With training camp in full swing and the NFL regular season less than a month away, we're finally getting a real sense of the type of impact the biggest free agents can make for their respective teams. Questions about whether Mario Williams or Peyton Manning can get back to their All-Pro ways are finally getting answered.
While not all of these free agents will make huge impacts for their respective teams, they should all at least be solid additions. Today we'll look at and rank the top 25 free agents based on early training camp results.
There is no doubt that signing center Scott Wells was a huge move for the St. Louis Rams. The biggest issue for St. Louis last year was protecting Sam Bradford and the Rams are hoping Wells can help greatly in that area.
Unfortunately, Wells has been sidelined with a undisclosed injury since before OTAs. While it is hard to fathom this injury lasting until the regular season, St. Louis could really use some extra time for Wells and Bradford to get acquainted with one another.
Once he gets on the field, look for Wells to make a huge impact for the Rams.
By signing John Carlson in the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings were hoping to get a dynamic duo out of Carlson and second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph. Their hopes are to get similar production and performance to that of the New England Patriots' duo.
However, Carlson suffered a sprained knee last week and could end up missing the rest of training camp. Much like Scott Wells for the St. Louis Rams, you know that Carlson is going to make a big impact for the Vikings this year, but you can't gauge just how big without him on the field.
While Carlson and Rudolph won't likely match the production of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, they certainly have a shot at being the best duo in the NFC once Carlson is healthy.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson to a lucrative five-year, $32.5 million deal this offseason with hopes that he'd become the top target for Blaine Gabbert. Through the first weeks of training camp, things haven't been looking so good from Robinson.
Vito Stellino wrote about head coach Mike Mularky's issues concerning his receiving corps. Mularky said the entire unit needs to "...do a better job" and specifically that Robinson needs to, "...make some plays." (Via The Florida Times-Union)
Jacksonville desperately needs Robinson to get back into his groove and live up to his offseason contract.
Before Peyton Manning became a free agent, Matt Flynn was the most sought after free-agent quarterback on the market. His Week 17 performance against the Detroit Lions was a record-setting one and the Seattle Seahawks finally offered him a contract to become their starting quarterback.
However, things haven't gone as smoothly for Flynn as he'd hoped. He's currently entrenched in one of the most intense training camp battles in the NFL with Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson.
Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times believes Flynn will eventually win the starting job, but until he does that, he simply can't be considered one of the top free-agent signings of the offseason.
While Tracy Porter wasn't the most sought after free-agent cornerback—that honor goes to Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan—he is a talented starting cornerback who has a knack for making big plays. In fact, his new teammate Peyton Manning knows all about that. The two seem to be working friendly enough as of right now, but it's hard to believe that Manning has forgotten what Porter did to him back in 2009.
Porter will start opposite Champ Bailey and give the Denver Broncos one of the best cornerback duos in the league. However, even without Porter, the Broncos had a pretty solid defense in 2011. I simply can't see the signing of Porter making this defense one of the best in the league.
Don't get me wrong, this was a good signing for Denver, but until there is a report from Broncos training camp that Porter is playing better than Darrelle Revis, it won't be one of the best signings in the league.
One of the most underrated moves of the offseason was the Chicago Bears signing Michael Bush. On one hand, the Bears now have a talented backup in case Matt Forte goes down with another injury in 2012.
On the other hand, Chicago also has a talented power running back that the haven't had in recent seasons. According to Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears will look to mainly use Bush when the team nears the goal line.
While fantasy football owners of Forte will certainly be upset about this, the Bears have to feel good about adding a new dimension to their offense. This certainly isn't an earth-shattering addition, but is a solid move by a playoff-caliber team nonetheless.
Much like Michael Bush and the Chicago Bears, the Carolina Panthers brought in Mike Tolbert to handle things as the team neared the end zone. What ranks Tolbert a little higher than Bush is the versatility that he brings to the Panthers.
Not only is Tolbert a bruising back near the goal line, but he can also catch the ball out of the backfield and block in both the run and pass game. According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, head coach Ron Rivera likes the extra dimension that Tolbert brings to the team.
With Tolbert, Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all taking snaps in Carolina's backfield, the Panthers should have a premier ground game in 2012.
Jamaal Charles will still get the brunt of the carries for the Chiefs, but this is a team that will rely on the run and Hillis should fill a role similar to Thomas Jones in the past. The fact that he's motivated and playing in an offensive system that he's familiar with should help Hillis get back on the right path.
