12 Post-Free Agency Bold Predictions for the 2012 NFL Season
The main thrust of the NFL's free-agency period, what with its big money and exciting prizes, is over. There will be more veterans signing with teams throughout the summer, but they will be of the Jake Ballard to the Patriots category.
There is still plenty of drama as teams work through offseason activities, training camp, preseason and the glorious regular season.
The high of free agency, especially from the teams that "won" with the best, most expensive players, usually ends up in disappointment, much like last year's Dream Team declaration by one Vince Young and the paltry returns for every overpaid veteran by Dan Snyder.
The best part of the free-agency signing period coming to a close is that the season is that much closer. Here are some predictions going from training camp through the entire 2012 NFL season.
Holdout, Part 1: Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jacksonville Jaguars offense in 2011. He led the NFL in rushing and rushing attempts. In three years as a starting running back, MJD has more than 4,000 rushing yards and 130 receptions.
The franchise was proactive in giving Jones-Drew his first big contract, extending him to the tune of five years and more than $30 million before he became a starter in the 2009 season. That was money well-spent. There are two years left on the deal, and not cheap ones, at more than $8 million of cap hit in each.
He knows that he's going to get one more big contract, if that. At age 27, Jones-Drew should have three or four more seasons of top-shelf production. The Jaguars want to be a passing team, but are still working on it.
Bold prediction: The holdout continues until the regular season. The Jaguars sign Cedric Benson, who starts the 2012 opener in Minnesota.
Holdout, Part 2: Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace wants to be one of the highest paid wide receivers in the NFL. In three years with the Steelers, he's averaged almost 19 yards a catch, and he set a career high with 72 catches last season.
The Steelers are notorious in being choosy when it comes to which veterans get long-term deals. Lately it's been the linebackers and Ben Roethlisberger. When Mike Wallace received the restricted free agent tender, which will pay him $2.742 million this year, other teams had the option to sign Wallace to a long-term deal, but the first-round price was too high. Wallace is still waiting for that big payday.
Wallace is holding out of mini-camp in protest. The Steelers have the right to drop his RFA tender to $577,000, a move that would not help the situation.
Bold prediction: The holdout continues until the regular season. Mike Wallace mirrors Vincent Jackson in 2010 by holding out until the final six games of the season.
Holdout Part 3: Matt Forte
Holdouts are popular for running backs this offseason. Matt Forte was on his way to a career year before missing the final four games after spraining his MCL in December.
Forte's rookie contract expired, so the Bears used the one weapon they had to ensure that he would stay with the team. He was franchised. That's more than double the entire salary Forte earned during his four-year rookie deal.
Running backs in the prime of their career are looking for contracts like those recently signed by Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy. Forte wants such a deal, but the Bears have showed no interest. They signed Michael Bush and would be fine with him starting if the holdout continues.
Bold prediction: Forte signs the franchise deal with a promise that the Bears will not do it again next offseason. He'll be a free agent after 2012.
Holdout Part 4: Ray Rice
Running backs touch the ball more than anyone on offense besides the quarterback. This leads to short career spans. Ray Rice has been the starting running back for the Ravens since 2009. He hasn't averaged more than 300 carries a year in those three seasons, but he does have more than 200 receptions in the same timespan. The offense runs through him.
Rice is in a similar situation as Matt Forte. Both backs were 2nd-round picks in 2008 whose four-year rookie deals turned into franchise tags for $7.7 million. In the case of the Ravens, they're almost out of salary cap room and QB Joe Flacco wants an extension as well.
The Ravens have been very good at keeping their core players happy. Rice is just 25 years old and wants LeSean McCoy money.
Bold prediction: The Ravens are in a Super Bowl window and can't afford a holdout. They sign Rice to a five-year deal and face a similar contract problem with Joe Flacco next offseason.
Lestar Jean>Chad Ochocino
Chad Ochocinco has become the Nicole Richie of the NFL. He remains famous, although few can remember the last time he did anything significant on the field. The Patriots were plenty patient with Ochocinco and did him a favor by setting him free this summer.
The Miami Dolphins signed Ochocinco last week, and on paper, it's a fine deal. The team needs a veteran presence on the field. The problem is, TE/FB Charles Clay was more productive than the 'cinc last year, with 16 catches to Chad's 15.
Lestar Jean's making noise in Houston Texans camp. He has not played an NFL snap. He's hoping to earn, at worst, the No. 3 slot role with the team.
Bold prediction: Lestar Jean will have more catches and yards this year than Ochocinco.
Adrian Peterson Starts Opening Weekend
Adrian Peterson's knee is on the mend. An ACL tear on the final weekend of the regular season would require an accelerated rehab program for most players. For a running back who takes extra hits and makes cuts nearly every play he's on the field, it's tougher.
There's a precedent for this situation. Wes Welker tore his ACL on the final week of the 2009 season. On opening day of the 2010 season, Welker caught eight passes and scored two touchdowns. It is important to note that Welker did have his worst season as a Patriot with his fewest catches and yards per catch.
Peterson's already running, and Viking fans need a reason to show up to the 2012 season opener.
Bold prediction: Adrian Peterson starts on opening day.
Who Starts 16 Games, Mike Vick or Peyton Manning?
