Landing Spots for the Top 50 NFL Free Agents in 2012

Cedric Hopkins@FieldandCourtContributor INovember 29, 2011

Landing Spots for the Top 50 NFL Free Agents in 2012

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    Last offseason basically took place in the month of August. With the lockout in a prevent defense, teams were unable to make any moves.

    Once the lockout was over, the chaos that engulfed the league was unprecedented. Teams had to fill in their rosters in the days prior to and during an abbreviated training camp. 

    After suffering through the lockout prior to this season, the 2012 offseason will seem long and drawn out. It will only seem that way. I've ranked the top 50 moves that will keep the offseason moving at a fast pace.

    Let's see how fast you are at clicking the mouse and keeping up with these moves.

Top 41-50: A Few Oldies, but Goodies

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    50. Chris Hope (DB-Ten)—Hope is an aging veteran whom the Titans will most likely let walk after this season. He's been plagued with injuries this year (shoulder, broken arm) that have kept him out of several weeks. With Hope turning 32 at the beginning of next season and with fellow defensive back Robert Johnson as a nice substitute, the Titans would be smart to let another team pick him up.

    49. Matt Roth (DE-Jac)—Roth is an underrated pass rusher that would fit better in a 3-4 scheme, but the Jaguars did well to sign him. They have been decimated by the run this season and need all the help they can get up front. While they signed Roth to a one-year deal worth $3 million at the beginning of this season, they should look to re-sign him before a team like the Patriots snag him.

    48. Manny Lawson (LB-Cin)—The Bengals signed Lawson to a one-year deal prior to this season. They should be in a bidding war with the Cardinals in the offseason. Given Lawson's mediocre play this year, the bidding won't be very high.

    47. Ronnie Brown (RB-Phi)—Brown still has gas left in the tank. He's playing behind a terrible offensive line that does nothing for his running style. He needs to make a switch like he almost got to the Lions earlier in the year. Maybe the Packers are interested.

    46. Ryan Grant (RB-Packers)—Speaking of the Packers, they need to shuffle Grant out to another team. He's been ineffective in the run game, and they don't need to break the bank on a running back with Aaron Rodgers essentially handing off to his wide receivers. 

    45. Bradie James (LB-Dal)—James has been outplayed by starting linebacker Sean Lee in Dallas. After the Cowboys drafted Bruce Carter, James' starting gig was in question. This will be James' last season in Dallas. Look for him to don a Bills uniform next year.

    44. Cedric Benson (RB-Cin)—Benson isn't going anywhere in 2012. The Bengals are about the only team that will tolerate his arrests (you know another is coming this offseason).

    43. Kroy Biermann (DL-Atl)—Biermann is currently No. 3 on the depth chart. Most notably, he's behind DE John Abraham, whom we'll visit later on in this slideshow and who is in a contract year as well. The Falcons will bring Biermann, who is younger, at a cheaper rate than Abraham.

    42. Carlos Rogers (DB-49ers)—Rogers has given the green light for his agent to negotiate a long-term deal with the 49ers. San Francisco needs to step up on this deal. Pro Football Focus has Rogers as the No. 2 cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis. Arizona needs to swoop in if the 49ers balk at Rogers.

    41. London Fletcher (LB-Was)—Fletcher will be 37 years old at the start of the 2012 season, but he plays 10 years younger. He's the heart of a solid Redskins defense that will take a hard look at re-signing their tackle leader. If he's not with the Redskins in 2012, he'll probably get calls from the Eagles or Patriots.

Top 31-40: Got Some Colts and Bolts

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    40. Rashean Mathis (DB-Jac)—Mathis' future with the Jaguars is in doubt after he tore his ACL this season. If it's up to him, however, he'd like to return to the Jags. "I definitely would rather play here than anywhere else," Mathis said to the Florida Times-Union. If the Jaguars don't sign him, the Vikings might.

    39. Paul Soliai (DT-Mia)—The Miami Dolphins placed the franchise tag on Soliai prior to this season and did not renegotiate a new contract. Soliai will hit the free-agent market in 2012, and the 6'4", 355-pounder should find suitors in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

    38. Geno Hayes (LB-TB)—Hayes was benched earlier this year based on poor performance. The Bucs defense surrendered 32.0 points per game and went 0-2 during that span. Hayes is now back in the starting lineup and at just 24 years old, he should be back with Tampa.