Look for him to make an impact in both the run and the pass game for Kansas City this year.
Playing for the New Orleans Saints, Robert Meachem was never able to fully show off his talents. However, he has all the tools to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver in this league, which the San Diego Chargers are hoping he'll become after the loss of Vincent Jackson.
So far in training camp, Meachem looks well on his way to becoming a top weapon for the Chargers. He's already building quite the chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers, but still looks to be targeted less than Malcolm Floyd or Vincent Brown.
If Meachem can continue to build a relationship with Rivers, he has a chance at making a gigantic impact for San Diego.
Although Jason Jones played exceptionally well for the Tennessee Titans as a defensive end, he should play even better this year for the Seattle Seahawks. He's moving back to his more natural position of defensive tackle and should be quite the force along an already talented defensive line.
Mike Sando of ESPN.com briefly touched on the fact that Seattle was excited about bringing Jones on board. He has a unique skill set for a player his size and should be able to make a stellar defense even better.
As long as Jones hasn't forgotten too much about playing defensive tackle, he should have a great first year in Seattle.
It's always difficult to know exactly how a free agent will fit in with his new team, so the San Francisco 49ers must be excited that Mario Manningham is fitting in so nicely.
Manningham was one of many offseason acquisitions to attempt to boost a mediocre passing offense. Along with Randy Moss and rookie A.J. Jenkins, the 49ers now have the potential to have one of the better receiving corps in the league.
What has made Manningham such a great addition for San Francisco is his ability to lineup as either the "X" or "Z". Look for him to enjoy a rather successful first season with the 49ers.
Even though Peter King of Sports Illustrated has concerns about how much the New Orleans Saints paid for a two-down player, Brodrick Bunkley should have an extremely productive season for the Saints.
For starters, Bunkley constantly played out of position for the Denver Broncos last year. Now that he'll be back to his more natural position, he should be able to make quite the impact for the Saints.
However, what really makes Bunkley such a great addition for New Orleans is that he'll instantly improve a rather horrid run defense. Don't be surprised if Bunkley makes an immediate impact for the Saints as he helps improve a defense that struggled at times last year.
When Peyton Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos, it wasn't long before his old tight end followed him there. Now that Jacob Tamme has reunited with his old quarterback, he appears poised for a big season.
As much as Manning loves to throw to his tight ends, it should come as no surprise that Tamme is getting plenty of targets in training camp. In fact, it wouldn't be that surprising at all if Tamme was one of the leading receivers for Denver in his first year with the team.
With the Broncos looking to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC, Tamme is going to need to be a big-time weapon for Manning and the Broncos offense. So far, it looks like he's ready to be that weapon.
As one of the best free agents available this offseason, expectations were high for Carl Nicks heading into training camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Nicks has certainly lived up to those expectations.
Aside from being one of the largest players on the roster, Nicks' tenacity at training camp has stood out to everyone. He plays every play like it is the regular season and he isn't concerned with getting a little physical with his own teammates.
Few teams made as big of a splash in free agency as the Buccaneers did, and one of their best signings is proving that Tampa Bay made the right decision in being so aggressive.
With rookie Robert Griffin III given the reins for the Washington Redskins, one thing they needed to do this offseason was surround their franchise quarterback with potential weapons. That's why the team went out and signed Pierre Garcon away from the Indianapolis Colts.
Garcon has proved that he can be an effective receiver in the league, but the Redskins are hoping that he can make the leap to becoming a legitimate No. 1 receiver. While Garcon is more focused on simply making an impact for his new team, the Redskins are hoping that he'll reach his full potential and become Griffin's top weapon on offense.
If Griffin and Garcon can grow their union into something special, the Redskins could surprise some teams this year.
The Dallas Cowboys knew that the weakest point of their team was in the secondary and they did everything they could to improve it. They moved up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick of the 2012 NFL draft, but their improvement all started when they signed Brandon Carr to a contract worth $50 million.
In his first training camp with the team, Carr is already showing people why he needs to be considered one of the better young cornerbacks in the league. In fact, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (via Jonathan Auping of DallasCowboys.com) said that Carr was, "the best player in free agency by far. It’s not even close."
If that is true, then the Cowboys will definitely be a major threat in the NFC to come out as conference champions.
This may seem a little high for a cornerback who wasn't even considered a top-three free agent at his position, but Richard Marshall has been absolutely fantastic so far in training camp.
