2012 NFL Free Agents: Identifying the Biggest Fool's Gold on Market

Oliver Thomas@OliverBThomasContributor IFebruary 14, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: Identifying the Biggest Fool's Gold on Market

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    Every offseason, NFL franchises offer top dollar to free agents.

    Some unsigned players have proven their worth, yet many are being lured strictly on flashes of talent.

    With that said, it's important to remember that not all players take their teams to the promised land.

    Over the past decade, players like David Boston, Adam Archuleta and Javon Walker were swimming in money after signing massive deals—except none of these players deserved to sign such lucrative contracts. Before too long, all three men were out of the league.

    This year's free-agent class is decorated with players like DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Mario Williams.

    However, history shows that some players are merely fool's gold.

    Here are the high-risk free agents of 2012.

Matt Flynn, Quarterback

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    Matt Flynn has played well as Aaron Rodgers' understudy in Green Bay.

    In 34 NFL games, Flynn has thrown for nine touchdowns and five picks.

    Yet when Rodgers was held out this year, the former LSU Tiger had an unbelievable audition: 480 passing yards and six touchdowns, to go with just one interception.

    It's hard to believe that Flynn holds the Green Bay Packer record for most passing yards and touchdowns in a single game. For that alone, it's understandable why he's now considered a starter in this league.

    Flynn will be a boom or a bust as a team's top QB.

    Is he going to be a Matt Cassel or Matt Schaub type of starter? Or neither?

    He certainly has talent, but it really depends on the situation he finds himself in. Yes, he played well in Green Bay, but the Pack are one of the premier teams in the NFL.

    With teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins in need of a gunslinger, Flynn is sure to be offered a fat contract somewhere.

    In order to be successful as a team's franchise quarterback, Flynn needs to choose the right fit, not the right contract.

Peyton Hillis, Running Back

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    Just one year ago, Peyton Hillis was the talk of the town.

    Now, he's just another notch in the belt of the infamous Madden curse.

    The former Denver Broncos seventh-rounder in the 2008 draft has exceeded expectations. In 2010, Hillis burst onto the scene with 1,177 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.

    Unfortunately for the Arkansas alum, his 2011 season raised some red flags.

    Hillis voiced his discontent with his current contract situation, except his play didn't warrant a new deal.

    In just 10 games for the Cleveland Browns this year, Hillis ran for only 3.6 yards per carry on his way to 587 yards and three touchdowns.

    The powerful back's durability was also in question. Hillis missed time with strep throat and a nagging hamstring injury.

    The 2012 season could define Hillis' career. Running backs are known for growing old fast, and Hillis has only one good season to his name.

    At 26 years old, will he get paid like a top back?

    Any team who signs No. 40 needs to be prepared for a decline.

Cedric Benson, Running Back

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    Cedric Benson doesn't do anything amazing on the football field, but he has been productive for the Cincinnati Bengals.

    At age 29, Benson's best years are behind him. He never was particularly fast, but he has managed to run between the tackles for seven NFL seasons now.

    The former Texas Longhorn has quietly produced three straight 1,000-yard campaigns.

    Yet in 2011, he only rushed for 3.9 yards per carry. The 2010 season was even worse, as Benson only averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.

    Was Benson worth his No. 4 selection in the 2005 NFL draft? Probably not, but he has been a good fit for the Bengals.

    Benson isn't expected to sign a long contract this offseason, but any potential suitor should be aware that his career is on the back nine.

Michael Bush, Running Back

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    Michael Bush was the beneficiary of Darren McFadden's injury woes in 2011.

    This season for the Oakland Raiders, Bush rushed for 977 yards and seven touchdowns but only on 3.8 yards per attempt.

    If the former Louisville back runs off to another team, he won't fare any better than he did in the Raiders' run-first offense.

    Due to his girth, Bush is best utilized as a short-yardage back who can grind out games. The 27-year-old would be a nice complement to a more elusive rusher.

    Is Bush a starting halfback in the NFL? Maybe, but he's not ideal.

Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver

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    Dwayne Bowe is a jump-ball receiver who runs excellent routes.

    Bowe just put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the first time in his career. That feat is very impressive considering the Kansas City Chiefs lost quarterback Matt Cassel after nine games in 2011.

    With the good comes the bad.

    D-Bowe has been known for poor conditioning and motivation problems. A couple years ago, the wideout showed up to camp 25 pounds overweight.

    Despite his downside, the LSU product is expected to have many teams looking to reel him in this offseason for his athletic abilities alone.

    Teams interested in Bowe need to keep tabs on him and make sure he doesn't repeat his 2009 season, where the big man had only 589 yards and four TDs.

Robert Mathis, Defensive End

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    Robert Mathis might be leaving the Indianapolis Colts after nine years.

    The four-time Pro Bowler might not want to play for a rebuilding franchise as his career winds down.

    With Dwight Freeney set to earn $14 million and future No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck joining the squad, the Colts will have a hard time affording Mathis.

    The pride of Alabama A&M hasn't slowed down his production yet.

    In 2011, Mathis had 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

    But what is concerning about Mathis is that he hasn't regressed. Regardless of if he re-signs with the Colts or leaves, his age will eventually catch up with him.

    It wouldn't be surprising to see a needy team offer Mathis a big contract. When it does, Mathis will have to keep fighting Father Time.

D'Qwell Jackson, Linebacker

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    D'Qwell Jackson has been a tackling machine for the Cleveland Browns—when he's healthy, that is.

    The former second-round draft pick tore his left pectoral muscle in 2009, and in 2010 Jackson tore his right pectoral muscle.

    If Jackson can stay healthy, he's sure to have his hands on the ball carrier.

    In 2011, Jackson had 158 tackles, good for second-most in the NFL.

    Teams desiring the linebacker should look past his tremendous stats and understand that he has missed 31 games in his six seasons as a pro.

Terrell Thomas, Cornerback

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    Terrell Thomas is not a big name, but the former USC Trojan could sign a nice contract this offseason.

    What's hurting the cornerback is an ACL injury that ended his 2011 season before it even started.

    The New York Giants have Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster, while Aaron Ross could re-sign with the team, so Thomas' chances of returning to that core of defensive backs seem unlikely.

    Thomas has been a serviceable No. 2 corner in his time with the G-Men, but his speed and cutting ability will take a hit thanks to his torn knee ligament.

    Whoever agrees to terms with the DB is taking a chance. It could work out well, but it also could end in disappointment.

Rashean Mathis, Cornerback

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    Rashean Mathis is a former All-Pro selection with great name value.

    Besides his accolades, the cornerback also has a notable injury history.

    Mathis tore his ACL this past season, marking the third season-ending injury of his professional career.

    The former Bethune-Cookman standout expressed interest in re-signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but his future is cloudy.

    Injuries aren't the only deterrent, as Mathis will turn 32 in August.

    Inevitably, some team will throw caution to the wind and sign the veteran to an expensive deal.