NFL Free Agency: 12 Best Signings of the 2012 NFL Offseason

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIMay 28, 2012

NFL Free Agency: 12 Best Signings of the 2012 NFL Offseason

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    There was certainly no shortage of big fish in the 2012 NFL free agency pond.

    A few teams were able to ink superstar talents like Mario Williams and Peyton Manning, while others made key additions that will bolster their starting lineups. 

    Meanwhile, some teams made under-the-radar additions that could prove to be crucial in the long-run.

    Of course, adding just one player usually isn't enough to make a serious impact, so we'll also take a look at a few teams who made a number of key signings.

    Here is our list of the top 2012 NFL free agency signings:

1. Peyton Manning to Denver

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    All throughout last season, as the Indianapolis Colts continued to falter without Peyton Manning, NFL fans questioned what they would do if they "earned" the No. 1 draft pick.

    Do they stick with Peyton, move forward with Andrew Luck, or somehow tie down both of them?

    Well, as we now know the Colts chose Luck and dumped the former face of their franchise (and one of the faces of the NFL), which sparked the "Where will Peyton go?" conversation.

    In the end, it was the Denver Broncos who won the Manning sweepstakes and added one of the most prolific passers of all-time to the league's top rush offense from last season.

    Of course, the loss of Tim Tebow's rushing abilities at the quarterback position will slightly hamper the Bronco rushing attack, but the addition of Manning should result in an a more balanced offensive attack which Denver lacked last year.

2. Mario Williams to Buffalo

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    After a solid start in which the Buffalo Bills were looking like a serious contender, they fell flat on their face, losing eight of their last nine games.

    In those eight losses, their opponents averaged more than 40 points per game—an obvious sign that the Bills defense was in need of some help.

    In one of the biggest free agency pickups of this offseason, Buffalo found that help in the former first overall draft pick, Mario Williams. 

    It was clear that the front office in Buffalo made it a point to bolster that defense, also picking up defensive end Mark Anderson in free agency and using its first round draft pick on the stellar South Carolina cornerback, Stephon GIlmore.

    These additions may be enough to turn the Bills' defense from a weakness to a strength in 2012.

3. Reggie Wayne Re-Signs with Indianapolis

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    The Indianapolis Colts made a serious investment in the new face of their franchise, Andrew Luck, by resigning their star receiver, Reggie Wayne.

    It is clear that the Indy front office is looking to start anew as 14 former Colts have already signed on with new teams for next season.

    Indianapolis chose the veteran Wayne over receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez to help Luck make his transition to the pros.

    Luck will need all the weapons he can find to revive the 2-14 Colts and the 11-year, Super Bowl ring-wearing veteran receiver is certainly a good place to start.

4. Curtis Lofton to New Orleans

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    Swiping linebacker Curtis Lofton from their division rival Atlanta Falcons has been about the only good thing to happen to the New Orleans Saints this offseason.

    In fact, I can't think of a single team having a worse offseason than that of the Saints well, ever.

    The bounty debacle has left the Saints without their general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma and others, and now, their star quarterback, Drew Brees is still yet to sign his franchise tag and may sit out the entire season, as well.

    The signing of Lofton (along with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley) wasn't just a good move—it was an absolute need if the Saints plan to return to the playoffs.

5. San Francisco's Investment in Alex Smith

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    It took some time, grooming, and in the end, the right head coach, but Alex Smith finally solidified himself as a quarterback who can win games.

    Smith's newfound confidence led him to pass for more than 3,000 yards last season, but the offense was still centered around Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore.

    I wouldn't expect that to change much, but now, Smith has even more tools around him which should make the 49er offense more balanced.

    San Francisco resigned wide receiver Ted Ginn and added another weapon on the outside, Mario Manningham, to complement Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.  

    The 49ers were even able to add some depth behind Gore with the addition of Brandon Jacobs, which should help increase the longevity of Gore, a runner who has been hampered by injuries in the past.

    Let's not forget the addition of a 14-year veteran receiver in Randy Moss. While receiver is one position where increasing age is not a good thing, the signing of Moss could prove beneficial over the course of the year.

6. Tampa Bay Signs Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks

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    Tampa Bay had to make some moves to keep up in the increasingly strong NFC South division. 

    Over the past few years, quarterback Josh Freeman has proved he is a legitimate NFL starter and has what it takes to win games.

