Atlanta Falcons: 15 best free agent acquisitions of all-time

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Cornelius Bennett, Atlanta Falcons
Cornelius Bennett, Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport /

. LB. (1996-98). Cornelius Bennett. 11. player. 44

Cornelius Bennett is best known in the football world for being a five-time Pro Bowler with the Jim Kelly/Marv Levy Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s, as well as forming one of the most fearsome pass rushes in college football history alongside Derrick Thomas and Keith McCants with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Bennett was a three-time All-American at Alabama and would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He would be the No. 2 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1987 NFL Draft, but was unable to sign with the dysfunctional AFC franchise that summer. Bennett was traded to Buffalo, where he would put together nine Hall of Very Good caliber years in Orchard Park.

After losing four Super Bowls in a row with the Bills, Bennett would leave for the Falcons in 1996 NFL free agency. While he would never make a Pro Bowl for the rest of his career, Bennett’s defensive identity at outside linebacker was paramount in the Dirty Birds coming to life in that magical 1998 NFL season.

Bennett played alongside perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Jessie Tuggle in the Falcons. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Dan Reeves Falcons went 14-2 that year. They won the old NFC West and would earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Only the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings were better.

After Gary Anderson missed that field goal, Morten Andersen would deliver for the Falcons in the old Metrodome to shockingly upset the favored Vikings in Minneapolis to reach Super Bowl XXXIII. While Super Bowl XXXIII would be both a massive disappoint for the Falcons, as well as Bennett’s last year in Atlanta uniform, the team doesn’t get there without his veteran leadership out on the edge.

In three years with the Falcons, Bennett played in 45 games, starting all of them. He made 242 combined tackles (189 solo, 53 assists), 11.0 quarterback sacks, five fumble recoveries for 10 yards, four forced fumbles and an interception for three yards.

Bennett would leave Atlanta after the Super Bowl to play his last two NFL with the team that drafted him in the Colts. He retired after the 2000 NFL season after 15 great years in the league. Though clearly better with the Bills, adding Bennett to the front-seven was instrumental in the Falcons reaching their first Super Bowl in franchise history and becoming The Dirty Birds.