I wanted to post this for two reasons: 1) A follow-up to a recent post I did last week regarding the NFL Draft 2) As a method to help us all make it through this week until the 4:15pm kickoff on Sunday afternoon. Below is a list of available free agents in 2012 and who I realistically think we may take a chance on signing. I wanted to do this piece separate from the draft in order to go into as much detail as possible. Let's take a quick look by our positions of need (I have also not listed every available free agent, just the ones that I think we will target and who fit the WCO):
Ray Rice/Matt Forte - both are essential to their current teams and will most likely be re-signed. Baltimore's entire offense is Ray Rice, although Chicago didn't lock up Forte prior to his injury, I would still be very surprised if they didn't re-sign him (even post-injury).
Michael Bush- Bush has emerged as a clear RB1 and has filled in very admirably for the often injured Darren McFadden. This year was a great tryout for Bush as a full-time RB1 and every team in the NFL needing a 3 down back has taken notice. I would love to say the Bengals would jump into the mix of attempting to sign him, but don't truly believe we pay that kind of money for a feature back through free agency. If you want any sort of argument against this logic, just take a look at our recent backfield history to suggest otherwise (ie- Ced Benson). I fit Marshawn Lynch into this same argument as well. After his performance against New Orleans last year in the playoffs and his recent run this season, he will command a huge offer way outside what we will ever be willing to pay.
Mike Tolbert- Tolbert is an interesting back who has emerged as a current goal line option for San Diego as Ryan Matthews assumes most of the teams carries. I like this guy, poor man's version of the above players. I think he also offers something we currently don't have, someone who can get the yard on 4th and 1 or score on the goal line when the defense knows the power run is coming. Although San Diego would be wise to re-sign him (Matthews has had issues with fumbling and injuries), he could really be a back that we could utilize. Good hands out of the backfield (averages just under 30 catches per year) and very tough, physical runner. I see him being in the price range that MB would be willing to throw his very tightly guarded wallet at.
Peyton Hillis- Did any one player lose more poplularity and potential free agent money than Hillis? Once he looked like the golden boy of Cleveland, now the entire city can't wait to run him out. I currently reside in Cleveland and can back up this claim that the entire city turned on him faster than LB23 (ok, maybe not that fast, but fast....). Watching Hillis currently he looks very tentative running the ball, but can catch out of the backfield. Although I think he looks like a frozen statue once he does make the reception. He'll get signed quickly somewhere, but don't think he would be brought to Cincy.
Benjarvus Green-Ellis - The "Law Firm" as he's well known is one of the most frustrating fantasy players in recent memory, but is a back who has shown he can run between the tackles and has a nice burst around the edges. I feel like he's a guy who never really got his shot with New England considering all the weapons they have at their disposal. Could be an interesting guy for a team looking to give him a heavier workload and who hasn't been shown as being expendable in New England?
Ryan Grant/Cedric Benson - Grant looked like the next big thing about 3 years ago. Nagging ankle injuries have made practically irrelevant in recent memory and someone who is likely out of Green Bay after this year. Benson, well, what else needs to be said here. I can't possibly see him coming back.........but funny thing is, after typing this, I can still see him possibly coming back. Why? Because he would be as cheap as pennies on the dollar right now to re-sign because in his contract year he hasn't impressed anyone. In my opinion he is a very unimpressive back, someone who you can depend on to be incredibly average and not much more.
RB Free Agent outlook: Largely addressed via draft, whether it is Lamar Miller, Montee Ball, Chris Polk, etc., etc., etc. I don't see us getting involved in a bidding war with anyone for a big time running backs services and hefty contract. I would love Michael Bush as much as the next guy, but we won't be paying that kind of money. Tolbert is a guy I do see us looking at if he were to not be re-signed by San Diego, which doesn't seem likely as of right now.
Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, and Marques Colston - Who wouldn't want any of these four? Won't matter anyways because each will most likely stay with their existing team. The one I could see being signed somewhere else is probably Jackson, due to the contract issues he had with San Diego. They may look to blow up part of that team once Turner is finally fired. But his asking price will be a huge sum that we won't go near.
