The roster of NFL talent comprised of those due to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2011 season is nothing short of impressive.
Distracted by this current season’s hemorrhaging playoff drama, many teams hoping to make pushes towards New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 will soon be peeking at this list of available players and may realize that with a solid 2012 draft class and these free agents, legitimacy may be only a few bank withdrawals away.
Imagine if the 1988 Miami Dolphins bid Dan Marino a fond farewell fresh off his record-breaking 5,000 passing yards the season prior.
Envision New England casting Tom Terrific aside right after plucking his third Lombardi trophy from his hands and the 49ers pushing Montana out the door after he reached untouchable-legend status.
You should be having difficulty picturing these unimaginable scenarios because they are impossible, and so is the Saints' letting Drew Brees go anytime soon.
Drew Brees will be a member of the New Orleans Saints until he decides to walk away from the game for good.
The market value for the suddenly relevant quarterback of the division-champion San Francisco 49ers will depend on Alex Smith's proving that his success this year is not predicated totally on head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Smith has shown that, given the right circumstances and offensive system, he can be a very efficient game manger, passing for over 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns this season while leading playoff-bound San Francisco to their first postseason appearance in nine years.
Smith is undoubtedly part of Harbaugh’s plans for the future, and I would be hard pressed to imagine San Francisco letting Smith go.
But Smith’s performance in the upcoming playoffs may determine whether he is the quarterback that will take the red and gold to the next level.
The person in charge of assembling the Vince Young Free Agency cut-up film for potential new employers is going to have a thorny task in front of them.
Taking the field as a starter in Weeks 10 through 12, Young showed fleeting glimpses of the playmaking ability that made him a star in Tennessee, but was noticeably erratic and inconsistent in his ability to deliver the ball into the end zone.
His nine interceptions and four touchdowns over those three games did Young no favors in his marketing campaign to become a starting NFL quarterback again next season, but Young remains a viable backup option for teams with shaky starters.
The unfortunate twist of bad fortune cost Forte prime advertising time that is simply invaluable for pending free agents
The injury, as they often do, came at the worst possible time for Forte, as he was experiencing another noticeably unproductive string of games running the ball for the Chicago Bears.
Three consecutive sub-par performances (64, 57, and 59 yards, respectively) will be the last thing prospective future employers remember before making their offers.
In a tremendously talented 2012 free agent pool, Arian Foster might be the most enticing player of all.
Foster has effortlessly surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season and did so while missing two full games, in Week 1 and Week 3, due to injury.
The Texans can hardly stand to lose Foster, as he accounts for a third of their touchdowns this season and his 1,600 all-purpose yards represent over 20 percent of all of the team's yards on offense.
While Foster's recent injuries may breed the smallest of doubt as to the dollar amount he will garner on the open market, there is no denying that Foster is a game-changing player.
Foster is a restricted free agent and will be first (or perhaps a close second, to Mario Williams) priority for a Houston team building toward a championship run.
Like Brees with the Saints, Ray Rice is unlikely to reach opening day of the 2012 NFL season in any colors other than the black and purple of the Baltimore Ravens.
Rice has done everything short of guaranteeing that he will return to Baltimore next season, bringing his third-consecutive 1,000-yard season and 10 touchdowns home with him.
If there is any marquee player that I could imagine making an unexpected, big-splash move away from his current team, it would be Ray Rice.
The Ravens are in a favorable position going into the upcoming playoffs, potentially seeded first or second in the conference, guaranteeing themselves at least one home game that will surely spotlight Rice running the ball.
If Rice is given the opportunity to produce an A-plus performance on a national platform that is typically not afforded to a Baltimore squad which is rarely seen on television outside of Maryland, his stock will skyrocket.
Teams around the NFL are already aware of Ray Rice, but should he explode in this playoff year, he could attract some very generous suitors.
A disastrous early season injury may have kept Williams from a record-breaking season.
