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Tag:2012 NFL Free Agent Rankings
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:28 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:40 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Offensive line rankings

Is Nicks, our top free-agent offensive lineman, done hoisting Brees? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling lists of the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the offensive linemen.

It's not the sexiest position in the NFL -- just ask Andre "C-Cup" Smith -- and there's a feeling in the NFL these days, whether it's right or wrong, that offensive line is becoming a fungible position. It's OK to laugh at that idea, because a few years ago, wide receiver was the same way. It'll shift back and forth in the next few years. Right now, you'll pay a nice price to land a wideout and offensive linemen are relatively cheap.

Some of the guys on the list below won't be cheap however. There's a pretty nice group of offensive linemen hitting the market this year, and teams might be wise to avoid trying to race in the free-agent market and focus their efforts on improving protection.

1. Carl Nicks

Breakdown: Nicks is probably the best guard in the league, and it doesn't help that his teammate, Jahri Evans, signed a $56.7 million deal for the next seven years. Especially since Nicks wants more money. With Drew Brees franchised, the Saints are essentially forced to let Nicks and top wideout Marques Colston both hit the market and good luck bringing Nicks back. He's the only guy who can hurt the guard-related stock for Stanford's David DeCastro.
Potential Landing Spots: Saints, Cowboys, Chargers, 49ers

2. Chris Myers

Breakdown: Honestly if Meyers left it would be a) a huge mistake for the Texans and b) a big surprise. Everyone talks about Mario Williams as the guy they need to re-sign, but Meyers is substantially more valuable to what they do (especially with the defensive personnel vs. the offensive personnel). Houston's offensive line is by far and away the most underrated in the NFL and while Eric Winston is the anchor, Meyers is the leader. I'd like to think that Houston won't let him walk, simply because the AFC South window is too big not to keep making a run at another division title.
Potential Landing Spots: Texans, Packers, Ravens

3. Jared Gaither

Breakdown: Gaither was a supplemental draft pick with the Ravens in 2007, washed out, went to the Chiefs and then looked finished in the NFL at an early age. But he was a big factor in revitalizing the Chargers run late in the season; after Marcus McNeil went down, Philip Rivers was offered no protection until Gaither came into town. The Chargers want to keep him, but this is a very shallow class for free-agent tackles, and Gaither could pull in good money on the market. He's got gobs of talent and is still young, but keeping him motivated is a concern.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

4. Ben Grubbs

Breakdown: Grubbs, the Ravens 2007 first-round pick, made the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2011. He's a free agent only because Baltimore's had to use their franchise tag on Ray Rice and couldn't commit to the guard. The Ravens still want to re-sign Grubbs, and that could happen between now and March 13 when free agency begins. Working in the Ravens favor is the deep nature of this crop of free-agent guards.
Potential Landing Spots: Ravens, Bengals, Giants, Bears, 49ers

4. Scott Wells

Breakdown: Wells and the Packers are in the middle of a headed non-discussion about a new contract. Wells believes he deserves big money, and the Packers believe he deserves the type of money that a shorter, 31-year-old center would get on an open market. But Wells isn't just any center; he's proven his worth in working with different quarterbacks in Green Bay and helping to develop Aaron Rodgers. Wells made his first Pro Bowl in 2011 and has missed just one game since 2006. He won't want to leave Green Bay but he also won't take less than he's worth. It wouldn't be surprising to see him move closer to Tennessee (he's from there and played for the Vols in college) either.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Texans, Broncos

5. Demetrius Bell

Breakdown: Bell's been playing football for less than 10 years, but he's clearly quite good at it. Or at least good enough to keep being named the Bills left tackle. The seventh-round pick out of Northwestern State could come back to Buffalo, but if there are teams in need of offensive line help, there's a good chance he'll bail. The offensive line market is odd this year, in that it appears to be guard and center heavy. The tackles aren't exactly stacked and that could result in a nice deal for a guy like Bell.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Bills, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

6. Evan Mathis

Breakdown: Mathis hasn't started 16 games since coming into the NFL. But he's coming off easily the best season of his career and has said he'll take a discount to remain with the Eagles under the tutelage of Howard Mudd. Mathis said he'd work for "$20 and a pizza," but the reality is he got paid the league minimum last year, and at 30, he'd be insane not to maximize his money-making ability.
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Saints, Seahawks, 49ers

8. Geoff Schwartz

Breakdown: Schwartz played all over the line for Carolina in 2010 before missing all of 2011 with injury. It'll be interesting to see Ron Rivera's coaching staff handles the offensive line: Schwartz and Jeff Otah are holdovers from a previous regime and might not necessarily stick. But Schwartz, at 25, would be a nice, versatile and discounted signing for someone who needs help and depth across the line.
Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Bills, Panthers, Seahawks

9. Dan Koppen

Breakdown: You know what's weird? Everyone's willing to toss out the "system" word as it relates to anything with the Patriots quarterback but don't bother discussing how their offensive line, which features a pretty cohesive unit, helps Tom Brady's success. Whatever, it's fine. That's the "Patriot Way." But Koppen isn't going to get the franchise tag like fellow lineman Logan Mankins and he stands to make more money for a team that needs a center.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Ravens

10. Jake Scott

Breakdown: The good news is this: Scott played for an offensive-line monster in Mike Munchak. Munchak consistently creates cohesive offensive units that over-produce relative to their value. But the bad news is that Scott's 30 (not too old) and if you bring him into another organization, he's not going to have that same Titans cohesiveness. Is that overplayed? Yeah, maybe. But Scott will have bigger questions when it comes to Chris Johnson's production in 2011, whether that's fair or not.
Potential Landing Spots: Titans, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks

HONORABLE MENTION

Jeff Backus, Nick Hardwick, Vernon Carey, Anthony Collins

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:12 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:21 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Cornerback rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings here (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the cornerbacks.

The NFL is a passing league, which puts a premium on quarterbacks and wide receivers on offense, and pass rushers and cornerbacks on defense. Incidentally, these positions are among the league's highest paid, too. Go figure.

1. Cortland Finnegan

Breakdown: The former seventh-round pick out of Samford has turned a draft-day oversight into a career fueled by motivation. Finnegan's on-field skills are sometimes overlooked by his trash-talking and knack for playing just past the whistle. But there's no disputing his ability. And if the Titans don't re-sign him (the two sides were reportedly far apart on a deal earlier this week), expect a CB-needy team to pony up. Like, say, the Cowboys.

