Last summer, the NFL was tyrannized by endless banter about the Lockout and its "Millionaires vs. Billionaires" implications. Free agency—generally one of the most anticipated periods of the offseason—fell by the wayside.
Many marquee players slated for free agency were opted to re-sign with their incumbent teams rather than risk hitting the open market in an abbreviated offseason.
But have no fear, NFL fans, free agency will return with a bang this spring.
This year's crop of free agents is an exceptional one. At least 15-to-20 Pro Bowlers could feasibly find new teams this offseason and a few budding stars might swap jerseys as well.
Of course, management and coaching changes will alter the approach of many teams but let's take a stab at predicting which teams will make a push for the NFL's top 50 free agents.
Last summer, Barrett Ruud was one of the most sought after free agents in the NFL. He was a tackling machine for the Buccaneers during his six years in Tampa Bay, racking up 585 tackles in just four seasons as their starting middle linebacker.
The Titans signed Ruud to a one-year deal, and he figured to bring his defensive prowess to Tennessee. However, Ruud has struggled with a groin injury and is on pace to register his worst statistical season in five years.
Who Needs Him Most: The only reason Ruud didn't return to Tampa Bay last year is because he priced himself out of their range. But both parties have suffered since they parted ways—Ruud is having a down year and the Bucs' defense ranks 31st in the league. Tampa Bay's youthful defense clearly needs a stable, productive veteran like Ruud to help them thrive, and the Bucs should bring back their former captain this offseason.
Since Week 7, Raiders running back Michael Bush has rushed for 530 yards and recorded four touchdowns. Had Bush started from the beginning of the season—and maintained this level of production—he could've been a Pro Bowl candidate.
The 6'2", 243 pound back will be a free agent this offseason. And now that Darren McFadden has emered as a star, Bush might seek a bigger role elsewhere. He is already 27 but Bush has spent most of his career as a backup, so he should still have a few great years left in the tank.
Who Needs Him Most: Ahmad Bradshaw is an electrifying runner, but his durability issues make it vital that New York have another high quality back on the roster. Brandon Jacobs is still under contract for the next two seasons, but he has played so poorly this season that his job security may be dwindling.
Bush would help the Giants' 32nd ranked rushing attack thrive once again.
Braylon Edwards' career has been in steep decline since he earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2007, but nobody predicted he would flop so miserably with the 49ers. Edwards has started only four games for San Francisco this season, and he is on pace to register just over 30 receptions for 300 yards and zero touchdowns.
Who Needs Him Most: There will be a short list of suitors in line for this enigmatic and erratic wide receiver, but the New York Jets can always facilitate an extra personality. Edwards thrived in the Jets offense and Mark Sanchez has struggled without him.
Plus, Mike Tannebaum will be able to grab Edwards at a cheap price following his abhorrent stint in San Fran.
Matt Roth is a fierce rush linebacker whose attitude has hampered his ability to prosper. He lied to the Miami Dolphins about a lingering injury and demanded a trade from the Cleveland Browns. Despite his issues, Roth has amassed 22 sacks over the last four and a half seasons. Given the right situation, he could breakout.
Who Needs Him Most: Bill Belichick's experimentation with volatile personalities (Ochocinco, Haynesworth) failed miserably this season, but he could redeem himself by signing Roth. The Patriots are desperate for a pass rusher and Roth should be a cheap, high-upside solution.
Plus, maybe the "Patriot Way" could help steer Roth in the right direction.
Just one year after blowing up for 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has become lost in New England's infinite shuffle of running backs. Thus far, the Law Firm has compiled 541 rushing yards and five touchdowns—respectable numbers, but nothing to drool over.
With Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Kevin Faulk on the roster, Green-Ellis might leave for a chance at a bigger role.
Who Needs Him Most: Green-Ellis doesn't boast any one elite skill. Instead, he's a very well-balanced runner who could complement a scat-back like Jamaal Charles. Thomas Jones will be 34 next season and Jackie Battle hasn't been particularly impressive. Green-Ellis won't demand a serious payday and the Chiefs would be wise to bring in another quality back.
