NFL Free Agency 2012: Signings Who Will Make the Biggest Impact This Season
The best NFL teams don’t always pay big money to free agents, but some of these guys are worth the price of admission, and will make immediate and big impacts on their respective teams.
Sometimes a free agent is successful in one place because of their compatibility with the team, scheme and situation they are in. That doesn’t always translate to new teams once players move around.
However, there are certain players who find themselves going to new teams who are perfect fits, teams that need someone with their specific set of skills. These are the free-agent success stories you hear about.
Let’s take a look at which of this offseason’s free-agency additions will make the biggest impact on their new teams.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (Contract details: 5yrs, $96 million)
The name Peyton Manning is synonymous with winning. In his 15 seasons in the NFL he’s done nothing but that. He turned around a severely struggling franchise, and brought a Super Bowl title to the Indianapolis Colts. The word “savior” comes to mind.
Manning, fresh off an injury, was replaced by new management in Indianapolis with prodigy draft pick Andrew Luck. Indy’s loss is certainly Denver’s gain in this instance. At 35, Manning still has years of competitive football left in the tank, and is still one of the best in the game.
As Denver proved last season, it is capable of grinding out wins with its tough defense and excellent rushing attack. Adding Peyton Manning and an effective passing game into the mix just makes this team all the more dangerous in 2012.
Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints (Contract details: 5yrs, $33.5 million)
Curtis Lofton, 26, is one of the most instinctive linebackers in the league. Best of all, he has the physical tangibles to make those instincts a lethal combination on the field. He’s mean, smart and will constantly make plays all over the field.
In 2011, he recorded 147 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions (one for a TD) and also batted down seven passes from his middle linebacker position.
The Saints have added a dynamic and imposing complement to Jonathon Vilma, one whom they hope will anchor their LB corps in the fallout of the bounty scandal that has rocked their organization.
Eric Winston, OT, Kansas City Chiefs (Contract details: 4yrs, $22 million)
Winston was one of the most sought after edge-offensive lineman during the 2012 offseason. His high work ethic and excellent combination of size, strength and technical skill make him an ideal candidate for any position on the offensive line. He blocked on an offensive line that paved the way for breakouts by both Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
The draft has added even more depth to the KC offensive line, and the unit looks like it ready to shine in 2012 with Winston added to the mix. Don’t forget the return of Jamal Charles, who may explode with the holes he is going to have this season.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Contract details: 5yrs, $55.55 million)
When Vincent Jackson is healthy, and not suspended, he is one of the most imposing athletes on the football field. His rare height and athletic ability are only rivaled by excellent hand-eye coordination resulting in the ability to come down with the toughest passes. He is only 29, and is showing little signs of declining. In 2011, he put up excellent numbers, nearly matching his career best (16 REC/1,106 YDS/ 9 TD).
He runs solid, crisp routes and finds gaps in coverage to get open in space and take passes downfield. His ability to garner significant yards after the catch is something the Bucaneers will heavily benefit from after having a down year in the aerial game.
Bucs QB Josh Freeman can use the help coming off a bad season in which he tossed 22 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, St. Louis Rams (Contract details: 5yrs, $51.25 million)
Finnegan is a remarkable cover corner and seven year NFL veteran. He uses a combination of athletic ability and mental games to impose his playing style on those he is covering. In 2011, he only recorded a single interception, but was more active on pass defense, recording 11 pass deflections. He’s capable of having breakout performances, and will likely benefit from a new setting.
The Rams’ pass defense wasn’t horrible a season ago, but that was mainly because teams didn’t have to pass. They gave up a second-to-worst 152.1 YPG on the ground in 2011. Some of that is due to the poor tackling of the secondary.
With Finnegan in the mix, and the run defense destined to improve (it’s hard to be that bad twice), the Rams defense may take some significant strides forward.
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills (Contract details: 6yrs. $96 million)
Mario Williams is an absolute mauler and explosive edge rusher. His true strengths lie in getting to the quarterback and collapsing blockers to break up running lanes—not dropping into coverage like he was asked to do in Houston. Luckily for Williams, he will play the end position as the Buffalo Bills transition back to the 4-3 defense this season.
The Bills’ pass defense isn’t exactly terrible, but it didn’t scare anyone in 2011. The pass defense bent often but failed to fully break, except down the stretch and in key situations. Adding Williams to their defensive front should help increase pressure on opposing QBs, and lighten the load of their secondary.
Williams will also bolster a very bad run defense that was gouged for 139 YPG in 2011. His speed and strength give him a great ability to interrupt and even stop slow developing plays from forming. He’s a dominant athlete that must be accounted for by opposing offenses.
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