2012 NFL Free Agents: Best Available Options on the Open Market
The 2012 NFL Free Agency period came and went. However, we’re about to enter summer and there’s still some quality talent without a home.
Perhaps they’re trying to prove they’re not too old, too hurt, or simply still have “it”. Whatever the case, these players are arguably the top NFL free agents available.
Let’s see who they are and where they could land for 2012:
Donovan McNabb (QB)
McNabb has been kicked off the last three teams he’s played for and by all accounts appears to be finished. However, he’s been adamant about playing, and appears very willing to take a backup position if he has to.
Even with that in mind, there don’t appear to be a ton of teams in desperate need of adding on a veteran that has arguably seen his best days pass him by years ago.
The Colts could possibly use someone a bit more experience behind rookie Andrew Luck, and McNabb could be an arguable upgrade over Drew Stanton. Kansas City is a realistic option, too, as Brady Quinn is the only threat – if you can call it that – to the average Matt Cassel. The Packers would be wise to enter 2012 with a veteran behind Rodgers, as Matt Flynn is now in Seattle and all that’s behind their star passer are unproven quarterbacks in Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman.
Possible suitors: Colts, Chiefs, Packers
Dennis Dixon (QB)
Dixon has never really had much of a chance at proving he’s got the goods, as he’s seen limited action and mostly sat behind Ben Roethlisberger throughout his career. The St. Louis Dispatch suggested back in April that the St. Louis Rams could be interest, and it definitely makes sense for the team to upgrade behind Sam Bradford.
He’s got talent and he’s still got untapped potential, so look for him to land somewhere where a team doesn’t have a cemented backup and wouldn’t mind some healthy competition.
Keep the Rams in the mix, while Josh Freeman and Aaron Rodgers still don’t have suitable backups behind them. Atlanta could also consider adding a new quarterback, as they’ve settled on Chris Redman for years and he’s barely average.
Possible suitors: Rams, Buccaneers, Falcons, Packers
Cedric Benson (RB)
Benson is inching closer and closer to being a slow, plodding back, rather than the bruiser he gained a reputation of being earlier in his career. He’s not explosive or versatile, but he can still carry the ball up the middle and get the tough yards. After all, flat-out scrubs don’t generally run for 1,000+ yards for three years in a row.
With that said, Benson has worn out his welcome in Cincy, and he doesn’t offer anything on third downs or special teams – something the typical backup running back should bring to the table. Basically Benson needs to be signed on as a starter or pure goal-line back, and there’s really only a handful of spots that make sense for that type of role.
Benson had a visit with Oakland a few weeks ago, and while nothing came of it, they still are searching for depth behind the oft-injured Darren McFadden. San Diego is also still in the market for a backup behind Ryan Mathews, as they still haven’t found a suitable replacement for the departed Mike Tolbert – although fullback Le’Ron McClain can also play some tailback.
It’s highly unlikely, but it’s also still not completely impossible Benson returns to the Bengals on a one-year deal.
Possible Suitors: Raiders, Bengals, Chargers
Ryan Grant (RB)
All reports coming out of Green Bay strongly suggest Grant is done as a Packer, and rumored ties to the Lions, Patriots and Raiders suggest Grant is aware and trying to get on the move, too.
What Grant has going for him is that he’s probably the most versatile back left on the market. He’s not really elite at any one thing, but he can catch out of the back-field, succeed in short-yardage, block, and has adequate acceleration when he hits the open hole. His starting days should be behind him, but he can still offer serviceable downs as a backup and possible third down back.
Grant has loose ties to the Raiders, so I’d have to put them as a weak front-runner for now, and if the Lions get desperate enough with all their backs that struggle to stay healthy, they might come back and pay Grant what he wants.
Possible suitors: Raiders, Lions
Justin Forsett (RB)
Forsett is basically a scat-back with pure third down ability. He’s explosive and versatile, but no one is going to sign him as a starter or to compete for a starting gig. He’ll have to excel on third downs and probably be able to make some kind of impact on special teams.