Following an illustrious career at USC, Fred Davis looked primed for a fruitful NFL career. The Redskins drafted him in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, but he has been only mildly successful, catching 121 passes and 11 touchdowns for his career.
Davis might relish the chance to escape from Chris Cooley's shadow and realize his potential on another team.
Who Needs Him Most: The Redskins offense is already devoid of weapons, so they can't afford to lose one of their only viable options. Davis is on the verge of becoming a number one tight end, and Washington should do whatever it takes to retain him.
Packers' backup quarterback Matt Flynn is this year's version of Kevin Kolb—except he won't be traded, he will enter the free agency pool this offseason. Flynn—similar to Kolb in Philadelphia—has played impressively in small appearances. His most impressive performance came on a Monday Night in New England last season, when he nearly led the Pack to victory.
Who Needs Him Most: The Buffalo Bills inked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative long-term deal a few weeks ago, but that already looks like a mistake. Fitzpatrick has stumbled over the past few weeks, and the Bills offense has played extremely poorly.
The Bills will likely miss out on the top quarterback prospects, so pursuing Matt Flynn makes the most sense. He won't break the bank and he might be the long-awaited heir to Jim Kelly.
Both the Bears and the Broncos abandoned Kyle Orton, but given a stable situation he could easily thrive. Despite captaining some very mediocre offenses, Orton has accrued a 33-33 record as a starter and a 79.4 career quarterback rating.
Who Needs Him Most: Orton is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, and if they chose not to re-sign Matt Cassel, then he cold stay onboard. However, the Seattle Seahawks look like a plausible destination. At this rate, the 'Hawks might play themselves out of contention for one of the top quarterback prospects, and Orton would provide a cheap yet substantial upgrade from Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst.
In his first two seasons as a starter, Pierre Garcon caught a combined 114 passes for 1,549 yards and 10 touchdowns. But his success, like many of his Colts teammates, looked like a mere byproduct of Peyton Manning's mastery. However, he has proven immune to quarterback changes.
With Curtis Painter at the helm in Indy, Garcon is on pace to catch approximately 70 passes for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns—all career highs.
Who Needs Him Most: With Reggie Wayne slated for free agency (and turning 34 next season), the Colts cannot afford to lose Garcon. He is primed for stardom, and the return of Peyton Manning (or arrival of Andrew Luck) should help him ascend his game.
Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff said that he would like to remain in New York, but there's no guarantee Jerry Reese will welcome him and his recently torn ACL back. Goff was a staple in the defense's linebacker corps in 2010, but undrafted rookie Mark Hezerlich has emerged in his absence.
Who Needs Him Most: Barrett Ruud has disappointed in Tennessee, so the Titans could be on the hunt for another middle linebacker this offseason. Goff provides a low-risk, high reward option. So long as he recovers well from his ACL tear, Goff's best days should be ahead of him, and the Titans could benefit.
A wave of injuries depleted the Giants' secondary this summer, leaving cornerback Aaron Ross with an opportunity to reassert himself after a pair of disappointing seasons. Ross has responded with a team-leading four interceptions, but the arrival of Prince Amukamara will allow the Giants to let him test the open market.
Who Needs Him Most: The Arizona Cardinals' pass defense is ailing without Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Ross could immediately step into the starting line up and help out big time. Ross, who will turn 30 next season, shouldn't demand an outlandish price tag, so the Cards could fill a few other needs and still grab a huge upgrade to their secondary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Geno Hayes is seething with talent, but his off-the-field antics have derailed his career. Since he entered the league four years ago, Hayes has been stabbed in a domestic disturbance, tased and arrested at a night club, and most recently, was benched due to a lack of effort.