According to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald, Marshall has filled in so well with Vontae Davis on the sidelines that he may never get off the field with the first-team defense. Considering that Davis is widely considered one of the best young cornerbacks in the league, the fact that Marshall looks poised to steal his position is a very good sign for the Miami Dolphins defense.
Marshall has been one of the biggest surprises through training camp and he has certainly put himself into the conversation as one of the best free-agent additions of the offseason.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went from a playoff contender in 2010 to one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2011. One major reason for this fall from the top ranks was because of a pitiful offense.
By going out and signing Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers are hoping that he'll be able to rejuvenate the offense. The fact that Jackson is already showing great chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman is a great sign that he'll be successful in getting the team back to 2010 form.
With Jackson, Mike Williams and rookie Doug Martin, the Buccaneers should have an offense potent enough to stick with the rest of the high-powered NFC South.
No move in free agency this year was as shocking as the Buffalo Bills signing defensive end Mario Williams. Williams is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and it has been a long time since the Bills have brought in this big of a free agent.
However, through the first weeks of training camp, it appears as if Williams is right where he wants to be in Buffalo. He'll team with Kyle Williams, Mark Anderson and Marcell Dareus to form one of the most dangerous defensive lines in all of football.
As long as Williams has fully recovered from the season-ending pectoral injury from last year, and he can get back to his previous Pro Bowl form, the Bills need to be considered a legitimate playoff contender.
Even though LaRon Landry has been one of the better safeties in the NFL throughout his career, there were still major questions about how he'd fair with the New York Jets. The biggest concern, however, was Landry's struggles with injuries since entering the league.
While those are legitimate concerns, all the talk out of training camp in New York has been extremely positive. In fact, the coaching staff of the Jets feel that Landry is the best athlete that they've ever had on their roster.
Those are high remarks for Landry, who needs to play like the best athlete if the Jets want to contend in a very good AFC East. If he can stay healthy for the entire year, he should end the season as one of the best free-agent additions of the offseason.
With Jonathan Vilma suspended for the entire 2012 season, the New Orleans Saints needed to find a new defensive leader. It appears that Curtis Lofton has the potential to be every part of that leader this year for the Saints.
Lofton has already proved to be a dominant middle linebacker through just a handful of practices. In fact, it's probable that he'd start over Vilma if Vilma were to return at some point during the season. He's younger and appears to be a better overall player.
With so many off-field issues surrounding the Saints this year, New Orleans desperately needs Lofton to perform as well as he has in training camp during the regular season.
If you've ever watched Brandon Lloyd play football, you know that he has the ability to make some rather amazing receptions. He has great hands, body control and the ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls.
By signing with the New England Patriots, Lloyd made one of the best offenses in the league even more dangerous. Along with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady now has four legitimate Pro Bowl-caliber players to throw the ball to.
If there was ever an offense to challenge the record-setting 2007 Patriots offense in terms of production, it might just be the 2012 version of the team from the same city.
The St. Louis Rams had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2011. The entire unit was plagued by injuries and poor play, so the front office went out and signed the best available cornerback on the market in Cortland Finnegan.
His presence on the field will certainly be a huge boost to the unit, but it's the time he's taking to help rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins that makes him such a great addition. Jenkins is loaded with talent, but off-field issues and questions about his character have people wondering if he'll be able to make it in the league.
If Jenkins can play up to his potential because of Finnegan's tutelage, he has to be considered one of the best free-agent additions made this offseason.
It is never easy to replace an All-Pro player, but when the New Orleans Saints replaced Carl Nicks with Ben Grubbs, they did a pretty great job at matching talent.
Not only is Grubbs is extremely talented like Nicks, but he is a true team player, will do whatever it takes to fit in with the Saints and came at a much cheaper price. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the offensive line in New Orleans didn't drop one iota in its performance this year.
Nicks is a great player, but Grubbs is right there on his heels and has proven to be a fantastic addition so far.
Was there really any question as to who has been the best addition so far in training camp?
Peyton Manning was the premier free agent and the Denver Broncos couldn't be more pleased with how he has performed so far. He's been his usual accurate, high-performing self through the first weeks of training camp and is running the offense efficiently. He's even had the opportunity to show his new team just how good he is at running the two-minute offense.
If Manning is even just 85 percent of his old self, the Broncos will still have made the biggest upgrade at a single position of any team this offseason. They look poised to be the team to beat in the AFC West, and if Peyton gets back to being 100 percent of his former self, they need to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.