Well, it seems like only a day or so ago that the New York Giants finished their miracle run and won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots. The NFL off-season moves really fast though, and it is time for owners and GMs to get ready for Free Agency in a few short days, and the NFL Draft in late April.
After last season’s delay with the lockout, some teams failed to lock up some of their big time players, which makes this a pretty good bunch of talent that can be had this season. Yes free agency is filled with tons of names, and today I will be showing you some of the top names and what fate may await them on the market.
Let’s face it, from 32-1 every team in the league could use better talent at certain spots, or lock up a key role player that may have eluded them this past season. Teams can even change their entire look with the types of players available at QB, RB and on defense.
So let’s get down to it and take a look at the 2012 NFL Free Agents!
Drew Brees, Saints: The last time Brees was a free agent it came down to the Saints and the Dolphins. Miami had decided that they were not pleased with the results of his physical, and the rest is history. Brees brought life to a dying franchise, won a Super Bowl, broke NFL passing records and has become the face of the city of New Orleans. Yes, he will get paid heavily somewhere, but it would be hard to imagine him leaving the Saints. They have lots of signing to do with other free agents, but Brees should be top priority. If not New Orleans, there will be plenty of teams knocking at his door.
Alex Smith, 49ers: A former overall number 1 pick who seemed to be at the end of his line, Smith was the leader of a 49er team that made it to the conference championship last year. Yes, they did use a second-round pick last season on QB Colin Kaepernick, but after Smith’s season and playoff performances, we would think that head coach Jim Harbaugh would want him back, and given his past he may not be looking to break the bank.
Matt Flynn, Packers: Can one game really make a star? Flynn played in the season finale for the Packers last year and well, threw only 6 TDs! We have seen similar success stories in the past with guys like Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Schaub (hmm, more guys named Matt), so it is very possible. If you want to get even more technical, Brett Favre was once a back-up QB in Atlanta. Flynn does have some skill, and a team like Washington could look to pin their hopes on him. The question is just how much does anyone trust him, and what can he be worth financially? Watching and learning behind Aaron Rodgers, much like Rodgers did with Favre can’t hurt either.
Kyle Orton, Chiefs: He went from a mere back-up in Chicago that nobody trusted to the starter, then off to Denver where he had a few decent seasons, then off to Kansas City. Orton may not be a Super Bowl QB, and his arm strength always raises questions, but he has shown the ability to be a good leader, and when healthy, can throw a ton every week. A team like Miami may look for his veteran leadership, and it would reunite him with WR Brandon Marshall.
David Garrard, Free Agent: Garrard passed on a chance to play in 2011 after being released from Jacksonville to have surgery and heal. Now in 2012 he finds himself in a busy market, and looking for another chance at a starting job. In the past he has shown great poise, leadership, and a nice touch on his passes in leading a Jaguar team limited in WR talent. Now he can look around and try to find a good home filled with more talent. It will be interesting to see what he has left, but outside of Brees and potentially Peyton Manning, Garrard may be the best choice on the free agent market if proven healthy.
Chad Henne, Dolphins: Miami as a whole was going nowhere fast last year until Henne went down with an injury and QB Mat Moore took over. Henne will make a good back up somewhere in the league, but his days as a starter could be gone. He is not a big arm, or a savvy scrambler, but he will get a job and be useful for sure.
Dan Orlovsky, Colts: It’s not saying much, but he was the best healthy QB on the Colts roster last year. After going winless behind Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter, Orlovsky made the most of his chance and got the Colts a win. He has always been trapped behind starters in which the team had a lot invested, so he rarely got a chance, but shows when he plays he can be a decent passer. He will once again be getting a back-up gig, but more teams should be looking his way.
Shaun Hill, Lions: Hard to think that the Lions will lose both of their back-ups this off-season given the injury history of Matthew Stafford. Hill has shown that he can air it out and deliver numbers similar to Stafford in this offense, and had some decent showings back when he was with the 49ers. He is loose with the ball however which had always prevented him from being a full time starter. Hill should be on many teams wish list though as he can fill in easily.