Luckily for him, he’s not without talent and there are definitely some teams searching for a legit third down back. He could get an invite when preseason rolls around to teams like Cleveland, Green Bay or San Diego. All three of those teams could use an upgrade in their running back depth – specifically on third downs.
Possible suitors: Browns, Packers, Chargers
Cadillac Williams (RB)
Williams wasn’t terrible in St. Louis, but he’s no longer a special player. He’s not particularly explosive or versatile, so he’ll have to wait for teams to get desperate deep into the preseason. A return to St. Louis is highly unlikely with rookie Isaiah Pead in town. He could go unsigned.
Ronnie Brown (RB)
Brown can do it all, but he’s aging and appeared worn down in Philadelphia. If he comes back refreshed, he could still give a new team 1-2 solid years as a backup and versatile specialist. Remember, he can add value on third downs and can run the wildcat.
Perhaps teams looking to have a gimmick specialist could take a look at him, such as the New York Jets. If the Eagles end up being less than satisfied with the young guys behind LeSean McCoy, a return to Philly can’t be completely ruled out. The Lions also attempted a trade for Brown last off-season, so keep an eye on a possible signing there, too. Green Bay is a team that likes to play around offensively, and they also happen to need help at running back. A move to add Brown could make some sense.
Possible suitors: Jets, Lions, Eagles, Packers
LaDainian Tomlinson (RB)
LT said recently he’s “pretty much” retired, but I don’t think I believe him. I just think he’s aware there’s not a great market for a 32-year old back who isn’t a starter anymore.
While his best days are far behind him, I still think LT brings value as a receiver out of the back-field, while he can also still be a productive goal-line back. I genuinely think the Jets didn’t use him enough last year, or really correctly, either. He’s not a game-changer anymore, but he could still be a quality role player. The problem is, I don’t see a great fit for him anywhere.
Terrell Owens (WR)
T.O. missed all of 2011 while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during the summer before the NFL lockout ended, which caused many to forget a pretty good season (statistically) with the Bengals in 2010.
He’s 38, but Owens can still play – and probably at a pretty high level. Unfortunately, his antics, age, and knee have rolled up into a big wasabi ball that NFL GM’s just don’t feel like topping their sushi with. But he can still impact an offense, and desperate or not, someone is bound to give him one more chance.
There have been whispers about a return to the Bay Area for Owens, as he worked out with Carson Palmer’s Oakland Raiders, and of course there’s always a return to San Francisco in the back of 49ers fans’ minds, right? I don’t know about either of those spots, but anyone with a serious need at receiver that wants to win in 2012 should at least see if he can still look good on the practice field.
Personally, I wouldn’t rule out a crazy signing like New England or New York (Jets).
Possible suitors: Raiders, Jets, Patriots, 49ers
Braylon Edwards (WR)
Edwards is still rehabbing a bum knee that killed his one-year contract with the 49ers last year. We can rule out a return to San Francisco (and Cleveland, I’m sure), but I wouldn’t rule out a return to the Jets just yet. New York has remained open to the idea of bringing Edwards back, as last year’s replacement, Plaxico Burress, isn’t expected back. The Bengals have also shown some interest, but admitted they won’t be signing Edwards “anytime soon”.
Other teams that could give the deep threat a hard look could be the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. All of those teams could use a big-play guy or a general upgrade at receiver.
However, rumors won’t start swirling until his knee is healthy.
Possible suitors: Jets, Dolphins, Bills
Plaxico Burress (WR)
Burress showed rust and lacked explosiveness with the Jets last year, but he did score eight touchdowns and still displayed some elite ball skills. I personally think people were too down on him, as it was his first year back, and he was trying to catch passes from the inaccurate Mark Sanchez.
Still, the marriage didn’t work out, and now Burress is on the open market. He’s basically a red-zone guy at this point in his career, but he can still go get jump balls and runs the fade run with the best of them.
There have been loud rumors about Plax heading to Philadelphia, where many felt he’d wind up before signing with the Jets last year, while there have been recent reports that he’d “love” a workout with the Dolphins.
