8 Remaining 2012 NFL Free Agents Who Will Play in the 2012 Season

Rocco ConstantinoContributor IMay 14, 2012

8 Remaining 2012 NFL Free Agents Who Will Play in the 2012 Season

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    The draft is over and many free agents have been gobbled up as teams are moving forward in their preparations for the 2012 NFL season.

    While all that is going on, there is still a large crop of free agents still waiting to find a home for the upcoming year.

    Whether they are rehabbing injuries or their reputations, there are a number of very talented and accomplished players available—some of whom even made the Pro Bowl in 2011.

    The following slideshow takes a look at eight players who may not be on a roster now, but will be suiting up somewhere during the 2012 season.

Aubrayo Franklin

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    Last year, when Aubrayo Franklin signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, it was considered a great free agent signing and was a loss lamented by his original team, the San Francisco 49ers.

    What a difference a year makes.

    Franklin remains unsigned after failing to live up to expectations with the Saints last season. By no means was he expected to rack up any kind of sack numbers for the Saints, but Franklin was expected to be a key run-stopper and help occupy blockers to free up linebackers to make plays.

    After Franklin registered a grand total of 12 tackles last season, it's no wonder people haven't been knocking down his door.

    But fear not, Aubrayo Franklin fans—he will land somewhere in 2012.

    Before a disastrous 2011, Franklin was seen as a key to the prolific production of 49ers Pro Bowler Patrick Willis. With Franklin absorbing blockers at the line of attack, Willis ran free from sideline to sideline, making plays everywhere.

    Franklin will be 32 years old on opening day, and while he is probably on the downside of his career, he isn't totally over the hill by any stretch of the imagination. Adequate run-stuffers are a valuable commodity in the NFL, and the Falcons and Seahawks have already been sniffing around Franklin.

    Even if he doesn't sign with either of those two teams, he'll end up somewhere. 

Cedric Benson

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    Of all the remaining free agents available, Cedric Benson is the most surprising player who still doesn't have a job.

    Benson reeled off at least 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons and averaged 3.9 yards per carry, his second-highest total as a full-time back, just last year.

    Benson also is just 29 years old and still has plenty of quality play left in the tank. Although he might not be able to be a 300-carry workhorse, Benson would be a very effective back in a platoon situation.  

    A big part of the reason he is still available is the fact that he was arrested in 2008 (twice), 2010 and 2011. Eventually, though, there will be a team willing to look past that for the proven, hard runner who still has some good play left in his body.

Marcus McNeill

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    It wasn't that long ago that Marcus McNeill was making a huge splash as one of the best young offensive linemen in the game.

    In 2006 and 2007, LaDainian Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing the only two times of his career running behind the massive left tackle who looked like he was going to be a perennial Pro Bowl player.

    However, McNeill began to give up sacks in increasing numbers, and after an ugly holdout in 2010, he was never the same.

    McNeill played just nine games in 2011 after injuring his surgically repaired neck. The scary injury, along with decreased production, has kept teams from jumping all over McNeill, but there is enough interest out there to say he will be in a uniform next year.

    McNeill is just 28 years old, and at 6'8" and 335 pounds, he is too big and talented for someone to not take a chance on him.

    The Lions, Eagles, Falcons and Chiefs have already kicked the tires on McNeill, who has been medically cleared to resume playing.

Andre Carter

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    Through 14 games, Andre Carter was one of the only consistent players on a Patriots defense that struggled mightily at times in 2011.

    Then, in a game against the Broncos, Carter tore his quadriceps, and his season was done.

    Carter had 10 sacks and two forced fumbles at the time of his injury, and at the end of the year, he and Vince Wilfork were the only two Patriot defenders selected to the Pro Bowl. (Of course, he couldn't play though.)

    Carter is still unsigned as he continues to rehab from the injury. According to the Boston Herald, he's still working his way back, but was limping heavily as late as March. Carter has said he wants to come back, and there will always be a place for someone who can get to the quarterback.

    At 33 years old, Carter isn't young anymore, but if he returns to full health, he will land somewhere. He may not be ready for the start of the season, but at some point in 2012, Carter will be lacing up his cleats and terrifying quarterbacks on Sundays. 

