Although the sports world is experiencing unprecedented chaos, the NFL's free agency window remains scheduled to open next week. Here are the best one-season stays in NFL history.
One of the NFC's best cornerbacks during his seven-season stay with the Rams, Gray lost his starting job to rookie Todd Lyght in 1991 and landed in free agency. The Texas native chose to join the Oilers and made an immediate impact. Gray intercepted six passes and recovered two fumbles for the Oilers' No. 3-ranked defense. The '92 Oilers are remembered for blowing a 32-point lead to the Bills in the playoffs, but Gray was not the primary culprit amid Buffalo's rally. Nevertheless, new defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan did not wish to bring Gray back in 1993. He finished his career on the Buccaneers.
With respect to non-kicker one-and-dones, Carney is the oldest player to make a Pro Bowl and holds that distinction by two years. At 44, Carney signed with the Giants just before the regular season began. He became Big Blue's kicker after a Lawrence Tynes knee injury and proceeded to make a career-high 92.1% of his field goal tries (35-for-38) while helping the Giants land the NFC's No. 1 seed. Carney even went 1-for-1 on 50-plus-yard attempts. Tynes' 2009 return sent Carney back to New Orleans for his final two seasons.
The Patriots' first-round pick in 1998, Edwards looked poised to become a long-term answer in New England. The Georgia product totaled 1,446 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie, helping the Pats to the playoffs. But in one of modern sports' cruelest swings, Edwards suffered a dislocated knee and multiple ligament tears while playing in a flag football game with other 1998 rookies in Hawaii. The injury was severe enough that he never played for the Patriots again. Edwards resurfaced briefly with the 2002 Dolphins, but the beach injury hijacked a promising career.
A journeyman by 1999, the former No. 1 overall pick followed stays as the Colts, Falcons and Raiders starter with a deal to become Randall Cunningham's backup. But the volatile veteran supplanted Cunningham, a 1998 All-Pro, after the Vikings' 2-4 start. George (with some help from Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Co.) guided the Vikings back to the playoffs. The 31-year-old quarterback threw 23 TD passes, just 12 INTs and went 8-2 as Minnesota's starter. In two playoff games, George combined to throw seven more TD passes. The Vikings, however, gave the keys to 1999 first-rounder Daunte Culpepper in 2000 and let George walk in free agency.
Known to a generation of fans as a coach or GM, McCormack was an accomplished offensive lineman and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as one of the blockers for Otto Graham and later Jim Brown. But McCormack, a third-round 1951 pick out of Kansas, began his career as the New York Yankees' right tackle. He earned the first of his six Pro Bowl nods with the Yanks before serving in the Korean War. When he returned, the NFL's Yankees no longer existed. The Browns acquired McCormack's rights via trade and used him as a starter until 1962.
In addition to changing coaches after a 12-4 season, the 2015 Broncos went into training camp with a reconfigured offensive line. Early in camp, however, GM John Elway added a difference-maker at guard. After two Pro Bowls with the Eagles, Mathis signed a one-year, $4 million deal and became the Broncos' left guard. He provided stability for an offense navigating a new system, a breaking-down Peyton Manning and seven Brock Osweiler starts. Mathis graded as Pro Football Focus' top run-blocking guard in 2015, helping C.J. Anderson to a strong playoffs and celebrating a Super Bowl title in his lone Denver season.
In 1997, the 49ers signed future Hall of Fame defenders Woodson and Kevin Greene. Both became salary cap casualties in 1998. Woodson started 14 games and intercepted three passes in his lone 49ers season. He remained a cornerback, with the safety transition not occurring until his 1999 season in Baltimore, and assisted San Francisco's No. 1-ranked defense. The 49ers secured home-field advantage but lost to the Packers in a one-sided NFC title game. Woodson moved on and appeared in two more Super Bowls, with the Ravens and Raiders, before his 17-year career ended.
From 2009-19, the Broncos have featured a Pro Bowl edge rusher in nine of 11 seasons. However, Denver's Elvis Dumervil-, Von Miller- and DeMarcus Ware-buoyed pass rush encountered multiple problems in 2013. A fax machine fiasco sent Dumervil to free agency, where he left for Baltimore, and Miller was subsequently suspended six games. Enter Phillips, a longtime Charger who signed a one-year deal. He led the Broncos with 10 sacks and added two more in the playoffs. Phillips was essential to Denver's Super Bowl qualification, which happened despite Miller and Chris Harris' late-season ACL tears.
