2012 NFL Free Agents: Finding Landing Spots for the Top 12 Free Agents

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIMarch 16, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: Finding Landing Spots for the Top 12 Free Agents

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    With the first set of flurries now behind us, it's time take stock of the NFL free-agency period and those big fish still uncaught.

    Who's out there? Where will they head?

    We'll answer both questions in the slides ahead, but first, a disclaimer.

    This list of the top 12 available free agents comes via Nate Davis of USA Today. It is not my intent to get into an argument over ranking the available talent—that discussion began the day after the Super Bowl and has already run its course.

    We're only looking for who might fit where, and why. 

    That said, let's get to it.

12. Jacob Tamme

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    New York Giants

    Why He'd Fit:

    Though excellent wideout play helped compensate, the Giants got little production from their tight ends last year. Tamme showed promise in Indy under the other Manning and should give Big Blue a quick boost.

    The Case for New York:

    Tamme shows promise and in New York he would have a chance to grow into a larger role.

    With the receiving options already at their disposal, the Giants wouldn't need to lean on him as a starter. If he develops into one, great.

    If he doesn't, the league's trend toward two-tight end packages ensures that he'll at least get good use.

11. Plaxico Burress

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    Carolina Panthers

    Why He'd Fit:

    The Panthers feel swell after Cam Newton's rookie season and have to feel the playoffs are a possibility. Burress offers a potential short-term payoff and a nice complement to Steve Smith.

    The Case for Carolina:

    The Philadelphia Eagles are the name you hear most often, but that's all on Burress' end. He wants to play in Philly. He thinks he'd fit well in the offense. He thinks the personalities match.

    The Eagles have said nothing to that effect. I suspect they never will.

    Andy Reid isn't winning the public relations war in Philly and another controversial signing won't help his case. Besides, management's focus so far this offseason has been on keeping players in-house. Eagles brass clearly thinks they already have the right pieces in place.

    I admit, Carolina is a bit of a shot in the dark. The Panthers could well decide that a baggage-toting veteran represents too much risk in what has been a promising reclamation project.

    But if there is a sense that the team has playoff potential next year and if someone in the organization gets an itchy trigger finger, Burress fills a need. Nominal No. 2 wideout Legedu Naanee is an unrestricted free agent and adding Burress would alleviate the pressure on Cam Newton to use his legs in the red zone.

10. John Abraham

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    Denver Broncos

    Why He'd Fit:

    Denver loves guys that can get after the passer and that's Abraham's game.

    The Case for Denver:

    Reports already have the Broncos sniffing around, so the interest is clearly there. If Abraham can stay healthy, he and Von Miller would make a mighty fine pass rush.

    John Fox made a Super Bowl behind Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, so you know he sees the value. If Denver believes its playoff run last year was no fluke and has serious intentions of defending its a division title, Abraham gives them great short-term prospects.

    *Note: After publishing, Abraham agreed on a three-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons. 

9. Lardarius Webb

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    Baltimore Ravens

    Why He'd Fit:

    Because Baltimore is the only team he's ever known and the environment has served him well.

    The Case for Baltimore:

    The scenario facing Lardarius Webb mirrors the scenario facing fellow AFC North-er Mike Wallace. Both are restricted free agents, both excelled last year and both would make good fits with the New England Patriots. Though New England would have to surrender a first-round pick to get either player, they do have two picks in the inaugural round.

    With all that said, Webb is a safe bet to stay in Purple. The Ravens are making a strong push to sign Webb long term, indicating that they won't let him loose without a fight.

    Plus, the team is far enough under the cap that it's hard to see how another team could drive Webb out of their price range.

8. Curtis Lofton

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Why He'd Fit:

    The Bucs struggled without Barrett Ruud in the middle last year and Lofton is the sort of tackling machine that can plug that hole from day one.

    The Case for Tampa Bay:

    By signing Lofa Tatupu, the Falcons made it clear they will not re-sign Curtis Lofton. Chances are they'll get an up-close, twice-yearly look at whether or not they made the right move since Lofton's primary suitors—Tampa Bay and New Orleans—play in the NFC South.

    I'm giving the edge to the Bucs because they've been the more aggressive team in free agency thus far. At 26, Lofton is both young enough to fit their long-term plans and seasoned enough to entertain notions of a quick turnaround.

7. Brandon Lloyd

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    New England Patriots

    Why He'd Fit:

    The Patriots want to upgrade their receiving corps and 2010's receiving yards leader is certainly an upgrade.

    The Case for New England:

    This one makes all sorts of sense, so the fact that it hasn't happened yet is disconcerting. Signs that San Francisco has entered the bidding add even more intrigue, but I'm going to ignore the market's tea leaves for now and stick with the destination that makes the most sense.

    New-old Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels revived Brandon Lloyd's career in Denver and worked well with him in St. Louis. Lloyd understands McDaniels' system and shouldn't need much of an adjustment period once camp starts.

    Lloyd isn't a burner, but outside of Randy Moss, the Pats haven't relied on toolsy wideouts. They need guys who understand the playbook and can be where Tom Brady expects them to be when Tom Brady expects them to be there. Lloyd is that guy.

