This is the first of a three-part series on upcoming NFL free agents in 2012. Stay tuned this week for the top ten defensive free agents, and the top ten free agents to avoid.
1. Drew Brees – QB – New Orleans
There is almost no chance that Drew Brees is going anywhere. He is New Orleans, and not only on the field but off the field as well. He is given free reign to run the spread and just broke the single season passing record. So why would he leave?
Well after a disappointing loss to the 49ers in the Divisional Championship, perhaps Brees is fed up with not having a competent defense to help out the Saints. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams just left for the Rams, and word is that All-Pro guard Carl Nicks could be heading out the door as well. Then Mike Florio comes out with news that Marques Colston will not take a hometown discount, and wants to get that cake.
Is there a possibility that Brees decides to take his talents elsewhere as the exodus from the Bayou continues? It seems unlikely but anything is possible. The Redskins, Seahawks, Browns and Dolphins are all badly in need of a pivot, and they would be more than happy to break the bank for Brees. He will get Peyton-type money, likely a 3-year $70 million deal.
2. Carl Nicks – LG – New Orleans
Who? Well for those who don’t recognize the name of the best left guard in the league, it is time for you to meet him. Despite being just a fifth round pick coming out of Nebraska in 2008, Nicks has emerged into an elite interior lineman and it is his turn to get paid.
He is 26, and likely looking for a long-term deal to take him well into his 30’s and off into the sunset. Offensive lineman suffer significant wear and tear every season, so this is the chance for Nicks to get his money.
Who could use a player like him? Well the question should really be who couldn’t. For Nicks it is a matter of finding a team that he can mesh well with, and hopefully make a run at a championship with something a little better than the defense that they have in N’awlins.
The Ravens could lose their big time left guard, Ben Grubbs, to free agency, and they are known for having quite the defense. Nicks could fit right into the Ravens system and thrive on that line. Jahri Evans got a 7 year, $56.7 million deal from the Saints a few years back, and he was about the same age as Nicks at the time.
3. Ray Rice – RB - Baltimore
Similar to Brees, is would be quite the surprise if Rice decides to leave his team. But again, anything is possible. Rice has emerged as one of the best dual threat backs in the league, with the rare ability to run and catch with equal effectiveness.
But why would Rice want to leave a team that drafted him in the 2nd round in 2008, when many thought he was too small to play in the pros? The likes of Jonathan Stewart and Felix Jones were taken before him, and we all know how that has panned out.
The Ravens can franchise Rice, which is likely, but again there are no guarantees. Running backs do not have much in the way of longevity these days, so it will be interesting to see how the Ravens deal with Rice. Do they franchise him this year then go long-term next year? Or long-term this year, and hope that the diminutive back can hold up for the next five or six years.
Chris Johnson got $55 million over the next six years, and an argument can be made that Rice is a better all around back. If he gets franchised this year he will get cut quite the nice check for a year.
Who could use Rice on their team? Lions, Bengals, Browns and just about any other team in the league would love to get Rice. Will he leave? Doubt it.
4. Wes Welker – WR – New England Patriots
Another guy who is likely not going anywhere and why would he? Welker has become the best possession receiver in the game since making his way to Foxboro, and has developed amazing chemistry with Brady as the perfect safety valve underneath.
Welker is already 30 years old, and is looking to cash in on his last big money deal. Why take the risk of going elsewhere with a system and pivot that he is not familiar with? Especially with Josh McDaniels back in the mix now. Brady just might throw for 6,000 yards next year.
This is the type of guy that would likely take the hometown deal in order for other guys to get resigned as well. Larry Fitz just got an 8-year, $120 million deal, but he is significantly younger than Welker. Something in the 5-year, $50 million is more likely for Wes. Plenty of cash still, but not enough to tie the hands of the Patriots trying to make other moves.
5. Matt Forte – RB – Chicago Bears
Forte was well on his way to a career year, and possibly the best all around year in some time until he went down with a season ending knee injury in December. He almost cracked the 1,000 yard mark through just a dozen games, add almost 500 receiving yards to that, and you begin to understand how valuable Forte is to the Bears attack.
He has been getting paid less than a million a year, but that is because of where he was drafted and clearly not his ability. Forte is among the elite backs in the league, with he and Rice among the best all purpose backs in the league. So what will he fetch on the open market? Well he has to be close to the Chris Johnson number.
Once Forte and Cutler went down for the Bears this year, it became evident just how valuable they are in the Windy City. The Bucs could certainly use a dual threat like Forte, as they discovered in a hurry that LaGarrette Blount has no idea what to do when he is not rushing the ball. The ‘Skins would surely like a player like Forte as well, but considering Shanahan’s propensities for cycling through backs, it is doubtful that Forte would take his talents to DC.
6. Marques Colston – WR – New Orleans Saints
This man wants his money. Mike Florio reported that Colston has no interest in taking a hometown discount in order to stay with the Saints, and it is likely that he will test the open market to see what he can bring in.
Brees has made Colston into the player that he is today, but without him the Saints lack anything resembling a physical downfield threat. So they need each other, and Colston is aware of that. He has seen the paydays that some of the big name receivers have been getting in recent years, and he went for 1143 yards this year despite missing the first two games of the year with a broken collarbone.
