NFL's Top 50 Free Agents for 2012 with Potential Destinations

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIMarch 14, 2012

NFL's Top 50 Free Agents for 2012 with Potential Destinations

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    NFL free agency has already begun, with signings happening across the league at a fast and furious pace. However, as I did not have time to publish a free agency slide show prior to Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, I now take a look at the top 50 free agents available on the market, even those who have already been signed at the time of publication.

    Players who were given the franchise tag or were re-signed by their previous team prior to the beginning of the free agency period are not included.

    As big-name free agents continue to come off of the market, I will update this slideshow.

50. Dan Koppen, C

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    Former Team: New England Patriots

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Dan Koppen is 32 years old and missed nearly the entire 2011 season with a broken ankle, which really hurts his stock as a free agent. That said, Koppen has been one of the best centers in the National Football League, and assuming he has no setbacks from his injury, he should have a few more good seasons left in him.

    Koppen is unlikely to sign more than a two-year deal, but would be a good fit for any team in need of a center. Chances are good that he will be re-signed by the New England Patriots assuming that his market value is low.

    Update - Friday morning: The New England Patriots have re-signed Dan Connolly, who filled in for Koppen at center last year. That most likely means the end of Koppen's time with the Patriots.

49. Cedric Benson, RB

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    Former Team: Cincinnati Bengals

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Cedric Benson’s off-field troubles have been well-publicized, and certainly hurt his free agent value, but on the field, he is a productive running back. Benson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons.

    Benson is a physical yet fast runner who would be a great addition for a team looking for a second running back, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or San Diego Chargers. Benson is unlikely to be signed to more than a two-year deal given his continued character questions, but he has good years as a running back left in him, and could be a very good addition to a team’s offense.

48. Dallas Clark, TE

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    Former Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    As one of many veterans released by the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, tight end Dallas Clark is now an unrestricted free agent.

    After having the best season of his career in 2009, injuries have hampered Clark the past two seasons, in which he finished around 35 receptions and 350 yards both seasons. Clark has previously shown his ability to be a dangerous weapon in the passing game, but his career is on the decline.

    Clark is a player whose success has been very much a product of working well with the quarterback who was just released by the Colts, Peyton Manning. Manning would most likely love to have Clark join him wherever he signs, and that is a move I could very well see happening.

    Update - Monday afternoon: With Peyton Manning choosing to sign with the Denver Broncos, my prediction is that Clark will end up there with him, as the Broncos could definitely use another tight end.

    Update - March 27: With the Broncos' signings of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, they are unlikely to sign Dallas Clark to what is now a deep group of tight ends.

47. Brian Hoyer, QB

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    Former Team: New England Patriots

    Restricted Free Agent

    New Team: New England Patriots

    Unless you are a Patriots fan, chances are good that you have not heard much about Brian Hoyer, but he is a a name that could become more well-known once the top free agent quarterbacks are off of the market.

    Hoyer has impressed many scouts league-wide in limited action (mostly in the preseason) with the Patriots, as he has developed very well in the Patriots’ system behind Tom Brady. For a team looking to bring in a quarterback to compete for a starting job, they may take a good look at Hoyer.

    Hoyer, a restricted free agent, was tendered at the second-round level, so for another team to sign him, they would have to give the Patriots a second-round draft pick. That said, Hoyer may be able to win a starting quarterback job, and would likely prefer to have the opportunity to leave the Patriots for a team where he would have the chance to compete.

    If a team is willing to sign Hoyer and send a second-round draft pick to the Patriots, expect the Patriots to let him go with Ryan Mallett waiting in the wings to be Brady’s new backup.

    Update - March 27: Hoyer did not receive any interest at the second-round tender level, and signed the tender to return to the Patriots for 2012.

46. Jason Brown, G/C

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    Former Team: St. Louis Rams

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Jason Brown’s release earlier this week by the St. Louis Rams came as no surprise. Brown was well overpaid when he was signed by the Rams to a five-year, $37.5 million deal in 2009, and he lost his starting center position last season.

    That said, Brown is a talented interior lineman who has displayed in the past that he can be great. While his performance in St. Louis was a disappointment, he is only 28 years old, and will be available at a much lower price this time around.

    Brown may not be worth big money, but for a team looking for an upgrade at guard, Brown could be a good investment for a one or two year contract. Teams that could look at Brown to upgrade the interior line include the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.

45. Michael Bush, RB

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    Former Team: Oakland Raiders

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Michael Bush has been often overshadowed by Darren McFadden in the Oakland Raiders’ backfield, but when McFadden was injured for the second half of last season, Bush took advantage of his chance to emerge.

    Bush ran for a career-high 977 yards last season, and while he may never be a star running back in the NFL, he has performed well as a tandem back with McFadden, and would be a great addition for a team looking for another running back. The Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are potential suitors.

    On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Bush is scheduled to meet with the Chicago Bears and Bengals.

    Update - Monday morning: Bush is also scheduled to visit with the Seahawks.

    Update - Wednesday night: The Cincinnati Bengals' signing of BenJarvus Green-Ellis likely means that they will not be a destination for Bush.

    Update - March 27: The Bears made a big signing to team Bush with Matt Forte as a running back duo, agreeing with him to a four-year, $14 million contract last Thursday.

44. Peyton Hillis, RB

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    Former Team: Cleveland Browns

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Kansas City Chiefs

    While it is uncertain whether Peyton Hillis’s poor season last year should be attributed to displeasure with the Cleveland Browns, his running style taking a toll upon his body, a poor attitude or the “Madden Curse,” Hillis’s performance sharply declined last season after a breakout 2010 season.

    Hillis was traded to the Browns from the Denver Broncos as part of a package in exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn prior to that season, and a change of scenery was very fruitful for Hillis, who went from rushing for 54 yards in 2009 to 1,177 yards in 2010. However, Hillis had a big setback in the 2011 season, rushing for only 587 yards.

    For as impressive as Hillis’s 2010 season was, he has only had one productive season, so his free agent stock is very much in question after a poor 2011 season. That said, Hillis could make a huge impact on an NFL team if he can return to his form from 2010, as he is a power back with great hands and surprising athleticism.

    Hillis is unlikely to return to the Cleveland Browns. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer has reported that Hillis is visting with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs could be a perfect fit for Hillis, who are looking for and need a bigger back to complement Jamaal Charles.

    Update: Wednesday evening - Peyton Hillis signed a 1-year, $3 million deal with the Chiefs.

43. Ryan Grant, RB

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    Former Team: Green Bay Packers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Ryan Grant is a solid, steady running back, but there is nothing special about him as a runner. That said, while Grant had a disappointing return season with only 559 rushing yards after missing the 2010 season with a torn ACL, he has had impressive productivity in his career, including consecutive 1,200-yard rushing season in 2008 and 2009.

    Grant is only 29 years old, and for a team looking for a second-string running back, they could certainly do worse than Grant. Grant is likely to return to the Packers to continue to team up with James Starks and Alex Green in their backfield, but could also draw interest from teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams, and Seattle Seahawks.

42. John Abraham, DE

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    Former Team: Atlanta Falcons

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Atlanta Falcons

    John Abraham is 33 years old, but he is a very skilled pass rusher who has compiled 112 sacks in his 12 NFL seasons, and should have a couple more seasons of sacks left in him.

    Abraham is not quite the explosive pass rusher that he was a few seasons back, but that said, he is coming off of a productive season in which he had 9 ½ sacks. For a 4-3 defensive team in need of a pass-rushing defensive end, Abraham could be a cheaper option to sign to a two-year deal, and make the impact that the team needs on their defensive front.

    Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported that the Tennessee Titans, a team very much in need of a pass rusher, is interested in Abraham, who is unlikely to return to the Falcons. Other teams that could be interested in Abraham are the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears.

    Update - Friday Morning: NFL Network has reported that the Titans and Denver Broncos are in competition for Abraham.

    Update - Saturday morning: Surprisingly, John Abraham re-signed with the Falcons on a three-year deal.

41. Kendall Langford, DE

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    Former Team: Miami Dolphins

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: St. Louis Rams

    Kendall Langford is coming off of an underwhelming season with the Miami Dolphins, and is unlikely to be brought back by the Dolphins’ new coaching staff. That said, Langford is a talented, 26-year-old five-technique defensive end that could be a very good addition for a 3-4 defensive team.

    Langford, one of the top five-technique defensive ends in the free agent class, could be a good player worth taking a chance on for the San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers. Given his youth and upside that he still has, Langford should have solid free agent value.'

    While Langford's best fit comes in a 3-4 defense, he is also drawing looks from 4-3 teams, and is scheduled to visit with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday.

    Update - Saturday night: Kendall Langford has signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the St. Louis Rams, another big signing for the Rams, where he will play on a four-man defensive front.

40. Jason Campbell, QB

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    Former Team: Oakland Raiders

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Chicago Bears

    Jason Campbell had a very good start to the 2011 season for the Oakland Raiders, leading them as starting quarterback to a 4-2 start to the season. Unfortunately, Campbell suffered a broken collarbone in the Raiders’ Week 6 game, which ended his season.

    The Raiders then traded two first-round picks to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for quarterback Carson Palmer, which immediately established Palmer as the Raiders’ franchise quarterback, making it clear that Campbell would leave Oakland at the end of the season.

    Campbell is a talented quarterback who should be competing for a starting quarterback job, but surprisingly, he has already signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears to be the backup quarterback to Jay Cutler.

    For a team who has been forced to go to Caleb Hanie in each of the past two seasons following Cutler injuries, Campbell was a great signing, but it is a surprise that Campbell chose to go to a team where he will not have a legitimate opportunity to compete to be a starting quarterback.

39. John Carlson, TE

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    Former Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Minnesota Vikings

    John Carlson missed the entire 2011 season due to a shoulder injury, but he is a talented tight end who is a reliable receiving threat who also adds blocking ability. Carlson’s value is down, but he could be a bargain for a team in need of a tight end.

    Carlson will almost certainly be departing Seattle following their signing of Zach Miller last year, but appears to have considerable interest on the open market. The Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts are all among the teams reportedly interested in Carlson.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: Carlson has signed a 5-year, $25 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings, where will form a very talented tight end tandem with Kyle Rudolph.