Hayes clearly has the potential to be a star, but he can't seem to get his head on straight. Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik have been patient with troubled players, but now that Hayes' issues have spilt onto the field, he might not return to Tampa.
Who Needs Him Most: Even though Tampa Bay's young locker room might not be an ideal environment for Hayes, the Bucs really can't afford to lose him. They're already starting a rookie (Mason Foster) at middle linebacker, and losing Hayes would make create a huge hole at outside linebacker. Because of his legal issues, the Bucs should be able to re-sign Hayes to a short, low-risk deal.
NFL pundits nationwide praised the Saints for snagging defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin this summer. New Orleans inked Pro Football Focus' number two rated run-stuffing interior lineman for a measly $4 million, but Franklin has been a total bust thus far.
The Saints' run defense ranks 19th in the NFL and Franklin has failed to make an impact. Perhaps he is better suited as a 3-4 nose tackle than a 4-3 defensive tackle.
Who Needs Him Most: Houston Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody has been a pleasant surprise this season, but there's no doubt the team could use an upgrade. Bringing Franklin back to a 3-4 scheme could revive his career and bolster Houston's run defense—plus, they won't have to break the bank for him.
NFL fans around the nation might know E.J. Henderson as the player who suffered this gruesome leg break back in 2009. However, Minnesota Vikings fans know Henderson as the player who has anchored their linebacker corps since 2004—racking up 698 tackles over the span.
It's tough to envision Henderson in another uniform, but Minnesota is about to embark on a rebuilding stage, and they might not want to pay the soon-to-be-32-year-old.
Who Needs Him Most: If Jonathan Goff bolts for free agency then the Giants will be in the market for a middle linebacker. Unless rookies Mark Herzlich and Greg Jones prove they can hold a starting job, New York should look to E.J. Henderson to fill the void. Henderson would provide a substantial upgrade and could impart plenty of wisdom on a young core of linebackers.
The Carolina Panthers raised eyebrows when they sent a third-round draft pick to Chicago in exchange for tight end Greg Olsen. Not only did Carolina show the league their intentions to "win now," but it was a bargain deal. Olsen caught 194 passes and 20 touchdowns in four seasons with the Bears despite spotty quarterback play and unsuitable offensive schemes.
Who Needs Him Most: The last time the Miami Dolphins sent a tight end to the Pro Bowl, Forrest Gump won best picture. Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano's refusal to address the position has been puzzling, but both will be gone after this season.
Bringing in a tight end of Olsen's caliber would work wonders for Miami's offense, and maybe the former Hurricane will give the 'Fins a hometown discount.
In 2010, the Ravens' pass defense ranked 21st in the league. Baltimore's cornerbacks were amongst the worst in the league and they may have cost the team a shot at Super Bowl XLIV. This season, however, the Ravens' pass defense ranks fifth—so, what happened?
The team spent a first round pick on cornerback Jimmy Smith, but more importantly, third year defensive back Lardarius Webb has emerged as a lockdown defender.
Who Needs Him Most: It's almost implausible to conceive the Ravens letting Webb walk. He is just starting to realize his potential, and at this rate, could become a perennial Pro Bowler. If Baltimore lost Webb, their secondary would likely return to futility. Expect Webb back in purple and black in 2012.
Given a clean bill of health and an offense furnished with weapons, there's no telling how good Jason Campbell could be. Unfortunately, he has never been able to enjoy both at the same time.
Campbell was ousted from Washington after failing to win with a very marginal offense. He came over to Oakland in 2010, but injuries prevented him from asserting himself as a franchise quarterback.
Who Needs Him Most: Jets fans might not want to admit (or acknowledge) it, but Mark Sanchez just isn't that great. Sure, he has his moments, but his erratic play is starting to prove very detrimental to New York's playoff push. By signing Jason Campbell, the Jets would provide themselves with excellent insurance in case Sanchez gets injured or implodes.
Plus, bringing in a QB of Campbell's caliber might light a fire under the Sanchise.
