Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Predicting the 5 Biggest 2012 NFL Free-Agent Contracts

When free agency opens on March 13, some of the NFL's most prominent players, including a record-setting quarterback and a former No. 1 overall pick, will be courted by various teams.

It'll be up to those players' agents to create a market for their clients and get the most money possible. Some players will get the offers they want right away, others may have to wait a little longer.

Here are the five players who will land the biggest free-agent contracts this offseason.

Drew Brees
After making just over $7 million in 2011, Brees is headed for a huge payday this offseason.

While Brees is a free agent, no one believes he will leave the the Saints. It'll be up to his agent Tom Condon, the same agent who negotiated Peyton Manning's $98 million deal, to get Brees the best deal possible.

Brees is coming off a record-breaking 2011 season where he passed for the most yards in NFL history with 5,476. He also tossed 46 touchdowns, which was a career-high for him. Brees' career year should pave the way for a monster contract extension.

Brees' six season in New Orleans have been masterful. He has thrown for 28,394 passing yards and 201 touchdowns during that stretch. He has also become the face of New Orleans, helping rally that city back from Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans can't afford to lose Brees. Look for Brees to become the next $100 million quarterback, with $30 to $35 million in guaranteed money.

Ray Rice
The Baltimore Ravens will not let Rice get away, no matter how much money it takes.

Rice is Baltimore's most important offensive player and should get handsomely rewarded this offseason.

Rice has been extremely durable, despite his small stature. In four seasons with the Ravens, Rice has missed just three games and that was during his rookie season. During his career, Rice has scored 29 touchdowns and tallied more than 6,500 total yards. That combination of production and durability should go a long way at the negotiating table.

At age 25, Rice has a long career ahead of him and the Ravens should make him the highest paid running back in the league.

A six-year deal worth $58 to $60 million with $20 to $24 million in guaranteed money would make Rice very happy and keep him in Baltimore for a long while.

Mario Williams
Despite tearing a pectoral muscle in Week 5, and a switch from defensive end from linebacker, Williams showed enough in those five games to earn himself a healthy payday.

In five games last year, Williams had five sacks and one forced fumble. He's the top pass-rusher in this year's free-agent class and he'll get paid like it.

If Williams reaches the open market, expect some team to offer him a long-term deal worth $45 to $50 million with $17 to $20 million in guaranteed money.

Matt Flynn
When Flynn threw from 480 yards and six touchdowns in Week 17 against the playoff-bound Detroit Lions, that sound you heard was a cash register opening up.

Flynn has spent his career backing up MVP Aaron Rodgers, but now is preparing to jettison Green Bay for a starting quarterback gig. Even if Flynn's Week 17 performance was a fluke, he's still looking at a big payday.

There are enough teams desperate for a quarterback that Flynn will get a lucrative deal, even though he's played just a couple NFL games.

Look for Miami, Cleveland, Seattle and Washington to pursue Flynn this offseason. The logical choice might be Miami now that former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is the Dolphins new head coach.

Flynn turns 27 this summer, so he still has plenty of years ahead of him. His age, along with his upside, should garner a lucrative contract in the offseason.

Carl Nicks
Nicks' name may not be as recognizable as Drew Brees' or Marques Colston's, but he's just as important to the Saints offense. Nicks is a young offensive guard and will be highly sought after he hits the open market.

Nicks is just 26 years old and has started all but three games during his four-year career in New Orleans. At 6'3" and 343 pounds, he's big, strong and dominates in the middle for the Saints offensive line.

In the open market, Nicks could be looking at a Steve Hutchinson-type deal which was seven years worth $49 million.

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