38. Pierre Garcon, WR

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    Former Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Washington Redskins

    In a year where almost every Colts receiver’s production went down as a result of quarterback Peyton Manning being sidelined for the entire year, Garcon actually had the best season of his career to date, with career highs of 70 receptions and 947 receiving yards.

    Garcon is a talented receiver and only 25 years old, so it comes as no surprise that he received immediate interested on the free-agent market. As one of three wide receivers added by the Washington Redskins on the first day of free agency, Garcon will become one of RG3’s primary receiving targets in D.C. next season.

37. Laurent Robinson, WR

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    Former Team: Dallas Cowboys

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

    As the Dallas Cowboys’ top wide receiver Miles Austin battled injuries last season, Laurent Robinson took advantage of his opportunity to emerge. Robinson, a talented and young receiver who I had believed had big talent for years, finally showed it in Dallas, with career-high totals of 54 receptions and 858 yards.

    Robinson is an athletic receiver with size, great hands and route-running ability. Robinson will likely depart Dallas, and could be a very good addition as a No. 2 wideout for a team such as the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals or Houston Texans.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: Robinson visited first with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he would be a great fit there, given their desperate need of wide receivers. The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly also interested.

    Update - Wednesday evening: Robinson signed a 5-year, $32.5 million contract with the Jaguars. Great signing for both parties, as Robinson can be the impact wide receiver that Jacksonville needs, and will have a chance to establish himself as a No. 1 receiver.

36. Aaron Ross, CB

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    Former Team: New York Giants

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Aaron Ross is a very solid cornerback who has been a starter on two Super Bowl teams as a member of the New York Giants. While Ross is not a top lockdown cornerback, he is a very solid second cornerback who could be a very good addition for a team in need of secondary help.

    With the Giants’ re-signing of Terrell Thomas, a cornerback who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, to a four-year contract, they are likely to let Ross leave. A potential suitor for Ross is the Cincinnati Bengals, who need a starting cornerback, and where he is reportedly visiting this week. The Washington Redskins have also scheduled a visit with Ross.

    Update - Tuesday morning: Aaron Ross was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars to a three-year, $15.3 million deal. Ross will be an upgrade as the Jaguars' No. 2 cornerback across from Rashean Mathis.

35. Mark Anderson, OLB/DE

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    Former Team: New England Patriots

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Buffalo Bills

    The New England Patriots took on the project of reviving Mark Anderson’s career last season, and it paid off in a big way.

    Anderson had 12 sacks as a rookie, but only a combined 13.5 sacks in his following four seasons. He had little interest on the free agent market last year, but the Patriots brought him in, made him a situational pass rusher, and he was a perfect fit for the role. He ended up with 10 sacks last season.

    Anderson is a player who is only suited to play as a third-down situational pass rusher, but his athleticism suits him very well for that role. Anderson should draw interest across the league for teams in need of a situational pass rushers, especially those who run 3-4 defensive schemes, but Anderson’s best move would be to return to the Patriots.

    Update - Friday morning: The Miami Dolphins are pursuing Anderson.

    Update - Monday afternoon: Anderson is scheduled to visit with the Tennessee Titans. The Jacksonville Jaguars are also interested.

    Update - Tuesday afternoon: The Titans have signed Kamerion Wimbley, and will no longer be pursuing Anderson.

    Update - Tuesday night: Anderson has also visited with the Baltimore Ravens.

    Update - Wednesday night: In a surprising decision, the Buffalo Bills added their second pass-rushing defensive end of free agency by signing Mario Williams to a four-year deal worth up to $27 million. With Williams and Anderson on either end, the Bills should have a terrific pass-rushing duo next season.

34. Mario Manningham, WR

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    Former Team: New York Giants

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Mario Manningham became one of the heroes of Super Bowl XLVI when he made an impressive 38-yard sideline grab to spark the New York Giants’ fourth-quarter game-winning drive for their second championship in four seasons.

    That said, while Manningham will be forever remembered by Giants fans for his big Super Bowl play, that will be his last game in a Giants uniform. With last season’s emergence of Victor Cruz, Manningham is now the No. 3 receiver for the Giants, and he can earn more money on the open market from a team who views him as a starting wideout.

    Manningham is a very talented receiver and only 25 years old, so he should draw considerable interest on the open market. Potential suitors for Manningham include the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams.

    Update: Wednesday afternoon - According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Manningham is in talks with the Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and San Francisco 49ers.

    Update: Monday afternoon - On Saturday night, Manningham signed a two-year deal with the 49ers, who continue to upgrade at wide receiver.

33. Paul Soliai, NT

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    Former Team: Miami Dolphins

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Miami Dolphins

    Paul Soliai has done very well as a nose tackle for the Miami Dolphins, but with new defensive coordinator making changes to the Dolphins’ defense, they are likely to look for more versatile defensive tackles and let Soliai walk.

    Soliai is a very strong, mammoth nose tackle who is a great fit for another 3-4 team needing to upgrade at the position. Soliai is reportedly drawing interest from seven teams: The best fit for him would be the Kansas City Chiefs, who need to upgrade at defensive tackle.

    Update - Wednesday evening: Soliai resigned with the Dolphins on a 2-year, $12 million deal. He is a big re-signing to be a cog of the Dolphins' defensive line in their new defensive system.

32. Jason Jones, DT/DE

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    Former Team: Tennessee Titans

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Jason Jones is a versatile defensive lineman who has the ability to play both defensive tackle and defensive end, and has started and played in both positions with the Tennessee Titans. Jones is very skilled, only 25 years old, and his versatility makes him an intriguing player for teams with both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes.

    The Tennessee Titans should make a concerted effort to re-sign Jones, but he is also reportedly set to visit the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, and should draw interest from numerous other teams as well.

    Update - Saturday night: Jason Jones has been signed to a one-year contract by the Seahawks. It is surprising that Jones received such a short-term deal, considering he is only 25.

31. David Hawthorne, ILB

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    Former Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    David Hawthorne has had a productive four seasons as a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, now hitting the open market as a talented 26-year-old who has eclipsed the 100-tackle mark in each of the past three seasons.

    Hawthorne is far from a star, and the Seahawks should be seeking upgrades at the linebacker position, but he is a productive player who they should pursue re-signing. Two other teams reportedly interested in Hawthorne are the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

    Update: Wednesday evening - Hawthorne is scheduled to visit with the Saints on Friday. The Saints could use an upgrade at linebacker, so this could be a good fit for both parties.

    Update: Monday afternoon - Hawthorne is scheduled to visit the Lions, who may need to replace free agent middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

    Update: Wednesday night - The Lions re-signed Tulloch, so they are unlikely to be interested in him no, and he is unlikely to still have interest in the Saints following their bounty penalties. His best option may be return to the Seahawks.

30. Tracy Porter, CB

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    Former Team: New Orleans Saints

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Tracy Porter has done well with the New Orleans Saints, whose promising young career is highlighted by his 74-yard interception return for a touchdown which helped the Saints to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

    Porter, who has started games in all four of his NFL seasons, is a physical and athletic cornerback who is the best the Saints have on their roster at the position, and they should be making an effort to bring him back into the fold. That said, Porter should draw considerable interest around the league from teams in need of a cornerback, including the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

    Update - Monday afternoon: Tracy Porter is visiting with the Oakland Raiders, who need a replacement at cornerback after replacing Stanford Routt.

    Update - Tuesday night: Porter is also set to visit the Denver Broncos, who have certainly become a more attractive option for free agents in the wake of the Peyton Manning signing.

    Update - March 27: The Broncos signed Porter to a one-year, $4 million contract last Thursday.

29. Vernon Carey, OG/OT

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    Former Team: Miami Dolphins

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Vernon Carey is a versatile offensive lineman who has transitioned to playing guard for the Miami Dolphins, but also has experience playing as a right tackle, and could present value at both positions for prospective teams looking at him in free agency.

    Carey, at 30 years old, has been a steady member of the Dolphins’ offensive lineman for eight seasons, but is unlikely to be brought back by the Dolphins. Carey should be attractive to teams with offensive line needs, including the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Houston Texans.

28. Demetrius Bell, OT

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    Former Team: Buffalo Bills

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    Demetrius Bell has struggled with injuries, but has been a steady left tackle for the Buffalo Bills over the past three seasons. Bell is better suited to play right tackle, but has value among the offensive tackle class of free agents.

    The Bills should make a strong effort to re-sign Bell with the cap room to do so, even if they plan to draft an offensive tackle in the first round of this year’s draft. That said, if the Bills do not re-sign Bell, he could draw interest from numerous teams in need of a right tackle, including the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: Bell is visiting with the Cardinals, who have holes at both left and right tackle, so this is a match that would make sense for both parties.

    Update - Saturday morning: Bell visited with the Washington Redskins, who are looking for an upgrade at right tackle, on Friday.

27. Reggie Wayne, WR

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    Former Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Considering that his pairing with quarterback Peyton Manning has been such an important part of Reggie Wayne’s success, most expected that he would end up following Manning wherever he signed as a free agent. Instead, Wayne stayed loyal to the team for whom he has played all 11 of his NFL seasons, re-upping with the Colts for three more seasons.

    With Manning sidelined, Wayne failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2003 last season. That said, Wayne is still a very talented wide receiver who can become a go-to receiver for incoming quarterback Andrew Luck by staying with the Colts. While Wayne’s decision to stay comes as a surprise, considering the many veterans the Colts have recently released, the organization made a good decision to bring him back.

26. Steve Hutchinson, G

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    Former Team: Minnesota Vikings

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Tennessee Titans

    Steve Hutchinson may be one of the greatest guards to ever play in the National Football League, making it a surprise that he was released by the Minnesota Vikings last weekend. That said, the move was very rational to release him, considering he is 34 years old and was owed nearly $7 million.

    Hutchinson’s career is on the decline, but he is still a very solid starting guard who would be a great signing by an NFL team in need of a guard for a one- or two-year deal. Steve Hutchinson has visited with the Tennessee Titans; other potential destinations for Hutchinson include the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.

    Update: Wednesday evening - In a surprising turn of events, Hutchinson is visiting with his former longtime team, the Seattle Seahawks.

    Update: Friday morning - Steve Hutchinson has signed a multi-year deal with the Tennessee Titans.

25. Gary Brackett, ILB

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    Former Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    After missing almost all of last season with a shoulder injury, Gary Brackett was released by the Indianapolis Colts. While being 32 years old and coming off of missing nearly an entire season definitely hurts Brackett’s stock, he has been a tremendous middle linebacker for the Colts who could make an impact elsewhere.

    Brackett is worth signing to a two- or three-year contract for a team that needs to upgrade at middle linebacker. Potential suitors for the veteran linebacker include the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks.

24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB

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    Former Team: New England Patriots

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Cincinnati Bengals

    Often referred to as “Law Firm” for his very long name, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is an underrated running back. Green-Ellis is a hard-nosed, physical, strong between-the-tackles runner who could be a great addition for a team seeking another running back.

    The Patriots would be smart to bring back Green-Ellis, who ran for 1,008 yards in the 2010 season, but a likely destination for him would be the Kansas City Chiefs if they do not sign Peyton Hillis. Green-Ellis is exactly the type of physical back that the Chiefs need to complement Jamaal Charles.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: The Cincinnati Bengals have scheduled a visit with Green-Ellis. They are also a team in need of a running back, and would be a great addition for them.

    Update - Wednesday night (one week later): Green-Ellis has signed with the Bengals on a three-year contract.

23. Brandon Lloyd, WR

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    Former Team: St. Louis Rams

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: New England Patriots

    A midseason trade from the Denver Broncos to the St. Louis Rams made Brandon Lloyd’s 2011 season a rocky one, but he was still productive, finishing the year with 70 receptions and 966 receiving yards. One year earlier, Lloyd put up career-best numbers of 77 receptions and a whopping 1,448 receiving yards.

    Lloyd has tremendous speed, making him a terrific downfield deep threat, and he has great hands with the ability to make spectacular catches. For a team such as the New England Patriots looking for a receiver to stretch the field, he would be a great addition.

    Update - Saturday night: Lloyd has been linked to the Patriots ever since the hiring of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was Lloyd's head coach for two seasons in Denver, the best seasons of Lloyd's career. The Patriots got him at good value: three years, $12 million.

22. Cory Redding, DT/DE

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    Former Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Cory Redding is a highly talented and versatile defensive lineman who does not receive the credit he deserves. Redding is a difference-maker on a defensive front, a player who can be a very good interior penetrator as a defensive tackle, but fits very well as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 system.

    Redding has had two productive seasons with the Ravens, and could be brought back, but also could be following his former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who went from the Ravens to become the Colts’ head coach. Redding is reportedly in negotiations with the Colts.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: Redding has signed with the Colts on a three-year, $10.5 million contract.

21. Brandon Carr, CB

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    Former Team: Kansas City Chiefs

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Dallas Cowboys

    The Chiefs’ signing of former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt on Feb. 21 made it quite clear that Brandon Carr would be exploring his options in free agency. Carr is a skilled, physical and young cornerback who should have plenty of options to choose from.

    Carr has very good size and tackling ability for the position, and is only 25 years old. Carr should draw interest from most teams in need of a cornerback, but two teams reportedly battling to sign him are the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

    Update: Wednesday evening - Brandon Carr signed with the Dallas Cowboys to a 5-year, $50.1 million. In an interesting statement, that contract is $100k more than what Cortland Finnegan (ranked ahead of him) received. The Cowboys really needed help in the secondary, so Carr is a great signing for them.

20. Robert Meachem, WR

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    Former Team: New Orleans Saints

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: San Diego Chargers

    As one of many receiving options for Drew Brees in New Orleans, Robert Meachem has not put up huge numbers with the Saints, but he is an explosive, fast wide receiver who can be a big downfield, playmaking threat.

    The Chargers needed to find a deep threat with the loss of Vincent Jackson to free agency (more to come), and Meachem, who they signed to a four-year contract, is a very effective replacement. He can be the downfield deep threat that Philip Rivers needs in San Diego’s offense.

19. Cortland Finnegan, CB

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    Former Team: Tennessee Titans

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: St. Louis Rams

    Due to some ugly and unprofessional on-field incidents, Cortland Finnegan’s reputation has gone from a small-school achiever in the National Football League to one of its dirtiest player. That said, Finnegan is a very talented defensive back who has been a No. 1 shutdown cornerback for the Tennessee Titans.

    Finnegan has joined his former head coach with the Titans, Jeff Fisher, with his new team by signing a five-year contract with the St. Louis Rams. This reunion makes great sense for both parties, as Finnegan received big dollars, and comes in as the star of the St. Louis secondary.

18. Lardarius Webb, CB

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    Former Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Restricted Free Agent

    In his third NFL season, Lardarius Webb emerged as a star cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens.

    Webb is a physical, instinctive and skilled cornerback who has received a first-round tender from the Ravens as a restricted free agent, but even at that high price for any team that would sign him, he could still draw interest on the market. For a team in need of a cornerback, such as the New England Patriots who hold two first-round draft picks, the high price may be worth the opportunity to get a true shutdown cornerback in Webb.

17. Antonio Garay, NT

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    Former Team: San Diego Chargers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    After five years as a backup for three different teams, Antonio Garay finally earned a starting berth with the third team, the San Diego Chargers, replacing Jamal Williams as nose tackle. In his two seasons as a starter in San Diego, Garay has been tremendous, establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best nose tackles.

    Garay is already 32 years old, which hurts his long-term value, but for a 3-4 defensive team such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans who needs to upgrade at nose tackle, he would be a terrific addition.

    Update - Wednesday night: The Chargers have extended a contract offer to Garay, who surprisingly has not received much interest in free agency.

16. Matt Flynn, QB

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    Former Team: Green Bay Packers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Matt Flynn has only started two games as an NFL quarterback, but has made a major impression in those two games.

    The first came in the 2010 season, where Flynn played in place of a concussed Aaron Rodgers, and nearly led the Green Bay Packers to an upset victory over the Patriots. The second came in Week 17 of the 2011 season, where Flynn set Packers franchise records of 480 passing yards and six passing touchdowns.

    While Flynn could be a risky signing for a big contract, he has big potential as a starting quarterback, and is one of the best available options for teams in need of a franchise quarterback this offseason. Flynn should end up with a contract in the range of five years, $60 million.

    My projection for Flynn is that he will sign with the Miami Dolphins, joining new head coach Joe Philbin, who was Flynn’s offensive coordinator with the Packers. The Dolphins need a quarterback, so this reunion makes perfect sense.

    Update - Monday afternoon: My projection with Matt Flynn turned out to be incorrect, as Flynn signed a 3-year, $26 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. This is a great signing for the Seahawks; they needed an upgrade at quarterback over Tarvaris Jackson, and Flynn was the best option available to them. Makes them a contender in the NFC playoff race.

15. Scott Wells, C

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    Former Team: Green Bay Packers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: St. Louis Rams

    Scott Wells has become one of the best centers in the National Football League with the Green Bay Packers, but with negotiations stalling between the two parties, it appears that Wells’s time as a Packer is coming to an end.

    Playing one of the most important positions on the offensive line, Wells is a very attractive free agent option. Two teams in need of centers who are reportedly interested in Wells are the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings. Other teams in need of centers that could be potential destinations include the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots.

    Update - Saturday morning: For the second time in three years, the St. Louis Rams have made a high-profile signing at the center position, this time being Scott Wells.

14. LaRon Landry, FS

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    Former Team: Washington Redskins

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: New York Jets

    LaRon Landry has only played 17 games over the past two seasons due to injuries, but he is a very talented safety who is a difference-maker when he is on the field. For that, he is sure to draw interest in the free agent market.

    Landry is not expected to return to the Redskins, but two teams that are reportedly interested in him are AFC East rivals New York Jets and New England Patriots, both who need safety help. The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals could also be potential destinations.

    Update - Monday afternoon: Reported by NFL Network's Michael Lombardi, the Jets have signed Landry to a one-year, $4 million deal.

13. Stephen Tulloch, ILB

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    Former Team: Detroit Lions

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Detroit Lions

    Even though Stephen Tulloch was coming off of a 160-tackle season for the Tennessee Titans in 2010, he only received a one-year contract from the Detroit Lions, and is an unrestricted free agent once again. Tulloch continued to be productive in 2011, but could be headed to his third team in as many years.

    The Lions would really benefit from keeping Tulloch in the fold, but if he leaves, three potential destinations as teams who could really use the help at middle linebacker would be the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.

    Update - Tuesday night: Tulloch has re-signed to a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions.

12. Ben Grubbs, OG

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    Former Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: New Orleans Saints

    Last year, the Baltimore Ravens signed left guard Marshal Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract. That makes it very unlikely that they will be able to bring back their talented right guard, Ben Grubbs, who should command similar money on the open market.

    Grubbs is a very good guard who could help many teams in need of a guard, but one team he is being linked to early is the New Orleans Saints, who are set to lose Carl Nicks (more to come) via free agency. Other possible destinations for Grubbs include the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.

    Update - Thursday morning: The Saints have signed Grubbs to a five-year, $36 million contract, a perfect signing to replace the departed Carl Nicks. While Grubbs is not quite as good as Nicks, he is a more than adequate replacement who forms a great guard duo in New Orleans.

11. Jared Gaither, OT

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    Former Team: San Diego Chargers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: San Diego Chargers

    Rarely does a midseason acquisition make as big of an impact as offensive tackle Jared Gaither did for the San Diego Chargers late last season. After being released by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers signed Gaither to replace injured starter Marcus McNeill at left tackle for the final five games of the season, and Gaither played tremendously.

    Now, with the retirement of left guard Kris Dielman and the release of McNeill, it is imperative for the Chargers to come to an agreement to re-sign Gaither. As the top potential left tackle in this year’s free agent class, Gaither should draw interest from many teams, with other potential suitors including the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: The San Diego Chargers re-signed Gaither to a four-year contract.

10. Vincent Jackson, WR

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    Former Team: San Diego Chargers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Vincent Jackson is an explosive, athletic wide receiver who has had his ups and downs as a San Diego Charger, but is a very talented downfield receiver who has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in three of the past four seasons.

    Jackson is a big playmaker who has already been signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he should be a great addition. The Buccaneers lacked a impact player in the passing game, and Jackson can be the go-to target that quarterback Josh Freeman needs. Jackson received big money in Tampa Bay, signing a five-year, $55.55 million deal, but he should be a great addition to the Bucs offense.

9. Carlos Rogers, CB

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    Former Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Bringing back Carlos Rogers, a 2011 second-team All-Pro coming off of the best season of his career, was a very important move for the 49ers in keeping their NFL-best defense in tact. That is exactly what they did on the first day on free agency, bringing him back on a four-year contract.

    Rogers, in his seventh NFL season and his first with the 49ers last year, had the best season of his career, emerging as a great starting cornerback in San Francisco. Keeping him in the great fold is a big move for them.

8. Alex Smith, QB

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    Former Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: San Francisco 49ers

    After six disappointing seasons on his rookie contract after being the No. 1 overall draft pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, quarterback Alex Smith was signed for one more year by the 49ers for a chance to prove himself with new head coach Jim Harbaugh. That is exactly what he did, having the best season of his career while leading the 49ers to a fourth-quarter playoff victory over the Saints that took his team to the NFC Championship Game.

    After a very impressive 2011 season in which he threw for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions, Smith is certainly expected to be re-signed by the San Francisco 49ers. That said, if he is not re-signed, he could become an option for teams looking to upgrade at quarterback such as the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

    Update - Monday afternoon: Alex Smith seems to be turned off by the 49ers' interest in Manning, and as a result, the Miami Dolphins appear to be the new favorites to acquire him having missed out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. Smith made a 5 1/2 hour visit with the Dolphins on Sunday.

    Update - Tuesday morning: With the Broncos in negotiations with Peyton Manning, the door is open for him to return to the 49ers if he wishes to do so. However, he does not appear interested in signing the three-year, $24 million contract they are offering him.

    Smith could remain in play with the Miami Dolphins, although they have signed David Garrard to a one-year deal, which could be a sign that Smith is not going to sign with them. That potential sign, however, should not become an assumption; read my column on why the Dolphins should continue to pursue Smith and other quarterbacks.

    Update - Tuesday night: According to NFL Network's Michael Lombardi, Alex Smith has agreed to terms with the 49ers.

    Update - Wednesday night: Smith's deal with the 49ers is for three years worth a total of $24 million.

7. Curtis Lofton, MLB

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    Former Team: Atlanta Falcons

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: New Orleans Saints

    Curtis Lofton is an athletic, instinctive tackling machine, only 25 years old and one of the best middle linebackers in the league.

    Lofton, who has been fantastic in his first four seasons in the National Football League, was originally reported to have signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but those reports turned out to be incorrect. Losing him would be a major loss for the Falcons, so they should make every effort to re-sign him, but if they do not, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are two other teams who should get in on trying to sign Lofton and upgrade their linebacker corps.

    Update - Friday morning: Lofton is set to visit the New Orleans Saints.

    Update - March 27: Following the punishments handed down to the Saints from the NFL, they were not expected to be contenders for any more big free agents, but they surprised everyone by signing Lofton away from their in-division rivals. Lofton was signed to a five-year, and will be an immediate upgrade at middle linebacker.

6. Mike Wallace, WR

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    Former Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Restricted Free Agent

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are making their best efforts to retain wide receiver Mike Wallace, and his status as a restricted rather than unrestricted free agents helps their cause. That said, while the Steelers have tendered Wallace at the first-round level, which means an interested team must give up a first-round pick in signing him, they are still at significant risk of losing him.

    There are few wide receivers more dangerous in the National Football League than Wallace, who has tremendous speed and the ability to make big plays in open field. The Steelers have been clearing up cap space with the primary goal of re-signing Wallace, but as he remains on the market, two teams that could make a serious play for him are the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals.

    Both the Patriots and Bengals hold two first-round picks in this year’s draft, and each team could be willing to give up their second first-round draft pick in order to upgrade their passing attack by bringing in one of the best wide receivers the league has to offer. Wallace will most likely be playing in black and gold next season, but the possibility for a team to swoop in to draft him is definitely there.

    Update - Saturday night: The Patriots' signing of Brandon Lloyd means that they will not be making a deal to acquire Mike Wallace. The Bengals could still be in play, but returning to the Steelers is most likely.

    Update - Tuesday morning: Assuming the Broncos finalize a deal with Peyton Manning, they could become a player in acquiring Mike Wallace. While the Broncos have two very good young wideouts in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, adding Wallace and pairing him with Manning would give the Broncos a tremendous combination in the passing game.

    This is purely speculation on my end, but the Broncos hold the No. 25 overall selection in the draft, and if they were willing to sacrifice that selection, adding Wallace could be a great option for the Broncos.

5. Chris Myers, C

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    Former Team: Houston Texans

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Houston Texans

    Chris Myers is arguably the best center in the National Football League, making him one of the most-sought after free agents this offseason.

    Myers is exploring his options on the open market, and should receive interest from all teams in need of a center. One team who has reportedly gotten into the mix early is the Tennessee Titans. Other potential destinations for Myers include the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams.

    Updated - Saturday morning: The Houston Texans finally made positive progress in free agency, re-signing Myers to a four-year, $25 million contract.

4. Eric Winston, OT

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    Former Team: Houston Texans

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Kansas City Chiefs

    The most puzzling decision yet of the entire offseason came on Monday, when the Houston Texans released Eric Winston, one of the best right tackles in the National Football League. This move is hard to rationalize on their behalf: his cap figure for next season is only $4.5 million, he rarely misses a start and is of high character.

    While the move seems very bad on the Texans’ behalf, their loss should be another team’s gain, as he could be an immediate upgrade at right tackle for one of many teams. Three potential suitors, the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams, have all set up visits with Winston.

    Update - Thursday morning: Eric Winston is now scheduled to meet with the Detroit Lions, another team in need of help at offensive tackle.

    Update - Friday morning: It appears likely that Winston will sign with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Update - Saturday night: The Chiefs signed Winston at a bargain price of four years, $22 million. The Chiefs needed a right tackle, and Winston is a major upgrade.

3. Carl Nicks, OG

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    Former Team: New Orleans Saints

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    While there are many in-demand offensive linemen in this free agency class, none are better than former New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks. Nicks is one of the best guards in the National Football League, and as a result, he expects to be paid as such, which the Saints cannot afford to do considering the money they already have tied up in their left guard, Jahri Evans.

    Any team with money to spend in need of a guard should be interested in Carl Nicks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have as much cap space as any team, have emerged as early favorites, having flown Nicks into Tampa Bay for a visit.

    The Cincinnati Bengals are also a team in need of a guard with much cap space, so they are another potential destination, as are the Minnesota Vikings, who cleared up cap space by releasing an aging star guard in Steve Hutchinson, and could be looking to upgrade with Nicks.

    Update - Wednesday afternoon: As expected, the Buccaneers used their cap room to make Carl Nicks a five-year, $47.5 million deal, making him the highest-paid guard in the league. He will be a big upgrade to the Buccaneers' interior line.

2. Peyton Manning, QB

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    Former Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Denver Broncos

    In a class where much of the top talent is made up of offensive linemen, this group of free agents was lacking in headline names. That all changed when the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning, a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, making him an unrestricted free agent.

    With top-two draft picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III set to join the Colts and Washington Redskins, Manning is at the top of the list for every other team looking to upgrade at the quarterback position. At this point, the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans have emerged as favorites in acquiring Manning, with the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins also still in the mix.

    The only thing keeping Manning from being No. 1 on this list is the fact that he is coming off of four neck surgeries, which sidelined him for the entire 2011 season, as well as his age at 36 years old, which means he likely has no more than three seasons left in him. That said, if Manning is anywhere near his form of old, he can return to being one of the top quarterbacks in the National Football League, and make the team that signs him a much more serious contender.

    Update - Friday morning: Peyton Manning is scheduled to work out for the Denver Broncos' brass on Friday afternoon, a clear sign that they are the favorites to land his services.

    Update - Saturday morning: According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, league sources now report that Peyton Manning also worked out for the 49ers on Tuesday.

    Update - Monday afternoon: The big news that everyone has been waiting for has finally come. Peyton Manning has made his decision, and he is in negotiations to sign with the Denver Broncos. This is the move that has been expected since he first made his visit, and would be a tremendous signing by the Broncos, who become immediate favorites to repeat in the AFC West.

    Assuming the deal becomes official, Manning goes to a team that made the playoffs last season, and a team that has the pieces to continue building and contend for a Super Bowl within the next few seasons.

    Update - Tuesday night: Manning was officially announced by the Broncos as signing a 5-year, $96 million contract.

1. Mario Williams, DE

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    Former Team: Houston Texans

    Unrestricted Free Agent

    New Team: Buffalo Bills

    Like Peyton Manning, Mario Williams is also coming off of a serious injury, with his season ending to a torn pectoral muscle last season in Week 5. That said, Williams is also only 27 years old, a former No. 1 overall draft pick and a player who has consistently been among the NFL’s premier pass rusher.

    Last season, Williams made the transition to outside linebacker in the Texans’ 3-4 defense, and was actually having very impressive results in the new position, with five sacks in five games. That said, at 283 pounds, Williams is best suited to play as a down lineman as a 4-3 defensive end, and will likely his talents away from Houston to a defense that better suits his unique skill set.

    Williams can immediately make a huge impact on the defense of any team that signs him, making him the marquee free agent of this year’s class. The Buffalo Bills became early favorites to acquire Williams, bringing him in for a visit on Tuesday, but other teams in the mix include the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. Any 4-3 team in need of a pass rusher and with money to spend, including the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, should not be ruled out.

    Update: Thursday afternoon - Mario Williams signed a six-year, $100 million deal with $50 million guaranteed with the Buffalo Bills. Williams is an elite pass rusher who will be a huge addition to the Bills defense.


    Thanks for reading!

    For more coverage of the 2012 NFL offseason, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.