Welcome to free agency 2012.
A record number of franchise tags thinned this year’s top-75 list considerably. Some key re-signings also took big names off the market. Not to worry This happens every season. Most guys make it to free agency because their teams don’t truly want them.
There are exceptions to that rule. And those exceptions will make a ridiculous amount of money in the next week. With final cuts now over, here are Rotoworld’s Top 75 free agents.
The excitement officially kicks off at 4:00 p.m. ET Tuesday. We’ll have you covered on our player news page all week.
The difference makers
1. Mario Williams, Texans DE/OLB: I made the case that Williams may not be one of the best five defensive ends in football. He will still get paid like the best.
2. Peyton Manning, Colts QB: If there’s even a 50% chance he’s the old Manning, he will be worth the risk. I’m also looking forward to when all the losers in the Manning derby have to cover their ass. New contracts for everyone!
3. Cortland Finnegan, Titans CB: Finnegan is the guy you hate to play against, but love having on your side.
4. Vincent Jackson, Chargers WR: A rare No. 1 receiver that has the tools to succeed in any scheme.
5. Carl Nicks, Saints G: A one-man infusion of nasty for your running game.
6. Brandon Carr, Chiefs CB: Above-average starting cornerback play does not come cheaply this time of year.
7. Paul Soliai, Dolphins NT: With Sione Pouha back in New York, Soliai is the only true run-stuffing linemen available.
8. Chris Myers, Texans C: You can make a strong case Myers was the best center in football last year.
9. Eric Winston, Texans T: There’s always one big surprise cut before free agency starts. Winston was the guy this year. He isn’t coming off his best year, but he’s a top-10 starting right tackle.
10. Matt Flynn, Packers QB: I’m buying the hype.
11. Ben Grubbs, Ravens G: Plug him into your starting lineup for the next 3-4 years.
12. Red Bryant, Seahawks DL: The more you watch him play, the more there is to like. (UPDATE: Re-signed on a five-year deal.)
13. Brodrick Bunkley, Broncos DT: Based just on 2011 game tape, you could argue Bunkley belongs in the “difference maker” category.
14. Tracy Porter, Saints CB: Everyone seems to forget how strong Porter can perform at his best. Highly experienced, talented young cover guys are not easy to find.
15. Stephen Tulloch, Lions LB: I’ve been a big fan of Tulloch for a few years. He’s one of the most underrated, versatile inside linebackers in football and he’s shown he can perform on multiple teams.
16. Brandon Lloyd, Rams WR: He’s not a true No. 1 receiver. He wouldn’t have to be if he lands in New England.
17. Marques Colston, Saints WR: The heart of a champion with the knees of a 40-year-old. I’d worry about Colston away from Drew Brees. (UPDATE: Re-signed with Saints on five-year contract.)
18. Curtis Lofton, Falcons LB: A sure tackler with leadership ability, but not a huge difference maker for what he’ll cost.
19. Jared Gaither, Chargers T: Extremely talented left tackle that hasn’t stayed healthy or reliable for very long. Perhaps the best boom or bust free agent out there.
Taking a shot
Some of these guys will cost too much for the risk.
20. Jason Jones, Titans DL: He’s the right age (26) and he’s flashed at various points in his career. He could be a great pickup in the right system.
21. LaRon Landry, Redskins S: All sorts of talent, but Landry is undisciplined and injury prone.
22. Mario Manningham, Giants WR: I almost wrote “Bucs WR” that connection has been mentioned so often. Manningham has a lot of talent but makes way too many mental errors.
23. John Abraham, Falcons DE: He’s a strong situational pass rusher that will probably get overpaid.
24. Kendall Langford, Dolphins DL: He's still young, versatile, and has shown flashes of being a difference maker.
25. Michael Bush, Raiders RB: He’s better served as a complementary player, but Bush can handle all three downs just fine.
26. Robert Meachem, Saints WR: Speed kills and no one questions Meachem’s big play ability. But do we really think most teams will get more out of him than Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
27. Jameel McClain, Ravens LB: He flashes serious ability and comes from a great system. McClain is one of my favorite sleepers.
28. Andre Carter, Patriots DE: Carter was playing at a Pro Bowl level before he got hurt late in the season.
29. Eric Wright, Lions CB: I heard from one team at the Combine that said they considered Wright the best right cornerback on the market. He’s streaky but can play at a very high level.
30. David Hawthorne, Seahawks LB: A cheaper version of Curtis Lofton.
31. Scott Wells, Packers C: Undersized quality starting center coming off his best season.
32. Evan Mathis, Eagles G: ProFootballFocus couldn’t have a man crush this big on a guy for no reason.