6. Mario Manningham

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    Buffalo Bills

    Why He'd Fit:

    Manningham will go where he has a chance to be a legit number two. He could be that guy in Buffalo opposite Stevie Johnson.

    The Case for Buffalo:

    There is something poetic about Buffalo landing two guys named "Mario" in the same free-agent class, but this fit is about more than just semantics.

    The Bills vowed to attack this year's market and they backed it up with the megadeal they gave Mario Williams on Thursday. Something tells me they're hungry for more, and Manningham is an ideal second-tier signing.

    The former Giant is young and has growth potential, the sort of profile that fits the Bills' upward aspirations. Buffalo is a chance for Manningham to stand out and for the team to add another major piece.

5. Tracy Porter

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    Oakland Raiders

    Why He'd Fit:

    New Raiders head man Dennis Allen was Porter's position coach when he was with the Saints and Stanford Routt's release opens a hole at cornerback.

    The Case for Oakland:

    This looks to be a four-way race between Oakland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and New Orleans.

    St. Louis might have made the most sense because new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams worked with Porter in New Orleans, but it's hard to tell if that helps or hurts now in the wake of bounty-gate (or whatever we're calling it). I have to wonder if New Orleans gets damned by the same logic.

    Cincinnati has the need, but the connection to Allen (and his relative distance from the scandal) puts Oakland over the top. The Raiders also play in a less competitive division, which could appeal to Porter. 

4. Mike Wallace

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    Pittsburgh Steelers

    Why He'd Fit:

    The answer is pretty self-evident considering he's flourished there the last three years. Big Ben's big arm suits his over-the-top speed just fine.

    The Case for Pittsburgh:

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that teams are shying away from Wallace, and when Adam Schefter reports something I'm inclined to believe it.

    Besides the money Wallace would command as a restricted free agent, any team intent on signing him would also have to part with a first-round draft pick. That's a lot to give up for one player, and it's giving interested parties like the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers reason for pause.

    The Steelers have already tendered him a one-year contract and would get him for $2.742 million if all suitors consider the price tag too high.

3. Jason Jones

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    Seattle Seahawks

    Why He'd Fit:

    Seattle's pass rush finished 19th in sacks last year and Jason Jones is one of the best pocket-collapsing interior linemen in the game.

    The Case For Seattle:

    The big news is that Jones is even taking a visit with Seattle after St. Louis made a strong push to sign him.

    That tells me Jones didn't hear something he wanted to hear from the Rams, and that the next to court him stands a strong chance at nabbing him. Or at least that's how I've been told rebounds work.

    In Seattle, Jones would form a formidable defensive line with the recently re-signed Red Bryant and help boost a middling pass rush. He'll also get a chance to stay on the interior, a position he prefers to the hybrid role he played last year with the Titans.

    When looking at the Seahawks, don't let their play for Peyton Manning fool you. This team's blueprint is still predicated on strong defense and Marshawn Lynch's legs.

    Jason Jones fits nicely into that vision.

2. Matt Flynn

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    Miami Dolphins

    Why He'd Fit:

    Miami has been looking for a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino's retirement. Matt Flynn certainly looked the part during his brief auditions in Green Bay.

    The Case for Miami:

    Trading Brandon Marshall was the first indication that the new regime in Miami aims to start fresh. They want to build a team in South Beach, not shortcut their way to the top via free agency.

    And it comes as no surprise then, that the team has exited the bidding for Peyton Manning.

    Flynn fits the rebuilding mode—a potential-laden quarterback willing to grow with whatever team the Fins build around him.

    Moreover, Miami seems to be his most aggressive suitor. The Redskins will draft Robert Griffin III, the Seahawks are taking a Manning-or-bust approach and the Browns haven't made near as much noise as one might suspect.

    Flynn's move to Miami has felt predestined for some time, and nothing in recent events appears to have changed that.

1. Peyton Manning

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    Arizona Cardinals

    Why He'd Fit:

    The Cardinals have one of the game's premier wide receivers and no one capable of getting him the ball.

    Also, he's Peyton freaking Manning.

    The Case for the Cardinals:

    The Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos have their respective hats in the ring, but from an outsider perspective, Arizona makes the most sense.

    Denver and Tennessee both have tricky quarterback scenarios that would require major reshuffling were Manning to sign. In addition, both have relatively cold climates (particularly next to Phoenix) and neither has the proven, ace receiver Manning prefers. 

    Arizona is the only team that checks every box on the Manning list—or at least whatever semblance of a list we can cobble together from various media reports.

    As an added bonus, the organization has a track record of working with veteran quarterbacks like Kurt Warner. Coach Ken Whisenhunt did a fantastic job reworking the offense to Warner's strengths and it's fair to assume he can do the same with Manning.

    The only on-field concern is Arizona's offensive line, or lack thereof. Though it stands to mention that Manning, through his pre-snap reads and heady play, has been his own best lineman over the years. Finding an All-Pro front five isn't his priority.

    *Note: The Manning situation is fluid and fast-changing and it looks like I missed the boat. The latest reports have Denver and Tennessee in the lead and Arizona out. I still don't see it, but apparently those two organizations have Manning's attention.