2012 NFL Free Agency: 7 Perfect Fits That Will Never Happen
There are times when it would be great if real sports could be run like a fantasy team.
If it makes perfect sense for a player to be on a certain team, he could just partner up with that squad and the player and team would both thrive in their new situation.
Obviously, things in the NFL are much more complicated than that.
Any number of factors ranging from salary cap issues to a player's on-field conduct can prevent that perfect marriage.
While it is true that any team can use some of the top free agents available on the market, the following seven players are absolute perfect fits for certain NFL teams, but have no chance of suiting up for those teams in 2012.
Cortland Finnegan: Lions
Talk about a perfect match.
While there wasn't a formal vote for the dirtiest team as a whole, the Lions are generally considered among the worst.
Factor in that the Lions ranked 22nd in passing defense in 2011 and were scorched for 466 yards and four touchdowns by Drew Brees in a playoff loss, and one can see that the Lions have a burning need for secondary help.
Seems like it should be a no-brainer.
However, while the Lions used a brand of nasty football to get back on the winning track, it is not a style they can continue to use if they want to make deep runs in the playoffs.
The Lions used their aggression to jump out to a 5-0 start, but as the penalties and personal fouls mounted, they lost five of their next seven games, including an ugly loss to the Bears that featured a bench-clearing brawl.
The Lions may need help in the defensive backfield, but adding another personal-foul-waiting-to-happen like Finnegan is not something the Lions will do.
Ray Rice: Steelers
The Ravens and Steelers have both been among the elite teams in the AFC over the past few seasons, led mostly by their stout defenses.
As for Rice, after rushing for 1,364 yards in 2011 and racking up another 704 through the air, he is clearly one of the premiere running backs in the NFL. Also, at 25 years old, Rice is in the prime of his NFL career.
However, for running backs who carry as much of a load as Rice (367 touches last year, 1,069 over the past three seasons), the window of production often slams shut faster than anyone ever sees coming.
If Rice would partner up with the Steelers, it would instantly make Pittsburgh the favorite in the AFC North and clearly one of the top teams in the NFL. It would land Rice on a team that has a consistent vertical passing attack, and opposing defenses would not be able to focus primarily on stopping Rice.
Even though it might also give Rice his best shot at a Super Bowl title, it will never happen.
Although reports show that Rice and the Ravens have made no progress on contract negotiations, if it comes down to it, Baltimore will probably just franchise Rice and continue to use him as the focal point of the Baltimore offense.
Vincent Jackson: Patriots
One of the amazing things about Tom Brady's prolific career in New England is that he rarely has a full stable of dangerous wide receivers at his disposal.
In fact, there have been seasons where his receiving corps have been pedestrian at best.
Sure, he has had Wes Welker the past five seasons, and he had Randy Moss for three 1,000-yard seasons as well, but for a large part of Brady's career he was throwing to the likes of Reche Caldwell, David Givens, Troy Brown and Deion Branch. They were all serviceable receivers, but not perennial Pro Bowlers by any stretch of the imagination.
That could all change with the signing of Vincent Jackson.
Jackson would give the Patriots the most complete receiving corps in the AFC, and there is no telling what Brady could accomplish with someone to stretch opposing defenses.
As nice as that all sounds, it won't happen.
The Patriots have never been a team to break the bank for free agents, and at times, it seems that Bill Belichick wants to prove that he can plug any player into his system and be successful. It's almost as if he wants to show his true greatness by winning with retreads and undrafted free agents all over the roster.
Matt Flynn: 49ers
In a weak free agent class for quarterbacks, Matt Flynn seems like the best option for most teams.
However, the perfect fit for all parties involved would be the 49ers.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh coached what was probably the NFL's best reclamation project in Alex Smith in 2011, and both should get a ton of credit for leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game.
However, Harbaugh should not be fooled by the results he had last season.
After all, does anybody really think Smith is going to win the Super Bowl one day?
Despite his breakout performance against the Lions in last season's finale, Flynn is still an unknown commodity. But if there is one team who can take a gamble on Flynn, it's the 49ers.
The Niners have an elite defense filled with young stars, and even if they can't duplicate what they did in 2011, they figure to be among the best defensive teams going forward.