Possible landing spots: Cowboys, Titans, Texans (for the sheer Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter awkwardness)

2. Brent Grimes

UPDATE: The Falcons franchised Grimes Friday

Breakdown:
Another small-school player who has emerged as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. The Falcons are working to re-sign Grimes (worst case: they'll franchise him), who played opposite Dunta Robinson in recent seasons. ProFootballFocus ranks Grimes as their No. 1 free-agent CB, noting that he allowed just 258 total receiving yards in 2011.

Possible landing spots: Falcons

3. Carlos Rogers

Breakdown: Perhaps it's coincidence that Rogers' breakout performance came a year after he left the Redskins, the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2005. In Washington, he was considered a bust, a cornerback who got beat too often and dropped too many should-be interceptions. In San Francisco, he looked like the player the Skins envisioned they were getting on draft day. Rogers recorded six interceptions (he had eight in six previous seasons) and 18 passes defended in 2011, and said recently that he hopes to get a deal down with the 49ers before free agency. If not, he's a candidate for the franchise tag, assuming that honor doesn't go to safety Dashon Goldson

Possible landing spots: 49ers, Cowboys

4. Brandon Carr

Breakdown: Carr was taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft as a Cover-2 cornerback. In three years, he's emerged as one of the Chiefs' best defenders and if he doesn't return to K.C. (the organization hopes to keep him), the Cowboys have grand plans of bringing him to Dallas (yes, just like Finnegan). Kansas City signed Stanford Routt in February but GM Scott Pioli said during a recent radio interview that "The signing of Stanford Routt does not impact where we’re at with Brandon Carr. As a matter of fact, Romeo and I both reached out to Brandon yesterday as this was unfolding and talked to him."

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Cowboys

5. Lardarius Webb

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: After a solid rookie campaign in 2009, Webb regressed in Year 2 only to have his best NFL season in 2011. The Ravens appear set to tender him as a restricted free agent and have him play opposite 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Williams. According to PFF, he didn't allow a single touchdown last season. Webb is also a capable return man.

Possible landing spots: Ravens

6. Terrell Thomas

Breakdown: Thomas suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason but the Giants could choose to re-sign him and let former first-rounder Aaron Ross walk. Thomas' 2010 season can kindly be described as disastrous, but he played well in 2009and at 27, he has plenty of upside. CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan tweeted Thursday that the Giants and Thomas are closing in on a deal.

Possible landing spots: Giants

7. Tracy Porter

Breakdown: Porter is best known as "that guy who was on the receiving end of the Peyton Manning Super Bowl gift," but he hasn't lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick. That's not to say he's been a disappointment just that he hasn't been a breakout player. In his top-50 free-agent rankings, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco offers an apt description: "He is a good, solid starting corner, and those guys get paid. The Saints probably won't be able to keep him. He turns 26 in August."

Possible landing spots: Lions

8. Aaron Ross

Breakdown: Ross, like former teammate Thomas, has been plagued by injuries. He's also one of the six Giants cornerbacks set to hit free agency. But unlike Thomas, the former first-rounder may have played his last down in New York. As the New York Daily News noted earlier this week, "(Thomas) was the starter over Ross before he tore his ACL in August. The Giants had even expressed an interest in extending his contract last summer before he got hurt." Still, like we said at the outset: this is a passing league, which means that even mediocre cornerbacks won't have trouble finding work. If Ross can stay healthy, he'll have a job.

Possible landing spots: Lions, Cowboys

9. Tim Jennings

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: At first glance, Jennings is undersized and outmatched. That explains why the Colts parted ways with him in 2009, four years after they drafted him in the second round. It's with some irony then that Jennings' performed well in the Bears' defense. As PFF points out, Jennings is primarily a Cover-2 cornerback, a potential limitation given that teams are moving away from that scheme. Even though he was benched last year, Jennings didn't allow a touchdown. While he's not a starter, he provides quality depth in the right system.

Possible landing spots: Cover-2 teams looking for a nickel or dime back

10. William Gay

Breakdown: Gay, like most names at the bottom of this list, isn't an NFL starter. The Steelers tried that in 2010 with disastrous results. But Gay is a pretty good nickel back who can serve as a spot starter. Given that Pittsburgh has invested five years into him learning Dick LeBeau's scheme, they might try to bring him back. If not, he won't have any issues landing with another team.

Possible landing spots: Steelers, Lions

Honorable Mention

Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Rashean Mathis, Ronde Barber, Marcus Trufant, Phillip Buchanon, Jason Allen, Kelly Jennings, Adam Jones, Antwaun Molden, Cary Williams (RFA), Jacob Lacey (RFA), Keenan Lewis (RFA)

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 2:28 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Fletcher, at 37, might not have many options other than returning to Washington. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the linebackers.

While there are a ton of free agent linebackers about to come on the market -- I’ve counted approximately 80 -- there doesn’t seem to be many surefire game-changers in the bunch. London Fletcher, vastly underrated in Washington, is one such player, but other than him, you’ve mostly got solid guys who can be contributors to whichever team signs them.

Some of the better free agent linebackers have been taken off the board already, as D’Qwell Jackson has re-signed with Cleveland while Ahmad Brooks agreed to return to San Francisco. Here are the rest of those who probably will try out their fortunes on the market.

1a. Mario Williams


Breakdown: Though we have Williams as the No. 1 defensive end available, we have to give him some love on the linebacker list, as well. Simply because in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, Williams was an outside linebacker. He only played five games for the Texans last year before tearing his pectoral muscle, but with five sacks, he also proved he can be successful in a 3-4 defense, meaning every team in the league should be thinking about Williams' worth. We thought he might struggle to find his balance in the first year of Phillips' scheme, but, as a linebacker, Williams is pretty damn good also.

