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Assessing the best free agents left, after the franchise deadline

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A league-record 21 players were given franchise tags by the time Monday’s franchise period expired. The 2012 free agency class remains strong, though.

Here’s look at what’s left:

1. Defensive end Mario Williams — Has 53 career sacks and is only 27 years old. Williams will be the most aggressively pursued free agent once the signing period opens on March 13.

2. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson — Big-play receiver with rare size and vertical skills. Jackson averages 17.5 yards per reception for his career and is a legit No. 1 wideout. The Chicago Bears are expected to show interest.

3. Guard Carl Nicks — A mauler at 6-foot-5 and 343 pounds, Nicks is deceptively athletic for his size. He wants to be the NFL’s highest paid interior offensive lineman, which is reasonable because he’s only 27 years old and one of the top three guards in football.

4. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan — Finnegan is one of the top slot corners in the game, a playmaker (15 career interceptions), and an aggressive, efficient tackler. Versatile enough to hold his own outside against top NFL receivers, Finnegan is the premier cornerback on the market.

5. Tackle Jared Gaither — Gaither has a checkered history in terms of health and mental reliability, but he’s built like Jonathan Ogden with All-Pro caliber talent. The Chargers want him back, and their sense of urgency will increase if they’re forced to release longtime left tackle Marcus McNeill.

6. Guard Ben Grubbs — Grubbs is only a one-time Pro Bowler (2012), but he’s consistently played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level as a 70-game starter in Baltimore. Grubbs is fundamentally sound and athletic enough to appeal to both power- and zone-blocking teams.

7. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd — Lloyd has been an NFL late bloomer and turns 31 before the season, but he’s amassed 2,414 receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons amid turbulent quarterback play.

8. Cornerback Brandon Carr — Carr is Finnegan’s primary competition to be the top-rated cornerback on the market. Though not a big playmaker in coverage (eight career picks), Carr has plus size (6-foot, 207) and experience as both a press-man and zone corner.

9. Wide receiver Marques Colston — Colston has been incredibly productive in New Orleans, but there are buyer-beware warnings. He turns 29 before the season, has undergone five career knee surgeries, and racked up stats as a single-covered slot receiver in the Saints’ spread offense. Colston is not a vertical threat.

10. Quarterback Matt Flynn — Flynn has started only two career games, but he engineered a Week Seventeen shootout win over the playoff-bound Lions and narrowly lost to the Patriots in 2010. He’s thrown nine career touchdown passes compared to five interceptions while averaging a robust 7.69 yards per attempt.

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43 Responses to “Assessing the best free agents left, after the franchise deadline”
  1. johnnyb216 says: Mar 5, 2012 5:46 PM

    Flynn did not beat the lions in a blowout. I actually think it came down to the final seconds.

  2. kmurph1226 says: Mar 5, 2012 5:51 PM

    Where is Paul Soliai? The guy is one of the few NTs available this year in FA and the draft. He’s one of the best run stuffers in the league and easily eats double teams. I would take Colston out of the top 10 for the reasons you listed for him and put Soliai in that 8-9 range.

  3. bearsrulepackdrool says: Mar 5, 2012 5:52 PM

    Maaaaaan. If the Bears don’t pick one of these guys up or somebody close, I’mma just have to wear my D. Rose jersey year round.

  4. ctattles says: Mar 5, 2012 5:53 PM

    Matt Flynn is over-rated. Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Michael Vick. Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Ben Rothlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Matt Hassleback, Alex Smith, Josh Freeman. All of these QB’s are better than him.

  5. juv3rd11 says: Mar 5, 2012 5:54 PM

    something tells me REDSKINS will nab two of these players with 47 million in cap space….

  6. conormacleod says: Mar 5, 2012 5:57 PM

    I can’t wait to see who overpays for this years most overrated QB. Wait, can Flynn even be called overrated if he hasn’t hardly ever played? He shouldn’t be rated at all.

  7. conormacleod says: Mar 5, 2012 5:58 PM

    Any truth to the rumor that the Saints are going to put a bounty on high paid QB’s so that the franchise price will go down on Brees?

