March 9, 2012
Yes, we all know that Peyton Manning holds the keys to the NFL offseason. Mario Williams will be coveted? No kidding. With all of the press the top 5 free agents of 2012 receive (and deservedly so) there are many other quality free agents getting little to no attention. Well not anymore! I give you the top free agents no one is talking about.
The NFL’s leading tackler last season, London Fletcher is a great pickup for any team looking for a middle linebacker. I wouldn’t recommend many linebackers at age 36, but London Fletcher has only gotten better as the years go on. Fletcher has never missed a game (knock on wood) in his 14 year career, and has had over 100 tackles in each of the last 12. He is a great pickup that should come at a “decent” price considering his age.
The San Diego Chargers have been a breeding ground for running backs the last few seasons. Players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles have all moved on to new teams and been successful. Now, Mike Tolbert will hit free agency after splitting carries with second year back Ryan Matthews. Tolbert is a bruiser who has decent speed and can catch out of the backfield. A young guy, 26, he could part of a team’s 1-2 punch for a long time.
You don’t have to go much further down the leading tackler’s list to find Curtis Lofton. 5th in tackles this season, Lofton is a stud linebacker who is only 25 years old. In my opinion, Lofton is one of the players who should be talked about in the premiere talk, as his impact will be felt wherever he signs, and for a long time. A team who is looking for a stop gap can use Fletcher for a season or two, but Lofton could be around for another 5-10 years.
Thomas had a spectacular 2010 season, notching 101 tackles, 4 forced fumbles and 5 interceptions for the New York Giants. Why isn’t he being mentioned with the elite free agents? He tore his ACL in the 2011 preseason and missed the entire 2011 campaign. A risk on whether he will be the same when he returns, the 26 year old corner now has to prove he still has the ability he showed in 2010. If he can, he is worth a solid contract for a team looking for help in their secondary.
Not heard of much before this season, Robinson made the most of his shot when the Cowboys became thin at wide receiver with injuries. With a small amount of looks, Robinson was still able to get almost 1000 yards receiving (858) and average 15.9 YPC. Robinson earned himself a shot as a 3rd receiver and could explode as someone who can stretch the field. With such a small sample size, a team should be able to get him at a respectable price.
A player that has shown flashes of being a solid linebacker, Rocky McIntosh has had a bumpy road during his time with the Redskins. A change of scenery might be a good thing for McIntosh, who still is young enough (29) to rebuild his image with a new team. McIntosh is athletic and has shown the ability to cover (3 Int) as well as rush the passer (8 sacks) during his career. He has had some mental lapses, but if a veteran team can help him to focus and play confident again, he can be a solid player who can be had for a little less than he is really worth.
Similar to Robinson, Robert Meachem made the most of limited targets on a loaded New Orleans Saints roster. While targeted only 61 times all season, Meachem had 40 catches for 620 yards. Another young guy (27), Meachem could be signed to a solid deal for the next four years and flourish with a new team where he can be a dependable #2. If a team doesn’t want to over spend to land a premier wide receiver like Dwayne Bowe, Meachem would be a solid alternative.
This is a two-for-one special coming from one of the better teams in the league. An undrafted player in 2006, Jarrett Bush earned his spot by being a special teams ace for the Green Bay Packers. He is most often used as the “dime” defensive back in the secondary, and has shown flashes of being a solid corner. Unfortunately, when given an opportunity to play more snaps, he didn’t grasp the chance and was demoted back to a spot player. Teams are willing to take a shot on a player who is great on special teams, and Bush could pan out to be a great investment.