2012 NFL Free Agent Predictions: Where the Top 6 Defensive Players Will Land

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agent Predictions: Where the Top 6 Defensive Players Will Land

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    With NFL free agency set to begin Tuesday afternoon, we are about to embark upon one a frenzy-filled couple of weeks. You are going to see a tremendous amount of player movement across the board.

    It also doesn't hurt that this free-agent class appears to be one of the strongest in recent memory. Whether it was teams that decided against utilizing the franchise cap or players deciding it was best to move on, we are on pace for an interesting couple of weeks.

    This article is going to focus on the top six defensive players available in free agency and where I project them to land.

6. Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Carlos Rogers had a breakout 2011 season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He set a career-high in interceptions with six on his way to his first Pro Bowl appearance.

    Most people understood that Rogers was a really good cover guy, but he became more of a play-making corner last season.

    Now he hits the open market as one of the best free-agent corners.

    Reports indicate that Rogers is seeking a four- or five-year contract, something that San Francisco probably doesn't want to give him considering the fact that the veteran corner would be in his mid-30s by the time the contract came to an end.

    With that said, the way a contract is structured is more important than the length of the contract. See Ahmad Brook's six-year extension with the 49ers.

    In the end, I think it is safe to assume that the 49ers and Rogers will find a middle ground and come to an agreement on a contract. After all, they want him back and he wants to return.

    Predicted Destination: San Francisco 49ers

5. Paul Soliai, NT, Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins have switched to the 4-3 defense, which could signal an end to Paul Soliai's career in South Beach. He fits much better in a 3-4 scheme as a nose tackle.

    You can fully expect teams that run the 3-4 scheme and some teams that run the 4-3 to go after the massive defensive tackle.

    He is a cog up the middle, takes on double-teams and opens up gaps on the outside for oncoming pass-rushers. He should also come at a relatively nice value.

    ESPN has indicated that both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers may be interested in Soliai. It makes sense for both clubs.

    San Diego runs the type of defense that fits his strengths, while the Chiefs are looking to add bulk to their front. It might be pure conjecture at this point, but I believe that the Houston Texans will also throw their hat into the ring.

    In the end, it will probably be the team with the most cap room that acquires his services.

    Predicted Destination: Kansas City Chiefs

4. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions have continued to make every attempt to sign Stephen Tulloch to a long-term contract before free agency starts, but it doesn't look like a deal is going to get done prior to Tuesday.

    They also have to worry about getting Cliff Avril signed to a long-term deal, while shifting focus to the defensive secondary and offensive line. In short, Tulloch might be headed out of town after one really good season in Detroit.

    The most likely destination for the talented linebacker would seem to be the Philadelphia Eagles, who are expected to make inside linebacker a "priority" in free agency.

    He fits a key hole in the Eagles front seven and has the ability to translate well to their defensive scheme. Other teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs might show interest.

    Predicted Destination: Philadelphia Eagles

3. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans

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    Cortland Finnegan has been one of the most underrated corners in the NFL over the course of the last fives seasons. He brings a tremendously physical presence to the defensive secondary and is a pretty solid cover guy.

    The Tennessee Titans decided against utilizing the franchise tag for the talented corner, instead giving him an opportunity to test the free-agent market.

    He will get a lot of interest.

    Jason Cole over at Yahoo! mentions the possibility that Vincent Jackson and Finnegan could sign as a "package" deal. While this may be the case, I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive.

    One obvious link to Finnegan would be the St. Louis Rams, who just hired Jeff Fisher as their head coach. The two spent five seasons together with the Titans. Another factor in this equation is that the Rams are in need of help at the corner position.

    A source close to the situation believes that the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings are the favorites to land Finnegan.

    Predicted Destination: St. Louis Rams

2. Brandon Carr, CB, Kansas City Chies

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    Once the Kansas City Chiefs signed Stanford Routt to a three-year contract worth $20 million in February, a lot of people came to the conclusion that Brandon Carr was as good as gone.

    While this still might be the case, Kansas City has about $60 million in salary cap room. This means that they have the ability to sign Carr under the recently released salary cap threshold.

    Pro Football Weekly suggests that the Dallas Cowboys have a tremendous amount of interest in Carr. This makes a lot of sense to me as they need help in the secondary. However, they have salary cap issues and are currently just $12 million under the cap.

    This doesn't even take into account that Anthony Spencer hasn't signed his franchise tender, which is expected to be at about $9 million in 2012. 

    In short, Dallas would have to get extremely creative in order to pursue a player of Carr's caliber.

    I also expect the San Francisco 49ers to make a play for Carr if they are unable to come to an agreement with the aforementioned Carlos Rogers.

    Predicted Destination: Dallas Cowboys

1. Mario Williams, DE/LB, Houston Texans

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    Mario Williams is going to be the most sought after free agent on the market outside of Peyton Manning. He isn't a scheme-specific player, meaning that No. 90 has the ability to play in both the 4-3 and 3-4.

    He can change the entire landscape of a defense just by his mere presence. This is an individual that has consistently dominated opposing offensive lines for the better part of the last five years.

    His market value is going to be huge starting on Tuesday.

    With that said, only a handful of teams have the cap room to be able to take on a contract that promises to reach $100 million when all is said and done.

    Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk suggests that the Texans have a "50-50 shot" at retaining the services of Mario Williams. I wouldn't put the odds that high considering the factors that go into paying a player this amount of money.

    The New England Patriots have the cap room and need a pass-rusher. They seem to be the most likely destination for Williams at this point.

    The Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks are also expected to make a play for the Pro Bowl performer when free agency starts.

    Predicted Destination: New England Patriots