    37. Fred Davis (TE-Was)—The Washington Redskins actually went into this season with Rex Grossman and John Beck as their options at quarterback. It's no wonder that they have rotated all season. The Redskins need any solid pass catchers, and Davis is just that. They will reel Davis back in, but will need to pay a pretty penny for the consistent tight end.

    36. E.J. Henderson (LB-Min)—Henderson projects to be a backup linebacker for the Vikings if he stays in Minnesota, according to 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. Henderson still has the talent and ability to play against the run. Look for him to play first and second downs in another city, possibly Indianapolis.

    35. Pierre Garcon (WR-Colts)—It's difficult to judge Garcon's value because of the inept play from the Colts quarterbacks this season. Based on his 2010 season, the Colts will re-sign Garcon and hope to have him team back up with Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.

    34. Nick Hardwick (C-SD)—It would be an understatement to say that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has struggled this year. Center Nick Hardwick is not to blame, however. He's just the guy who gets Rivers the ball. He'll continue to give Rivers the ball next year, as well.

    33. Reggie Wayne (WR-Colts)Wayne said that his odds of being a Colt next year are "50-50." I read that as if Peyton Manning is back, Wayne is back. Otherwise, Wayne will be in a Vikings uniform.

    32. Lardarius Webb (DB-Bal)—When the Ravens drafted defensive back Jimmy Smith at No. 27 overall in the 2010 NFL draft, that seemed to signal the end of Webb's run with the Ravens. After Smith suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, Webb came in and showed that he's still able to get the job done. The Ravens have options at the position, but it would be prudent to sign the restricted free agent.

    31. Matt Flynn (QB-Packers)—Yes, Matt Flynn is holding a clipboard for Aaron Rodgers, but during the offseason, reporters were more impressed with Flynn than Rodgers. According to the Journal Sentinel, Flynn showed that "he's fearless in the pocket, on target with his throws and always calm and collected." There are several teams that need help at quarterback. Throw a dart. 

Top 21-30: Run for the Hillis

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    30. Peyton Hillis (RB-Cle)—Ever since Hillis sat out Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins because of a contract dispute, er, um, illness, his relationship with the Browns has been circling down the drain. He was a good bet to be traded before the deadline, but nothing came to fruition. This offseason he'll most certainly walk, right over to the Colts.

    29. Mario Manningham (WR-NYG)—Super Mario got his bell run early in the year and it took a few games for him to get right. After he was right, he was back to being a legitimate wideout. The Giants have a young receiver corps, but still may see Manningham as a liability. He may be forced to sign a cheaper contract with the Giants because of the injuries he's suffered this year. A team like the Jaguars would be smart to pick him up.

    28. Brandon Carr (DB-Kan)—The Chiefs will make Carr, along with Brandon Flowers, the foundation of their secondary. He'll re-sign with Kansas City and continue his success at cornerback. 

    27. Tracy Porter (DB-Saints)—Similar to Carr of the Chiefs, Porter will re-sign with the Saints and keep marchin' in. 

    26. Marques Colston (WR-Saints)—This Saint will go marchin' out. Colston has the talent, but he also has just as much proneness to injury. After multiple knee surgeries, he's not a good bet to make it through any season. He may trade spots with Reggie Wayne.

    25. Brent Grimes (DB-Atl)—It's Grimes, not Dunta Robinson, who is Atlanta's best cornerback. The Falcons are testing Grimes out with a one-year deal this season. Grimes has passed the test and will be signed to a lucrative long-term deal. 

    24. Kareem McKenzie (OT-NYG)—Look for the Arizona Cardinals to make a huge push for the aging offensive tackle who turns 33 next season.

    23. Mario Williams (LB-Hou)—Re-signing Williams will prove difficult for the Texans because they have maintained a high level of play on defense without him (on injured reserve with a torn pectoral). The former No. 1 overall draft pick is clearly a dominant force, so the Texans will want to keep him around. He's a prime candidate for the franchise tag. The only question will be whether he's tagged as a defensive end or linebacker. There's a few million dollars difference to argue over. 

    22. Tyvon Branch (DB-Oak)—At age 24 and leading Oakland in tackles this year, Branch will garner a lot of attention around the league. It will be Oakland's priority to re-sign the dominant safety to a long-term deal.

    21. Terrell Thomas (DB-NYG)—In case you're wondering, this will be the only guy named Terrell on the list. Thomas tore his ACL in the preseason and will be inked to a one-year deal with the Giants to prove his worth once again.