Other names: Donovan McNabb, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards
Ray Rice, Ravens: If Rice signs elsewhere, it will easily be considered the best signing of the off-season. A back with great speed, strength, hands, and elusive moves, Rice is one of the very best backs in the NFL. He has shown that not only can he go over 1,000 yards, but also haul serious reception numbers and turn even a tiny screen pass into a huge play. Rice has expressed interest in returning to Baltimore, even if he has to sign a franchise tag contract, but many will come make offers, and those offers will be filled with big dollars. With QB Joe Flacco also looking for a huge deal, it will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with Rice.
Matt Forte, Bears: It was the talk of the off-season last year about Forte and the Bears working on a new deal. He had expressed his interest in getting a long-term contract and the Bears held off and waited. In the beginning it looked as if it was a mistake that would cost the Bears millions upon millions of dollars as Forte was the putting up career numbers. Late in the season it looked a bit smarter after he suffered a season-ending injury. Now it becomes an interesting story of wills and who will give in here. Forte has tremendous hands and route running skills for a RB, and also a strong bruising type style. He will be chased after by many teams, but it’s the Bears that need him the most.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: He had a good rookie year in Buffalo, than some mistakes and injuries made way for others to take his job. However, to the surprise of many, Lynch found his way back to the top in Seattle. In the second half of 2011 Lynch was looking like the best back in the NFL. He was carrying defenders all over the filled, showing explosive burst of speed, and scoring at will. The Seahawks came to life behind Lynch and they should be the front-runner to sign him again. Lynch is young enough to merit a longer term deal, so Seattle will have their work cut out for them.
Peyton Hillis, Browns: In 2010 Hillis seemed unstoppable, and was the center of an improving Browns offense. In 2011 talks of a new contract, injuries, speaking badly about his team and the suspected “Madden Curse” led to a dreadful season for Hillis. So who is he? Is he the beast that ran for over 1,000 yards in Denver and Cleveland, or is he a complainer who will shy away from playing over small injuries and look out for number 1? You have to think the Browns would be happy to pony up the loot if they knew they would get the 2010 Hillis, as would many teams, but his work ethic will have to improve.
Mike Tolbert, Chargers: Tolbert started 2011 with a bang as he scored 3 TDs and was banging through defenders and catching passes. However in San Diego no offensive player is ever safe week to week, and the team went back to relying heavily on RB Ryan Mathews. Tolbert is built like a FB but runs like a RB, and is real good in the passing game. A leave from San Diego can prove to do similar things that it did for former teammate Darren Sproles who left for New Orleans. Tolbert deserves more playing time, and will find it. The only question is, where?
Michael Bush, Raiders: This may be Bush’s big break, finally. In his final year of college a leg injury kept him out all season and hurt his draft status. Then he was stuck behind the very talented Darren McFadden in Oakland. He showed this past season, after filling in for an injured McFadden, that he can be a lead back, catch passes and even be tough near the goal line. Bush should push hard to be a starter where ever he goes, and seems worth it. His story reminds me very much of Michael Turner, who has been an excellent back with the Atlanta Falcons after escaping San Diego.
Arian Foster, Texans: The only reason why less fuss is being made about Foster is because he is a restricted free agent who would cost a team at least a first-round pick should he sign elsewhere. However, there is a big situation in Houston where star DE Mario Williams is also up for free agency as is C Chris Myers. Foster may be the all around most talented back in the league and has been an essential part of this offense, but they do have youngster Ben Tate there and worked in Derrick Ward last year. No, I’m not saying Foster is expendable, but anything is possible. He is more than young enough to land a 6 or 7 year deal and is also good enough to earn big dollars. I doubt he is leaving, but it could be a huge signing if he does.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots: The man of many names had an excellent 2010, but fell off a bit in 2011. The Pats drafted 2 backs last year and still have the speedy Danny Woodhead on the roster as well, so many believe Green-Ellis could be on his way out. Is he a product of the system, or can Green-Ellis be a true lead back somewhere else? We will have to wait and see, but the Pats are well known for plugging in and staying successful.
Ryan Grant, Packers: He does get hurt often, but Grant is still a quality runner when healthy. He lost his lead role to James Starks who is much cheaper and they also have a youngster in the wings waiting for carries. Grant isn’t expected to come cheap enough for share-time, so the Packers may not look to resign him. He is not much for the passing game, but is a hard runner with good speed, and would be a good addition anywhere.
