Few things are more difficult than to select one player as the best in the history of a franchise. They are always wide open to debate because most franchises have been around 50 years and have seen players from different eras put in Hall of Fame careers.
Jim Brown didn’t make the cut. Neither did Joe Montana, Fran Tarkenton, Ray Lewis or Brett Favre. Making the decisions were hard because a case could be made for a handful of different players from different sides of the ball from different eras. By the nature of singling out one player, there will be controversy surrounding some of these selections, but it’s difficult to argue the lasting impact all of these players made on the NFL and why they’re on this list.
As would be expected, quarterbacks led the way with 10 selections for their respective franchises, but the picks truly ran the gamut of the NFL. Offensive linemen are supposed to be viewed as anonymous if they’re doing their job at high level, but five offensive linemen made the list. While the omissions can be argued, it’s hard not to make a case for those who made this impressive list.
Brady is far and away the best Patriot in the history of the franchise. Brady has won three Super Bowls, appeared in five and has the best overall win-loss percentage in the history of the NFL. With Brady at the helm, the Patriots have won 11 out of 13 AFC East titles, a remarkable stat in this day and age because of the salary cap.
San Francisco 49ers Jerry Rice, WR
He owns just about every record there is and was a first-team All-Pro 10 times. It could go either way with Joe Montana, but Rice was the best player to ever play his position.
Green Bay Packers BART STARR, QB
With Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have arguably the best quarterbacks of three eras. The nod goes to Starr, though. He led the team to five championships with a ridiculous 9-1 record in playoff games with a career-record postseason passer rating of 104.8.
Chicago Bears WALTER PAYTON, RB
Never the biggest or fastest player on the field, Payton willed his way into the record books. The heart and soul of the 1985 Super Bowl team, Payton finished his career with the most rushing yards in NFL history, and holds nearly every Bears rushing and receiving record.
Washington Redskins SAMMY BAUGH, QB
Baugh, a two-time champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer, dominated the two-way era. He led the NFL in accuracy in nine of his 16 seasons. On defense, he intercepted 31 passes, including a league-high 11 in 1943. His career punting average of 45.1 yards ranks ninth all-time and he’s the only punter in the top 14 who isn’t punting today.
Fitzgerald is in his 11th season with Arizona and has experienced more success than any other Cardinal in franchise history. He’s been part of three winning seasons since 2004 (the Cardinals had only one winning season from 1985-2004) and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer by a position player.
Atlanta Falcons JESSIE TUGGLE, LB
Five-time Pro Bowler who was solid every minute he was on the field. A true defensive star that played all 14 of his NFL seasons with the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens JONATHAN OGDEN, LT
While middle linebacker Ray Lewis was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, retired offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is arguably the top left tackle in NFL history. Ogden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
Buffalo Bills Bruce Smith, DE
This was a tough call between Smith and Jim Kelly, but Smith is one of the most disruptive players of all time. Smith had 171 sacks with the Bills and finished with 200 in his career.
Smith played 13 years in Carolina, making the playoffs four of those years. He was elected to the Pro Bowl five times, All-Pro twice, and won the AP Comeback Player of the Year in 2005. He was the unquestioned leader on this team with his 13 years playing for the Panthers.
Cincinnati Bengals ANTHONY MUNOZ, OL
Widely regarded as the greatest left tackle ever, Anthony Munoz is the only player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played his entire career in Cincinnati. Made a record 11 consecutive Pro Bowls and is one of seven Bengals who played in both Cincinnati Super Bowls.
Cleveland Browns OTTO GRAHAM, QB
With their long history, determining the best player in Browns history is a difficult task. Based on overall performance, changing how the game was played, and playing for a championship every season he played, QB Otto Graham goes down as the greatest player to wear a Cleveland Browns uniform.
Dallas Cowboys ROGER STAUBACH, QB
Staubach’s clutch factor and scrambling abilities made him one of the most exciting players in the NFL during the 1970s. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP. Staubach also had the second-highest passer rating in NFL history at the time of his retirement.
Elway made five Super Bowl appearances with two victories, was a Super Bowl MVP, league MVP, nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. What more can be said about the Duke of Denver?
Sanders spent his entire career in Detroit, dazzling fans en route to a Hall of Fame career with 10 consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 yards rushing. He retired early, just short of setting the league’s all-time rushing record.