Because the Jaguars have meddled in mediocrity for so long, Rashean Mathis' play has gone almost entirely neglected. Granted Mathis earned a First Team All-Pro nod back in 2006, he has been the face of Jacksonville's defense for almost a decade.
Who Needs Him Most: Any chance Mathis had at scoring a big contract was eliminated when he tore his ACL in Week 10. He has played a full 16 game season only once since 2006, and his durability issues are frightening. However, Mathis wants to stay with Jags, and they would be foolish to let him leave.
Last year, Peyton Hillis burst onto the national scene with 1,177 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns—enough to earn affection of NFL fans nationwide. This year, however, Hillis has become the subject of disdain from Browns fans.
Cleveland has already informed Hillis that they will let him test the open market, and it's pretty safe to assume he won't return.
Who Needs Him Most: Mike Shanahan drafted Peyton Hillis in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft, and he could be reunited with the 240 pound running back this offseason. The Redskins have the second worst rushing offense in the league, and Hillis could help bolster a clustered backfield that lacks a defined number one back.
Just last season, Brandon Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards. Yet, the Broncos shipped him to the Rams for a sixth round draft pick. Believe it or not, it was a reasonable trade, and Lloyd has caught fire in St. Louis.
In six games, the 30-year-old wideout has reeled in 31 receptions for 396 yards and four touchdowns. The Rams will probably make a push to re-sign Lloyd, but he might opt for a team on the verge of winning a title.
Who Needs Him Most: Even though the Rams have struggled to a 2-9 record, they aren't far from resurfacing as contenders. Remember, they came within one game of a playoff berth last season and their roster is studded with future stars.
Most importantly, Lloyd's recent success has come under Josh McDaniels. So unless McDaniels is fired, then Lloyd will probably sign an extension with the Rams.
Everybody has applauded Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith for catalyzing for the 49ers return to prominence, but there's another instrumental figure who has gone entirely overlooked: Carlos Rogers.
San Fran signed Rogers to a one-year deal this summer, and he is currently on pace to reel in double-digit interceptions.
Who Needs Him Most: Despite Rogers' incredible play, the Niners pass defense ranks 23rd in the league. Losing him would prove catastrophic to this budding defense, but it doesn't look like that will happen. Rogers wants to sign an extension, and San Francisco should make that a top priority this offseason.
London Fletcher has quietly enjoyed a dominant five year stay in Washington D.C. Over that span, Fletcher has been one of the NFL's best linebackers, racking up over 500 tackles. Fletcher will turn 37 this offseason, and his chances of capturing a second Super Bowl ring are wearing thin.
Unless the 'Skins can convince Fletcher they are on the verge of winning a championship, their star linebacker may flee.
Who Needs Him Most: The Detroit Lions' offense is championship caliber, but their defense continues to deter their playoff push. Detroit's rushing defense ranks 25th in the league, and London Fletcher could provide the presence they need to transpire.
Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers assemble the NFL's most under-appreciated cornerback tandem. Both have propelled the Chiefs' defense to new heights, but Carr's contract expires after this season.
The former fifth round draft pick has recorded 229 tackles, six interceptions, and 55 pass deflections since joining the team in 2008.
Who Needs Him Most: Carr was eligible for free agency last summer as well, but Kansas City slapped a first round tender on him. Clearly, Scott Pioli values Carr, and he won't let him go anywhere.
After this season, Tennessee's three best defensive backs are slated for free agency. Michael Griffin, Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope are all in contract years right now, and the Titans must decide whom they wish to retain.
Michael Griffin has been the team's starting safety for each of the past six seasons, but he hasn't made a strong case for a new contract.
Who Needs Him Most: Minnesota's pass defense currently ranks 29th in the league, and they will be desperate for safety help this offseason. Griffin would provide a massive upgrade to this ailing secondary, and at the ripe age of 26 could become a cornerstone for the Vikings defense.