Vincent Jackson, Chargers: It seems unlikely that Jackson will sign another franchise tag contract and the Chargers have been grooming players to fill his role. Yes he is tall and strong and can run fast enough to be a quality number 1 receiver in this league. His problem has become his lack of commitment, and he tends to disappear at times. Although his time in San Diego seems over, he will get looks, especially from a team like New England, who did wonders for Randy Moss’ career resurgence, and are badly in need of a deep threat. Jackson will have to prove to any team that he is ready to be the guy from a few years back and not the contract squabbling man of the last 2 seasons.
Wes Welker, Patriots: We need to forget about that tough non-catch in the Super Bowl and remember that we are talking about the guy with more receptions than anyone in the league over the last few seasons. Welker is the ultimate slot receiver, has great speed, and rarely misses time despite his lack of physical size. I can’t even imagine him in another uniform, and the Pats will certainly make the right offer, but keep in mind, this is a business, and at times some contracts can be too many dollars for any owner. Shall he move on they have his clone ready in Julian Edelman, but no one really is Welker.
Reggie Wayne, Colts: This is a real toughie! Should the Colts look to keep Wayne and have him help the probable new QB Andrew Luck? Will they keep him around in case they stick with Peyton Manning? All of this really comes down to Wayne. He still has the big play potential and is an excellent all-around receiver who can catch for possession, long balls, or in near the goal line for TDs. His age will keep him from multiple years, but he can certainly grab big cash if he decides to leave. Also keep in mind that the Colts also have youth at WR in Pierre Garcon also up for free agency. Indy will have a busy off-season, and Wayne may not benefit from it, well at least not in staying with Indy.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Explosive is a great way to describe Jackson for sure, but in 2011 it was more of an explosive personality than skills. After proving to be one of the most exciting players in the league the last few seasons, Jackson began a campaign for his new deal which included hiring mega-agent Drew Rosenhaus, showing uo late to team meetings which led to a suspension, and wandering alone on the sidelines to avoid talking to any teammates. Jackson seems best fit for the Eagles offense, but they don’t seem up for playing hardball with him after a 2011 season in which they missed the playoffs. Jackson can be mouthy and overly flashy, but when he’s on, he can be spectacular.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: A bit of an enigma, but packed with skills, Bowe could use a change of scenery. Former Chiefs coach Todd Haley tried to bury him early on during his stint in KC, but Bowe got down and dirty, worked hard and showed he is a formidable WR in the league. He needs to be on a winner now, and the Chiefs don’t seem to have those pieces in place yet. Last years rookie James Baldwin may make Bowe expendable, and many teams will come calling.
Marques Colston, Saints: When healthy he is one of the best, but that’s when. Colston was a 7th round pick turned overnight success turned injury-prone question mark, but is a great weapon to have. Now the Saints will have to get crafty as they have plenty of players up for free agency, and Colston may not get maximum dollars if he stays, however it has been kind to him, and he will benefit best staying.
Stevie Johnson, Bills: As an unknown in 2010 Johnson burst onto the scene, caught 80+ passes and became a well thought of up and comer. Fast forward to 2011, and he became a mouthy, poorly imitating loud mouth WR, the diva type that many in the NFL can’t stand. Now is the time for him to grow up and use his playmaking ability to trump his mouth. Johnson can get as high as a 7 year deal due to his youth and play, but teams will want to know more about his personality. Buffalo could certainly use a more mature Johnson, but will suffer badly from the immature Johnson. Will he be T.O. or will he prove to be more of an Andre Johnson?
Mario Manningham, Giants: His game saving Super Bowl catch could keep him in New York, but the Giants have a lot to do. Victor Cruz is in the last year of his deal, Hakeem Nicks’ contract is taking up plenty of space and they have guys on defense to sure up. Manningham is a good WR, but suffered through injuries and just flat out getting lost in the shuffle last year. Hard to imagine one catch being enough to earn long term deals, but somewhere out there, CB Larry Allen continues to chuckle.
