THE FRANCHISE: ALL-TIME
By nature, memories can be short. We tend to remember things that were part of our own life experience. As a result, we tend to look at the NFL in terms of players who are currently in their careers or recently retired. The purpose of this ranking is to select the best player in franchise history from a historical perspective. With a few exceptions for franchises that haven’t been around as long, these players run the length of the history of the NFL, going as far back as the 1940s and includes players that dominated in every decade since.
Almost every player on this list is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, what makes them the best historical players for their respective franchises is that, even though some them played 50 years ago or more, their legacy has withstood the test of time. Many younger fans have simply heard the names, but likely don’t have a lot of personal memories connected to them. But make no mistake, when they played they were the standard-bearers for both their franchise, the NFL as a brand and represent proudly the eras in which they played and the foundation they laid for the current players and the league.
SAN FRANCISCO QB JOE MONTANA
One of two quarterbacks in league history with four Super Bowl rings.
He will always be the face of the franchise, going from Hall of Fame QB to top NFL executive.
New York Giants LB Lawrence Taylor
L.T. took the franchise on his back and rallied his defensive unit to become one of the most feared in NFL history. Taylor will go down as one of the top-10 players of all time.
New York Jets QB JOE NAMATH
A star on and off the field and a Super Bowl MVP.
Tennessee (Houston) TITANS RB EARL CAMPBELL
The former Heisman winner is one of the 10 all-time best backs in the history of the NFL.
Playing for a historically losing franchise, Fitzgerald has been part of multiple winning seasons and has scored more touchdowns than anyone in franchise history.
Atlanta Falcons QB STEVE BARTKOWSKI
The first real star for the Falcons.
Lewis is the standard bearer at the position, named NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice and known for his relentless pursuit, tackling skills.
Buffalo Bills DL Bruce Smith
One of the most athletically gifted defensive ends in the history of the NFL.
Carolina Panthers LB Sam Mills
He set the tone for this franchise almost from its inception with the famous words “Keep Pounding.”
Chicago Bears RB GALE SAYERS
During his five-year stretch in Chicago, Sayers was the most dominant runner of his time, around whom any of today’s offenses could be built.
Cincinnati Bengals OL ANTHONY MUNOZ
Rated the No. 12 NFL player of all-time by NFL.com, the 1998 Hall of Fame inductee has been active in broadcasting and commercials.
Cleveland Browns QB OTTO GRAHAM
He was in the middle of how the game would be played decades later. Under Graham, the Browns offense was unlike any team in the game.
Many players could be here. Emmitt led the Cowboys back to prominence and is the only RB to lead the league in rushing, win the NFL MVP, win a Super Bowl and be named the Super Bowl MVP in the same year.
Detroit Lions QB BOBBY LAYNEA Hall of Fame quarterback that continues to loom in franchise lore as one of the team’s last championship-winning signal-callers.
GREEN BAY PACKERS QB BART STARR
The Packers won five NFL titles in seven seasons behind Starr’s postseason brilliance. He threw 15 touchdowns against three interceptions in 10 playoff games.
He is everything the Texans stand for.
INDIANAPOLIS (BALTIMORE) COLTS QB JOHNNY UNITAS
“Johnny U” revolutionized his position and set a standard that other passers have emulated ever since.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Fred Taylor
He was a local favorite from the University of Florida and was the most explosive player in franchise history.
Kansas City Chiefs QB LEN DAWSON
Dawson paved the way for excellence at the quarterback position.
Miami Dolphins QB DAN MARINO
He is the face of this franchise as a nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro.
Minnesota Vikings QB FRAN TARKENTON
He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls and retired as the NFL’s leading passer in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns.
New England Patriots QB DREW BLEDSOE
Bledsoe may not be as good as Brady, but drafting and developing the big-armed talent out of Washington State had everything to do with this franchise staying in New England. Bledsoe re-energized a franchise that was struggling.
New Orleans Saints QB ARCHIE MANNING
Manning fought the good fight for 11 long seasons, posting a 35-91-3 record as a starter during 11 seasons. He was a Pro Bowler in 1978 and 1979.
OAKLAND RAIDERS C JIM OTTO
Set the reputation of a Raiders offensive lineman, starting for the Silver and Black at center for 15 years.
Philadelphia Eagles C/LB CHUCK BEDNARIK
The gold standard of football grit and toughness.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB TERRY BRADSHAW
While Joe Greene was the leader and best player, no team wins four Super Bowls without a brilliant quarterback. That was Bradshaw.
San Diego Chargers QB DAN FOUTS
The trigger man during the “Air Coryell” era, Fouts directed one of the most entertaining and explosive offenses in league history.
Seattle Seahawks WR STEVE LARGENT
The Hall of Fame wide receiver and future Oklahoma Congressman set the tone for the franchise with class, competitiveness, accountability and production.
ST. LOUIS (LOS ANGELES) RAMS DL MERLIN OLSEN
The Hall of Famer was a 14-time Pro Bowler. Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood combined for 14 Pro Bowls.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS THE TAMPA-2
The Buccaneers made the Tampa-2 defense a staple throughout the NFL.
Washington Redskins QB SAMMY BAUGH
Slinging Sammy, a charter member of the Hall of Fame, was way ahead of his time. His 2,938 passing yards in 1947 smashed the record by 744 yards.