It's nearly impossible to envision Reggie Wayne leaving Indianapolis, but he has become so visibly disgruntled with management that he just might flee. Wayne has been pleading for a new contract since the summer of 2010, yet the Colts refuse to budge.
Even though it seems ridiculous, there is a chance Wayne won't return to Indy. He is seething with frustration and nobody knows if Bill Polian actually wants him back.
Who Needs Him Most: They might not need him most, but it's so easy to visualize the Patriots reaching out for Wayne. Chad Ochocinco's struggles won't discourage Bill Belichick from pursuing Wayne, who caught 111 passes last season. The Patriots' passing game is already potent, but they could reap serious benefits from adding a marquee wideout like Wayne.
This summer, Pro Football Focus rated the pass rushing productivity of interior defensive lineman. Ranked 13th on the list was Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones, also known as the heir to Albert Haynesworth.
Jones, currently in his fourth NFL season, is slated for free agency this summer. With so many defensive starters set to hit the open market, Tennessee might not be able to re-sign him.
Who Needs Him Most: The loss of Cullen Jenkins has proven catastrophic to the Packers' pass rush. Green Bay finished the 2010 season with the second most sacks in the NFL, but they currently rank 14th. The Pack could stand to upgrade from Ryan Pickett, and Jones would make for an extraordinarily good addition.
Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas ascended into New York's starting line up in 2009 and promptly established himself as a lockdown defender. Thomas intercepted five passes in 2009 and 2010, but he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, sidelining him for the entire 2011 season.
With Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara in the fold, the Giants might not need to re-sign Thomas.
Who Needs Him Most: The NFL is currently a pass-happy league and no defense can have enough good cornerbacks. Amukamara will need a few seasons to develop, and Thomas' best days might still lie ahead of him. In order to match up with NFC foes like the Packers, Saints, and Cowboys, the Giants need to re-sign Thomas.
After finishing the 2010 season with 111 tackles, Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch figured to rake in some serious cash on the open market. Instead, the 26-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions worth $3.25 million.
Tulloch's numbers have dipped since he arrived in Detroit, however, and he must impress the Lions' brass over the remainder of this season if he wants an extension.
Who Needs Him Most: Depending on the price tag Tulloch demands, the Philadelphia Eagles should pursue him. No team needs a run stuffer more than Philly, and Tulloch could be that tackling machine they currently lack.
Stevie Johnson's antics overshadowed his incredible performance on Sunday. While everybody was captivated by his touchdown celebration, Johnson torched Darrelle Revis for seven receptions and a touchdown.
Sunday's performance provided at glimpse at how great Johnson can be, and the Bills will do their best to re-sign him this offseason.
Who Needs Him Most: Buffalo drafted Johnson in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and there's no way they will let him play elsewhere. The Bills are starting to morph into contenders and Johnson is a centerpiece of their transformation.
Everybody remembers Tracy Porter for his Super Bowl-clinching interception, but he has also enjoyed a successful career in New Orleans beyond that play. Porter has started at cornerback for the Saints since 2009, but injuries have limited his potential.
Porter missed a combined 10 games in 2009 and 2010, and has been sidelined with a neck injury for a few weeks now. The Saints' secondary is the their Achilles Heel, but Porter's durability issues leaves New Orleans with a conundrum.
Who Needs Him Most: It's nearly impossible to gauge whether or not Porter will return to New Orleans, but one of their divisional rivals should have plenty of interest. Tampa Bay's pass defense currently ranks 28th in the league, and the team need still needs to spend a ton of money in order to reach the cap floor by 2013.
As the focal point of the Saints' offense over the past six seasons, Marques Colston has amassed 411 receptions for 5,686 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Who Needs Him Most: A former seventh round draft pick, Colston is a homegrown product who has been a crucial component of New Orleans' success. Both parties need each other and there's no way Colston isn't a Saint next season.
