2012 Free Agents: 7 Players Earning Mega Bucks After AFC, NFC Championships

Brian LendinoCorrespondent IIJanuary 23, 2012

2012 Free Agents: 7 Players Earning Mega Bucks After AFC, NFC Championships

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    We've been treated to one of the deepest, most talented classes in recent history as we enter the free agency period this winter. 

    Headlined by an all-Pro quarterback, a pair of Pro Bowl running backs and a litter of talent on the defensive side of the ball, there will be no shortage of cash being thrown around this offseason. 

    For today, let's focus on the free agents that are still the freshest in our memory. 

    The following are seven free agents who will be earning the big-time dollars after helping their teams reach their respective conference championship games. 

Ray Rice

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    Ray Rice is arguably the best all-around running back in football because of his ability to run inside and outside, as well as catch the ball out of the backfield and even block in pass protection. 

    He's also one of the most durable backs in football, having missed only three games in his entire four year career. 

    The 5'8" wrecking ball is the Ravens' top offensive weapon, recording over 2,000 total yards and 15 touchdowns this season on the way to his second Pro Bowl selection. 

    I'd be beside myself to see the Ravens' not retain their best offensive player, but hey, we've seen crazier things happen. 

    Look for Ray Rice to be donning the purple and black again in 2012-13. 

Mario Manningham

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    There's no question that Mario Manningham takes a backseat to the superstar receiving tandem of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but his presence as the No. 3 wide receiver gives the Giants the best receiving corps in all of football. 

    Despite being sidelined with a knee injury for four games, Manningham was able to record some pretty solid stats that included scoring a touchdown in all three of the Giants' playoff games thus far. 

    In total, the fourth-year player out of Michigan hauled in 39 balls for 523 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. 

    Manningham is a very good third receiver option for the Giants and after Steve Smith bolted for Philadelphia last summer, I expect the team's front office to do what it takes to keep this receiving trio intact for another season. 

Lardarius Webb

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    When the Baltimore Ravens drafted Jimmy Smith No. 27 overall in last year's draft, it seemed like a beginning to the end for Lardarius Webb. 

    However, after an injury to Smith in Week 1, Webb came in and proved to everyone that he's still got it and won't back down when facing any competition. 

    He recorded 67 tackles in the regular season and intercepted eight balls, including three in the playoffs. 

    Despite the options the Ravens have at their disposal at the corner position, it would be wise to re-sign the restricted free agent. 

    If they let him walk, someone's going to pick up a very good playmaking cornerback. 

Carlos Rogers

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    San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers remains one of the most under-appreciated, under-valued defensive players in the NFL.

    Pro Football Focus has Rogers ranked as the No. 2 cornerback behind only the Jets' Darrelle Revis and his six interceptions and 18 passes defended helps prove that case. 

    Recently Carlos Rogers gave his agent the green light to speak with other teams about enlisting his services. I mean, why wouldn't he, he's a star. 

    If the Niners don't make a serious attempt at trying to re-sign Carlos Rogers, then someone else will, and for a lot of money. 

    Arizona and St. Louis are two teams that could really use Rogers' talents, both of whom play in the 49ers' division. 

Ben Grubbs

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    If you're the General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens, your first order of business is resigning Ray Rice. 

    Your second—Ben Grubbs, but with high priority. 

    Without Ben Grubbs, Ray Rice has essentially nowhere to run inside the tackles and without blazing speed that would really hurt Ray Rice's value. 

    Ben Grubbs has remained a staple on one of the league's better offensive line units for the past few years, and I fully expect him to remain there as long as Ray Rice and Joe Flacco are behind the line. 

    Grubbs needs to be re-signed at priority seeing as he's the anchor of the offensive line. 

Alex Smith

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    The much-maligned Alex Smith has certainly proved himself worthy of some sort of payday this offseason. There's no question that he'd like that to be with the San Francisco 49ers. 

    Smith performed wonders this season after signing a one-year post-lockout deal for five million dollars, receiving head coach Jim Harbaugh's vote of confidence along with it. 

    Now that he's finished on the one-year deal, it's time for the Niners to bring him back again. 

    I'm fairly certain that Alex Smith needs Jim Harbaugh to be successful and I'm sure that Harbaugh will make a strong push in the front office to get him re-signed. 

    His 3,100 yards and 17 touchdowns tell me that he's more efficient than productive but he made the NFC Championship Game after going 6-10 a year ago, and in the end that's all that matters. 

    Alex Smith turned a lot of heads this season, hopefully the 49ers organization was one of them. 

Wes Welker

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    I'd be extremely troubled to not see Wes Welker retire a New England Patriot and for that to happen, they have to re-sign this eight-year veteran. 

    And in a year that Welker put up career numbers in both receiving yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine), I'd expect his price to be fairly handsome. 

    However, Welker's presence lies beyond stats. He's a scrappy guy who moves the chains better than anyone else in football. 

    He makes tough catches in traffic, and despite his small frame will go across the middle with no hesitation. 

    Plus, what's Tom Brady going to do without his main third down receiver?