Mike Vick has one NFL season with 16 starts in nine years in the league. Peyton Manning had 224 starts, 14 years with 16 starts in each, to begin his NFL career. Who's more likely to start all 16?
Vick takes a lot of punishment, and as a running QB, he's open for more hits than a pocket passer like Peyton. In the past two years, he's missed seven starts. On the other hand, we still don't know how many surgical procedures Peyton's had on his neck.
Two years ago, the Eagles had Kevin Kolb, who was the starter to begin the season in case Vick got hurt. Last year, the team tried Vince Young, and it wasn't the best result. This year, the backup is either Trent Edwards, no stranger to the training room himself, and Mike Kafka. They're going to do everything to keep Vick on the field.
The Broncos have a huge investment in Peyton. Any kind of minor injury that hampers his ability to release the ball quickly could result in a catastrophic injury. The team signed Caleb Hanie as a backup and would be fine starting him if that means Peyton's all right for a playoff run.
Bold prediction: Vick starts 16 games. Peyton does not.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Next Darren Sproles?
Jacquizz Rodgers is so small that teammates can mistake him for an equipment manager. One benefit short running backs have is that a defense can't see them behind the huge offensive linemen.
While Rodgers doesn't have Maurice Jones-Drew's tree-trunk legs, he can handle carries between the tackles. The Falcons aren't looking to give Michael Turner 20 touches a game again this year. The drafting of Julio Jones shows a move to a more passing-oriented game.
The San Diego Chargers couldn't figure out what to do with Darren Sproles, yet they knew what a weapon he was by franchising him twice. The Saints picked him up last year and gave him 173 offensive touches. He set the NFL all-time all-purpose single-season yardage mark. That's a high bar to reach.
Rodgers isn't going to help the Falcons on kick or punt returns. He is going to be an offensive weapon like AFC South rival Darren Sproles.
Bold prediction: Jacquizz Rodgers has more combined carries and receptions than Darren Sproles.
Carson Palmer Returns to the Pro Bowl
After sitting on his couch for almost half of the 2011 season, Carson Palmer got a second NFL chance when the Oakland Raiders traded for him. His numbers were average at best, but for a guy thrown on a team in the middle of the season, he held his own.
The Raiders have put together a set of offensive weapons that are pretty tough to match. Sure, the tight end position leaves something to be desired. Their top five wideouts are Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and rookie Juron Criner. Palmer has to be happy about this development.
Palmer should throw for 4,000 yards this year, and 30 touchdowns aren't out of the question. He's an underrated player heading into 2012.
Bold prediction: Sure, it may require a few guys bowing out, which happens every year, but Carson Palmer will start the Pro Bowl.
Russell Wilson to Start
It's hard to tell where the Seahawks are in terms of rebuilding or contending. They won a playoff game two years ago, but their overall 7-9 regular season record was laughable. Last year, the team finished with the same 7-9 record, and no one celebrated.
Pete Carroll knew one thing for certain. His QB duo of Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson was not impressive. The team adjusted by signing free agent Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson.
Flynn's expected to start, but his relatively meager three-year contract means that he's going to have to earn the status in future years. Wilson had a great senior season, transferring to Wisconsin and leading the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth. His height is the major downfall.
The Seahawks liked him enough to take him in the third round. Carroll's already said that Wilson is in the mix to be the starter.
Bold prediction: Matt Flynn starts the opener, but Russell Wilson takes over and doesn't give up the job.
AFC Team Bold Predictions
Every year, about half of the previous year's playoff teams fail to return. Almost every year there's an unexpected playoff party crasher. In 2011, few predicted that the Broncos, Bengals and Texans would make the playoffs, and two of those teams won a playoff game. With every overachiever there is a corresponding underachiever. The Colts, Jets and Chargers finished well short of fan expectations.
Bold predictions, overachiever category: The Kansas City Chiefs will win the AFC West and get a first-round playoff bye. They have the defense and run game to make the leap. The Buffalo Bills will fall just short of winning the AFC East, but will earn a Wild Card berth. Their defensive line will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares and Ryan Fitzpatrick will stay steady all year.
Bold predictions, underachiever category: A Mike Wallace holdout and an aging defense keep the Pittsburgh Steelers from the playoffs. The Denver Broncos finish 8-8 in Peyton Manning's first season as the defense takes a step back and Manning misses time with various ailments.
NFC Team Bold Predictions
Teams will rise and fall in the NFC, where the playoff team with the worst record won the Super Bowl last year. Last year, the Lions and 49ers were not considered to be playoff teams when the season started, while the Cowboys and Eagles were thought to be locks for the postseason.
Bold predictions, overachiever division: The Chicago Bears were 7-3 when Jay Cutler got hurt. They lost Matt Forte for the last month of the season as well. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery should help Cutler, and Michael Bush will take some of Forte's touches. The defense is always top-notch. The Dallas Cowboys were one win from the playoffs last year and will make the leap this season with an improved secondary, DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo winning big games.
Bold predictions, underachiever division: The Detroit Lions have had their share of off-field drama from fights to arrests. While the team is on the rise, the inability to stay out of the headlines will cost them a repeat playoff trip. The New Orleans Saints will be without their coach and a few of their key players from their recent run of success. The Bucs and Panthers are improving in their own division, so the Saints will finish outside of the playoff hunt this year.