He has gone over 1,000 receiving yards every year of his career save 2008-2009, when he missed five games with an injury, and he was on pace to eclipse a grand if he had been healthy. While often overlooked, he is without a question one of the most consistent wideouts in the league. There is no reason that he should not get paid big time money.
The question with Colston is whether he wants to keep his personal production at a high rate, or go elsewhere and chase the money. Few teams air it out like the Saints do, but others may pay better. He is 28, so he is reaching that tipping point for wideouts. If he signs a five or six year deal, it will likely be his last of the long-term variety. The Rams need a receiver in the worst way, and with the new regime in place there, he may want to be part of it. Prediction? 5-year, $70 million.
7. Marshawn Lynch – RB – Seattle Seahawks
Remember when Buffalo traded Lynch for a pair of late round picks? Well it was just last season. After committing to Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, the Bills were eager to get rid of Lynch. So off he went to the Pacific Northwest for next to nothing.
Coming into this season, it was unclear what exactly Lynch had left in the tank. He was a beast coming out of Cal as a rookie, scampering for over a thousand yards in each of his first two years in the league. But he fell out of favor for reasons that no one will understand, then he was shipped out for spare parts.
But he came back onto the scene this year in full beastmode and put the league on notice that he is not just a situational back. In the second half of the year, Lynch averaged 100 yards a game and went in for eight scores. Impressive numbers for someone who was dealt for scraps.
It very well could have been a case of Lynch understanding that he was coming upon his contract time, and he was badly in need of some more Skittles. Whatever his inspiration was, he was one of the best backs in the league in the second half of the year. He seeks out contact, which could lead to an injury at some point, but for now it shows that he is willing to go to the tough spots and fight for every yard.
Lynch is just 25 years old, so it is not out of the question that he could continue to wreak havoc on defenses for another half dozen years. Imagine him on the Bengals? 5-year, $80 million would look nice for this guy.
8. Dwayne Bowe – WR – Kansas City Chiefs
It is hard to get a read on what Bowe brings to the table. He was a star at LSU, and made himself a first round pick in 2007. He has great size and skill, but he would probably like to have a better pivot throwing him the ball. Bowe and Matt Cassel had good chemistry last year, finding the end zone fifteen times, but that number nosedived to five this year.
He has gone over 1,000 yards every year save for his rookie year where he fell just five yards short and ’09-’10 when he missed five games. Eclipsing the 80 catch mark twice in his career is impressive, and while he is not flashy, he is very consistent.
From Week 11 on, he had at least four catches every game, but never more than seven. He is a big bodied possession receiver that had a nose for the end zone last year, but he more likely to get you a first down than a long score.
He would look good lining up opposite Steve Smith in Carolina. A nice big target for Cam to hit on crossing routes while Smith streaks down the field and draws double teams. The Panthers threw money at Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams last year just to keep them in town, and now it is time to go poaching other team’s talent. 6-year, $85 million could happen.
9. Chris Myers – C – Houston Texans
Quickly, name the best center in the league. No, it’s not Nick Mangold, and it’s not either of the Pouncey brothers either. He goes by the name of Chris Meyers, and he is the main man responsible for making Arian Foster into one of the most dangerous backs in the league, and almost quietly making Ben Tate into a 1,000 secondary back.
Centers are largely overlooked, but they call out changes in coverage and must deal with blitzing defenders while focusing on getting the ball to their pivot. While the Texans zone blocking scheme needs to be taken into account when discussing Myers success, it is clear that he is among the top at his position.
@ProFootbalFocus: Best C of 2011 RT @TuckonSports: #Ravens getting gashed by the best running game in the #NFL Chris Myers so underrated
Teams that use zone blocking schemes that Myers is familiar with include the Redskins, Raiders, Seahawks and Packers. Of those teams, the Pack and ‘Skins could use a guy of his talent, with Washington the most likely to break the bank. Mangold for a 7-year, $55 million deal, but he is quite a few years younger than Myers. Something along the lines of 4-year, $25 million could get Myers locked up.
10. Vincent Jackson - WR - San Diego Chargers
Is there a more frustrating playing in the league? Well maybe a few, but if Jackson could find a way to stay healthy, he could be dominant in a Megatron fashion. At 6-foot-5 and 230-pounds with great speed, he is elite when he is on the field.
But Jackson has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. He was banged up all year, and still managed to go for 1,106 yards and nine scores. So how much does he fetch on the open market?
The word around town is that the Chargers will not be giving Jackson the dreaded franchise tag, so it seems as if he will be free to pursue the highest bidder. Once again, the Redskins are in the conversation, as they have little in the way of downfield threats, and we all know that they love to spend money.
Depending on their cap space, the receiver-hungry Rams, about to lose Brandon Lloyd to the Patriots, could get in the mix with Jackson as well. Former GM Billy Devaney was one of Jackson's ardent pursuers in trade, but could not get a deal done with AJ Smith. However, their uncertainty at the top of the organization leaves more questions than answers as to their offseason approach.