It's never too early to imagine what could be or to play God and imagine what upcoming free agents will land where.
The list of 2012 National Football League free agents is quite impressive. There are plenty of big ticket names to be had and plenty of impact players from yester-year who may not see big contracts again.
Free agency is the biggest chance for teams to make moves during the offseason. Super Bowls can easily be won and lost depending where teams decide to invest their dollars.
Sign the big name free agent, and the Lombardi Trophy seems closer than ever. Sign that bust, and it’s a wasted year for your team.
This list takes into consideration restricted free agents and players who will be staying with their teams no matter what (i.e. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints).
So without any further ado, here’s a quick rundown of the top 10 veteran free agents that all NFL teams would love to ink to a deal this spring.
Perhaps the biggest free agent to be had in 2012, Ray Rice’s value is sky high and will likely set the standard for running backs.
In four seasons with the Ravens, Rice has racked up 5,573 total yards and 22 touchdowns. His versatility is one of his better strengths.
Likely, Rice will be the first to go and will determine how much everyone else gets behind him. Teams that should take a look at him include the Colts, Browns, Broncos, Lions and Cardinals.
A versatile home run receiver, DeSean Jackson will be a key free agent signing for one team.
What seems likely is that Jackson may have to test the waters of free agency. The Eagles are on the books for some serious money this offseason. Remember, Michael vick just signed a $100 million extension.
If Philly decided Jeremy Maclin is the primary target for the Eagles offense, they could elect to save a serious amount and let Jackson walk.
His skills with the special teams make him an added bonus. He’s not the best receiver out there, but he’s No. 2 or 3.
The best defensive end on the market will be the Colts’ Robert Mathis.
The one red flag with Mathis is how well he can control a defensive line by himself. The entire time he’s been in Indianapolis, he has played alongside fellow defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney has 20 more sacks than Mathis, proving him to be the more explosive end.
How well can Mathis go to a team and command the line by himself? If a team is willing to pay and find out, he could be a boom or bust. Most likely, he’s a complimentary piece.
Matt Forte is the most versatile player on this list. He’s turned into a complete back. He can run outside and between the tackles. He can catch and run after the reception for big gains. He can also block and cause time for his quarterback in the pocket—something he’s proven this year.
Because of Rice, Forte may not see the biggest running back salary of the offseason. He should—for all intensive purposes—get the same contract, but free agency doesn’t work like that.
The Chicago Bears need to throw all their eggs in Forte’s basket. His void for the Bears would be catastrophic.
The teaser to this article mentioned players who were too good to leave town would be excluded. The obvious answer would be that Wes Welker shouldn’t be here. Why? Because his value is in limbo.
How much the Welker party feels its client is worth will determine how likely New England brings him back. If all else fails, you could always franchise tag No. 83.
Finley is the premier tight end on the market. Hands down, no tight end is going to hit pay day as much as he will once the season comes to a conclusion.
Finley can cause all sorts of matchup problems on the field. Against teams that use deep safety zones, Finley will exploit matchups in the seams like it’s nobody’s business.
The 2011 season has been kind to Finley and his Packers. Of course, having Aaron Rodgers to throw to you is a plus. Finley has 30 grabs for 378 yards and five scores. The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but his impact is noted.
The No. 1 overall pick a handful of seasons ago by the Houston Texans, Mario Williams is an ideal linebacker and/or defensive end, making his value on 3-4 defensive schemed teams very high.
Williams will miss the rest of this season with an injury, which means by the time training camp opens this summer, he will be well rested and raring to go.
Imagine him on a team like the Cowboys who already have Demarcus Ware. What kind of pressure could that team cause when it blitzes? He would be an excellent complimentary addition, but could very easily succeed as the primary guy on a 3-4 defense.
Somewhere over Dwayne Bowe…
Mind the bad fantasy football team name suggestions.
Seriously, though, Bowe will make a very nice addition to one team this offseason. His vertical presence would be a great addition for a team needing that dominant receiver. Teams like Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Denver, Oakland and Minnesota would be likely bidders.
Bowe has a tremendous average per catch. His 16.2 YPG is one of the best in the NFL and demonstrates why he is a elite caliber receiver. He makes tough catches, but more importantly, has a nose for the endzone.
When he’s hot, he can carry an entire offense for weeks on end.
Cortland Finnegan brings a little bit of everything to the table. He’s tough, physical and chippy. Minus the day he fought Texans WR Andre Johnson, he’s usually angry and fierce, but doesn’t demonstrate it.
Finnegan has 14 interceptions in six seasons with the Titans. He’s proven he can be a difference maker at times, which will make him attractive for shoppers.
What might make him really shiny and eye-popping is his value. The market value this last offseason for cornerbacks was set so high with what the Philadelphia Eagles could do. If Finnegan’s number drops, teams will be more likely to ink him.
The drama surrounding the San Diego Chargers and receiver Vincent Jackson has been well documented over the last few seasons.
The Chargers brass has elected to hold onto Jackson’s rights via franchise tag. Well, he’s running out of franchise tag opportunities and patience for a new contract.
Do the Chargers slap him with a top five salary again, or do they let him hit the road?
Jackson’s importance to San Diego’s offense is high. Philip Rivers has no passing targets outside other than Jackson. Of course, Antonio Gates mans the middle of the field, but you can’t check down or lock onto a tight end every play.
This saga will be a very entertaining headline this offseason.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.