There is just no way the Texans can afford to let this beast go without jeopardizing everything defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has built this season, but with so many teams in need of a consistent pass rush, there may be no more tempting of a pursuit than Mario Williams.
Williams had produced no less than 8.5 sacks in any season since his shaky rookie season before his 2011 efforts were shut down. He also showed great versatility as a defender, having tremendous early success this season at linebacker after spending his first five seasons at defensive end.
The former first round, first pick draftee showed how strong defenses can be built through patient development and one single spark. Later additions J.J Watt and Brian Cushing added to a Texan defense that began with the launching of Mario Williams.
With every acquisition of an NFL athlete, there is inherent baggage that is included.
An undeniable reality in 21st-century professional sports is that pro athletes have begun to understand their values to their teams and have developed an impenetrable attitude that is sometimes detrimental to their teams' trying to win.
Both DeSean Jackson and Peyton Hillis have proven that whoever looks to invest in these two talented players will certainly get some baggage.
In contrast to the team-centric approach of fellow free agent Matt Forte, Hillis and Jackson decided some time ago that they would reserve much of their effort until they were paid what they felt they were entitled (in Hillis’ case, what he felt he deserved after one single season of productivity).
Both players have tremendous upsides, realizable apparently only if they were to be given contractual situations they feel befitting of their talents.
They also possibly stand as another pair of flash-in-the-pan divas doomed to fall into obscurity, should they not be able to put aside their attitudes.
Welker may be in the most intriguing situation of all who stand to become free agents at season’s end.
Considered by many to be the best slot receiver in football, Welker may be the only player ever included among the best at his position that cannot survive anywhere else but with his current team.
He is undeniably one of the best in the business while doing so, but Welker’s standing as a premier receiver is bolstered by a peerless quarterback who constantly extends plays and an offensive line that has been solid, if not exceptional, for the last decade.
You would be hard pressed to convince me that away from the supernatural Tom Brady, Wes Welker is still a marketable commodity.
More than just the 75-plus tackle, turnover-inducing, fear-stirring identity of the Chicago Bears defense, Urlacher is a defensive quarterback that is the cornerstone every coordinator treasures.
Defenses—and attack, rush-oriented defenses specifically—are predicated on the ability of one central signal caller to organize the bombardment. Urlacher is the perfect synergy of leadership and performance and has at least two or three seasons of solid productivity left in him.
I cannot see Urlacher leaving the Midway, but should he do so, the defense he joins will have gained a leader of men.
Had the Raiders on the cusp of relevance before his season-ending injury. How many more chances will Campbell get to finish the job?
The preeminent law firm in Gillette Stadium is inconsistent, but sporadically shows great speed burst and breaks tackles often. He could break out for a team on the playoff bubble.
The aging rusher is on pace for his third-straight 1,000 season and could match a career-high in touchdowns this season. He should stay in Cincy, but could get a few years of production somewhere else.
LT clearly does not have the moves he had in years past, but he is still a very respectable force in the short passing game and is serviceable on third downs as a tailback.
The perfect example of a potentially great player on the wrong team at the wrong time, if you consider world championships wrong. Should Grant seek greener pastures, he may be the every-down back many teams are looking for.
Has Plax, who will turn 34 before next season, done enough with his limited revival in New York to garner the interest of teams looking for red-zone threats?
Edwards has missed the boat on the 49ers resurgence this year thanks to a knee injury, but some teams may still have his productivity with the Jets in 2010 fresh in their minds. Perhaps those teams interested include the Jets.
We have officially entered the era of the premier tight end. Thanks to Finley and other pass-catching monsters like Rob Gronkowski, fourth-year tight end Jermichael Finley will get many interested looks.
Wallace just may be the best true vertical threat in the NFL today. He has easily surpassed 1,000 receiving yards again this season and will earn a great deal of money from some team looking to get down the field in a hurry.
The only marquee lineman to become a free agent in 2012, Brick has had a below-average season, but still remains one of the dominant blind-side tackles in the game, automatically giving him huge value.