When LaRon Landry entered the NFL Draft in 2007, he projected as a generational player. Landry had exceptional athleticism, Herculean strength, and a nose for the football. Landry has shown plenty of flashes, but injuries and inconsistency leaves have plagued the former sixth overall draft pick.
Rookie DeJon Gomes impressed in his first start, and Washington's brass could opt not to pay Landry if they believe in Gomes' potential. Landry has experience at both free and strong safety, so any team in the market for a safety could pursue him.
Who Needs Him Most: We're more than halfway through this countdown and the Dallas Cowboys haven't been mentioned yet. Crazy, right? Well, now is their time. Dallas' pass defense ranks 14th in the league, and they could use an upgrade from either Gerald Sensabaugh or Abram Elam. Both Jerry Jones and Rob Ryan would have to love Landry's skill-set, and they would have to love stealing a marquee player from an NFC East rival.
Prior to this season, ESPN's KC Joyner made a surprising declaration: he named Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. Everybody knows who Robinson is, but Grimes is largely anonymous around the nation despite his standout play over the past three seasons.
Since becoming a starter in 2009, Grimes has intercepted 12 passes, but his breakthrough means he will demand a reasonably large contract this offseason.
Who Needs Him Most: Despite Joyner's preseason assertion, the Falcons' pass defense ranks 23rd in the NFL. It's difficult to pinpoint the reasons for this secondary's inexplicable struggles, but losing Grimes to free agency will only make things worse. Atlanta is on the cusp of a championship, so owner Arthur Blank should have no qualms opening up his checkbook for Grimes.
After meddling on Miami's roster for three years, 6'4", 344 pound monster Paul Soliai finally woke up. The nose tackle became a full-time starter in 2010 and racked up 33 tackles, a pair of sacks, and wreacked havoc on opponents.
The Dolphins slapped the franchise tag on Soliai last summer, but contract negotiations between the two parties have stalled. Unless the 'Fins are willing to dish out a mega-contract to Soliai, he will hit the open market.
Who Needs Him Most: Signing a big-name, high-priced free agent might deviate from Scott Pioli's philosophy, but the Chiefs need a spark, and Paul Soliai could solidify KC's defense. Pioli and head coach Todd Haley are on thin ice, and they need to do something propel this team back into playoff contention next season. Soliai would provide a size and skill upgrade from incumbent starter Kelly Gregg, and the Chiefs' 26th ranked rush defense would be vastly improved.
Football Outsiders currently has the New York Giants offensive line ranked 31st in the league. If their struggles persist throughout the remainder of the season, heads will roll. One player whose job may be in jeopardy is right tackle Kareem McKenzie.
McKenzie has been a rock on New York's o-line since 2005, but the Giants might look for a younger player to upgrade from the 32-year-old.
Who Needs Him Most: Just last season, Pro Football Focus rated McKenzie as a top five offensive tackle. His play may have slipped some this year, but New York's line will only get worse if they lose him. McKenzie should have a few years of quality play left in the tank, and he should finish his career with the G-Men.
As recently as last season, Falcons defensive end John Abraham was one of the NFL's premier pass rushers. Since joining the Birds in 2005, Abraham has recorded double-digit sacks three times.
However, he is currently on pace for his worst season as a pro. Abraham will turn 34 next season, and after investing big money into Ray Edwards last summer, Atlanta might let him walk.
Who Needs Him Most: No team soaks more production out of seemingly washed up veterans than the New England Patriots. Abraham is entering the twilight of his career and he is still without a Super Bowl ring. The Pats are desperate for a solid pass rusher, and Abraham could be the piece that team needs to reach another championship.
Dwayne Bowe's horrendous effort during Sunday night's game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers drew the ire of multiple NFL analysts. Chris Collinsworth bashed Bowe during the telecast, calling him "lame." Meanwhile, Peter King tweeted: "That's why I'd be stunned if the Chiefs sign Dwayne Bowe for any sort of big money."
Bowe has superstar potential, but it's difficult to tell if he simply wants out of Kansas City or doesn't have the desire to be great. Either way, his days as a Chief seem to be drawing to an end.