    The Buccaneers added an excellent offensive weapon on the outside in Vincent Jackson, then went and found some more protection for Freeman, along with LaGarrette Blount and the running game.

    The signing of the massive (6-5, 343 pound) guard, Carl Nicks from New Orleans, should provide another solid anchor on the offensive line.  

    Another addition was made to the running game through the draft as well, when the Bucs used their second first round pick on Boise St. running back, Doug Martin.

    All of these improvements should help Tampa Bay keep pace in their division.

7. DeSean Jackson's Extension in Philly

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    The Philadelphia Eagles avoided another offseason mess by granting star receiver DeSean Jackson the extension he longed for.

    The five-year, $51 million deal secures the star receiver/returner's status as an Eagle long-term.

    Of course, resigning a Pro Bowl player is rarely a bad thing and it reinforces the Eagles' reputation as one of the fastest teams in the NFL.

    Philly was also able to lock down another star by extending the contract of prolific running back, LeSean McCoy, as well.

    The relatively quiet offseason in Philly is a stark contrast of the "Dream Team" hoopla that ensued last season.

    Eagles fans are certainly hoping this under-the-radar offseason will translate to an increase in on-field production.

8. Matt Flynn to the Seahawks

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    When Matt Flynn took the keys to Aaron Rodgers' green machine on new year's day last season, he exploded for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns.

    In that game in which he posted a QB rating of 136.4, Flynn went from an untested, relatively unknown backup, to a hot free agency commodity.

    His stock went through the roof and he was eventually scooped up by Seattle.

    Now, the former national champion at LSU is in competition with the incumbent starter, Tavaris Jackson, for the starting job in the Emerald City. 

    If he performs anything like he did back on New Year's Day, the job will be his, and the Seahawks will be in serious contention with the 49ers for the NFC West crown.  

9. LaRon Landry to the New York Jets

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    Have you seen LaRon Landry lately?

    If you haven't, well, there you go. The photo you see is from a Washington Post article and was, at one time, on Landry's twitter feed

    There you can find numerous pictures of Landry and all of the meat and potatoes he has been eating.

    Landry was shelved for parts of the beginning and end of last season due to injuries, so how he bounces back from that will tell just how valuable this signing is.

    Nonetheless, the Jets have put a lot of stock into the former LSU Tiger, as they chose him over resigning Brodney Pool.

    If he comes back strong as Gang Green apparently expects, he could make the Jets' already elite pass defense even better.

10. Terrell Thomas Re-Signs with the New York Giants

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    The New York Giants' pass defense struggled without star cornerback Terrell Thomas in 2011.

    The former USC Trojan tore his ACL during a preseason game against the Chicago Bears, causing him to miss the entire year.

    As a result, the Giants finished No. 29 in the NFL in pass defense and stumbled into the playoffs at 9-7.

    Somehow, though, they heated up in the postseason and rode that hot streak until they found themselves Super Bowl Champions. 

    Thomas' return should make up for the loss of corner Aaron Ross and the Giants' pass defense should improve in 2012, as a result.

    If not, the Giants will have a tough time defending their throne atop the NFL.

11. Peyton Hillis to Kansas City

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    Kansas City already had one of the most talented running backs in the NFL in Jamaal Charles.

    But, as the Chiefs learned last season through Charles' early season-ending injury, depth at the running back position is an absolute must.

    Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones were able to provide some decent production alongside the extremely versatile Dexter McCluster in replacement of Charles.

    Now Battle and Jones are out and former Madden cover man Peyton Hillis will join McCluster to complement Charles.

    The big, bruising Hillis should provide an excellent change of pace from two smaller, quicker backs in Charles and McCluster.

    As a result, the Chiefs should be back to having one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL—provided their stable of backs is able to stay healthy.

12. The Unsigned Franchise Tags

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    Every offseason, teams slap the franchise tag on star players in attempts to save their stars from free agency and lock down their franchise players for the short-term.

    And every offseason, some of the superstars sit out, in search of a long-term deal.

    This year is certainly no different.

    Some of the biggest stars in the league are disgruntled with their teams and are willing to wait it out for the deal they want.

    Drew Brees, Ray Rice, Matt Forte, and Wes Welker are among the list of players with currently unsigned franchise tenders—all hoping for a long-term deal.  

    Each of these players will have a vital role in the success of their respective teams, so stay tuned to see how the contract situation with each of them plays out.

    They would all certainly be huge signings if they do stay and huge losses if they do not.