2012 NFL Free Agents: Top RBs on Market and Where They Will Land

Troy BelcherCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: Top RBs on Market and Where They Will Land

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    NFL free agency will begin here in a few weeks, and there is certainly a high caliber of class in this year's pool.

    Many negotiations will be taking place, and many players will remain with their current teams.

    This year's class of running backs is of high value, with many of them unrestricted. Plan to see large offers being placed on the table, and also plan to see franchise tags utilized.

    Here's a look at the top running backs, and their potential landing spots.

Ray Rice: Baltimore Ravens

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    Ray Rice is an unrestricted free agent, but he will not be leaving Baltimore.

    Rice has already claimed in the past that he is willing to play next season under a franchise tag if the two sides cannot reach a long-term deal, so it sounds Rice is happy where he is.

    Baltimore should be happy as well, as Rice is easily their best overall player.

    In 2011, Rice rushed for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not to mention his 76 catches out of the backfield for over 700 yards and three touchdowns.

    Besides, with Ricky Williams' recent retirement, the Ravens would have nobody to replace Rice.

    Odds are, Rice will be playing the length of his career in Baltimore.

Matt Forte: Chicago Bears

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    Matt Forte is a lot like Ray Rice in a multitude of ways. He is arguably the best player on his team, and he wants more money, but his team is reluctant to give it to him, so he'll likely be franchised.

    The franchise tag, in my mind, is backwards logic. You aren't willing to give your best player the money he wants/deserves, yet you are going to use a special tag to make sure he stays. That's kind of a slap in the face.

    Forte had 1,487 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns last season in a bit of an injury-shortened season.

    The Bears know they want to keep Forte, especially since they have nobody near as talented to replace him with.

    A franchise tag, as previously mentioned, is the most likely possibility in this case. But just like in Ray Rice's case, the Bears will eventually come to their senses and give Forte what he wants.

Cedric Benson: San Diego Chargers

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    Cedric Benson is finished in Cincinnati, plain and simple.

    Benson is a very one-dimensional back, and one of the worst blocking running backs in the NFL. In 2011, he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

    Benson has only surpassed four yards a carry just once in the past four seasons. The quickly aging back is 29 years old, and his prime is long gone.

    After the season, he had the audacity to openly criticize the Bengals coaching staff and offense, and this latest rant simply falls in line with the already mischievous off-field track record of the back.

    A potential landing spot for Benson is San Diego, on likely a one-year deal. Benson is a back who complements other running backs, so the potential is there for a Ryan Matthews and Cedric Benson tandem.

Michael Bush: Oakland Raiders

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    With Cedric Benson likely leaving Cincinnati, unrestricted free agent Michael Bush could be heading there to use his fierce pass-blocking skills to protect Andy Dalton.

    With Darren McFadden coming back from injury, it would be a waste of energy to fight other teams for Bush's services.

    While the 245-pound bruiser lacks home-run speed, Bush has shown flashes of great skill at blocking and receiving. I believe he will end up in Cincinnati as Andy Dalton could use a back of Bush's stature and ability.

    A franchise tag of Bush is an unlikely option for the Raiders, seeing as how the tag would cost more than Darren McFadden's 2012 salary. Don't expect to see Bush in Silver and Black in 2012.

Marshawn Lynch: Seattle Seahawks

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    In all likeliness, the Seahawks will be placing a franchise tag on Marshawn Lynch.

    Is it at all a coincidence that Lynch, who was a former bust as the 12th overall pick for the Buffalo Bills, decided to essentially play out of his mind in a contract-year?

    That cannot be fully determined, but what can be determined are his conditioning issues. This is exactly why a franchise tag makes perfect sense for Lynch—to determine his legitimacy as a franchise running back.

    This brings up a point of curiousness regarding Lynch's performance in Buffalo. Did he intentionally slack in Buffalo because he lacked the motivation playing there? Or is this just a case of him getting better?

    It's hard to know, but the 2011 season was something nobody expected out of Lynch.

Peyton Hillis: Cleveland Browns

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    It's a wonder if Peyton Hillis was just a one-year wonder, and his extreme proneness to injury just adds to the mystery.

    In 2010, Hillis carried the ball 270 times for 1,177 yards and 11 scores. In his last 12 games, however, he has only rushed for 635 yards and three touchdowns on 179 carries (3.6 yards per carry).

    Hillis also has nine fumbles in two years, and apparently let it slip that his contract issue affected his decision to play last season.

    There is a slight chance that the Redskins could hop on the Hillis train, given his background with Mike Shanahan in Denver. In all likeliness, though, the Browns will try to re-sign him given that backup Montario Hardesty has proven ineffective and rather injury-prone.

Arian Foster: Houston Texans

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    Arian Foster is a restricted free agent and finished fifth in the league last year in rushing yards. Those two bits of information equal him staying in Houston.

    From an undrafted free agent, to the practice squad, to the league's leading rusher in 2010, I just cannot envision him leaving the Texans.

    Foster has proven he's an every-down back and a great receiver out of the backfield. He has also shown he has the ability to play in any offensive system, but he has grasped the Houston offense through and through, being another factor why he'll stay a Texan.

    At the very least, Houston will franchise tag Foster, but I don't even think it'll come to that.