Who Needs Him Most: We've seen how much better the St. Louis Rams offense is now that they have a legitimate wide receiver (Brandon Lloyd) in the fold, so imagine how potent that passing game could be with Bowe. Even if the Rams re-sign Lloyd, he will be 31 next season, and this team needs a young wideout who can grow with Sam Bradford.
Plus, head coach Steve Spagunolo and G.M. Bill Devaney are on the hot seat. If they stick around next season, they will do everything in their power to ensure St. Louis succeeds, and that could include reeling in a big name like Bowe.
When you think about the Detroit Lions' defense, you probably think about prominent players like Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch. However, the Lions front seven also contains one of the best kept secrets in all of football: Cliff Avril.
Selected in the third round of the 2008 Draft, Avril has racked up at least five sacks in each of his pro seasons. Last season he recorded eight and a half, and he already has seven in 2011, putting him on track for a career year.
Who Needs Him Most: Without Avril, Detroit's pass rush wouldn't be nearly as potent as it is today. Fortunately for Lions fans, both sides seem intent on working out a long-term deal, and Avril should grow into a star in Detroit.
A new generation of tight ends is currently being bred in offenses across the NFL, and Jermichael Finely may be the pioneer for all of them. Finley, who weighs in at a solid 6'4", 240 pounds, boasts exceptional speed and athleticism for his size. Because of this, the Packers have utilized him in a tight end/wide receiver role, and many teams have followed suit with their own respective tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Jared Cook, etc.)
Finley has struggled to stay healthy since arriving in the NFL four years ago, but he has infinite potential.
Who Needs Him Most: Finley owes his success to Mike McCarthy's scheme, and what player would want to leave Green Bay right now? The Packers might throw the franchise tag on Finley this summer, but eventually he will earn a long-term deal and prosper for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are a salesman for a company. You are one of the best salesman in the industry, but your employer still hasn't given you a pay-raise since you were hired. Rather than boost your salary, your employer hires other salesman and gives them massive salaries.
You would be angry, right?
Well, that's basically what happened to DeSean Jackson this summer, and tensions between he and management seem to reach new heights everyday. Granted, Jackson is a very streaky player with a pair of serious concussions, it seems unlikely that he will return to Philly after this year's fiasco.
Who Needs Him Most: What happens if the San Francisco 49ers get into a shootout? They simply lack the offensive firepower to keep up with teams like the Saints and Packers, and they need to add some explosive weapons. The Niners will be in the market for a wideout this season, and Jackson, a California native, would provide San Fran with exactly what they need.
He is best known for his antagonizing antics, but Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan is also one of the game's best defensive backs. After Finnegan intercepted five passes in both 2008 and 2009, quarterbacks started to avoid throwing his way.
Who Needs Him Most: The Titans have a long list of free agents to sign this summer, but Finnegan should be their top priority. He is a team captain and a homegrown star, and Tennessee won't let him play elsewhere.
Ben Grubbs epitomizes the Baltimore Ravens. He is monstrous (6'3", 311 pounds), he isn't flashy, and isn't obnoxious. Week in and week out, he does his job, and he does it extraordinarily well.
Grubbs has been a starting offensive guard for the Ravens since they drafted him in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. However, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Haloti Ngata's deals all expire within the next two years, so Baltimore might have to let Grubbs go into free agency.
Who Needs Him Most: Virtually every NFL would salivate at the prospect of acquiring Grubbs, but the Denver Broncos need him most. John Fox will want to employ a run-first, run-heavy scheme. And even though Zane Beadles has played admirably, Denver needs a bruising guard like Grubbs to effectively run such a system.
Few players have a more dysfunctional relationship with their team than Vincent Jackson has with the San Diego Chargers. Jackson has been clamoring for a new contract for two years now. He held out for 11 games in 2010 and the Chargers slapped him with a franchise tag in 2011.