Top 11-20: Buffalos Do Have Wings

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    20. Brandon Lloyd (WR-Rams)—The Rams made a smart first move by trading for wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. The next smart move will be when they sign him to a long-term deal. He fits in perfectly with a Josh McDaniels system. 

    19. Stephen Tulloch (LB-Det)—The Lions are a force on defense. With their smart drafting and aggressive moves in free agency, they've acquired top talent to stop opposing offenses. Re-signing their 26-year-old middle linebacker will be a priority. He'll remain a Lion.

    18. Steve Johnson (WR-Bills)—With his antics in Week 12, Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson may have sealed his fate in Buffalo. While he mocked Santonio Holmes by simulating a Jet, he really will be on the first thing smoking when the offseason hits. His crash landing will be with the Jaguars.

    17. John Abraham (DE-Atl)—Abraham will be 34 years old at the start of the 2012 NFL season. He will be pushed out of Atlanta by a younger defensive lineman, Kory Biermann. Abraham will make a stop in St. Louis in 2012. 

    16. Cortland Finnegan (DB-Ten)—There's no question that the Titans will re-sign Finnegan in the offseason. He's much too valuable in the secondary shutting down top receivers. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player and will get paid like one.

    15. Robert Mathis (DE-Ind)—After breaking the bank on Peyton Manning, the Colts won't have what it takes to sign a talent like Mathis. He'll walk, right to Green Bay.

    14. Cliff Avril (DE-Det)—Avril is going to get paid in 2012. That is, if the Lions don't slap him with the franchise tag. He's a dominant pass rusher who has tallied five sacks, three forced fumbles and a touchdown off of a fumble recovery. He'll be a Lion in 2012.

    13. LaRon Landry (DB-Was)—After coming back from injury (Achilles), Landry again proved that he's one of the best defensive backs in the league. The problem is that he's injury-prone and Washington may not want to pay for him to ride the pine with injuries. If he's not franchised, then the Redskins will let him walk. The Cardinals will get an upgrade in their woeful secondary once he signs with Arizona. 

    12. Ben Grubbs (G-Bal)—You hear that? That's Ravens running back Ray Rice pleading with Baltimore to bring Grubbs back. Without Grubbs, the Ravens would be an entirely different team. Rice wouldn't have the room to run that he enjoys, and quarterback Joe Flacco would be even more pedestrian. Grubbs stays in Baltimore.

    11. Jermichael Finley (TE-Packers)—To fans, Finley has been a disappointment this year. He hasn't racked up the yards or visited the end zone as much as everyone expected. To the Packers offense, however, he's invaluable. He draws double teams and allows wide receivers like Jordy Nelson to enjoy one-on-one coverage, which Rodgers can exploit in his sleep. Finley won't necessarily like it, but he'll return to Green Bay, especially after they win the Super Bowl again.

No. 10: Action Jackson—The San Diego Version

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    Remember last season? San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson held out as long as possible before reporting to the team. He's a stubborn guy.

    He's also the most valuable receiving asset that San Diego has on its team. San Diego will try to re-sign Jackson, but he's walking. 

    The Patriots' attempt to give Tom Brady a top receiving threat in Ochocinco turned out to be an epic fail. In 2012, when they sign Jackson, it will simply be epic. 

No. 9: Action Jackson—The Philly Version

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    Eagles head coach Andy Reid benched wide receiver DeSean Jackson in Week 12 because of poor performance. It appears Jackson is not playing as aggressive as he could in an attempt not to get hurt before signing a long-term deal.

    That deal won't come in Philly. The Eagles have had enough of Jackson and will let him walk after the 2011 season. 

    Look for him to trade places with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson. 

No. 8: Dwayne Bowe Is a Chief

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    Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is quietly turning into a Midwest version of Larry Fitzgerald. No matter who they have throwing him the ball, he's going to produce. 

    Running back Jamaal Charles' injury stunned this hopeful team early in the year. Bowe has done his best to pull the Chiefs out of a funk and into a potential playoff spot.

    There's no chance that the Chiefs let Bowe walk. He'll be draped in the red and yellow for a long time.

No. 7: Mike Wallace Will Report to Pittsburgh

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    If you remember, Santonio Holmes passed the torch to Mike Wallace. The Steelers are not ready to let Wallace pass the torch to anyone. Nor are they able. 

    While fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown is coming on strong this season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will need Wallace and Brown to remain effective. 

    Wallace will be in the black and yellow torching defensive backs, just like in the picture above.

No. 6: Matt Forte Will Get Paid One Way or Another

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    Bears running back Matt Forte has been wrestling back and forth with the Chicago organization for some time now; he wants a new contract and it isn't giving him one. 

    The longer the Bears wait, the more they will have to pay Forte.

    Since his rookie year in 2008, Forte has proven himself as a beast on the ground and through the air. He is averaging 4.2 yards over his career (5.0 yards per carry this season) and has caught no fewer than 51 passes in any given season. He already has 52 receptions this season. 

    Like wine, Forte gets better each year.

    The Bears may choose to place the franchise tag on Forte. Under the new collective bargaining agreement franchise tag rules, Forte would receive $7.7 million, which would cause the running back to recoil. The problem with $7.7 million is that is $1.9 million less than what running backs received last year under the tag. A deal has to be worked out or else Forte may just hold out in 2012.

    If the Bears don't want to pay him, several other teams will. Other candidates: Colts, Giants, Lions.

No. 5: Wes Welker's Value Lies Beyond Stats

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    Wes Welker may be the most valuable piece on the Patriots offense (outside of Tom Brady, of course). He constantly is making the tough catches over the middle and moving the chains. He sacrifices his body in a way that not many other can or will. 

    Sure, he has the stats and is looking at breaking records this year; that's all well and good.

    The intangible that he brings to the Patriots is a determination to be successful. Every. Single. Play. 

    That, the Patriots will pay for. And pay handsomely. Welker retires a Patriot.

No. 4: Arian Foster Will Go Unnoticed No Longer

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    Arian Foster's NFL career is very similar to the touchdown he's scoring in the picture to the left. It just barely happened. 

    Foster was an undrafted free agent. Because of injuries, Foster was handed a role that he has yet to relinquish. The question is, will he continue with that role in Houston?

    Fellow running back Ben Tate has performed admirably this year in a backup role to Foster. Tate has dashed his way to 712 yards on 127 carries. He's on pace to break the 1,000-yard mark, all while playing second fiddle to Foster. 

    So, is it the offensive line that makes this duo look so good, or are both of these guys just that talented?

    If Houston's think tank decides it's the former, then Foster may receive his walking papers. His value will be sky high if the Texans let him walk.

    Either way, some team will have to pay Foster top dollar to see him take a bow. 

No. 3: Carl Nicks Is the Man Behind the Man

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    Okay. I got the title of this slide wrong. Carl Nicks is NOT the man behind the man; he's the man in front of the man. 

    Nicks is Drew Brees' left guard. Nicks also just happens to be arguably the best left guard in the NFL.

    Nicks was ranked as the 55th best overall player in NFL Network's Top 100 Players this offseason. He's the reason Brees has time enough to look at each one of the five receivers the Saints deploy on most downs. 

    The Saints are a passing team first, as well as second. In order to maintain that scheme and be effective, New Orleans will have to bring back Nicks to protect Brees. Otherwise, it may all fall apart.

No. 2: Ray Rice's Pay Day Has Come

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    Ravens running back Ray Rice is making $600,000 this year. Next year, that'll change. 

    Rice has been the foundation of the Ravens offense. When they don't get him carries (think, Jacksonville or Seattle), Baltimore struggles. It's clear that the offense flows through Rice.

    The Ravens play in a tough division with solid defenses. They need a running back that is able to slam through the solid defensive fronts that saturate the AFC North. Rice is that guy.

    It would be a stunner to see Rice walk; Baltimore doesn't have depth at the running back position to even consider it. Contract negotiations may be fierce, but Rice will have Joe Flacco handing him the rock in 2012.

No. 1: Signing Drew Won't Be a Brees

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    It's been a fight all year long for the Saints and Drew Brees to agree on a long-term deal. Just take a look at Brees' picture to the left; he's putting up his dukes.

    Brees wants a lucrative long-term contract, and he deserves one. The man is a machine. 

    Standing at just 6 feet behind his towering offensive line, Brees is one of the most accurate passers in the game. He's consistently putting up over 4,000 yards per season, and since the 2008 season has thrown at least 33 touchdowns each year. 

    What's more, Brees brings a sense of leadership that is just as valuable as his stats. Brees is like a second head coach on the field during the games. 

    Without question, Brees remains a Saint in 2012 and beyond. The only question will be whether New Orleans places the franchise tag on Brees. 

    With the two sides in negotiations all season, a deal is likely to be done prior to the 2012 season.