  8. gothwolf says: Mar 5, 2012 6:00 PM

    Mike Wallace isn’t one of the 10 best free agents?

  9. We'reFineThere says: Mar 5, 2012 6:05 PM

    Good to see none of the linebackers are on this list. Maybe the Eagles can secretly get them all.

  10. paleandpasty says: Mar 5, 2012 6:05 PM

    Where is the rest?

  11. calibear831 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:06 PM

    If Al Davis were alive still, his mouth would have been drooling after seeing the list of free agents

  12. colt2011 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:12 PM

    Should Peyton Manning not be #1 on this list? lol
    When Colts call the presser, you can insert him then. Unless they chose to keep him? Only 3 more days!

  13. crossfade1 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:16 PM

    Titans get Mario, Bears get VJax calling it now

  14. gdeli says: Mar 5, 2012 6:17 PM

    send them all to the vikes. sweet.

  15. andrejohnsonforpresident says: Mar 5, 2012 6:22 PM

    I’d give Mario a back heavy contract. Deal with it then and call it a day. Anything can be done with rookies and their new contract deal!

  16. asublimeday says: Mar 5, 2012 6:24 PM

    Bears grab Williams and Jackson to start the new era of bear football. Peppers, Williams, urlacher, briggs, And Tillman are going to form the most formidable defense of the foreseeable future.

  17. charliedamon says: Mar 5, 2012 6:26 PM

    V-Jax, maybe going to Chicago, the other place receivers go to die…besides Seattle

  18. jimmylions says: Mar 5, 2012 6:34 PM

    Most everyone on this list has some obvious suitors. It would be fun to see those teams listed with each player.

    It sounds like the Lions want to make a move for Finnegan, but have to resolve cap space issues first.

  19. ryanclark25 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:35 PM

    @gothwolf

    Haven’t checked all of them but its probably only the unrestricted FA’s on the list.

    As tempting as an extra 1st rounder sounds, I think the offense needs wallace more than people think. I agree brown is more rounded but i dont know if brown would be as effective again if the threat of wallace wasnt there. I think the 2 with sanders is crucial if we want the passing game to continue the strides. Haley got good enough use out of fitz boldin breaston with a top qb. Yet if it was just one of the top 2 with breaston its hard to envisage the same success.

    Also as a neautral I hope williams stays in houston. He overcame huge criticism over the bush snub when houston were one of the jokes of the league and turned into one of the top ends..He should be there for the good times even if its as an olb he’s talented enough to make it work. They are building something special down there.

  20. myopinionmattersandyoursblows says: Mar 5, 2012 6:37 PM

    The biggest bust out of these 10 will be Colston. His best days are way, way behind him.

  21. mancave001 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:39 PM

    ctattles says:

    “Matt Flynn is over-rated. Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Michael Vick. Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Ben Rothlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Matt Hassleback, Alex Smith, Josh Freeman. All of these QB’s are better than him.”

    ——-

    Of all of those, how many are free agents? I think it’s one, and that’s not even official. And how do YOU know he’s overrated? You have no idea.

  22. professorgridiron says: Mar 5, 2012 6:42 PM

    Carlos Rogers is better than either of the cornerbacks on your list.

  23. steelerchicken says: Mar 5, 2012 6:44 PM

    Flynn is the next Matt Cassel!

  24. gbatap says: Mar 5, 2012 6:45 PM

    Where is Paul Soliai? The guy is one of the few NTs available this year in FA and the draft. He’s one of the best run stuffers in the league and easily eats double teams. I would take Colston out of the top 10 for the reasons you listed for him and put Soliai in that 8-9 range.

    ————–

    Rogers, Franklin, Pouha, Garay, Poe, Ta’amu, Chapman, etc. Not exactly “one of the few”. Soliai is a good player but is a 1-2 down run stuffing NT only, that offers no pass rushing ability or subset versatility whatsoever. Although he probably deserves to be on this list before Flynn does.

