Most of the big-ticket free agents have been snatched off the open market, but there are still several premier players available in the 2012 NFL Free Agency frenzy. Here’s the Top 10 (in no particular order) as of Thursday morning, March 29.
1. OT Marcus McNeill
Marcus McNeill was released by the San Diego Chargers on March 13. The two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle was selected in the second round (50th overall) by the Bolts out of Auburn in the 2006 NFL Draft. McNeill has 82 starts under his belt at a premium position in the NFL, but medical concerns have taken a toll on his market value.
2. QB Dennis Dixon
Dennis Dixon, 27, was selected in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 out of Oregon. The 6-3, 209-pound signal-caller hopes to make a name for himself as he enters his fifth season.
The Oakland, CA native went 12 of 26 (46.2 completion percentage) for 145 yards and one touchdown to one interception in one game and one start in 2009 and completed 22 of 32 throws (68.8 completion percentage) for 254 yards and one pick in two starts in 2010. Dixon went 1-for-1 in ’09 and didn’t see the field at all last season.
3. DE Andre Carter
A very versatile and productive 12-seasoned veteran, Andre Carter, 32, racked up 52 total tackles, 10.0 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in his first season in New England in 14 games and 14 starts in 2011.
The 6-4, 255-pound pass-rusher spent his first five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, before spending the next five years with the Washington Redskins. The former first-rounder (selected seventh overall in 2001) is still “limping heavily” after a quadriceps tear near the end of the 2011 season, but will quickly find work once he’s healthy.
4. OT Demetrius Bell
A former seventh-round selection in 2008, Demetrius Bell, like McNeill, is a 28-year-old starting-caliber left tackle that hasn’t lived up to his full exponential potential due to nagging injuries. Bell surrendered just one sack in six starts last season.
5. LB David Hawthorne
David Hawthorne has led the Seattle Seahawks in tackles each of the past three seasons and chalked up 115 tackles, 2.0 sacks and three picks (one for a score) in 2011. The 6-0, 246-pound inside linebacker and beastly run-defender could return to his team, as Hawthorne and the Seahawks “continue to be in communication,” according to a report from Adam Caplan on Tuesday.
6. TE Dallas Clark
Analogous to his first four years in the NFL, Dallas Clark‘s numbers have been less-than-stellar the last two years—37 catches for 347 yards and three TDs in six starts in 2010 and 34 receptions for 352 yards and two touchdowns in 10 starts in 2011.
The height of his career happened between 2007-2009, when Clark combined for 235 receptions for 2,570 yards and 27 scores. If he ends up re-uniting with Peyton Manning in Denver, his chances for another highly-productive year increase for the 6-3, 252-pound tight end.
7. WR Braylon Edwards
The New York Jets have expressed interest in bringing back Braylon Edwards. However, it’s believed that the 6-3, 214-pound wide out is still recovering from the knee surgery which forced the 49ers to throw in the towel on his potential with the team last December.
In addition, Edwards comes with a warning label for his off-the-field image and often catches the butterfingers. Nevertheless, he’s an underrated blocker and can separate from defenders with the best of ‘em when he’s healthy.
The 29-year-old receiver caught just 15 passes for 181 yards last year, but did put on a show in 2010 with the Jets with 53 receptiuons for 904 yards and seven scores. He also made fantasy owners a fortune in 2007 with 80 receptions for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns with theCleveland Browns.
8. DT Aubrayo Franklin
The market for Aubrayo Franklin last year was surprising slow. He didn’t help his chances of increasing his interest after a disappointing display last season with the New Orleans Saints, registering just 17 total tackles in 16 games and nine starts.
The 6-1, 317-pound defensive tackle spent his first four years with the San Francisco 49ers, before spending the following four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and then took his talents down to the Big Easy last offseason.
9. DE Luis Castillo
Entering his eighth season, Luis Castillo, 28, is clearly a low-risk, high-reward talent on the open market.
The 6-3, 290-pound 3-4 defensive end has started 79 games with San Diego, registering 210 tackles, 19.0 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. After missing all but one contest last season, Castillo looks to have received only the veteran’s minimum from other teams and the Chargers have an offer on the table to retain him.
10. CB Chris Carr
Unlike most of these players listed above, the 5-10, 182-pound cornerback doesn’t have a history of injuries. In fact, prior to last year, Chris Carr played in every regular season game for his first six seasons in the NFL. The former Boise State standout spent his first three seasons in Oakland, combing for 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception returned for a score in four starts.
Carr collected 31 tackles and one interception in two starts the next season with the Tennessee Titans. In 2009, Carr spent his first year with Baltimore, racking up 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in four starts.
The former undrafted free agent started every game in his second season with the Ravens, as he accumulated 61 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He had just 19 tackles and 1.0 sack in nine games and one start in 2011.
Word is he’s being strongly courted by the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
Honorable Mentions: DE Matt Roth, S Reggie Smith, LB London Fletcher, G Chilo Rachal, RB Cedric Benson