2012 NFL Free Agents: 6 Players Who Earned Monster Deals
With the 2011 NFL regular season in the books and the Super Bowl only weeks away, it's time to start looking forward to the offseason and all the drama that surrounds free agency.
Here we'll look at six stud free agents who earned themselves fat contracts with their play in 2011.
There were several other players who played very well and whose names I regret to leave off, but these six might get bigger deals than the rest.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
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Ray Rice was the heart and soul of Baltimore's offense this year, getting 291 carries and 76 receptions for a total of 2,068 yards and 15 touchdowns, fumbling just twice in the process.
Rice has proven himself to be a featured back in the NFL and worthy of top dollar.
Chances are that the Ravens will pay him handsomely to come back, but if he decides to go elsewhere, there would probably be a handful of teams willing to throw money at him.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
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Through 12 games, Forte racked up 997 yards and three touchdowns on 203 carries. He also caught 52 passes for 490 yards and a touchdown, with two fumbles. His 4.9 yards per carry was the best of his career.
Forte was looking for a new deal before the season began, but instead of complaining about it, he just went to work. Whether or not he re-signs with the Chicago Bears, he earned big-time money with both his play and his attitude this season.
Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers
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Vincent Jackson is one of the premier deep threats in the NFL, and he showed it again this year with his third 1,000-plus yard season. He had 60 catches for 1,106 yards and pulled down nine touchdowns.
Jackson has been fighting the Chargers' organization for bigger money for awhile now, and if he doesn't get it this year, he'll find someone else willing to pay him what his production merits.
There are probably a handful of teams besides San Diego that would shell out the cash for his services.
Carl Nicks, OG, New Orleans Saints
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Carl Nicks is one of the best offensive guards in the game, bar none. Interestingly, the Saints also have one of the best guards on the other side as well.
Nicks and Jahri Evans, both Pro Bowlers, have anchored what might be the best offensive line in football this season. The downside is that the Saints might not have enough money to pay them both.
If New Orleans can't pay Nicks enough, he could either stay in New Orleans and make less than he deserves, or he could try playing for someone else.
If he leaves, he will get a huge deal.
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
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Cliff Avril is one of the young and rising stars in the game.
Avril has steadily gotten better each year he's been in the league, and in his fourth year, he broke out for 36 tackles, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles for one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the NFL. He's in line for a deal worthy of a top defensive end.
The Lions will very likely try to hold onto their star, but if he is not retained, there will very likely be plenty of suitors that will offer him big money.
Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Houston Texans
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Mario Williams has been one of the top defensive players in the NFL for awhile now, and despite getting injured just five games into the season, he is in line for a huge, long-term deal.
It's not clear whether the Texans will try their darndest to hold onto their star, because they actually played quite well in his absence, and the money they would use to pay him could be used to fix bigger problem areas.
Either way, the versatile, 6'6", 283-pounder has 53 career sacks in six seasons and is still in his prime, so he will command a huge salary.