NFL top 100 free agents: Saints have tough decisions
The New Orleans Saints, armed with their high-powered offense, had their Super Bowl dreams dashed in a divisional playoff loss in San Francisco. If they hope to make a another run at a second ring in the 2012 season, they'll need to take care of some lucrative business: Spending multimillions to lock up three irreplaceable offensive players.
While they're team immediately on the spot a little more than a month from the start of the NFL's unrestricted free agency (March 13), the hot position will be wide receivers.
Looking at how it was another team with a top passing game, the New York Giants that won it all on the strength of three talented wideouts, the marquee group of available receivers will be appealing to many other teams. A lucky 13 crack the top 100 unrestricted options, including a sensational six just in the top 25:
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints. There's no Peyton Manning-like decision here. They need to re-sign him soon, because they need to free up the franchise tag to use on another key offensive cog.
2. Carl Nicks, G, Saints. The Saints broke the bank to lock up their other elite guard, Jahri Evans, and if a deal with Brees happens, they won't hesitate to designate Nicks their franchise playerגor at least give him Evans-type money for one year.
3. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens. Rice's production as a runner and receiver is what makes Baltimore's offense tick. Joe Flacco's favorite safety valve will be back somehow, as Baltimore will be ready to tag him.
4. Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. All signs point to Aaron Rodgers' ace backup getting paid for a starting gig in '12, a la two other former No. 2 Matts, Schaub (Michael Vick) and Cassel (Tom Brady). Reuniting with his former offensive coordinatorגDolphins coach Joe Philbinגalmost makes too much sense. He's not as splashy, however, for Miami, as trying to reel in Peyton Manning.
5. Mario Williams, DE, Texans. The fact that Houston's 3-4 defense still played at high level when he was on the shelf for the final 11 games (torn pectoral) should give pause to team officials before paying millions to retain the 2006 first overall pick. There would be plenty of teams, regardless of scheme, in hot pursuit.
6. Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. Every team that's in desperate need of a bona fide No. 1 receiver should be interested in what the 6-5 Jackson, likely gone from San Diego, can do for the entire offense with his ability to stretch the field and cause matchup issues in the red zone.
7. Marques Colston, WR, Saints. Colston is the less noisy version of Jackson. He may not have the same gamebreaking ability, but at 6-4, he's also a big target with better hands. He has proved to be especially clutch for Brees on third downs. It might be a challenge for New Orleans to pay its quarterback, him and Nicks.
8. Matt Forte, RB, Bears. Forte has made no secret he wants to be paid, and he was smart during the Pro Bowl to show teams that his knee isn't a issue. Chicago needs to keep the constant production of Forte.
9. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots. Don't expect one magnified missed connection with Brady to take away from his value as his go-to slot man. Welker deserves to get a lucrative deal, but may need to settle for a franchise tag.
10. Cliff Avril, DE, Lions. It's rare a 4-3 edge pass rusher of his caliber (a breakout 11 sacks in '11) hits the market, but Detroit may have not the salary-cap space to keep him on its strong line.
11. Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers. Rogers took the one-year deal in San Francisco to prove he could be a top-notch corner, and didn't waste time in delivering a Pro Bowl season. The one concern in giving him a desired long-term extension is the fact he's 31. That could allow another team to splurge to take him away.
12. D'Qwell Jackson, ILB, Browns. He came back full force as an all-around playmaker just when it looked like an injury had derailed his career for good. Jackson likes the scheme and the team, so Cleveland needs to do the smart thing and at least franchise-tag him.
13. Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers. There's no question that Finley is part of the league's new breed of athletic, physical tight ends, but that doesn't help him if he can't catch the ball consistently. He's a candidate to be franchisedגif they can do it at the price that's less than $6 millionגbut don't be surprised if Green Bay lets him walk.
14. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs. This free-agent class is loaded with big guys with big mitts, isn't it? Bowe's inconsistency is the reason he's behind the others. Still, looking at what Kansas City has, he is a good bet to be tagged.
15. Jeremy Mincey, DE, Jaguars. Jacksonville hasn't had many bright spots with its pass rush of late, so it was good to see Mincey break through off the edge (8 sacks). Now he'll be looking for appropriate compensation, with the Jaguars or someone else.
16. Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs. Playing opposite the other, better known BrandonגFlowersגCarr has quietly delivered as an unheralded, well-rounded corner. He's tougher for the Chiefs to replace than Bowe is.
17. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans. Finnegan brings a feistiness to Tennessee's secondary, as well as fearlessness in physical one-on-one coverage. He's exactly the kind of corner Jeff Fisher could use for the Rams.