DeSean Jackson - prior to this season I would have added him to the above list, but after the debacle of a year he's had I confidently did not. Paying him the sum he will want with his attitude, lack of effort and selfish ways this year would be a horrible decision that I would happily let another team make.
Mike Wallace/Steve Johnson- two young, fast, exciting receivers who would/should be kept by their current teams. The Steelers currently have one of the best duos in Wallace and Brown. Johnson has fallen off some along with the rest of the Bills, but has been a huge part in making them relevant again in a tough division.
Robert Meachem- Expendable piece of the New Orleans passing game just simply due to the large number of receivers and tight ends that currently play ahead of him. 5 year pro, averaging just over 16 yards per catch (16.1 to be exact) and has 23 TD's over that span. A "burner" who would be a great compliment to the WR core we already have. Meachem would be largely affordable and could play in 3 WR set's with Green, Simpson (assuming he's re-signed) and he being the WR#3 (or possibly competing for the 2nd spot if Simpson continues his inconsistency). I like him as a realistic option for us and someone I can see us signing to a 2-3 year deal.
Mario Manningham- With the emergence of Victor Cruz behind Hakeem Nicks, not sure if Manningham will be the odd man out. I now NY wanted to sign Steve Smith before he quickly took the Philly offer prior to this season and bolted. So I see them attempting to re-sign Manningham to keep those three intact for Eli.
WR Free Agent outlook: The only real fit for us seems to be Meachem. I think we bring Simpson back, release Caldwell and insert Whalen into the backup role for Shipley. Meachem would be a great WR #3 (at least, maybe even WR# 2 in our offense) behind Green and Simpson, plus would provide some great depth in case of injury. I would love us to go after Meachem who I think is under-utilized due to the crowded stable of receivers New Orleans has.
Carl Nicks -the best of the group in free agency, but would find it hard to believe New Orleans doesn't lock him up to help protect Brees. The Saints did give another one of their guards a pretty rich contract not too long ago (Jahri Evans signed the richest deal for a Guard to date), so they may not want to shell out more money for another Guard. The only problem here is he will be demanding big dollars, something we typically don't do on Guards through free agency. This would be the one time I really wish MB would open up the checkbook and spend a little here. Bolling seems relegated to being a backup for now and Collins might have played well enough to get a deal elsewhere. Spend a little here and one of our biggest needs is turned into a strength. Then we could still address the interior with another Guard through this years draft. This quote from Nicks also gives me hope that he might hit the open market: "Maybe next year we can talk long-term, but right now I'm just focusing on right now." That can sometimes signal, I'm outta here after this year. His situation will cause a ripple effect amongst the rest of the available offensive lineman and who will sign where.
Ben Grubbs- plug and play at left guard next to Whit. What a strong side of the line that would be. Again, expensive..but we're taking away from our rival and solving a need. Win-Win as far as I'm concerned. Grubbs has been a constant for the Ravens and is only 27 years old. Grubbs was chosen 29th by Baltimore in the 2007 Draft, as the first guard taken off the board and has started for them ever since. His nickname is also "The Big Hurt," this guy would be great in stripes.
Demetrius Bell - Bell is a LT for Buffalo who will most likely be re-signed. Obviously LT is one area we are not largely concerned with either. We could play out a bunch of scenarios where he could move around, etc. but honestly don't think it will matter. Buffalo inked Fitzpatrick to a long-term deal, signing his blind side protector would be priority #2.
The rest of the list for OL is pretty extensive, this is one of the lists I used to reference this information.......http//www.footballsfuture.com/2012/fa/ol.html
OL Free Agent outlook: Nicks will be costly being the premiere Guard in Free Agency for 2012. I don't think we would ever spend that much for that particular position. Grubbs would also be expensive, but I think the combination with taking away from a division rival could be very tempting for us. I would personally love for us to look to add Grubbs for at least 2-3 years to solidify our LG position.
Without making this post too terribly long, I'll cover some of the other remaining positions in another post. This should be enough to definitely get the conversations going in some of our biggest areas of need. I know we are primarily focused on the Ratbirds this week, but we've got to have something between now and then to keep us entertained (especially with a 4:15pm kickoff Sunday). I'd like to hear everyone else's thoughts about the above group and others out there not mentioned as well.............Who Dey?!!