Jim Leonhard

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    Jim Leonhard is one of those players whose value to a team is never really fully understood by fans.

    Leonhard is a behind-the-scenes leader and an on-field signal-caller, in addition to being a tremendous, fundamentally sound defender.

    Leonhard stands just 5'8" and understandably struggles with bigger receivers and tight ends, which has been frustrating to watch the past three seasons for Jets fans.

    However, when Leonhard was lost to season-ending injuries in each of the past two seasons, the Jets defense resembled the old vibrating surface football game we used to play as kids.

    Leonhard hasn't been cleared to run on ground yet as he rehabs from surgery for a torn patellar tendon that ended his 2011 season, but he claims there will be no problem getting back healthy on time for the 2012 season.

    Don't expect teams to be vying for Leonhard's services anytime soon, but once he is healthy, it seems likely he will end up back with the Jets. Despite the fact that they signed LaRon Landry and drafted Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, the Jets use a massive rotation in their secondary and learned a valuable lesson last season when they let high-character players walk away.

Ryan Grant

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    It's just not the best time in the world to be a running back in the NFL.  

    A majority of teams in the league have gone to a committee approach, and Super Bowl champions like the Giants, Packers and Saints have proven you can win a Super Bowl using that format.

    The result is that running backs have been devalued in the draft and free agent market.

    One trickle-down effect of that is that Ryan Grant is still without a job.

    Teams are opting for fresh legs and youth at the running back position, and understandably so. Why not give a shot to a young back with no history of health problems than to someone who has a track record of not being able to stay on the field?

    However, someone who has proven they can be effective as an NFL running back is a definite commodity. 

    Grant is just three years removed from being one of the top all-all around running backs in the game after rushing for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009. Although he missed 15 games of the 2010 season with an injury, Grant bounced back as an effective runner on a limited basis last year.

    Grant is hopeful he can re-sign with the Packers, and that is a possibility as James Starks remains the only running back on their roster with any real experience. He reportedly had an offer from the Lions and visited with the Patriots, so there is definite interest in his services.  

E.J. Henderson

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    It's hard to fathom that a Pro Bowl middle linebacker who registered 105 tackles in 2011 is still available, but E.J. Henderson is still without a contract.

    Henderson suffered a career-threatening broken leg in 2009, but he bounced back to become the tackling machine Vikings fans remembered.

    However, at 32 years old and with an injury history, teams aren't lining up for Henderson's services anywhere near the price of his last contract. His days as an every-down middle linebacker might be numbered, but he can still provide good depth and leadership to any team's linebacking corps.  

    The Vikings reportedly tried to tie up Henderson before he hit free agency, but couldn't come to a deal. The most likely scenario for Henderson is that he will have to sit on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity as his contract price continues to drop.  

    Henderson shouldn't get paid like a top-tiered middle linebacker,—and he won't—but any team that suffers an injury or has underperforming rookies will have him firmly planted on their radar.

Braylon Edwards

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    Braylon Edwards was unquestionably one of the most disappointing free agent signings of the 2011 season. When Edwards signed with the 49ers last August, he declared himself an immediate weapon for the San Francisco offense:

    "Make no bones about it," Edwards said, "I'm here to be the guy. I'm here to make plays. I'm here to complement whoever's on the other side. I didn't come to accept a quiet role. I'm here to make some noise."

    Sixteen weeks and 15 catches later, Edwards found himself cut from the 49ers, a team with Super Bowl aspirations that was already hurting at receiver.

    After being a fine citizen and solid receiver with the Jets for two years, Edwards was expected to provide receiving help to a team desperately in need of it. However, he never fit in with the Niners, and he had a quiet, but ugly falling out as the 2011 season came to a close.

    That being said, Edwards is still just 29 years old, and at 6'3" and 210 pounds, he has size and experience that are too good to pass up.

    Last week, rumors linked Edwards to the Bengals, but ESPN reported that nothing was imminent as Edwards continues to rehab his knee injury.

    Whether it's the Bengals, Dolphins or a return to the Jets, expect someone to take a chance on the rangy Edwards.