  25. bmurphy3451 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:45 PM

    As a Beas fan, I would hope to get one of each of the offensive lineman, receivers and corners. I know, wishful thinking. But I want Jackson or Colsten, Grubs or Nicks, and Finnegan. Don’t even care if they over pay for at least one of them. They have the money under the cap. Too bad almost all teams could use help at O-line and corner.

  26. randolph32 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:48 PM

    Curious if this is the best class of Free Agents, anybody have some historical perspective? Thanks

  27. nineroutsider says: Mar 5, 2012 6:49 PM

    Colston, for the right price, wouldn’t be the worst the 9ers could do. I’m sure he wants to get out of there before it’s time for that team to pay the piper.

  28. dmobin says: Mar 5, 2012 6:51 PM

    love to see Mario in a NE uniform

  29. tjacks7 says: Mar 5, 2012 6:52 PM

    Versatile enough to hold his own outside against top NFL receivers.

    —————–

    Uh, except that one time Andre Johnson boxed his face in.

  30. stevincinci says: Mar 5, 2012 6:57 PM

    Finnegan a Bengal. Mark it down. Or Carr, that would be nice too.

  31. duncanthecat says: Mar 5, 2012 6:57 PM

    How about, Carlos “I had one good year” Rogers?

  32. knicks4life says: Mar 5, 2012 6:57 PM

    Bucks will get a least 2

  33. bucforever says: Mar 5, 2012 7:21 PM

    The Bucs have enough cap to make Carl Nicks’s dream come true! They need him to help in keeping Josh Freeman standing upright.

  34. truthserum4u says: Mar 5, 2012 7:33 PM

    gdeli says:Mar 5, 2012 6:17 PM

    send them all to the vikes. sweet.

    ———————————–

    Unfortunately they do need them all.

  35. ericn42000 says: Mar 5, 2012 8:49 PM

    Courtland Finnegan Dallas cowboys want you…..

  36. eekster33 says: Mar 5, 2012 9:02 PM

    Chiefs need to put the free agent press on Nicks or Grubbs! Then they can turn to the draft and grab Poe to help on the DL.

  37. seatownballers says: Mar 5, 2012 9:09 PM

    Nicks and vjax go to chicago. Williams to seattle. Flynn to miami

  38. gorilladik81 says: Mar 5, 2012 10:02 PM

    Flynn is the next Rob Johnson.

  39. myopinionmattersandyoursblows says: Mar 5, 2012 10:06 PM

    The Eagles have always been aggresive in free agency. They are not hesitant to spend money on big free agents (Runyan, Kearse, N. Ashomua, C.Jenkins).
    Also, consider this is a do or die year for the Fatman. The pressure is on and Andy is gonna demand the pieces from ownership to get there! Bet it!

  40. tropboi11 says: Mar 5, 2012 11:08 PM

    I expect the Bucs to get 2 of those players at the least, V-Jax and Finnegan or Carr and then Nicks just to top it off, they would still be way under the cap to make more big moves next year and add in Trent Richardson in the draft, thats a wrap!

  41. phillyphan77 says: Mar 5, 2012 11:56 PM

    I think the Eagles will be interested in Vincent Jackson if they trade DJax but if they keep him then they will sign Plax. I also think they will go after guys like Nicks and Mario Williams.

  42. phillyphan77 says: Mar 5, 2012 11:56 PM

    And they may sign Haynesworth for the right price.

  43. axespray says: Mar 6, 2012 2:28 AM

    conormacleod says:Mar 5, 2012 5:57 PM
    “I can’t wait to see who overpays for this years most overrated QB. Wait, can Flynn even be called overrated if he hasn’t hardly ever played? He shouldn’t be rated at all.”

    Congrats, you’re no different than the teams that passed up on acquiring Matt Hasselback/Mark Brunell/Brett Favre/Matt Schaub/Kurt Warner…. oh and you were probably rooting against the decision to let that Brady guy get the nod over “proven” guy Drew Bledsoe, or letting Favre go for that Rodgers guy… all you need is some eyes to see this Flynn kid has some talent.

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