Brandon Lloyd, Rams: Never playing for a winner, Lloyd’s name has never been thought of as elite, but he has great playmaking skills and has made many highlight reel catches in his career. His trade to St. Louis last year seemed to breathe life into him, and he has showed plenty of interest in returning. He also had said that former coach Josh McDaniels had made him better, so perhaps a campaign to be the big gun in New England? We shall see.
Mike Wallace, Steelers: Much like Arian Foster, Wallace is a restricted free agent, but also a guy who may be worth the pick. Wallace is arguably the fastest player in the NFL and is an excellent long ball threat. He has stepped up and gotten better each season so many teams can benefit from having him aboard. Want an interesting twist here? The Patriots, who have been bucking for a true deep threat, have multiple first-round picks, and no one they can grab in this draft can possibly compare to what they would get from Wallace, and playing with Tom Brady could have many calling him the leagues best WR. Just a thought, but interesting at least!
Carl Nicks, Saints: Last year the Saints dished out 56 million dollars for guard Jahri Evans, and will have to come up close this season with Nicks. Combined they are possibly the best 1-2 punch at Guard in the league, and the Saints have had excellent success due to the protection they provide. Nicks will be sought after for sure, but it is well believed that he will give the Saints every chance to keep him around.
Ben Grubbs, Ravens: The busy off-season for the Ravens continues with Grubbs, an excellent run-blocking Guard who pulls out nicely and brings great strength to a talented offensive line. A guy with Pro-Bowl caliper skills, Grubbs is essential to keep here as the team may be shelling out big bucks at RB with Ray Rice and QB with Joe Flacco.
Scott Wells, Packers: Not the flashy name and big time position player we are used to talking about in Green Bay, but he has been a steady performer and a Pro Bowl Center with the Packers. He is a solid run blocker and pass blocker as well and had become a quiet leader on this team loaded with talent. Center is always a tough position in this league, and the less your name is heard, the better it is believed you are, and Wells is a guy that could land a big deal, even if he stays in Green Bay.
Chris Myers, Texans: Head Coach Gary Kubiack and his zone-scheme running attack needs a great center in the middle of it all, and Myers is certainly one of the better ones in the league. The Texans problem is they have to lock up both Mario Williams and Arian Foster, so it is hard to know how much money they will be able to throw at Myers. If they can’t retain him, he will have no problems getting a job anywhere in the league.
Jared Gaither, Chargers: Once seen as a promising star, Gaither found himself oft-injured and out of work after being released by Kansas City. In a stroke of luck many injuries to the Tackles in San Diego got him another chance, and he was excellent, and very steady in protecting Philip Rivers. In fact Rivers numbers got much better after the signing of Gaither, and he had more time to look downfield. After spending a ton for Marcus McNeil, they now have to make a choice, keep Gaither at a discount and dump McNeil, or let Gaither walk. A tough choice either way, but Gaither will get a nice deal somewhere.
Jeff Backus, Lions: Forget all the big flashy names they are getting, and look at Backus. Here is a steady, hard-working, Tackle who lets his play do the talking rather than his mouth. He has seen the worst of times here and now is poised and deserving of the best of times. The Lions will not win many fans if they let this veteran walk away, and despite the needs and players they need to sign, they need to make Backus first. He is a great name to be free, and can create a buzz if left to go.
Mario Williams, Texans: “Super” Mario was moved to outside linebacker in the teams new 3-4 scheme last year, and was playing real well until an injury cut his season short. Williams is an excellent pass rusher, and has done plenty to make the fans forget about the Texans choosing him over both Reggie Bush and Vince Young. Now the question burns: Do they franchise him or Arian Foster, and who gets the big deal? Williams has told ESPN he would like to stay in Houston and it is not about a huge contract, but he wants to get a good deal. Yes, the Texans played well without him after his injury, but he is still very hard to replace in the long run. Losing him may hurt this team and this city more than one may think.
Robert Mathis, Colts: For years well known as the guy on the other side of Dwight Freeney, this may finally be the time for Mathis to move on and also cash in at the same time. The Colts have lots of players to work on this off-season, and Mathis may be very expendable. It will be a real tough loss, but most likely a move they will have to make, so we can expect Mathis to be changing uniforms in 2012.