Possible Landing Spots: Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans

1b. London Fletcher


Breakdown: Fletcher is one of those players who, unless you’re paying close attention, somehow seems to rack up the tackle numbers -- and you’re not really sure how. And before you know it, he’s leading the league with 166 takedowns, like last year.  In fact, Fletcher has recorded at least 116 tackles every year since 2001, and he’s started 224-straight games. The problem with Fletcher is that he’s 37, and you have to wonder how long his durability will hold up -- as well as his penchant for making scores of tackles every season. That shouldn’t matter, however, because it sounds like he wants to return to Washington and that the Redskins feel the same way. “We want our captain back,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said earlier this month. The feeling apparently is mutual.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

Tulloch might be a good fit in Philadelphia because he knows how to play in the wide nine. (US Presswire)

2. Stephen Tulloch


Breakdown: After a solid 2008-10 with the Titans (the dude had 160 tackles in 2010), Tennessee let the Lions take away Stephen Tulloch for 2011. After recording 111 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended last year, Detroit would like to keep him. It’ll likely cost the Lions much more than the one-year, $3.25 million deal they paid Tulloch last year. More importantly for the Lions, though, is locking up defensive end Cliff Avril, and you have to wonder if the Lions will want to shell out that much money to two defensive players. One good option for Tulloch might be the Eagles. Considering Tulloch played for years with Jim Washburn, who installed the wide nine scheme in Philadelphia last year, Tulloch would be comfortable in that system. Besides, the Eagles linebackers last year were pretty horrible, and Tulloch would be a big upgrade. Wherever he lands, one can only hope that Tulloch gets another chance to Tebow in front of Tebow.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions, Buccaneers, Eagles

3. Anthony Spencer


Breakdown: He’s pretty much the definition of one of those solid linebackers I wrote about before, and the Cowboys don’t fancy losing him to free agency. There has been speculation that the team could place the franchise tag on him, but if not, at least one Dallas reporter has speculated that Spencer could land a Chris Canty-like deal (a six-year, $42 million contract signed in 2009). The Cowboys might be averse to giving him such a long deal, because he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations. Spencer’s representatives and the Cowboys were scheduled to meet at the scouting combine, and if they can’t come to a long-term agreement, Dallas might just have to grit its teeth and tag him.

Possible Landing Spots:Cowboys, Dolphins

4. Curtis Lofton


Breakdown: For the past three years, Lofton has been a tackling machine, accumulating at least 118 (including 147 in 2011), and it’s clear the Falcons want to re-sign him. But when Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff says that negotiations between the team and Lofton are “amicable,” it strikes kind of a weird tone (or is that just me?). And maybe the Falcons won’t be terrified if Lofton leaves. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote last week, “There’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker?” Lofton might want more than that. Reportedly, Lofton is asking or a four-year deal worth $36 million.

Possible Landing Spots: Falcons, Eagles, Browns

5. David Hawthorne

Breakdown: With Hawthorne, you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s good for about 110 tackles a season, five passes defended or so, and an interception or three. But it sounds like the Seahawks have a higher priority to sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant than inking Hawthorne to a new deal. Hawthorne is only 26 years old, and he’s solid across the board. But maybe more than most of the other linebackers on the list, there’s not a great chance for him to return to his old team. The one caveat to that: now that Leroy Hill is facing another drug charge, that might open up Seattle’s interest in Hawthorne again.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks

6. Jarret Johnson


Breakdown: The Ravens, at some point soon, might have to make a choice between whether they want Johnson or Jameel McClain (see below) to return to Baltimore for 2012. General manager Ozzie Newsome had said he wants to keep both, but that will be tough for the club to accomplish. So, if you’re Newsome, who is the priority between Johnson and McClain? Well, McClain had more tackles (84-56) last season  but less sacks (Johnson had 2.5 to McClain’s 1), and the Baltimore Sun predicts the Ravens have a better chance of retaining Johnson. He is, though, four years older, which might mean Baltimore will actually go harder after McClain. “I’d like to fit in again here,” Johnson said last month, via the team’s official website. “But unfortunately this is a business and sometimes business decisions [have] got to be made. I hope to be back. I’d love to retire a Raven, but we’ll see.”

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts

7. Jameel McClain


Breakdown: At 26, McClain is a young talent who likely will command a large salary (moreso than Jarret Johnson (see above)). It doesn’t sound like there’s a great chance for the Ravens to keep him.

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts, Eagles

8. Honorable Mentions

Unrestricted: Barrett Ruud, Chase Blackburn, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Andra Davis, Manny Lawson, Geno Hayes, Wesley Woodyard, Dan Connor

Restricted: Dannell Ellerbe, Aaron Maybin

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Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:00 am
Edited on: February 28, 2012 11:17 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive tackle rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive tackles.

Unlike our previous free-agent breakdowns, the defensive tackles lack big names and depth; but that doesn't mean their roles have diminished. Getting into the backfield is more important now than ever, and while sacks aren't necessarily a hallmark of the position, disrupting what the offense wants to do certainly is. And that's where some of the names below excel.

1. Paul Soliai

Breakdown: Soliai spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Dolphins. They thought so much of him that they franchised him before the 2011 season. The two sides have yet to agree on a long-term deal, although it isn't from a lack of trying. With the Dolphins likely switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the nose tackle looks to be headed for free agency. Six-four, 355-pound space-eaters seldom have trouble finding work and we suspect that'll be the case for Soliai, too.

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Chargers, other 3-4 teams with cap room and a need for a nose tackle.

2. Sione Pouha

Breakdown: The Jets' defense wasn't the reason the team imploded down the stretch last season, but the unit wasn't as good as it had been during Rex Ryan's first two seasons in New York. Luckily, the Mark Sanchez-Santonio Holmes afterschool special obscured all that. But locker-room catfights aside, the Jets' defense has to get better in 2012 and that starts up the middle. Pouha is a run-stuffing nose tackle who at 33 shows no signs of slowing down. Because of the Jets' precarious salary-cap situation, they have no plans to tag Pouha, but as the Newark Star-Ledger's Jenny Vrentas noted last week, "Pouha is coming off a strong season and also has leverage because Kenrick Ellis, last year's third-round draft pick, is not yet ready for the role."

Possible landing spots: Patriots, Chargers, Chiefs.

3. Jason Jones

Breakdown: Jones is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. At 6-5, 276, he might appear undersized for the tackle position but he had 12.5 sacks playing primarily inside during his first three seasons. But under a new coaching staff in 2011, Jones played both tackle and end and saw his numbers slip (he had just three sacks). Following the season, he admitted that how the Titans plan to use him could determine the likelihood he re-signs. Earlier this month, Titans head coach Mike Munchak said (via the Tennessean) “We’re going to use him whatever way we think is best to win football games. Obviously, if we felt leaving him at defensive tackle for every snap was the way to go, we would have done that. We didn’t do that. So now it’s just a matter of us having the right mix and having him feel good about it."

The Titans and Jones have begun contract talks but he appears headed for free agency.