Johnson has spent his entire career with the Houston Texans and is the longest-tenured player in franchise history. With over 13,000 yards receiving, Johnson has been climbing NFL record books over his career and has been selected multiple times to Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. He is Mr. Texan.
Traditionalists mention Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, but Manning has won five NFL MVP awards and set about every Colts passing record from 1998 to 2010. But Unitas backers remind, “Johnny U” won four NFL titles (counting the Super Bowl loss to the AFL Jets).
Jacksonville Jaguars Fred Taylor, RB
Taylor had over 11,000 rushing yards for the Jaguars and was the face of the franchise for most of his career. He’s a long shot to make the Hall of Fame based on the small-market factor, but he’s every bit as deserving as most of the backs in it.
Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Thomas, LB
The Hall of Fame linebacker left an indelible footprint on this franchise. On the field, he terrorized opposing quarterbacks and gave the Chiefs defense its identity in the 1990s. He was without a doubt the best prime-time player to ever wear a Kansas City Chiefs uniform.
Miami DOLPHINS DAN MARINO, QB
Are you really that surprised? He threw for over 60,000 yards while completing well over 50 percent of his passes, and he threw for 12 yards per attempt. He had four game-winning drives in the playoffs. It’s just a shame that he never won the big one.
Minnesota Vikings ALAN PAGE, DT
Page was a first-round pick in 1967 and played in 236 straight games, including all four of the Vikings’ Super Bowl appearances, became the first defensive player to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award by the Associated Press, was a four-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year and All-NFL/NFC nine years, playing in nine Pro Bowls.
Never mind the incredible passing numbers for a moment. Before Brees’ arrival, the Saints had made the playoffs five times (one playoff win) since entering the NFL in 1967. In his first eight seasons, Brees led the Saints to the playoffs five times, with the six playoff wins, including one Super Bowl.
New York Giants Lawrence Taylor, LB
Taylor is clearly the most dominant player in Giants history as the 10-time Pro Bowler led New York to two Super Bowl titles and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses. He tallied 132.5 career sacks and was named a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A once-in-a-generation type player, Taylor was the impetus for the Giants dominating defenses of the 1980s and early ’90s.
New York Jets JOE NAMATH, QB
“Broadway Joe” quarterbacked the Jets to their only Super Bowl victory, was named Super Bowl MVP and earned two AP AFL MVPs.
OAKLAND RAIDERS GENE UPSHAW, G
“Uptown Gene” won the starting left guard job in training camp and proceeded to start 207 straight games at the position. He helped lead the Raiders to three Super Bowl victories.
Philadelphia Eagles CHUCK BEDNARIK, C/LB
“Concrete Charlie” missed only three games in 14 seasons, playing both sides of the ball with iron-man efficiency.
Pittsburgh Steelers JOE GREENE, DT
“Mean” Joe Greene just had his number retired, only the second in franchise history with Ernie Stautner. Greene was Chuck Noll’s first draft pick and immediately set a tone with the Steelers and not only became the best player and leader on a team that won four Super Bowls in six years, but was its captain and conscience.
Tomlinson dominated the game more than anyone who ever wore lightning bolts. He ran for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first eight seasons and authored some of the best individual seasons in franchise history, including 2003 (1,645 rushing yards, 100 receptions) and 2006 (31 total touchdowns).
Jones started all 180 games of his NFL career for the Seahawks, earning All-Pro honors seven times. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2014 and is considered one of the best to ever play the position.
LOS ANGELES RAMS MERLIN OLSEN, DT
The No. 3 pick in the 1962 NFL draft out of Utah State, Olsen was named to the Pro Bowl in 14 of his 15 seasons with the Rams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS Warren Sapp, DT
Say what you want about him off the field, but Sapp was the heart and soul of the Bucs’ glory years, amassing 96.5 career sacks and the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Tennessee (HOUSTON) TITANS BRUCE MATTHEWS, OL
Matthews was a Hall of Famer who played 19 years for the Oilers/Titans. During his career, Matthews started at every position on the offensive line and was named first-team All-Pro nine times (1988–1993, 1998–2000) and All-AFC 12 seasons (1988–1993, 1995–2000). He was selected as a guard on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.