When we think of the NFL offseason, the draft is often the first thing that comes to mind. That shouldn't necessarily be the case. Draft picks often take two or even three years to make a significant impact while free agents can make or break a team in just one year. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles for proof. Here are seven free agents that could change the NFL's landscape as we know it.
Matt Flynn, QB
It only makes sense to start with a quarterback since that's considered the most important position in football. Matt Flynn played extensively in one game for the Packers in 2011. In that game, he dropped 480 yards and 6 touchdown passes on the Detroit Lions. He turned some heads to say the least, and he's become the most hyped quarterback free agent in the league. If he continues to excel, the team that picks him up will reap the benefits, but his services will likely come at a steep price.
Ray Rice, RB
I expect the Ravens to do the only sensible thing there is to do with Ray Rice; sign him, or franchise him. Ray Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He can catch out of the backfield, lay a block when needed, and he runs low to the ground with very good breakaway speed. He's everything a team could possibly want in a running back, and the Ravens would be foolish to let him reach free agency.
Dwayne Bowe, WR
Bowe starts the trio of wide receivers that may or may not make it to free agency. "Dwayne Bowe" is synonymous with "acrobatic catch" among many NFL fans. He's a big target at 6'2," and his routes are always clean. He represents a defensive nightmare in the secondary. The only downside for him is that there are several great wide receivers headed towards free agency, and that may drive down his asking price, but only a little.
DeSean Jackson, WR
Jackson is one of the fastest players you'll ever see in an NFL uniform. We all remember his walk-off punt return against the Giants, but he's also one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. Teams may be somewhat hesitant to sign Jackson because of the personality he displays on the field, but it's likely that he'll reward the team willing to bid the highest with excellent play for years to come.
Marques Colston, WR
Marques Colston was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2006 with a seventh round pick. That's the definition of bang for your buck. Colston's base salary in 2011 was $3 million, but with the Saints' cap situation, it's unlikely they'll be able to keep all of the players they want. There seems to be a very good chance he'll be a cap casualty, but don't feel too sorry for Colston, he'll land on his feet with a big contract elsewhere.
Mario Williams, OLB/DE
As March 13 draws nearer, it seems less and less likely that the Texans will pony up for the big contract it'll take to re-sign Mario Williams. Frankly, Williams just doesn't make sense in their current system. He's a giant linebacker, but he's not very good in coverage. If the Texans choose to rush him every down, it's not really an effective 3-4 because the offense always knows where the extra rusher is coming from. The Texans loss is the rest of the NFL's gain. Williams will likely be put back on the line as a defensive end, and teams are always looking for elite pass rushers. It seems there's a big payday in Williams' future.
Robert Mathis, DE
Mathis represents short term gain at its finest. Mathis is 30 years old, and he's probably just getting past the prime years of his career, but it's likely that he has at least five years of top tier play left in the tank. He's been extremely durable for the Colts, playing a minimum of 13 games in any given season since 2003. He won't demand the same type of cash that Mario Williams will if Williams makes it to free agency, but Mathis is still considered one of the best pass rushers in the game, and those types of players make big money.
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