As the deadline for assigning NFL franchise tags came and went, many teams answered the questions that surrounded their off-season priorities. 21 teams designated a franchise player for the 2012 season. There were not many surprises from the 2012 franchise class; however, there are some marquee players that slipped past the goalie, and made it into free agency. The following is a list of the top 5 players that were not designated franchise players by their respective teams.
1. Carl Nicks – Offensive Guard, New Orleans Saints
There are a lot of teams breathing a sigh of relief right now. The Saints are going to be kicking themselves for letting, arguably, one of the best offensive guards in the NFL walk in free agency. I know many will say that the Saint had to franchise Drew Brees , but really, did they? Drew Brees will probably go down as the best New Orleans Saint ever, period. How can the Saint's look at themselves in the eye after denying the greatest player they've ever had everything he wants? If Brees wants $20 million a year for 10 years and $100 guaranteed, you give it to him! OK that may be a bit much, but he did lead the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl, and beat arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game (current free agent Peyton Manning). Brees then came out two years later and broke Dan Marino's 30 year old all time passing yardage record. The Saints have cost themselves this off-season. Not only has the bounty scandal tarnished New Orleans, but with the way they have handled their players, this off-season has shown what the organization cares about most: money. The Saints just cost themselves Carl Nick, and quite possibly the integrity of their offensive line, for what, a couple of million dollars? Nicks will be the most sought after offensive lineman this off-season, and should attract top dollar in free agency.
Predicted 2012 Team: Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans
2. Mario Williams - Defensive Line/Linebacker, Houston Texans
The Texans not franchising Mario Williams was not a huge surprise. Williams was injured during a week 5 loss to the Oakland Raiders, but the Texans were still able to finish the season with their first division championship, as well as their first trip to the playoffs. The Houston defense finished second in the league in total yards, fourth in points against, and sixth in sacks. Williams did have 5 sacks through 5 games, but the fact that Houston's defense was able to perform at such a high level made moving on from him a bit easier. I imagine Williams will generate a lot of interest on the open market, and should be paid handsomely by whoever he signs with. Williams plays with a high level of intensity, and although his power rushing style is ideal as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, Williams showed his versatility in Houston's 3-4 scheme before his season ending injury. I'm sure the Texans, who did not designate a franchise player in 2012, will try to get Williams to return, but I don't think they will be willing to pay him enough.
Predicted 2012 Team: Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots
3. Carlos Rodgers – Defensive Back, San Francisco 49ers
Who would have thought that Carlos Rodgers, who was considered by many a draft bust, would revive his career in San Francisco? But, now that S.F. designated Dashon Goldson, Rodgers' time in the Bay Area may be coming to an end. In 2011, Rodgers stepped his game up. Rodgers led the 49ers with 6 interceptions, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and was named as a second team All Pro Player. If Rodgers, who has publically stated he want to return to the 49ers, hits the open market he can be more than assured he will be offered top dollar for his services. There are only a couple of top tier cornerbacks available in 2012 free agency, and Rodgers just happens to be one of them. Rodgers possesses skills, speed, and awareness to shut-down almost any wide receiver in the NFL; and if he can continue to perform at his 2011 level, the team that signs him will not be disappointed.
Predicted 2012 Team: San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
4. Scott Wells – Offensive Center, Green Bay Packers
Every year the need for elite offensive lineman gets greater and greater, and every year there are a couple of game changing lineman that enter free agency. Scott Wells is one of those game changers. Wells, who was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round of the 2004 draft, has been the anchor of a solid Green Bay offensive line. Although he has been in the league for 8 years and is a bit under sized, Wells still possesses the strength, speed, and agility to solidify any offensive line in the NFL. I don't think Wells will get as lucrative of a contact as OG Carl Nicks, but he will be an instant asset wherever he ends up.
Predicted 2012 Team: Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders
5. Vincent Jackson – Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers
Vincent Jackson is a very talented wide receiver; however, in the last two year Jackson's performances have been less than great. In 2010 Jackson sat out the majority of the year as a hold out. He returned after week 10 and ended the 2010 season with 3 touchdowns and 248 yards. In 2011, San Diego franchised Jackson (who decided it would be better to play the whole year and signed his one year franchise tender before training camp). Jackson finished 2011 with about 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. Due to Jackson's familiarity with the San Diego offense and Phillip Rivers, many thought San Diego would designate him as their franchise player again in 2012. That would not come to pass. My guess is that San Diego is trying to avoid the distraction of Jackson possibly holding out in 2012, so they were willing to let him test the free agent market. Jackson can expect top dollar for his services. Jackson has been in the league for 7 years and has the skill set to make any NFL quarterback better. He doesn't possess elite speed, but he has a true nose of the ball, runs precise routes, and has a great hands. Look for him to be one of the first wide receivers to be signed when free agency begins on March 13, 2012.
Predicted 2012 Team: San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears