2012 NFL Free Agents: 4 of the Top Available Players

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 19, 2011

2012 NFL Free Agents: 4 of the Top Available Players

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    There are a number of bigger-name players set to be unrestricted free agents when the 2011 NFL season comes to a close.

    While some of them—like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees—aren't leaving their teams no matter what, other valuable players are likely not going to get signed to new deals, making them quite attractive options for teams in need.

    Here are four of the top offensive free agents for 2012.

QB Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders

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    Sidelined most of the regular season with a broken collarbone and ultimately replaced by (expensive) veteran Carson Palmer, it doesn't seem likely the Oakland Raiders will retain the services of Jason Campbell in the offseason.

    It's a shame, really, as Campbell was just beginning to come into his own as a starter before being struck down with injury in Week 6. Though the Raiders need a solid backup for Palmer, paying Campbell would just be too much for the already cap-strapped Raiders, but he shouldn't have much trouble finding a new home.

    What remains to be seen is if there are any teams interested in bringing Campbell on as a starter. Campbell, who spent the majority of his career with the Washington Redskins before being brought on by the Raiders in 2010, has about a 60 percent career completion average and has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a single season.

    However, he's not a big play quarterback, and his skill set, while extremely solid, is nowhere near the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL. With a glut of talented quarterbacks likely to declare for the draft this year, the veteran Campbell may be an odd man out when it comes to nabbing a starting job.

    Still, he's an intelligent, capable quarterback who would benefit from a team boasting some higher level receiving talent. In terms of experienced passers on the free-agent market, there's none better than Campbell in 2012.

RB Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

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    Before his Week 13 MCL sprain, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was the league leader in yards from scrimmage, racking up a whopping 1,487 of them (and four touchdowns)—good for an average of 124 yards per game.

    Despite this inspired production, Forte has yet to get a contract extension from the Bears, which seems almost foolish considering how much their offense directly relies on him. Some surmised the reason Forte was being featured so much was just to run him down to the point of injury, so that the team could either find a reason to release him or an excuse to underpay him.

    Now that he is injured, however, it's hard to imagine just what the Bears might do. They've seen what's happened to their team without him (and without starting quarterback Jay Cutler) and that might not be a future they're willing to gamble with anymore.

    Regardless, negotiations have stalled and Chicago just might let Forte test free agency before giving him an offer of their own. For the right price, in the right situation, Forte might just leave Chicago for new pastures. If that happens, watch out—that team's about to see an uptick in offensive production heretofore undreamt.

WR Mario Manningham, New York Giants

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    With both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz performing at high levels, it looks like New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham is the odd man out. However, the Giants' loss is going to be another team's huge gain when they pick up the unrestricted free agent this offseason.

    Manningham, who is in his fourth year in the NFL, has issues staying accurate in his route running, but has proven himself more than capable of being a big play receiver.

    He's having a down year this season, thanks to injuries and the related ascendancy of Cruz, but he caught 60 passes for 944 yards and nine scores in 2010, and it's hard to imagine him not meeting or exceeding that mark as an every-down receiver.

    There are many teams that have a serious need for a proven veteran like Manningham. Once he hits free agency, don't expect him to remain available for long.

TE Randy McMichael, San Diego Chargers

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    In the NFL since 2002, the San Diego Chargers brought on tight end Randy McMichael as injury insurance for Antonio Gates. While Gates is aging and may find himself injured again, it's doubtful that the Chargers will extend McMichael's contract for another year.

    He's not dominant, to be sure, but he's reliable and experienced enough to provide veteran depth on a team lacking a proper injury or situational replacement. As a full-time starter, which he was in his first five years with the Miami Dolphins, he's good for about 70 receptions, 500 to 700 yards and up to five touchdowns.

    He's shown enough with the Chargers this year that he's likely worth the veteran minimum salary on a team hurting for depth. With few free agent tight ends likely to go without new deals with their current teams, McMichael is one of the best options out there.