Best free agent acquisitions in Green Bay Packers history: 8. Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard cracks the top-10 for one reason: his 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI’s win over the New England Patriots. Howard did win the 1991 Heisman Trophy playing for the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten. However, his NFL career was largely spent as a return specialist.
The Washington Redskins drafted him No. 4 overall in the 1992 NFL Draft as an extreme luxury item. Washington was coming off its own Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. The team opted to see if Howard’s big play ability could be of use to them as a gadget player.
Howard would leave Washington after three seasons after being taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 Expansion Draft. While Jacksonville would reach the conference championship in its second year of existence, Howard did them two better by being a primary reason the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over New England.
Howard signed with the Packers in 1996 NFL free agency. He would go on to have arguably the best season of his 11-year NFL career with five teams. Howard led the NFL in punt returns (58), punt return yardage (875) and punt return touchdowns (three). Somehow, that wasn’t good enough to earn Pro Bowl honors.
But that didn’t really matter, now did it? Howard would make a Pro Bowl later in his career as a member of the 2000 Detroit Lions. 1996 was all about Howard helping the Packers win a Super Bowl. Boy, did he have the biggest game of his life versus Bill Parcells’ Patriots on that February Sunday.
Howard won Super Bowl XXXI MVP, as he had 244 all-purpose yards (154 on kickoffs, 90 on punts) and that iconic 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He is the only Super Bowl MVP to win it solely based on his play in special teams.
However, Howard would leave the Packers in 1997 NFL free agency. He played the 1997 and 1998 NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders before briefly coming back to the Packers in 1999. After being cut by the Packers in the middle of the 1999 campaign, Howard would join the Lions for the rest of the season. He spent the following three years in Detroit before calling it quits in 2002.
Overall, Howard’s time with the Packers was extremely limited. That being said, his 1996 season with The Pack was simply outstanding. His punt returning abilities during the regular season and his brilliance in the Super Bowl easily have him cracking the top-10 on this all-time list. Some might clamor for him to be higher, but other Packers did more for the team longer after signing with Green Bay as a free agent.