2012 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the NFC East's Top 5 Free Agents
Even without the big-play wideout, there remains to be plenty of talent set to hit the free-agent market.
Here is a list of five potential free agents that NFC East teams may not want to lose.
5. WR Laurent Robinson
On an offense that features names like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, Laurent Robinson started off the season as an afterthought.
An injury that forced Austin to miss six games allowed Robinson an opportunity at extended playing time, and boy, did he deliver.
The five-year veteran posted career highs with 54 receptions, 858 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His emergence in November gave the Dallas Cowboys a reason to be thankful.
Aside from helping the team to a flawless month, Robinson contributed 19 catches that went for 218 yards and six touchdowns—while scoring at least once in every contest.
His consistency is exactly what the Cowboys lacked throughout the season.
Even though Robinson was limited to only 599 snaps on offense, he would’ve significantly out-produced both Bryant and Witten if he had received their playing time.
As a 26-year-old free agent who is coming off a career year, he will garnish the attention of receiver-starved teams and will get a shot to start somewhere else.
Robinson will be a cheaper alternative in a free-agent class with proven wideouts such as Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Lloyd, Steve Johnson, Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham and Mike Wallace.
4. WR Mario Manningham
The New York Giants wideout certainly helped his cause after his Super Bowl performance. However, the combination of Victor Cruz’s emergence and the fact that the Giants will enter free agency over the salary cap means Manningham will likely leave.
Although his fourth year was the least productive since his rookie season, Manningham raised his stock by catching three postseason touchdowns and this beautiful 38-yard pass in Super Bowl XLVI.
His ability to line up in the slot and on the outsides will make him a hot commodity as other teams will try to separate him from New York and their vaunted receiving corps.
3. CB Aaron Ross
While Aaron Ross hasn’t really lived up to his first-round talents, he has still shown flashes of brilliance and comes with a championship pedigree.
Even though he was inconsistent in 2011, Ross still ranks eighth amongst a free-agent class that is top-heavy at the cornerback position.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, it is important for teams to have depth at this position. The only other NFC East cornerback that received heavy consideration for this list was his teammate, Terrell Thomas, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Those two factors should be enough to solidify Ross’ nomination.
Aside from his 60 tackles, 12 pass deflections and four interceptions, Ross also proven that he is a sure hand when it comes to punt return duties.
His versatility and willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team should be a welcomed addition to whoever signs him.
2. LB London Fletcher
Ever since London Fletcher joined the Washington Redskins five years ago, he has been an unquestioned leader.
Though he’ll be 37 years old to begin the next season, he remains one of the best and most productive 4-3 middle linebackers that the league has to offer.
Even as the Redskins transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season, Fletcher set a career high in tackles with 166; he also contributed 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and eight pass deflections.
He is the epitome of consistency, reliability and durability.
Aside from his rookie campaign, Fletcher has posted 90 tackles or more in 13 consecutive seasons.
He has never missed a game throughout his 14-year career and is probably the most durable player you will ever see.
Whichever team signs him will end up with a bona fide leader who will proliferate confidence amongst any defensive unit.
1. G Evan Mathis
In a division that boasts pass-rushers such as DeMarcus Ware, Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, how can you overlook the importance of the offensive line?
Seven-year journeyman Evan Mathis plugged a huge hole at left guard for the Eagles, which allowed first-year offensive line coach Howard Mudd to move starter Todd Herremans to right tackle.
While starting four players at new positions along the offensive line, Mathis finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ best guard. His run-blocking grade of plus-20.4 is nearly three times of All-Pro Carl Nicks (plus-6.9), who is also set to become a free agent.
Mathis started in all 15 games that he played and combined with left tackle Jason Peters to form the most dominant left side in the NFL.
Considering the fact he played alongside a rookie center and that quarterback Michael Vick has a tendency to scramble in order to keep drives and plays alive, it is almost a miracle that Mathis didn’t allow a single sack in his 1,024 snaps of action.
Even with these top-notch scores, it’s only my guess that many teams will overlook his play and that someone will significantly overpay Nicks in free agency.