Even though Jackson has been incredibly productive in San Diego, it might be time for the two sides to part—especially in the wake of the Chargers' struggles. The Bolts might benefit from bringing in some fresh faces, and Jackson might benefit from a change of scenery.
Who Needs Him Most: One of these days, the Chicago Bears simply have to do it. They have to go after a number one wide receiver. Assuming Jackson hits the open market, Jerry Angelo has to pursue him. The Bears offense has been devoid of a solid wideout since Jay Cutler arrived, yet they still managed to reach the NFC Championship.
Just imagine how good they can be with Jackson.
Let's not even waste our time here.
Who Needs Him Most: The Patriots.
The Houston Texans shocked the nation when they selected NC State defensive end Mario Williams over USC legend Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft, but they clearly made the right move. Williams has been a domineering force during his six NFL seasons, compiling 53 total sacks.
Who Needs Him Most: It's a shame Williams suffered a season-ending injury just five games into the 2011 season. With Wade Phillips working wonders as Houston's new defensive coordinator, Williams could have been a MVP candidate.
However, the 6'6", 290 pound converted linebacker will be back with the Texans next season. There's no way they let a former first overall pick walk, and Williams should continue to build an amazing resume in Houston for the foreseeable future.
Dwight Freeney typically receives all of the credit when the Colts' pass rush thrives, but teammate Robert Mathis has greatly effective as well. Mathis, who has spent the entirety of his nine NFL seasons in Indianapolis, has racked up 79.5 career sacks. However, Indy's recent struggles and suspect future might persuade Mathis to flee for greener pastures.
Who Needs Him Most: Last summer, the Seahawks opened up their checkbook for Sidney Rice, and they might do so again for Mathis. Seattle's pass rush is dismal, but Mathis might be able to help reverse their woes. The 'Hawks aren't far from contending in the NFC, but they need more difference makers to get over the hump—and Mathis fits the bill.
Left guard Carl Nicks has been a staple in New Orleans' impenetrable line for the past four seasons, but his contract expires after this season. The Saints must re-sign Marques Colston and Drew Brees, so they may be forced to part with Nicks.
Who Needs Him Most: Even though the Vikings are already paying offensive guard Steve Hutchinson roughly $7 million per year, they may need to pursue Nicks. Minnesota's line has yielded 33 sacks (third most in the NFL) this season, and they should spent as much money as it takes to provide Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson with the best protection possible.
Labeled as "too short" and "overworked" coming out of Rutgers, Ray Rice has proven all of his doubters wrong. In four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Rice has recorded 3,375 rushing yards, 228 receptions and 24 total touchdowns.
Who Needs Him Most: Without Rice, Baltimore's offense would suffer a serious downgrade. But have no fear, Ravens fans, Ozzie Newsome will likely make locking Rice up his first priority this offseason. There's a good chance Rice is the recipient of Baltimore's franchise tag, but the bottom line is that he'll be a Raven for the foreseeable future.
At this rate, Matt Forte could retire as one of the best pass-catching running backs of all time. Thus far, he has amassed 223 receptions, and could feasibly surpass the 300 catch mark after next season. On top of his receiving prowess, Forte has also eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing twice, and will do so again this season.
Despite his dominance, the Bears haven't given him a long-term extension. The franchise tag is likely in order, but things between the two parties could get messy this summer.
Who Needs Him Most: Forte is the focal point of Chicago's offense and they would be nothing without him. He'll be back with the Bears next season whether it's with a franchise tag or a long-term deal.
Where would the New Orleans Saints be without Drew Brees? It's a quandary that Saints fans never have to think about. Brees has built a Hall of Fame resume in the Bayou, and more importantly, brought New Orleans their first Super Bowl championship.
Who Needs Him Most: There's a long list of teams that would give everything for Brees, but he needs the Saints and the Saints need him. Brees will hammer out a deal with New Orleans this offseason and likely retire a Saint.