Free agency will start Tuesday afternoon, and there is plenty of talent set to hit the open market. From explosive pass catchers to elite pass rushers, teams have many options to fill the voids on their respective rosters.
In fact, there is so much talent available in the 2012 free agent class, the NFL could consider fielding a 33rd team in the fall. Given the option to put together an all-free agent squad, here is the lineup that I would trot out this season:
Matt Flynn, Green Bay Packers: The fourth-year pro only has two career starts under his belt, but his spectacular performance in those contests has made him the crown jewel of the free agent quarterback class. Teams are lining up to take a flier on his potential, which will likely lead to a big pay day for Flynn.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders: The position has been devalued in recent years due to the proliferation of running back-by-committee situations, but teams certainly recognize Bush's potential as a feature back. He is coming off a career year where he nearly cracked the 1,000-yard mark in only nine starts and totaled seven rushing touchdowns.
Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers: Tolbert has been extremely effective as a situational runner throughout his career, but his flashes of brilliance might entice a team to cast its lot with him as a part-time feature back. His rugged running style and strong nose for the end zone is certainly impressive, but it is his ability to also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield that will make him an attractive option.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have inexplicably decided to allow their No. 1 receiver to test the free-agent market, so teams are set to open up the coffers to acquire one of the best big-play threats in the game. Jackson has topped the 1,000-yard mark in three of the past four seasons and sports a robust 17.5 yards per catch average for his career.
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Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis Rams:Lloyd is a bit of a late bloomer as a superstar receiver, but it is hard to ignore his exceptional production over the past two seasons. He has become one of the game's best big-play receivers under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels, and his undeniable chemistry with the offensive wizard could prompt Lloyd to make a trek to New England.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings: Shiancoe's production has slipped since the departure of Brett Favre, but he still possesses the skills to rival some of the best players at the position. He is capable of stretching the field on vertical routes down the middle, yet does most of his damage working within a 15-yard box.
Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers: Gaither has seemingly resurrected a once-promising career after thriving at left tackle for the Chargers during the final five weeks of the season. His combination of size and athleticism is ideally suited for the blindside, and teams are desperately looking for a franchise-caliber edge blocker to protect their quarterback.
Marc Colombo, Miami Dolphins: Colombo's best playing days are behind him, but he remains a serviceable player on the edge. His size and length poses problems for pass rushers, and he still has enough body control to anchor against power players.
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Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints: The value of offensive guards has improved immensely over the past few years, and Nicks is certain to cash in after emerging as one of the dominant players at the position. He absolutely obliterates defenders at the point of attack and his impressive display of strength and power earns rave reviews from coaches and scouts. If New Orleans doesn't reach an agreement with Nicks prior to the opening of free agency, one of its division rivals could make a strong play at the Pro Bowler to shift the balance of power in the NFC.
Ben Grubbs, Baltimore Ravens: Grubbs has quietly become one of the top interior blockers in the game in his fifth season in the league. He possesses the strength and power to uproot defenders off the line of scrimmage, yet is athletic enough to work to the second level. His outstanding all around game drives his value up the charts.
Chris Myers, Houston Texans: If you're looking for one of the keys to the Texans' dominant running game, it starts with the exceptional play of Myers at the pivot. He is a mobile interior blocker with the athleticism to work to the second level and also displays enough power to create a push at the point. Those athletic attributes are ideally suited for zone-based schemes, which raises his value in the free-agent market. Myers hasn't earned recognition on the national scene, but those within the game view him a prized commodity along the line.
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Mario Williams, Houston Texans: Williams is the top defensive free agent on the market due to his remarkable pass rushing skills and sack production. His skills are unrivaled by any available pass rusher on the market, and his addition to any lineup could tip the balance of power in either conference. Although Williams' torn pectoral muscle is still on the mend following season-ending surgery, his potential to create disruption off the edge makes him the top choice on defensive boards across the league.
Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans: Being young, athletic and productive leads to big pay days in the NFL, and Jones is on the verge of cashing a big check. He has shown promise as a swing player (defensive end/defensive tackle) in the Titans' defense, finishing 2011 with three sacks, five breakups and a forced fumble. While those numbers aren't impressive at first glance, Jones' 15.5 sacks over four seasons will prompt a team desperate for a pass rushing presence to make a serious play for his services.
Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins: Pass rushers get all the glory, but there is a growing need for dominant run stuffers capable of playing the zero-technique with the proliferation of the 3-4. Soliai has toiled in relative anonymity over the past five seasons, but scouts consistently cite him as one of the top nose tackles in the league.
Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks: Bryant has quietly put together a solid career in Seattle as a versatile player along the frontline. He is listed as a defensive tackle on the roster, but he plays like a quasi-five-technique in their hybrid defense. As a result, he is an attractive option for teams looking for a base end to fortify their defensive front.
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Curtis Lofton, Atlanta Falcons: It is hard to find fault with Lofton's game when watching tape due to his outstanding production and performance as the centerpiece of the Falcons' defense. He is a sideline-to-sideline chaser who excels at punishing runners in hole, but also displays enough athleticism to run the deep middle when playing coverage in a two-deep scheme. The Falcons have made re-signing Lofton a priority.
Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions: After entering the league viewed as an afterthought due to his diminutive stature, Tulloch has become one of the most productive players in the middle. He displays an extraordinary nose for the football and is a big hitter at the point of attack. With Tulloch also showing solid skills in coverage, teams are placing him near the top of their free-agent boards as a possible solution at MLB.
David Hawthorne, Seattle Seahawks: Versatility is certainly valued in the NFL, particularly at the linebacker position. Hawthorne possesses the skills to play anywhere on the second level. He has been a productive playmaker controlling the tackle-to-tackle box, but also displays the athleticism and quickness to shoot gaps from a weakside linebacker alignment.
Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans: Finnegan has seemingly worn out his welcome in Tennessee, but that doesn't mean the former Pro Bowler's game has slipped. He remains one of the fiercest competitors on the corner, and his tenacious style frustrates elite receivers. Although Finnegan's bullying tactics overshadow his fundamentally sound game, coaches and scouts certainly appreciate his skills and he should command top dollar on the open market.
Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers: Rogers emerged as one of the top playmakers in the NFL during his first season in San Francisco, but the team is willing to let him test the free-agent market. Teams will inquire about his asking price after watching him snag a career-best six interceptions while frequently blanketing the opponent's top receiver. While there are still concerns about whether he can sustain his high level of play for another team, Rogers could be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market.
LaRon Landry, Washington Redskins: Landry has developed the reputation for being one of the league's hardest hitters, but injuries have forced him into a part-time role for the past two seasons. Regardless, the lack of quality safeties in the free-agent market and the 2012 draft have prompted teams to look for a veteran with experience and proven production. With Landry still viewed as a blue-chip player, the interest in the fifth-year pro will certainly remain high around the league.
Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals: The evolution of the pro passing game has increased the value of ball hawks in the back end. Nelson has snagged six interceptions over the past two seasons, and roams the deep middle like a center fielder. Although he is not regarded as a great tackler, his ball skills, awareness and range makes him the ideal floater in the back end.