Possible landing spots: Eagles, Broncos, Colts.
                                                                          (US PRESSWIRE)

4. Antonio Garay

Breakdown: Word on the street is that the Chargers will release defensive end Luis Castillo and hope to re-sign Garay and Tommie Harris (though both will be allowed to test free agency). At 32, Garay's best days may be behind him, but at the right price he makes a lot of sense. Pro Football Weekly noted several weeks ago that "Many believe Garay wore down at the end of the year, as he was not used to playing three downs for an entire season. With a capable backup in place, a better rotation would allow the lineman to stay fresh for the entire grind of the year."

The nose tackle rotation would include 2010 fifth-rounder Cam Thomas.

Possible landing spots: Defenses running the 3-4 and looking for a savvy, reasonably priced, two-down veteran. Patriots, Steelers, Cardinals.

5. Brodrick Bunkley

Breakdown: Bunkley washed out as the Eagles' 2006 first-round pick but experienced a rebirth of sorts in Denver last season. "There was at least some injury concern when Bunkley went to the Broncos," the Denver Post's Jeff Legwold wrote earlier this month, "but once he arrived, he didn't miss a practice on the way to playing in every game in the 2011 season. His statistics were modest on the surface — 43 tackles and no sacks — but his teammates, particularly the ones who have been with the Broncos for a while, say he was a key part of any improvement the team made defensively over 2010."

Team president John Elway, taking a break from talking Tim Tebow, offered this. "He really played well. Like all of our free agents, we would like to get them back in the building and consider (re-signing them)."

Possible landing spots: Broncos, cash-strapped teams looking for affordable depth.

6. Aubrayo Franklin

Breakdown: New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to decide whether Franklin is worth re-signing but if not, Franklin could have a future as a nose tackle. "The nine-year veteran signed just a one-year, $4 million contract with New Orleans in '11, playing tackle in the 4-3 after the 3-4 market never really developed for him," Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli wrote in mid-February. "Two personnel directors at the Super Bowl last week mentioned Franklin as a possible 'sleeper' at the position." Which means Franklin could be in demand with 3-4 teams, or teams looking to move to the 3-4.

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers, Redskins.

7. Shaun Rogers

Breakdown: Remember when Rogers did this? (Tebow never lets that happen, by the way.) After stints in Cleveland and New Orleans, Rogers had developed a reputation for taking plays off. In 2011, he got off to a slow start with the Saints but improved as the season progressed. New Orleans could choose to give him a short-term deal, but it's just as likely that Rogers is headed for free agency. 

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Saints.

8. Amobi Okoye

Breakdown: Okoye was 19 years old when the Texans took him out of Louisville in the first round of the 2007 draft (10th overall). He never lived up to expectations in Houston, and Chicago signed him to a one-year deal before the 2011 season. He played in 16 games for the Bears and had 18 tackles and four sacks. Last week, head coach Lovie Smith said "Amobi had a heck of a year," and sounded like the organization would make a real effort to keep him. On Sunday, CSNChicago.com's John Mullin wrote that "the Bears had contract talks late last season (with Okoye) and likely will have re-signed before the outset of free agency."

Possible landing spots: Chicago.

9. Albert Haynesworth

                                                                          (US PRESSWIRE)
Breakdown: Haynesworth makes the list on reputation alone. And we mean his pre-Redskins reputation, when Jim Washburn got the most out of the man now known as one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent years. Not even Bill Belichick could revive Haynesworth's career, cutting him midway through last season.

The Bucs signed him only to release him a few weeks ago. Maybe his career is over, but then again, coaches and GMs are seduced by potential. And Haynesworth certainly has plenty of that.

Possible landing spots: Realistically, Haynesworth's probably done. That said, we wouldn't be shocked if the Redskins signed him to another $100 million deal.

10. Tommie Harris

Breakdown: Injuries derailed a great career in the making for the Bears' former first-round pick. Chicago released Harris before the 2011 season, and after a brief stopover with the Colts, he made a home in San Diego. He played so well, in fact, that the Chargers are hoping to re-sign him and Garay to provide depth for a crop of young defensive linemen.

Possible landing spots: Teams looking for depth.

Honorable mention

Rocky Bernard, Kelly Gregg (possible retirement), Pat Sims, Jimmy Kennedy, Kyle Love (RFA), Trevor Laws

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 1:08 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive End Rankings

It sounds like Houston isn't remotely interested in letting Williams test free agency. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive ends.

Most of the categories in our 2012 free agent rankings are fairly straightforward. Running backs are running backs. Tight ends are tight ends. Quarterbacks are quarterbacks. But when it comes to the defensive line, the category gets a little blurry.

Some defensive ends also play defensive tackle. Defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme oftentimes line up as an outside linebacker. That makes ranking them in a single list a bit more complicated. Though some of the following players won’t always line up as a defensive end, the idea that each of these players will be asked to rush the passer remains the same. So, we list them as defensive ends.

1. Mario Williams

Breakdown: Williams quickly caught on to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme where he played as more of an end/linebacker hybrid and recorded five sacks in the only five games in which he participated last year. Williams likely will return to terrorizing tackles and quarterbacks on nearly every snap if he leaves Houston and signs with a team that uses the 4-3. True, Williams is coming off a pectoral muscle injury that sent him to the IR list, but he says he’s healthy and the former No. 1 overall pick is going to be expensive. That said, Texans general manager Rick Smith continues to say that re-signing Williams is one of the teams’ top offseason priorities, though there’s a real question whether Houston has the cap room to do so. Even though Williams has failed to reach double-digits in sacks for the past three years, he still could win the richest defensive player contract of all time if he leaves Houston.

Possible Landing Spots:Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans
Avril made a name for himself in 2011. (Getty Images)

2. Cliff Avril


Breakdown: Although he’s not as well-known as teammates Ndamukong Suh or (probably) Nick Fairley, Avril emerged as one of the nastiest ends in the league this year. His 11 sacks were a career high, and he even managed his first career interception. The problem on Avril’s end is that there’s almost no chance Detroit will let him get anywhere near free agency. The Lions and Avril are working on a long-term deal. General manager Martin Mayhew said that while he doesn’t want to franchise-tag Avril, he’s also not willing to lose him. If that occurs, Avril -- who has hinted at holding out -- will have to decide if he wants to be on time for training camp.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions

3. Calais Campbell


Breakdowns: The past three seasons, Campbell has been consistent, and he has consistently improved, increasing his tackle totals every season and notching a career-high eight sacks in 2011 for the Cardinals. But like Avril, he’s got very little chance to test himself on the free agent market, because it sounds like if Arizona can’t come to terms on a long-term contract, the Cardinals will tag him. But unlike Avril, Campbell said he’s OK with that scenario. Besides, if he is tagged and makes close to $11 million for 2012 and puts forth another career-best performance, he’ll have the chance to set himself up with a huge contract.
 
