By Michael Heilman
The NFL free agency period is underway, and already
several big-name players have signed with new teams. Most notable, Phillip
Rivers signed with the Indianapolis Colts while former Patriots quarterback Tom
Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While fans will have to adjust their
screens to see these players in their new uniforms, there have been other great
players in the past that have changed uniforms after spending their whole
careers in one place.
Many fans expect certain individual players to finish
their careers in one place. Still, once reality sets in and a team must make a
difficult choice to let them go for the future, not many of these players last
long after leaving for another team. Here are the top ten greatest football
players to change teams.
- Joe Montana
Montana was drafted in the third round of the 1979 NFL draft by the San
Francisco 49ers to be the backup to starting quarterback Steve DeBerg. Montana
took over the starting job halfway through the 1980 season. From there, he
guided the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships and established a rivalry
with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980’s.
49ers had a quarterback dilemma between him and Steve Young. On April 20, 1993,
the 49ers traded Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he signed a
three-year extension for ten million dollars. Montana would play two years in
Kansas City and guide them to two playoff appearances before retiring after the
1994 season. Montana finished his career with 273 touchdown passes, 139
interceptions, and 40,551 passing yards. Montana was inducted into the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Emmitt Smith
the 49ers dominated the 1980’s decade, the Dallas Cowboys were assembling a
unit to regain supremacy in the NFC in the late ’80s. Emmitt Smith was one of
the final pieces as he was taken in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft.
Smith, along with Troy Aikman, made up one of the best offensive line units in
NFL history. Smith competed with Lions running back Barry Sanders for the NFL
rushing title, winning it from 1991-93 and again in 1995.
Barry Sanders retired in 1998, Smith went on to become the NFL’s all-time
leading rusher with 17,162 yards in 2002 surpassing Bears running back Walter
Payton. Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells wanted to go younger on offense and
released Smith after the 2002 season. On March 26, 2003, Emmitt Smith signed a
two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Smith rushed for a total of 1,193
yards on 357 carries, and eleven touchdowns for the Cardinals before retiring
after the 2004 season. Smith would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of
Fame in 2006.
- Payton Manning
Manning was the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis
Colts. The Colts went 3-13 in his first year, but after that, Manning helped
the Colts reach new heights. The Colts would go on to appear in eleven
playoffs, winning the AFC East once, AFC South seven times, two Super Bowl
appearances winning Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears. Manning was forced
to sit out the entire 2012 season due to a neck injury. The Colts decided to
move on from Manning after that, and Manning finished with 4,682 completions
for 54,828 yards, 539 touchdowns, and 251 interceptions.
then went to Denver, spending his last four years in the league. In his final
season, he guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina
Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Manning added more to his stat chart with 2,170
completions for 17,112 yards, 140 touchdowns, and 53 interceptions. There is no
question that Manning will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
- Joe Namath
Namath was a new character in pro football. He is famously known for
guaranteeing a victory in the Super Bowl when the New York Jets played the
Baltimore Colts. Namath was in a unique situation when he played college for Alabama.
Before his college career ended, he was drafted twice in 1965. Once by the St.
Louis Cardinals in the first found at pick twelve in the NFL, and by the New
York Jets as the number one pick in the AFL. Namath chose to sign with the Jets,
and the rest was history.
spent twelve years with the Jets, winning Super Bowl III, and he was named Super
Bowl MVP. Namath also won the AFL championship in 1968 against the Oakland
Raiders. Namath would play his final season with the Jets in 1976. He finished
with 1,836 completions, 27,057 yards, 170 touchdowns, and 215 interceptions.
Namath then joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. He only played four games with
the Rams before retiring after the 1977 season. Joe Namath was inducted into
the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
- Johnny Unitas
Johnny Unitas or Johnny U, made waves when
the Baltimore Colts drafted him in the ninth round of the 1955 NFL Draft from
Louisville. Unitas led the Colts to seven playoff appearances, including
winning the NFL championships in 1958, 1959, and 1968 along with winning Super
Bowl V over the Dallas Cowboys. Unitas played seventeen years with the Colts
before playing one more season with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.