Calais Campbell, Cardinals: You just don’t find a guy like this every day. 6 foot, 7 inches and over 300 pounds, but still an excellent skilled pass rusher and can also play the run well. Campbell has improved every year, and the Cards defense is getting better as well, so it may be essential for these 2 to stay together. He is a guy that can line up anywhere up front and is a rising star.
Cliff Avril, Lions: One of the bigger talkers so far leading up to free agency has been Avril. He told the Lions he will not sign a franchise tag, as is looking for a long term deal. He had an excellent 2011 season, but the Lions have some holes to fill, and that may be too much for them to also lock in Avril long term. He is a bit smaller than your typical defensive lineman but he has a hard working motor, and proved to have a knack for the ball. The Lions are in a tight spot here, and Avril can benefit from an active market.
John Abraham, Falcons: It seems like decades since he left the Jets for the Falcons and big free agent dollars. He has been a good pass rusher for years, but the Falcons have younger guys to sign, and it may be a new team for Abraham. He is aging so may not get a lot of years, but the time may be here for him to look for a new destination. The Falcons however may try and get him back on the cheap, if he chooses to go that way.
Jovan Haye, Bucs: This way the guy that was being labeled as the “Next Freak” in Tennessee a few years back, then he became an injury-plagued forgotten guy. Haye may still have a little something left and could be a steal to a team in need of a rotation guy on the defensive line. Yes, he may very well be a once was, but he is worth a chance on the cheap. His size at 6 foot 2 inches and 277 pounds is nice for a pass rushing end, so maybe a rebirth? We shall see.
Sione Pouha, Jets: In a position rarely filled with big names or lusty free agents, this guy is the best of the bunch. A good run stuffer in a 3-4 scheme, he can wreck havoc to opponents running attack. The Jets looked very human late last year against the run, so this hole-plugger is a must sign for them. The 3-4 is becoming a popular scheme again, so his talents will be gobbled up if he is not kept in New York.
Shaun Rogers, Saints: The big man is still around, and still one of the more agile big men in the league. He may not be the superstar that he was expected to be, but he is still a good front-line stuff for the run and a decent pass rusher too. Not sure how much a team will be willing to shell out, but the Saints have so much signing to do, he is most likely to slip through the cracks, yes even Rogers can slip through this kind of crack.
Amobi Okoye, Bears: One of the youngest guys to ever enter the league, he is still young enough to make a comeback. A former first-round pick of the Texans, Okoye never hit that star level, but in a league starving for big men up the middle, he may be worth a decent look and a half decent deal.
Jason Jones, Titans: Albert Haynesworth, “The Freak”, and Jovan Haye are all long gone, but Jones has been a steady front line guy before his injury last season. The Titans decided to move him to end, which seemed to hurt his game, and it is expected that if he stays, or chooses to sign elsewhere, it’ll be back at D-tackle, where his skills are best used.
Curtis Lofton, Falcons: A tough hitter, and a good guy in pursuit of the ball, Lofton started to step up and be a big leader on this Falcons defense. In 2011 he was one of the top tacklers in the league by the numbers, but may fall victim of a team strapped in having to sign too many players this off-season. Lofton can play the middle in a 4-3 defense, so he is worth a good contract, and in the right defense can only improve.
Stephen Tulloch, Lions: Yet another Lion on the fence here. Tulloch left the Titans and found instant success in Detroit, where he became a leader on a much improved defense. At just 5’11” he is short, but it makes for him to decoy and hide himself nicely behind a big line and sneak up on QBs and RBs. Tulloch may not take huge dollars to keep, but he will be looking for long terms.
London Fletcher, Redskins: One of the very best, and unsung heroes of the NFL over the years, Fletcher, even at 37 years old, is worth a look. He is an excellent leader, a big tackle guy and makes the big plays in the clutch. He is also very valuable if he finds himself going to a team with a younger bunch that can learn plenty from him. He may not be near as fast as he once was, but he is a solid asset worth signing for 2 years.
E.J. Henderson, Vikings: The Vikings once excellent defense is getting old, and was not all that spectacular last year, so it may be time to move on with some names. Henderson has suffered some tough injuries, but he is a great ball player in pursuit and is a good tackler. He may not be an every down guy, but a guy that is an excellent compliment on any team. Remains to be seen what he can gather on the open market.