Possible Landing Spots: Cardinals

4. Robert Mathis


Breakdown: Since he’s spent his entire nine-year career in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine Mathis in a non-Colts uniform -- almost as tough, I suppose, as imagining Peyton Manning in something other than blue and white. The potential problem, though, is new coach Chuck Pagano seems intent on installing the 3-4 scheme, and that will be a transition for somebody who’s always been a 4-3 end (it’s worth noting that CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco doesn’t seem concerned with the Colts turning Mathis into a pass-rushing linebacker). The Colts have said they want to keep Mathis in Indianapolis, but Dwight Freeney will cost $19 million against the salary cap. Another possibility for Mathis is the Colts placing the franchise tag on him, but considering Mathis is 31, the delaying of a long-term contract isn’t necessarily a great option for him.

Possible Landing Spots: Titans, Falcons, Colts

5. John Abraham

Abraham believes he's worth $12 million a year, even though he'll turn 34 before next season. (US Presswire)

Breakdown: Although Abraham will turn 34 before the start of the 2012 season, he still should draw plenty of interest throughout the league, simply because he continues to be one of the elite ends around. He’s durable, playing at least 15 games per season in the last five years, and he continues to churn out double-digit sack totals on a near-annual basis (his 9.5 sacks in 2011 just missed the cutoff). Can he command a long-term contract? Probably not, because of his age. Is he still a top-10 defensive end? Probably, yes. But is he worth $12 million? According to Abraham, the answer is: absolutely. “Check out the five top ends,” Abraham told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Everybody is getting 12-plus. I made $8 million last year. Everybody is saying, ‘Oh, he’s so greedy.’ How am I greedy when I’m just trying to get paid the same thing they are getting paid?” The chances of Abraham getting $12 million? Slim to none.

Possible Landing Spots: Giants, Buccaneers, Patriots

6. Cory Redding

Breakdown: He had a rough year in 2009 in his only season with the Lions, but since moving to Baltimore and playing with the Ravens for the past two seasons, Redding has returned to being a solid end who can stop the run and who occasionally can muster a sack (he’s got 7.5  combined in the past two seasons). But Redding will turn 32 next season, and he had injuries at the end of last year that slowed him a bit (even though it was one of the best seasons of his career). He’s probably not a great long-term value for most teams in the league, but the Ravens are a fan of him, particularly since he took on a leadership role when linebacker Ray Lewis missed four games. Redding just seems to fit in well with Baltimore’s defense. But remember, Pagano lurks to the west in Indianapolis.

Possible Landing Spots:Colts, Ravens

7. Jeremy Mincey


Breakdown: Mincey certainly picked the best time to have a career year. In his contract year, he recorded 57 tackles, eight sacks and an interception. Considering he didn’t combine for those numbers during the first five seasons of his career, that should tell you about Mincey’s mindset entering 2011. Or, it should tell you that last season was simply an anomaly (or, I suppose, you could say that it just took Mincey a long time to develop). Either way, Mincey is looking to get paid -- he’s on record saying he won’t give Jacksonville a hometown discount -- and though it appears the Jaguars would like to keep him, they’ll have to figure out where he fits in with the team’s finances (it should be noted that Jacksonville has plenty of room under the salary cap).

Possible Landing Spots: Jaguars, Bills

8. Israel Idonije


Breakdown: He obviously doesn’t get the love that’s reserved for teammate Julius Peppers, but Idonije notched a career-high 52 tackles last season (along with five sacks). Even better for Chicago, Idonije seems intent on returning to the Bears. “I want to be here,” Idonije said earlier this month. “I have an incredible relationship with the coaching staff, and I understand the system. So my No. 1 focus is to stay.” He even intimated he would give Chicago a hometown discount. He probably won’t command an expensive long-term deal, and he’ll probably be worth it for the Bears.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears

9.  Mark Anderson


Breakdown: Anderson is a strange case, because as ESPN Boston pointed out, he only played 47.6 percent of the Patriots snaps last year. Yet, he still managed 10 sacks. Also, he played all but one snap in the team’s final two games after Andre Carter suffered a quad injury.  Carter also is an unrestricted free agent, but reportedly, Anderson is a better bet to be re-signed by New England.

Possible Landing Spot: Patriots, Dolphins

10. Honorable Mentions


Unrestricted: Kendall Langford, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, Andre Carter

Restricted: Phillip Merling, Michael Bennett

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Posted on: February 25, 2012 2:51 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Tight End Rankings

Shiancoe leads what is a fairly unimpressive group of free agent tight ends. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the tight ends.

Originally for this post, I listed Jermichael Finley for the No. 1 spot on this list. Obviously, he was an easy call, because he was so obviously the best tight end on the market. Now, though, he’s a signed a two-year deal with the Packers worth about $7.5 million per season, and therefore, the free agent tight end class of 2012 suddenly has grown awfully weak (let’s face it, it wasn’t all that great with Finley on top either).

The best tight ends in the game -- guys like New England’s Rob Gronkowski, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Finley -- are safely secure with their respective teams, and those teams who actually are looking for tight ends will have to draw on a list with very few, if any, top-line playmakers. Considering Gronkowski and Graham are helping to redefine the position, that’s not great news. Nevertheless, here we go.

1. Visanthe Shiancoe

Breakdown: Since catching 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns when Brett Favre was throwing to him, Shiancoe’s production has decreased the past two seasons, especially in 2011 when he caught 36 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Since he made $4.5 million last season, it doesn’t seem likely the Vikings will re-sign him. Especially since the Vikings seem high on Kyle Rudolph. But unless Favre is planning to return for another season (and let’s face it, we can never rule out this option), the value of Shiancoe isn’t as high as it once was.

Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Browns

2. Martellus Bennett


Breakdown: Though Bennett doesn’t have impressive receiving numbers, that’s not what he’s called upon to do. Instead, he’ll be one of the more valuable tight ends in free agency because he’s top-notch run blocker. Bennett oftentimes is overshadowed by his teammate Jason Witten, but his worth to the Cowboys is evident every time Bennett steps on the field (it also seems evident, though, that Bennett’s time in Dallas is finished). But in order to get paid tons of money, he needs to show he can catch the ball, and that’s something missing from his arsenal at this point.

Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Broncos, Jets, Bengals

3. Joel Dreessen


Breakdown: Dreessen is a solid tight end, and he’s been an important cog for the Texans as quarterback Matt Schaub, receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster have turned Houston into a consistent top-10 offense in the past three years. He’s not a big-time pass catcher, but he’s a solid run-blocker (as Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward likely would attest). The Texans would like to keep their two tight end set, but assuming Owen Daniels can stay healthy, Dreessen becomes a little more expendable in Houston.
Fred Davis
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Jets, Giants, Texans, Redskins

4. Fred Davis

Breakdown: He’s actually a pretty good candidate to be franchise-tagged by the Redskins (safety LaRon Landry (and his muscles!) is another candidate), and considering he caught 59 passes for 796 yards in 12 games last year in the best season of his career, Davis is a potential emerging star. Unfortunately for Davis, he was suspended for the final four games of the season for a failed drug test, and if he happens to fail another one, he’d be suspended for a year. So, there’s a little bit of a gray cloud following him around, and teams that need a tight end might shy away from a potential off-the-field problem like that.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

5. Jeremy Shockey


Breakdown: It was only four years ago when Shockey was considered an elite tight end, good for about 60 catches, 600 yards and six touchdowns per season from 2004-07. He’s been hurt (literally) by injuries, and after the Saints released him in 2010, he was solid enough  last season in Charlotte (though the team did like the toughness he brought to the squad). Shockey has talked about wanting to play in Miami -- he’s also talked apparently about retiring, though it seems like everybody is denying it at that point -- but with Anthony Fasano already entrenched as the Dolphins tight end, Shockey probably would have to be content to play as the No. 2 tight end. He made $4 million last season, and in order to return to the Panthers to play with tight end Greg Olsen, he’d probably have to take a paycut.

Potential Landing Spots: Dolphins, Giants, Panthers
Shockey

6. John Carlson


Breakdown: Carlson missed the entire season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, so there will be plenty of caution surrounding him, even though he’s caught at least 50 passes in two of his first three seasons in the league. Making matters worse, Carlson said in January that he’s not completely healed, estimating that he was only at 90 percent. “Obviously missing the season is not ideal,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “But that was the situation I was in. I feel really good. I didn’t beat my body up over the course of the season and my shoulder is repaired.” Carlson is also a solid run-blocker, and he seems like one of those guys who could move into the top-10 of tight ends around the league.

Potential Landing Spots:Seahawks, Rams

7. Jacob Tamme


Breakdown: Like most everybody inside the Indianapolis franchise, Tamme suffered without Peyton Manning around. Playing in place of the injured Dallas Clark, Tamme caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. Last year, those numbers dropped to 19 for 177 and one. Which obviously is not the kind of season you want to have in a contract year, but it reflects Tamme’s position on the team and, probably, in the league. He’s a solid backup, the No. 2 tight end in a two-tight end set. He has talent, but it’s unclear how much of that was reflected off Manning. He could be a low-risk, somewhat-high reward guy for the right team.

Potential Landing Spots: Colts, Dolphins, Broncos, Bengals

8. Honorable Mention


Unrestricted free agents: Scott Chandler, Reggie Kelly, Daniel Fells
Restricted free agents: None

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Posted on: February 24, 2012 5:11 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 1:29 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

The 2012 free-agent wide receivers is a stacked group of players. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the wide receivers.

Everyone knows the NFL is a passing league these days and that you need an elite quarterback to succeed. But take a look at the teams who made the playoffs in 2011 and you might just realize that having talented wide receivers is a must too. (Just ask Eli Manning.)

Only the Ravens, 49ers and Broncos bucked the trend, and there are mitigating circumstances. Each of those teams is run-heavy, and each of those teams has burned an early-round pick on a wideout -- Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree and Demaryius Thomas, respectively -- in the last three years. So it’s not like they’re not trying here.

The need for wideouts was especially glaring amongst the NFL’s dregs: the Jaguars, Rams, Browns, Vikings, Redskins and Buccaneers all have something on common besides their terrible records.

Good news, then, for those teams -- this free-agent class is absolutely stacked with talented wideouts. A good portion of them could be franchise-tagged, but the guys who make it to the market are going to get straight paid.

1. Wes Welker

Breakdown: Welker’s considered the perfect fit for the Patriots, and it’s hard to argue: his numbers working in New England’s system since 2007 are absolutely bananas. 111 catches, 1,221 yards and six touchdowns ... on average. “The Patriot Way” might mean one thing on the field and at press conferences, but in the front office it means not over-paying for veterans who want too much money. That’s what Welker is right now, as he’s reportedly seeking $14-15 million per year, more than the Pats have probably invested in all their wideouts in a long time. Franchise-tagging Welker has “hold-out” written all over it, and there’s a common belief that Bill Belichick will call Welker’s bluff and let him test the market.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Jets, Rams, Bears

2. Mike Wallace

Breakdown: Wallace is a restricted free agent and what happens to him this offseason is one of the more fascinating storylines to emerge from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the Steelers simply tender Wallace at their non-franchise-tag max, a team in need of a deep threat could negotiate a deal with Wallace. Pittsburgh would have the right to match, but they’re in a major cap quagmire right now; if the team offering Wallace the contract simply front-loaded the deal, it would be nearly impossible for the Steelers to retain him.

They’d get a first-round pick in return, and you can bet Kevin Colbert will turn it into something nice. But there’s no better way to hurt your competition than by taking one its best players. Good news emerged for the Steelers on Thursday, as they restructured Ben Roethlisberger's contract and may have gotten under the cap. Now they just need to whack another $10 million off their total and Wallace, who is just 25 and has averaged 66 catches, 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons, can "finish his career" in Pittsburgh.
Potential Landing Spots: Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, Bears

3. Marques Colston

Breakdown: Colston’s the rare player who re-negotiated his rookie contract after just two years. But that’s what happens when you crank out back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards and establish yourself as Drew Brees’ top target. Colston’s no longer the true No. 1 option in New Orleans -- Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles were more involved in the passing game in 2011 -- but he’s got the tools of an elite wide receiver. And at age 28 and as the only guy not sweating a franchise tag, he’s going to get paid like one too.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Rams, 49ers

4. Dwayne Bowe

Breakdown: Bowe was a 50/50 shot to make it to the market, because the Chiefs also needed to retain cornerback Brandon Carr. But then KC landed Stanford Routt after the defensive back was discarded by the Raiders. That gives the Chiefs some flexibility with Bowe; they can franchise tag him and try to re-sign Carr later. Bowe’s a hulking presence on the field and a physical receiver capable of acrobatic and explosive plays.