If Flynn turns out to be the gunslinger he showed he could be in the Lions game, then the Niners have themselves a franchise quarterback who can make every throw on the field. If not, he should at least be able to manage a game the way Smith did in 2011.
The only problem is that Harbaugh has already proclaimed that Smith is his quarterback of the future and has latched his coaching future to the continued progress of the former No. 1 draft choice.
While a lot of coaches will say whatever they need to in order to placate their quarterback, Harbaugh appears to be genuine, so this will have to be chalked up to a missed opportunity for the 49ers and Flynn alike.
Mario Williams: Jets
Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have been able to generate pressure at times through exotic blitz packages, but there is nobody on the team that can get to the quarterback consistently on their own. For proof, just take a look at the Jets 2011 leader in sacks, Aaron Maybin.
If the Jets want to land a premiere pass-rusher through free agency, who would be a better fit than Mario Williams?
Williams has had his past two seasons cut short due to injury, but in the 18 games he has played over that time, he has recorded 13.5 sacks. He is also a player who draws the attention of opposing offenses, and accounting for a pass-rusher of his caliber would free up other Jets to make more plays.
His presence would help the Jets get to the quarterback with just four pass-rushers and allow Ryan to support his defensive backfield in nickel and dime packages.
If this was two years ago, the Jets most likely would have been the first team knocking on Williams' door at the start of free agency. However, with multiple needs and little cap room, the Jets simply cannot afford to bring in Williams.
Dwayne Bowe: Bears
The Bears organization needs to get with the times.
In an era when quarterbacks and wide receivers are putting up more prolific passing numbers than ever before, the Bears haven't had a wide receiver gain 1,000 yards in a season since Marty Booker went for 1189 in 2002. In fact, in seven of the nine seasons since then, they didn't even have a receiver gain 900 yards.
Their production at receiver in 2011 was so putrid that Roy Williams was the team's second leading wide receiver with 37 catches for 507 yards.
The Bears utter failure to address their wide receiving corps over the course of a decade has held back a franchise that has had decent success over that time despite that.
The current free agent market has some interesting wide receiver prospects, but Dwayne Bowe would fit in perfectly with Chicago.
Bowe is a physical receiver who is not afraid of contact before or after the catch. He has proven that he could play outdoors in cold weather and his toughness would play well in Chicago, a city that appreciates someone willing to take a hit.
Another reason Bowe would be perfect in Chicago is Jay Cutler. Bowe would give Cutler a target downfield and someone he can trust to throw the ball to even when he is covered. Cutler would give Bowe the opportunity to play for a big-armed quarterback who can get him the ball deep consistently for the first time in his career.
Despite the perfect fit, don't count on Bowe to the Bears to happen anytime soon.
With the signing of free agent CB Stanford Routt, it is now even more likely that Bowe will garner the franchise tag.
Even if the Chiefs don't franchise Bowe, does anyone really think the Bears are going to address their receiving problems through free agency? Jerry Angelo never did it, so why would anyone believe new general manager Phil Emery will, even with Emery's connections to Bowe as Kansas City's former director of college scouting?
Carlos Rogers: Giants
Winning a Super Bowl does a lot for a franchise, not the least of which is make fans forget about their team's shortcomings.
It even manifested itself in a minor war of words in the media between Corey Webster and Antrelle Rolle after Dez Bryant waltzed into the end zone untouched on a 50-yard touchdown reception.
In fact, if Wes Welker and Tom Brady could have connected on an easy pitch and catch in the waning minutes of the Super Bowl, we would be talking about how the secondary's communication problems left Welker open and clinched the championship for the Patriots.
Factor in that Prince Amukamara showed little during a rookie season in which he was hampered with a foot injury, and the Giants really need to address their secondary.
One of the top free agent cornerbacks on the market is Carlos Rogers, who had a resurgent season in San Francisco playing on a one-year contract.
Rogers benefited from playing on a team that generated tremendous pressure in 2011 and if he landed on the Giants, he would be in that position again. Also, he played his first six NFL seasons with the Redskins, so his familiarity with the NFC East would make for an easy adjustment to what would be his third team in three seasons.
The one person who might keep this transaction from happening though is Rogers himself.
The 49ers had an absolutely dominant defense in 2011 and would like to keep that unit intact going forward, which means Rogers and the Niners should be able to work out a deal to keep him in San Francisco long-term.