With the close of the 2011 NFL season, a new chapter is about to begin. The 2012 season promises to be one of the most exciting NFL seasons in decades. Although painful, the CBA of 2011 set the stage for one of most electrifying free agency periods in years. The year of the quarterback has come and gone, now it is time to focus on the year of the free agent. With so many teams on the cusp last year (by on the cusp I mean on the verge of winning the Super Bowl, going to the Super Bowl, winning their division, or getting in the playoffs as a wild card team) let's analyze the top free agent moves teams need to make to reach next level.
San Francisco 49ers – Vincent Jackson , WR
San Francisco was on the cusp of going to their first Super Bowl since 1995. They have an elite defense, top tier running game, and an elite coaching staff. What what SF doesn't have is an elite wide receiver. With only one reception during the NFC Championship game by a wide receiver, it was clear that blame could be passed to more than just Kyle Williams for why S.F. didn't move on to Super Bowl XLVI. Vincent Jackson would give San Francisco the possession receiver Michael Crabtree was supposed to be when they drafted him number 10 overall in 2009. Vincent Jackson has great hands and runs exceptional routes. Alex Smith would be able to build on his 2011 momentum with the addition of a top tier wide receiver with Jackson's abilities.
Oakland Raiders – Brandon Carr , CB
It is no secret Oakland was awful against the pass in 2011, and one of their biggest weaknesses was corner back. Signing Brandon Carr would be a huge step in the right direction to getting Oakland back to the playoffs. Not only is Brandon Carr an exceptional athlete, Carr has played in every game since 2008 (which means he is durable, something Oakland has had an issue with in the past). Many think that Cortland Finnegan will be a target also, but he may be too expensive; with their current salary cap situation, Oakland may not be able to afford a player of Finnegan's caliber. Oakland would also be gaining a rival player, and with Kansas City likely to franchise WR Dwayne Bowe, Carr should hit the open market.
Dallas Cowboys – LaRon Landry , SS
The Dallas Cowboys were on the cusp of winning the NFC East before they lost to the Super Bowl XLVI Champion New York Giants. When Dallas started the season many thought they would finish in the middle of the pack, which they did. But they had their chance to go to the playoffs and blew it. Dallas finished with the number 7 run defense, but were 23rd against the pass. Their weakness in the secondary was highlighted by their lack of leadership at the safety position. LaRon Landry is a fast, physical player that would give Dallas the upgrade they have been lacking for the past couple of years. Landry does have some durability issues, but he may be a high risk / high reward addition to a Dallas defense looking to bounce back in 2012.
Tennessee Titans – Carl Nicks, OG
The Titans were on the cusp of gaining a wild card entry into the playoffs in 2011. Taking their season right down to week 17, they did their part by defeating the Houston Texans, but they lost out on their playoff bid when Denver lost to Kansas City later that day. Although the Titans only gave up 24 sacks in 2011, their rushing attack finished 30th in the league. The Titans were supposed to have one of (if not the) best running games in the NFL, but Chris Johnson and the rest of the running backs were more than a disappointment. Not all blame can be assigned to the running backs, though and an upgrade on the offensive line is something the Titans should have down as the number one need going into the 2012 season. Carl Nicks is one of the premier offensive guards in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints will have their hands tied signing Drew Brees and trying to hold on to Marques Colston. Nicks would give the Titans an athletic, powerful blocker upfront with the ability to open up the running game. At 6'5", Nicks would be an instant upgrade from current guards Leroy Harris and Jake Scott.
New England Patriots – Cortland Finnegan, CB
New England was on the cusp of winning Super Bowl 46, but their defense was exposed for what it was: a group of players that were ready to take on an elite wide receiver corps. New England had a great year. The fact that they made the Super Bowl was not that big of a surprise given the fact that they had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. New England ranked 17th against the run, but 31st against the pass. Adding Cortland Finnegan would give New England the elite corner back it so desperately needs. Finnegan is 28 years old, and would serve as an excellent mentor for the young talent Bill Belichik should bring in through the 2012draft. And although Finnegan has had some character issues in the past, (as we've seen before) Belichick is more then equipped to deal with players who need attitude adjustments.