Somehow he’s broken out twice in his short career (no, really, he has, even though he's just 27), and it’s scary to think what he could do in a high-octane offense with an elite quarterback. Don’t expect him to hit the market just yet though; the Chiefs can't afford to lose him in what should be a rebound year for KC's offense. He's well worth the $9.4 million.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs

5. Vincent Jackson

Breakdown: The Bolts reportedly want to pay V-Jax and keep him in San Diego long term. Which is a fantastic sentiment, but one that’s too tardy to get Jackson to take a deal that doesn’t max out his value. Because he was franchised in 2011, his franchise-tag salary for 2012 would be prohibitive. There’s some concern with his off-field history; Jackson's got a pair of DUI arrests on his record. But if A.J. Smith can’t lock him up between now and March 13, he’s going to make a boatload.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Chargers, Jaguars, 49ers, Rams

6. DeSean Jackson

Breakdown: The Eagles are expected to use the franchise tag on D-Jax, but there’s also a possibility that they’ll look to deal him elsewhere after locking him into that tag, which means another team would likely shell out an extension for the oftentimes troubling wideout. Howie Roseman said at the combine that the Eagles want to work something out long term with the receiver.

Jackson’s a home-run hitter and one of the most explosive receivers in the game, but he also feels like a powder keg at times. He’s held out from Eagles camp, he’s talked openly about wanting more money, he’s been vulnerable to injury and he’s been accused of not trying his hardest on the field at times. Will that change if he gets a big contract?
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Redskins, Bears

7. Brandon Lloyd

Breakdown: It’s considered a near lock that Lloyd will figure out a way to land with in New England; he’s hitched his wagon to new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. There’s good reason for that: McD is the guy who turned him into a Pro Bowler in Denver and salvaged his career. Lloyd would fit what the Patriots need well, as a wide receiver not named Ochocinco who can actually still stretch the field. But don’t count out the Rams -- Lloyd told us at the Super Bowl that with a new coaching staff in town, he’s certainly interested in sticking around and helping Sam Bradford grow.

There are some concerns with Lloyd. He's older (he'll turn 31 in July), the majority of his success came while working directly with Josh McDaniels. And there's Lloyd's 45.5 percent catch rate (according to Pro Football Focus, that's the fourth-lowest among wideouts who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps), which could be alarming. But you could also point to the quarterbacks -- Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, a dinged-up Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens and A.J. Feeley, as the problem there.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Rams

8. Stevie Johnson

Breakdown: It’s hard not to be fascinated by Johnson. A seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, Johnson came on strong during the 2010 season, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. He repeated the feat in 2011, posting similar, albeit slightly depressed numbers. But it’s also hard not to be frustrated by Johnson. He cost his team a pair of wins -- against the Steelers in 2010 and the Jets in 2011 -- thanks to dropped passes that came after aggressive touchdown celebrations (the drop against Pittsburgh was the week after his "Why So Serious?" shot at Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens).

Johnson says he’s done with those now, but the only way he’s going to get elite money ($8 million per year range) is if someone actually believes him. The one thing no one's talking about with Johnson, though, is his ability to put up big numbers against all-world Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. In four games against the Jets over the past two years, Johnson's piled up 19 catches for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His final performance against Revis in 2011 -- eight catches for 75 yards and a teeter -- should especially have, as Mike Freeman wrote in November, fellow AFC East coaches curious
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Bengals, Rams, Jaguars, 49ers

9. Reggie Wayne

Breakdown: Lost in the whole Peyton Manning shuffle is the way that the Colts appear to be discarding Wayne, one of the organization’s all-time great receivers. Wayne grew up under Marvin Harrison, honed his craft with Manning and turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL. He’s clearly lost a step at this point, but if a team wants a veteran who can lead in the clubhouse and on the field, or simply someone who runs ridiculous precise crafts and works his tail off to prepare, Wayne’s going to be a fantastic addition. Belichick’s openly stated his admiration for Wayne, so New England’s not out of the question. He could also simply heading wherever Manning lands.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals, Jets

Honorable Mention: Laurent Robinson, Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, Eddie Royal, Jerome Simpson, Pierre Garcon

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Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:05 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:28 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Running back rankings

Players are willing to get the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in their future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the running backs.

1. Ray Rice

Breakdown: Ray Rice told CBSSports.com back in October that "I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands." As it stands, Rice is a free agent. And it appears that while the Ravens may eventually "do the right thing" and sign him to a long-term contract (though almost certainly nowhere near Adrian Peterson-type money), the short-term plan is to franchise him. At 25, Rice hasn't yet reached his prime, which is all the more reason the Ravens should find a way to keep him in Baltimore for the next five years.

NFL Draft prep
The problem, of course, is that running backs are fungible. We've beaten this dead horse beyond recognition but it's worth repeating: teams can find relatively productive backs for little money. Knowing that, it doesn't make sense to use a non-trivial part of the salary cap to pay running backs, even those well above replacement level. It's why were were adamant last summer that the Titans shouldn't pay Chris Johnson. (They did and he was underwhelming in 2011, rushing for 1,047 yards -- 4.0 YPC -- and four touchdowns.)

That said, Rice isn't your typical back. In addition to his ability to run the ball, he's also a dangerous pass catcher. How dangerous? He led Baltimore in receptions in 2011 (76), was second behind Anquan Boldin in 2010 (63), and first in 2009 (78). For all the talk about Joe Flacco wanting a new deal, the Ravens' offense goes through Rice.

Potential landing spots: Ravens. That's it. If he gets away, Baltimore deserves whatever fate awaits them. Rice fits any system but is especially dangerous when he's utilized. That seems obvious but it's something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot at various points during the 2011 season.

2. Matt Forte

Breakdown: Forte missed the final month of the 2011 season with a knee injury but it won't have any impact on what the Bears think he's worth. They have no plans to let him hit free agency -- earlier this month team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And while #paydaman was the Twitter meme of the '11 season for Forte, he seems amenable to the franchise tag if it leads somewhere beyond a one-and-done deal.

"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said a few days after Phillips' comments above. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

Plus, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz gone and Mike Tice named as his replacement, the offense shouldn't require six weeks to find its rhythm. Ideally, a healthy mix of pass and run will keep Cutler upright and the Bears competitive in the NFC North. Forte, clearly, is a big part of that.

Potential landing spots: The Bears have no intentions of letting Forte get away, but like Rice, he'd fit in pretty much any offense. He's a capable pass-catcher and north-south runner.

