Tolbert among UFAs who could prove solid values

Posted March 05, 2012 @ 10:55 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

For the record, Packers TE Jermichael Finley would have been No. 10 on PFW's list of the top 100 prospective free agents of 2012. That was the plan, but the Packers and Finley agreed on a contract in late February, and in a click of a mouse, he was off the list.

We will never know what Finley would have received had he tested free agency. Perhaps Green Bay would have given him the franchise tag and made such daydreaming a moot point. But I know this much: The deal he signed — a two-year, $15 million pact, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — was a no-brainer for the Packers. Yes, Finley struggled with drops a season ago, and he is two seasons removed from an ACL tear, but he will be only 25 years old at the start of this season, and he is an exceptional talent who could further improve.

The short-term contract allows Finley to test free agency again in 2014, and greater riches await if his career path continues on its current arc. In the meantime, though, the Packers have him under contract for a reasonable sum, considering his vast ability.

It will not be a surprise if Finley lives up to the expectations commensurate with his paycheck. Here are nine other free agents who could do the same, given how I expect them to perform relative to the demand and compensation they will draw in free agency:

Seahawks TE John Carlson — Carlson missed the 2011 season after shoulder surgery, but he hauled in 137 passes and gained 11.1 yards per reception in his first three campaigns. If healthy, he can help an offense.

Falcons WR Harry Douglas — Douglas hauled in 39 passes for 498 yards in 2011, both career-highs, in his second season back from an ACL tear. Other free-agent receivers will garner more money, but Douglas gives me the impression he's a player who's getting better and better.

Bengals DE Jonathan Fanene — Fanene is a solid rotation player who has shown pass-rush ability in recent seasons, notching half a dozen sacks or more in two of the past three seasons. He also can play inside. His durability is a slight concern.

Cardinals PK Jay Feely — He's accurate on field goals. He has had successful stints kicking for the Giants and Jets, which is quite impressive, given the pressure of playing in that market. He's decent enough on kickoffs. What's not to like? 

49ers WR-RS Ted Ginn Jr. — He can be a difference maker on special teams, and he is a serviceable complementary wideout. At the right price, he could be a bargain, considering his speed and versatility.

Browns CB Dimitri Patterson — It did not garner much notice, but Patterson was solid as the Browns' No. 3 cornerback in 2011 after a tough stint as a starter with Philadelphia the previous season. His ability to cover the slot and experience playing outside are assets.

Lions RB Kevin Smith — He showed he had some life left in his legs after joining Detroit in November, and he catches the ball well. His durability is worrisome, but it is a known risk that will factor into his value to clubs, and as a part-time player, he would be a solid signing.

Lions QB Drew Stanton — He did not play in 2011, but I was intrigued by the improvement he showed the previous season filling in when Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill were lost to injuries. I believe he can be a No. 2 quarterback, and perhaps he is not done developing. 

Chargers RB Mike Tolbert — The versatile Tolbert has racked more than 900 combined rushing-receiving yards in each of the past two seasons. He does not have a lot of wear-and-tear — he wasn't overused in college and has 450 touches in four NFL seasons — which is a plus.