There’s also always some talk about him going back to either the Giants or Steelers, while the Bills could also use some help at receiver.
Possible suitors: Eagles, Dolphins
Roy Williams (WR)
Williams is a big name because of the talent he used to be/have. He looked pretty washed up in Dallas for a couple years, and he really looked washed up in Chicago last season. He’s not going to get a deal to be a starter anytime soon, and he can’t contribute on special teams so signing as a fourth or fifth option doesn’t make much sense.
It’ll take a desperate team that is super thin at receiver to take a chance on Williams. My guess is his career has finally come to a screeching halt.
Mark Clayton (WR)
Clayton looked like he was finally coming into his own in 2010, but succumbed to a knee injury and hasn’t been the same since. He’s still got something in the tank and has always had deep speed. He’ll just need to prove that’s still the case and that he can stay healthy in order to latch on somewhere. If it happens, it probably won’t happen until right before preseason, though.
Possible suitors: Rams, Dolphins, Bills
T.J. Houshmandzadeh (WR)
Housh couldn’t make magic happen with Carson Palmer in Oakland, which probably means he’s seen his last down in the NFL. He was always a possession receiver with little explosion, but all of his speed and play-making ability is completely sapped. He’ll be 35 when the new season starts.
Visanthe Shiancoe (TE)
Now the best tight end on the open market with Dallas Clark signing with Tampa Bay, Shank should latch on with someone before the middle of summer. He’s not explosive and has fading talent at 31, but is still a solid possession tight end with soft hands and the size to be a decent red-zone option.
Seattle seemed like a likely destination before, but that won’t happen with the Seahawks trading for Kellen Winslow, while the presence of both Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson make a return to Minnesota impossible.
However, there’s good news to be had for Shank. The Chicago Bears still don’t have a tight end, while the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants still have a hole there, as well.
Possible suitors: Bears, Raiders, Giants
Jake Scott (OG)
Scott is an elite pass-blocking offensive guard, but has struggled to find a home due to age and the fact that guards aren’t held in nearly as high regard as elite tackles. He’ll latch on with someone for sure, while a return to Tennessee is very possible, as well.
Possible suitors: Titans, Dolphins, Vikings, Ravens, Chargers
O.J. Atogwe (S)
Atogwe flamed out with the Redskins last year, but is still just 30 and can’t possibly be void of all the talent he had in St. Louis just a couple of years ago. He’s been linked to Miami, New York, and Detroit – all of which still have needs at safety.
If he can convinced teams he’s still got it, the Patriots, Chargers, Bears and Packers could also all take notice.
Possible suitors: Dolphins, Lions, Packers
Andre Goodman (CB)
Goodman will be 34 in August and has declining skills, but he can still round out a team’s secondary and help give them a solid nickel corner. He reportedly met with the Titans a few weeks ago, but was not signed. Other teams that could use a veteran corner are the Packers, Panthers and Steelers.
Possible suitors: Titans, Packers, Panthers, Steelers
Aubrayo Franklin (DT)
Franklin isn’t going to be a splash signing, but he gets it done in the trenches and will earn his paycheck. Going on 32, Franklin is purely a depth add and brings run defense to the middle of a defensive line.
Carolina and Denver could really use some help in the middle of their run defenses, while Green Bay and Atlanta could beef up their d-lines with the addition of Franklin, as well.
Possible suitors: Panthers, Falcons, Broncos
Andre Carter (DE/OLB)
Carter is 33 and coming off of a knee injury, but he still brings versatility and strong pass-rushing skills to the table. He can play with his hand in the dirt on the end of the defensive line, or drop back as a 3-4 linebacker and rush off the edge. Age and injury make him a risk, but he’d likely just sign a one-year tender at his next stop, anyways.
New England still appears to be first in line to land him, but they’re trying to wait and see if he’ll be a full go for training camp. Other than the Patriots, Carter could latch on with another veteran club like the Steelers, Eagles or Jets to try to be a piece of the puzzle of a championship run.
Possible suitors: Patriots, Jets, Eagles