3. Arian Foster

 Foster wants to stay in Houston '100 percent' (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wants to be back with the Texans and it sounds like the Texans 100 percent want him back.  As of early January, the two sides hadn't made progress on a new contract, and like Forte, Foster doesn't seem averse to the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in his future. Unlike Forte, Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the Texans have the option to sign him to a tender offer, which would be much less than the one-year franchise-tag value of $7.7 million.

Could the Texans' offense survive without Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing leader? Yeah, sure. They still have Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate. But Foster is only 25, and he's played on an undrafted free agent's salary the last two seasons. He's certainly outperformed his previous deal, now it's up to Foster's agent and the organization to find some middle ground.

Potential landing spots: The Texans. The franchise tag guarantees that other teams won't even get a shot at landing him. That said, he'd fit perfectly in the Redskins' scheme (they run virtually the same offense as the Texans, just with less talented players).

4. Marshawn Lynch

Breakdown: In the wacky world of Pete Carroll, trading a second-rounder for Charlie Whitehurst makes sense. So too does signing Tarvaris Jackson. To Carroll's credit, he said "thanks but no thanks" when his Heisman-winning quarterback during his USC days, Matt Leinart, was dumped by the Cardinals. And he had something to do with bringing Marshawn Lynch to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-rounder and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Lynch carried the Seahawks to a playoff win over the Saints in 2010, and rushed for 12,04 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.

Lynch was Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon last season (this explains the Peyton Manning scuttlebutt) and earlier this week the word on the street was that the team was in "deep" contract talks with Lynch and would consider using the franchise tag if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

We're not sure that's the best use of resources for an offense with plenty of issues. Unlike the Ravens, Bears and Texans -- all teams with top-15 quarterbacks -- the Seahawks might want to take that $7.7 million they'd use on Lynch and address other needs (quarterback, wide receiver, or a couple running backs, for example).

Potential landing spots: Seahawks, Bengals, Jets, Redskins

5. Michael Bush

Breakdown: Darren McFadden played in just seven games last season but the Raiders' rush offense still ranked 11th in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Much of that was due to Michael Bush, who ran for 977 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns, and added 418 yards receiving.

Still, despite his '11 success, when training camp begins, McFadden will be atop the depth chart. Running backs-by-committee are en vogue so it's reasonable to think that Bush will get plenty of work but he wants to be a starter (likely because it comes with starter money). And for that reason, the Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran wrote last week that Bush might prefer the franchise tag to a long-term deal. Corkran pointed out that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has a knack for developing running backs, which could mean that Bush will be elsewhere next season.

Potential landing spots: Bengals (former Raiders coach Hue Jackson is an assistant there), Buccaneers, Redskins

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Breakdown: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss broke down Green-Ellis' situation nicely last week: "The view from here is that the Patriots would like Green-Ellis to return and have a price in mind. The question then becomes if that price is attractive enough that it sparks Green-Ellis to sign before hitting free agency."

Free agency starts March 13. There will be a glut of running backs on the market and there's no promise that Green-Ellis will get more in free agency than he would from the Pats. It's more likely that New England will offer something less than market value because a) they typically handle the salary cap well, and b) they'll sell it as "we're a winner, if you go elsewhere you'll be in rebuilding mode."

And then there's c): the Pats drafted two running backs last April -- Shane Vereen in Round 2, Stevan Ridley in Round 3 -- and should they not be able to re-sign Green-Ellis they'd have plenty of depth at the position (something they seem oddly incapable of at wide receiver). As always, as long as Tom Brady is on the field, the Patriots will have a good chance to win. It would be nice to have Green-Ellis behind him but New England's offense will survive either way.

Potential landing spots: Patriots, Chiefs (Scott Pioli's the GM)

7. Cedric Benson

Breakdown: It's seldom players go to Cincinnati to revitalize careers but Benson isn't your typical NFL running back. The Bears' former No. 4 pick in 2005, he was considered a bust until he joined the Bengals in 2008. He rushed for 1,251 yards in 2009, 1,111 in 2010 and 1,067 last season.

This offseason, the organization has talked about getting backup Bernard Scott more touches next season. Benson, meanwhile, has taken to publicly calling out the Bengals -- not the best negotiating strategy.

“We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on," Benson said during an appearance this week on SiriusXM. "When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

As for Benson's future in Cincy, we think this comment pretty much says it all: “I’m not sure [where things stand]. We haven’t had any talks about a new deal.”

Last offseason, the organization dumped Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton and made the playoffs. The in-with-the-new personnel philosophy will apparently continue this offseason, too.

Potential landing spots: Benson's skills have diminished to the point that he's probably not worth more than a veteran minimum deal. Given his baggage, it makes more sense for a team looking for running back depth to sign a young player.

8. Peyton Hillis

Cleveland wants to keep Hillis? (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Whether Hillis was a victim of the Madden curse (he thinks he was) or he just got really bad really fast, the fact remains: he cost himself a lot of money in 2011. Hillis was traded from the Broncos to the Browns for Tim Tebow's No. 1 fan, Brady Quinn, and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He played in just 10 games last season, rushing for 587 yards and three scores.

Not good. Not good at all.

There were concerns during the season that Hillis let his impending contract negotiations affect his decision to play. As you might expect, that didn't go over well with teammates or fans. Still, the Browns said last month that they want Hillis back after he "worked his way into the team's good graces" over the final six weeks.

A source tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that the organization might even consider franchising (!) Hillis if they come to terms with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. That sounds, well, silly but then again, we're talking about the Browns.

Potential landing spots: Browns, Patriots (where derailed careers get back on track), Broncos (two Tebows, one backfield)

9. Ryan Grant

Breakdown: The team appeared to favor James Starks but he's had trouble staying on the field. In 2011, Grant had 14 starts and rushed 134 times for 559 yards and two touchdowns. Not particularly noteworthy, but then again, he played in Aaron Rodgers' offense. He'll be 30 in December and while he rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009, an ACL injury sidelined him for all but one game in 2010.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel wrote that "Packer general manager Ted Thompson won't make a heavy investment in a running back Grant's age… So Grant will test free agency, and he is unlikely to return unless there's little interest on the open market."

Grant seems to understand the situation. "We'll see," he said. "I know I have a lot left. I think I showed that at the end of the year here. Would like to be back . . . but we'll just have to see."

Potential landing spots: Teams looking for running back-by-committee members willing to play for the veteran minimum. Barring injuries, not sure there will be much of a market.

10. Honorable Mention

Unrestricted free agents: Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, Thomas Jones

Restricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

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