After his Titans rookie contract expired, Brown went through a strange period. He continued to play well, but the veteran linebacker journeyed to three teams in four years. The Bills added him on a one-year deal and received a strong investment return. Brown recorded a career-high 149 tackles (11 for loss), added four sacks and forced two fumbles. This came for a 7-9 Bills team that deployed the 19th-ranked defense, and it did not lead to a Brown payday in 2017. He signed another one-year deal, this time with Washington.
Roberts has now been on six teams but has remained a high-end return specialist into his 30s. His best work came at 31 on his fifth team. The Jets signed Roberts for one year and $1 million and saw that deal turn into an All-Pro season. A rare multi-use return man, Roberts returned a kickoff and punt for a touchdown and led the NFL in both punt-return average (14.1) and kick-return yards (1,174). The Jets changed coaches in 2019 and did not re-sign 2018's All-Pro kick returner, leading him to the Bills on a two-year deal.
One of Bill Belichick's many recent trades for skill-position talent produced Cooks, acquired from the Saints for a first-round pick in 2017. The young speedster immediately settled in on an offense that was without Julian Edelman all season. Cooks extended his 1,000-yard receiving streak to three, posting 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. His 100-yard showing in the AFC championship game helped the Patriots stave off the Jaguars after Rob Gronkowski's mid-game injury. Cooks, however, suffered a concussion in Super Bowl LII and was traded to the Rams for a 2018 first-rounder.
George Halas' team completed a successful defense of its 1940 championship, and while Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman led the charge, the Bears' ground game ranked No. 1 in the league and received key contributions from a rookie fullback. The No. 3 overall pick out of Stanford, Standlee rushed for five regular-season touchdowns and added four more in the Bears' two playoff games. Standlee amassed 168 playoff rushing yards, helping the Bears to December routs of the Packers and Giants. World War II interrupted Standlee's career; he resurfaced with the All-American Football Conference's 49ers in 1946.
Interceptions used to come easier. Less sophisticated passing attacks paired with nearly unrestricted defensive freedom created a playground for secondaries. But still, a 10-interception season is nothing to overlook regardless of era. Doll began his career as a Lions safety and finished his six-year NFL run with the Rams, but in 1953, his 10-INT Redskins season gave him a historic accomplishment. Doll, who notched 12- and 11-INT years as a Lion, is the only player with three double-digit interception seasons. When Doll retired in 1954, his 41 picks were an all-time record.
In modern football, Tom Brady's six championships are the standard. But a mid-20th-century offensive lineman has that beat (sort of). An original member of the All-American Football Conference's Browns in 1946, Gatski joined Otto Graham in helping the team win all four AAFC titles and then three NFL crowns by 1955. However, the Hall of Fame center bettered Graham in this area. Paul Brown traded Gatski to the rival Lions in 1957, and after a historic Detroit comeback created a third Lions-Browns title game, Detroit's 59-14 thumping gave Gatski an eighth championship. The four-time All-Pro retired at season's end.
The 2004 first-round pick enjoyed a 12-year career, but by 2010 he had yet to make good on that draft stock. But after signing with the Titans, Babin broke out. The edge rusher recorded a then-career-high 12.5 sacks, to go with two forced fumbles and 27 QB hits, to earn his first Pro Bowl trip at age 30. He then followed Tennessee's defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, to Philadelphia for the 2011 season. His return to the Eagles produced a whopping 18 sacks. While Babin was a journeyman, he showcased his ability for a bit in the early 2010s.
The NFL was a pit stop for White, a Rhodes Scholar on his way to a lengthy legal career. He became a Supreme Court Justice in 1962. But in 1938, White was the No. 4 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates (who later became the Steelers). He led the NFL in rushing, with 567 yards in 11 games. That total paced the league by more than 100 yards. The Pirates went just 2-9, but White earned first-team All-Pro honors. White began his Oxford stay in 1939 but played for the Lions from 1940-41, including another All-Pro season, before leaving the game.
Part of one of the best offensive lines in NFL history — the 2000s Chiefs' units, which featured Hall of Famers Will Shields and Willie Roaf — Waters voyaged to the Patriots during the 2011 lockout-marred offseason. He earned his sixth and final Pro Bowl, doing so at age 34, and helped the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. The Pats' starting right guard helped Tom Brady to a career-high 5,235 passing yards, but the team again could not stop the Giants in a Super Bowl. Waters refused to report to the Patriots in 2012 and finished his career with the '13 Cowboys.
A promising but off-the-grid tackle with the 49ers, Brown became a vital component of the Patriots' sixth championship. The Patriots landed the massive lineman in a pick-swap trade, with the 49ers collecting a third-rounder and the Pats taking back a fifth, and became New England's season-long left tackle. A right tackle in every other season, Brown helped the Pats move on from Nate Solder and withstand first-round pick Isaiah Wynn's injury. Brown shined in the playoffs, keeping the Chargers' and Chiefs' formidable edge rushers off Tom Brady. Those games led to the Raiders giving him a then-O-line-record contract in 2019.
After a six-year Buccaneers run ended with Dilfer being benched in 1999, he took a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ravens. Starter Tony Banks went four games without producing a touchdown drive, leading Brian Billick to turn to Dilfer. The Ravens went 11-1 with Dilfer as the starter, mounting one of the most dominant Super Bowl runs in NFL history. While Dilfer co-piloted this effort — playing sidekick to Baltimore's menacing defense — he did throw multiple TD passes in five straight games (all wins) to start the Ravens' ascent. The team dumped him for Elvis Grbac in 2001's free agency and paid for it.
Following productive stays with the Browns and Falcons, one of the most versatile players in NFL history landed with the Chargers in his ninth season. An otherwise forgettable Bolts team at least had Metcalf, who reminded the football world of his talents. Once an explosive chess piece at running back, Metcalf was a full-blown wideout/return man by 1997. He returned three punts for touchdowns to earn his second All-Pro honor for this skill and aided the Chargers with 40 receptions for 576 yards as a receiver. Aided by this diverse display for a 4-12 team, Metcalf played until 2002.
Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers, Jefferson and his initial NFL team became embroiled in a contract dispute. The Steelers dealt their talented wide receiver for a modest package, and the Colts landed a difference-maker at a key juncture. Johnny Unitas was entering his age-37 season but suddenly he and Earl Morrall had another playmaker to target. Baltimore's leading receiver in 1970, Jefferson caught 44 passes for 749 yards and seven TDs. He added 139 playoff yards, helping the Colts to their first Super Bowl title. The Colts, however, traded him to the Redskins in 1971.
Emergency trade acquisition Sam Bradford set the NFL's completion percentage record in 2016 but suffered yet another knee injury the following September. Enter Keenum. A former undrafted nomad, Keenum signed a one-year, $2 million deal that offseason. Stunningly, he steered the Vikings to a 13-3 season and the NFC's No. 2 seed. Keenum's 22-TD/7-INT season produced the No. 1 QB DVOA mark, and the Minneapolis Miracle play overshadows the Keenum-Drew Brees playoff duel that ended with 318 Keenum yards. This turned out to be an aberration for Keenum, but the glorious fluke doubled as the Vikings' 2010s apex.
The briefly relevant World Football League interfered with NFL rosters in the mid-1970s, and it hijacked the Colts' in 1974. Already an All-Pro linebacker with Baltimore, the future Hall of Famer declared he would defect to the WFL in 1975 after an option year on his contract. So the Colts traded him to the Packers for a meager return. In Green Bay, Hendricks intercepted five passes and recorded a safety. But the 6-foot-7 wingspan warlord gave the Packers plenty of his signature NFL sequence. Hendricks blocked seven kicks as a Packer. With the WFL already imploding, the Raiders sent two first-rounders for Hendricks in 1975.
The mid-2010s doubled as an AFC arms race. The Broncos held the upper hand in 2013, cruising past the Patriots in that year's conference title game. They then signed Aqib Talib away from the Pats and added a host of other key contributors. Bill Belichick responded by signing Revis, whom the Buccaneers released after one season. Revis helped tilt the power balance back to the Pats, delivering his fourth All-Pro season and helping the team back to the Super Bowl. It is difficult to envision the Pats winning that title without Revis Island, but after the Pats declined his 2015 option, his prime ended quickly.
But no cornerback impacted an NFL power balance like "Primetime." The Cowboys won the 1990s' defining rivalry's first and second rounds, beating the 49ers in consecutive NFC title games. But in September 1994, San Francisco added Sanders on a one-year, $2M deal. The 49ers signed a host of free agents that offseason; Sanders made the biggest impact. He intercepted six passes, returned three for TDs and amassed a staggering 303 return yards. At 27, Deion was at his lockdown best and catalyzed the 49ers' Cowboys-conquering Super Bowl run. Jerry Jones outbid the 49ers (five years, $30M) for Sanders the following September, and Dallas won Super Bowl XXX.
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