Unitas finished his NFL career with 2,830
completions for 40,239 yards, 290 touchdowns, and 253 interceptions. Unitas was
elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
- Brian Dawkins
the Eagles drafted Dawkins in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of
Clemson, they knew who they were getting. Dawkins was the heart and soul of the
Eagles for thirteen years. Every word that came out of his mouth was
inspirational and motivating. Dawkins backed up his words with hits that Eagles
fans will talk about forever. Dawkins finished his Eagles career with 34
interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns, 36 force fumbles, 21 sacks,
914 tackles, and 723 solo tackles.
left the Eagles after the 2008 season to sign with the Denver Broncos. Dawkins
would play three more years before retiring after the 2011 season. While in
Denver, Dawkins added three interceptions, four force fumbles, five sacks, 233
tackles, and 188 solo tackles. Dawkins was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall
of Fame in 2018.
- Jerry Rice
fifteen years, Jerry Rice was part of the 49ers dominating the 1980’s, and
early 90’s helping the team win three Super Bowls. Rice got to catch passes
from a couple of hall of famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. When his 49ers
career ended after the 2000 season, Rice would then join the Oakland Raiders.
He would help the Raiders appear in Super Bowl XXXVII; unfortunately, they
would lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rice would go on to play for the
Seattle Seahawks in 2004. While he did join the Denver Broncos in 2005, he
elected to retire.
finished his playing career with 1,549 receptions for 22,895 and 197
touchdowns. He also had 645 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. Rice was elected
into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
- Randall Cunningham
When you think of great players to play for the Eagles like Brian Dawkins, you will also hear the name, Randall Cunningham. The Eagles selected Cunningham in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft. Many people consider Cunningham, the original mobile quarterback, he could make defensive players miss him, and he had a cannon for an arm. The Eagles would make several playoff appearances under him.
After Cunningham lost his starting job to Rodney Peete, Cunningham retired the first time in 1996; he would unretire and sign with the Vikings. Randall helped guide the Vikings to the NFC championship game loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Cunningham would make stops at Dallas and Baltimore before retiring again after the 2001 season. Cunningham would finish his career with 2,429 competitions for 29,979 yards, 207 touchdowns, and 134 interceptions.
- Earl Campbell
Earl Campbell was drafted as the number
one pick in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers from Texas. Campbell,
known as the human wrecking ball, put on a clinic during his career in Houston,
destroying defensive players that came his way. During his seven years with the
Oilers, Campbell rushed for 8,574 yards, 73 touchdowns, and 121 receiving
Campbell was traded to the New Orleans
Saints in 1984 and played one more season in 1985 before retiring. During his
time in New Orleans, Campbell rushed for 833 yards and one touchdown. He was
inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
- Tony Dorsett
Not many NFL scouts gave Heisman Trophy
winner Tony Dorsett a chance given his size. That did not stop the Dallas
Cowboys from selecting him as the number two overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft
out of Pittsburgh. Dorsett made an immediate impact in helping the Cowboys take
down the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII. Dorsett would play with the Cowboys
for eleven years from 1977 to 1987. He would finish his Cowboys career with
2,755 rushing attempts for 12,036 yards, 72 touchdowns, 382 receiving yards,
and thirteen touchdowns.
Dorsett would play one more season with
the Denver Broncos in 1988 starting in thirteen games rushing for 703 yards,
five touchdowns, and sixteen receiving yards. Dorsett was elected into the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in 1994
While these great players
suited up for other teams in their last couple of years, not many fans remember
that these players went on to play for other teams. Some were released or their
contracts not picked up by the organizations they had devoted so many of their
While it is hard to say
goodbye to these players, teams must look to the future like what both the
Patriots and Chargers fans are going through seeing Tom Brady and Phillip
Rivers change organizations. Many players come and go, but certain ones will
always be remembered for being with one team. Some players don’t have the
opportunity to be with one team for most of their careers. They go from team to
team searching for the glory that may never come in the form of a Super Bowl
victory. Some stay in the sport long
after there best contributing days are over, not willing to let playing the
For those of us who are fans, we need
to appreciate our players and their abilities.
Some play with their heart every time they step onto the field. So enjoy
them, appreciate them, and cheer for them because you never know when it will
be the last time you see them in your favorite team’s jersey.