the lowest amount in that group. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons here. In 2009 he led the league with nine interceptions, and in 2010 he recorded seven more. During his first postseason in Philadelphia he had an additional two interceptions. In the wild-card round against the Vikings he returned one 44 yards for a touchdown, and the following week against the Giants he set up a score by returning another pick to the goal line.
The interception against the Vikings, one of seven postseason picks in Samuel’s career, set a league record for career postseason interceptions returned for a touchdown at four. In all, Samuel’s 51 career picks place him 32nd in NFL history. His career in Philadelphia fizzled out alongside the dream-team disaster and the 2012 season that saw the end of Andy Reid, but for much of his time here he delivered on the promise of his heralded signing.
Ricky Watters, HB
The 45th pick of the 1991 draft out of Notre Dame, Watters joined the Eagles on the heels of scoring three touchdowns in the 49ers’ Super Bowl XXIX romp. He signed a three year, $6.9 million contract to return to his home state (he starred at Bishop McDevitt High School).
After going 7-9 in 1994 prior to Watters’ arrival, the Eagles made the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, reaching the second round in 1995. After falling to 6-9-1 in 1997, they would reach new lows when he departed in 1998, finishing 3-13.
Despite playing just three seasons in Philadelphia, Watters ranks seventh in rushing yards in team history and sixth in rushing touchdowns. He is one of only four Eagle running backs to score double digit rushing touchdowns, doing so in each of his first two seasons with the club. That’s a mark Brian Westbrook never reached, and LeSean McCoy only did once.
His 1996 season ranks as the third-best single season effort in club annals for both rushing yards (1,411) and touchdowns (13). He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995 and 1996. The latter marked his fifth straight selection in the first five years of his career in the NFL. It would also be his last, despite four more 1,000-yard seasons, one in Philadelphia and three in Seattle.
William Fuller, DE
Fuller already had a 15-sack season and Pro Bowl appearance to his name when he signed with the Eagles in 1994 to help replace the departed Reggie White. While that was a pretty good resume for the first eight seasons of his career, over the next three seasons he would add two 13-sack seasons and three more Pro Bowls. Not too shabby for a three year, $8 million contract.
He would also play for the same playoff teams as Watters in 1995 and 1996 before leaving Philadelphia for San Diego. With the Chargers he recorded just six more sacks over two seasons before retiring. Fuller ranks eighth in Eagles history with 35.5 sacks recorded in just 46 games, less than any player on the list higher than 20th (Jason Babin, who had 26 sacks in 39 games).
Despite the diminished production late in his career, Fuller is tied with Charles Haley for 29th in NFL history with 100.5 career sacks.