18. Chris Myers, C, Texans. Myers was exceptional as the anchor of Houston's zone-blocking scheme that paved the way for Arian Foster. With Williams and Foster (restricted) as free agents, he's priority No. 3.
19. Michael Bush, RB, Raiders. With Darren McFadden out for most of the second half, Bush took over as a great power runner, while also showing some receiving skills. It will require the franchise tag to keep another team from grabbing him.
20. Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Lions. Because re-signing Avril is a concern, Detroit may see its new defensive leader leave after just one year. He would be an ideal fit for the Eagles.
21. Calais Campbell, DE, Cardinals. When watching the 6-8, 300-pounder roam in Arizona's defense, he seems to be everywhere and doing everything as an end/linebacker hybrid. He's invaluable enough to be tagged.
22. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks. It's crazy to think Seattle will let him walk. Expect the team to take advantage of a very comfortable franchise-tag number for running backs (one year at $7.7 million).
23. Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys. There's a lot to like about Robinson (6-2, 194, great speed) as a rising star and with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, there's a good chance he wears something other than a star on his helmet in '12.
The Saints' powerful offense could see some changes this offseason with Carl Nicks, Drew Brees and Marques Colston all set to become free agents. (AP Photo)
24. Stevie Johnson, WR, Bills. Johnson at this spot shows just how many terrific receivers there are available. Like Robinson, he's young (just 25) and would be No. 1 for teams, even though he would like to stay in Buffalo.
25. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles. The mercurial Jackson was a headache for Philadelphia, but every team is in the market for a speedster who can make an immediate impact as a big-play receiver and return man. The Cal product seems perfect for Oakland.
26. Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons
27. Robert Mathis, DE, Colts
28. Jared Gaither, T, Chargers
29. Scott Wells, C, Packers
30. Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers (franchise tag candidate)
31. Curtis Lofton, ILB, Falcons
32. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
33. Fred Davis, TE, Redskins
34. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams
35. Dan Connor, ILB, Panthers
36. Sione Pouha, DT, Jets
37. Ben Grubbs, G, Ravens
38. Josh Scobee, K, Jaguars (franchise tag candidate)
39. Erin Henderson, LB, Vikings
40. Tyvon Branch, S, Raiders
41. Jason Jones, DT, Titans
42. Steve Weatherford, P, Giants
43. Matt Prater, K, Broncos (franchise tag candidate)
44. David Hawthorne, ILB, Seahawks
45. Cory Redding, DT, Ravens
46. Jarret Johnson, OLB, Ravens
47. Michael Griffin, S, Titans
48. London Fletcher, ILB, Redskins
49. Mario Manningham, WR, Giants
50. Kendall Langford, DT, Dolphins
51. Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Broncos
52. Connor Barth, K, Buccaneers
53. Barrett Ruud, ILB, Titans
54. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
55. Richard Marshall, CB, Cardinals
56. Leroy Hill, OLB, Seahawks
57. Red Bryant, DT, Seahawks
58. Demetrius Bell, T, Bills
59. Ahmad Brooks, OLB, 49ers
60. Mat McBriar, P, Cowboys
61. Jameel McClain, ILB, Ravens
62. Neil Rackers, K, Texans
63. Alex Smith, QB, 49ers
64. Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns
65. Paul Soliai, DT, Dolphins
66. John Abraham, DE, Falcons
67. Dan Koppen, C, Patriots
68. Nick Hardwick, C, Chargers
69. Tracy Porter, CB, Saints
70. Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers
71. Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts
72. Terrell Thomas, CB, Giants
73. Mike Brisiel, G, Texans
74. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals
75. Corey Graham, CB, Bears
76. Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals
77. Robert Meachem, WR, Saints
78. William Gay, CB, Steelers
79. Kevin Smith, RB, Lions
80. Will Middleton, CB, Jaguars
81. Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders
82. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots
83. Mike Nugent, K, Bengals
84. Jeremy Zuttah, G, Buccaneers
85. Laron Landry, S, Redskins
86. Antonio Garay, DT, Chargers
87. Kyle Orton, QB, Chiefs
88. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Cowboys
89. Ronde Barber, CB, Buccaneers
90. Mark Anderson, DE, Patriots
91. Rashean Mathis, CB, Jaguars
92. Chase Blackburn, ILB, Giants
93. Rocky McIntosh, OLB, Redskins
94. John Carlson, TE, Seahawks
95. Kareem McKenzie, T, Giants
96. Phil Dawson, K, Browns
97. Donnie Jones, P, Rams
98. Thomas DeCoud, S, Falcons
99. Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins
100. Jason Allen, CB, Texans
Read more: http://aol.sportingnews.com/nfl/story/2 ... z1mE0C08IV