Oct 11, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles (43) gather on the field after game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Saints, 39-17

USA Today Sports

The Saints' top five free agent acquisitions of all time

Mark Menard
March 11, 2018 - 9:06 pm

With free agency just days away, we'll all be waiting with baited breath to see which new players the Saints front office adds to their roster, and where they'll stack up in the pantheon of Black and Gold additions. So with that in mind, it's a good time to look back at the very best additions the Saints have made in NFL free agency. These are the top five Saints free agents of all time, in my humble opinion.


5. John Carney - kicker - 2001

At the risk of giving too much away, I will mention that John Carney is far from the final player poached from the San Diego Chargers who will appear on this list. For years after letting Hall of Famer Morten Andersen bounce for the more lucrative pastures of Atlanta, the Saints wandered in the kicking desert, rolling through a string of unreliable booters. That is, until Jim Haslett lured Carney to the Big Easy in the 2001 free agency period. Carney would stabilize the position in New Orleans for six seasons, becoming the second-highest scoring player in franchise history behind only The Great Dane. He would return for partial duty in 2009 and 2010, and even after retirement, has repeatedly taken on a mentorship role for the Saints' kickers who have come after him. Carney is the gift that keeps on giving, even after hanging up his kicking cleats.

4. Darren Sproles - running back - 2011

Darren Sproles would no doubt rank even higher than #4 if he had spent more than just three seasons with the Saints, but what a trio of years. He joined the team from our benefactors to the west, San Diego, and his arrival coincided with the greatest season of offense Sean Payton has ever put forth, and that's saying something. Sproles had a lot to do with that, setting a record that still stands today for the most all-purpose yards from scrimmage in a single season. Sproles racked up just a shade under 2,700 yards as both a between-the-tackles rusher and an almost uncoverable threat out of the backfield, while also adding his considerable return skills to the special teams units. Sproles remained productive over his next two seasons, and then earned the unfortunate title of "one that got away" for Payton and GM Mickey Loomis when he was traded to Philadelphia with what turned out to be a considerable amount left in the tank. The silver lining for Sproles - he earned a Super Bowl ring  this past season with the Eagles despite an injury-shortened season.

3. Joe Horn - wide receiver - 2000

One of the few bright spots in the frustrating Jim Haslett era, Joe Horn arrived at Saints camp after spending four forgettable years with the Kansas City Chiefs. All he would do from that point on was become the all-time franchise leading receiver. While his prodigious production would later be surpassed by Marques Colston, Horn provided electricity on Sundays in the Superdome, earning four Pro Bowl selections during his seven seasons in the Crescent City. The one sad note on his career - he was injured for both playoff appearances the Saints made during his tenure in 2000 and 2006. And, while it may be polarizing for some old-schoolers in the Who Dat Nation, he did gift the Saints faithful with an all-time great touchdown celebration that still gets trotted out on NFL highlight reels, on a night he was so hot he just had to place a call and let the world know.

2. Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson - linebackers - 1986

When the USFL folded in 1986, a cavalcade of players and coaches came available for the NFL as free agents, including a pair of defenders who would comprise half of one of the all-time great defensive units in NFL history. Jim Mora had a track record as one of the best coaches the rival league had to offer and was given the reins of the Saints that year, and he brought with him linebacker Sam Mills, a player who never let his lack of size affect his ability to absolutely rock ball carriers. Mills had been a major factor in Mora's success with the Philadelphia Stars. Mora also signed one other USFL-er to his revamped linebacking corps in former Jacksonville Bull Vaughan Johnson. Together, Mills and Johnson would team with Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling to form the most celebrated set of defenders in team history - the Dome Patrol. The unit helped turn the Saints into a playoff-caliber force for the first time in team history. The Black and Gold had never had a winning season before teaming Mills and Johnson with Jackson and Swilling. They didn't have a single losing season during the Dome Patrol's tenure together, and they remain the only four-man linebacking corps to all make the Pro Bowl in the same season.

1. Drew Brees - quarterback - 2006

The Saints pulled off a pair of truly transformative moves the year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city and made the team nomads for an entire season. The Saints relieved Jim Haslett of his duties after six mediocre seasons and hired young offensive coordinator Sean Payton from Dallas. In turn, Payton took a chance on a quarterback considered damaged goods by his previous employer (getting yet another assist from those San Diego Chargers). Drew Brees had been drafted by the Bolts in 2001 but it took a few seasons for him to find his footing in the NFL. Then, just as the Chargers made the move to draft his replacement, everything clicked. Still, with Philip Rivers waiting in the wings and a devastating shoulder injury to rehab from, Brees was allowed to walk in 2006. In a move that set decades' worth of fortunes for two different NFL franchises and one college football empire, the Miami Dolphins medical staff told then-coach Nick Saban to pass on Brees, sending him into the waiting arms of New Orleans.

The Dolphins are still looking for a franchise quarterback 12 years later, Saban flamed out in the NFL, retreating back to college ball where he restored Alabama to a national institution, and Brees teamed with Payton for one of the most symbiotic coach-quarterback duos in league history. During his time in New Orleans, Brees has climbed the statistical ranks and now sits behind only Peyton Manning and Brett Favre in nearly every possible QB measurable. And at a position where the most important measuring stick is a Super Bowl ring, Brees got one of those, too, leading the Saints to the first championship in team history in 2009. And with a revamped roster brimming with young talent, all six-feet of the team's 39-year-old signal-caller still stands tall in the pocket, once again shouldering Super Bowl aspirations heading into 2018.


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