Brady Poppinga, Rams: Poppinga has improved, and is a solid linebacker in the league. He won’t get huge dollars, but in this market which is light on LBs he will be looked at by a few teams.
Carlos Rogers, 49ers: After being a high draft pick of the Redskins, Rogers found himself being very mediocre, until a move to the 49ers proved profitable and Rogers became a Pro Bowl caliper player in 2011. As it seems to be with many corners, a change of scene usually does them good, but Rogers has expressed how much he’d love to stay in San Fran. He can get a big contract somewhere for sure, as corners are always in demand, but San Fran will try hard to keep him.
Brent Grimes, Falcons: Grimes had a good season in 2011, but the problem is the fact that Atlanta just got done last year shelling out huge dollars for then free agent Dunta Robinson. Grimes will be 29 so he has some game left in him, but the Falcons have lots of guys to try and lock up this off-season. Grimes will get a good deal in 2012, that is for sure and plenty of teams would love his services.
Cortland Finnegan, Titans: A hard-nosed, and often seen as a dirty player, Finnegan certainly does bring it every week. Not too many players will go punch for punch with Andre Johnson and chase him around and call him out all game long, but Finnegan has done such. He is a good cover corner, but also has the pop of a safety. Her plays the run well for a corner, which is a big plus to many defensive coordinators. Finnegan could probably benefit from a change of scene and the hunt for him will involve quite a few teams.
Brandon Carr, Chiefs: Carr, still just 25 years old, can very well be this year’s James Joseph. Joseph walked away from a good secondary with the Bengals and landed a big deal with the Texans, and had an excellent season. Carr, much like Joseph, was teamed with a good partner in Brandon Flowers, but lacked a bit this past season. A new team could do Carr some good, and use his good speed and cover skills better. The Chiefs have built a good defense, and need to keep as many keep key pieces as possible.
Rashean Mathis, Jaguars: One of the better cover corners over the last few years, he was struck by injury last year. He may be a step slower, but if he is brought in as a number 2 corner he can still be a great asset. The Jags have said they would like to see how he can move and pivot etc. before locking him into a new deal, but in today’s game you rarely get that chance before someone else swoops in.
Terrell Thomas, Giants: An injury forced him to miss most of the 2011 season, and the Giants found talent around them that could make him expendable. Thomas brings great pop to the corner position and is becoming a better cover corner. It remains to be seen how well he comes back from his injury, but he is a young talent, and could be a solid number 2 corner in most schemes. The Giants have plenty to do this off-season, so unless Thomas comes very cheap, he will move on.
Dashon Goldson, 49ers: It will come down to whether he or Carlos Rogers most likely for the 49ers and who they will resign. Goldson had a Pro Bowl type season, and is an excellent hitter as well as cover guy for a safety. He became one of the unsung leaders of an excellent 49ers defense, and is expected to only get better. San Francisco will most likely sign him, and do it quickly.
Michael Griffin, Titans: An enigma who at times looks lost, and at others looks excellent, Griffin is one of many Titans secondary players who are free in 2012. He runs well, and covers despite not being a huge hitter, and once again, could use the change of scene. Griffin is tall, and can cover ground, and is a guy who can be locked up for 5 years.
Chris Hope, Titans: Another Titan that could be on the move, Hope had been a tackling machine in years past. A good safety and a decent leader, he can be a good plug in guy in many schemes. The Titans may choose to clean house, so throwing heavy dollars at a guy like Hope would make very little sense for them.
Jim Leonhard, Jets: A punt returner and a guy who can hit with big force, Leonhard is a bit of an under-rated talent that the Jets may not be able to afford to part with. He does not have great covering speed, but plays the position well, and is a nice asset in the running game for the Jets defense. An injury to him last year was a big hit to the Jets, but Rex Ryan’s defense seems to be a nice fit for him.
So here is some names worth looking at. No, I didn’t bring up a Randy Moss, or a T.O. but these are the guys that will be movers and shakers this off-season. A lot of excitement is yet to come, so stay tuned NFL fans! As always, thanks for reading!
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