I did this last year, and I thought it would be pretty fun to do it again. It's what it sounds like - if free agency occurred in a draft format, who would be the top picks? I've excluded all the free agents who are either restricted or franchised, with the two exceptions being Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson, for obvious reasons.
Indianapolis Colts: Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 27.
This first pick is a no-brainer. The Colts are transitioning to a 3-4 defense under Chuck Pagano, so why not add one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL? As an added bonus, the addition of Williams would hurt the previous division winner.
Cleveland Browns: Peyton Manning, QB, Colts. Age: 36.
I have the Browns trading up in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. They'd do the same in this free agency mock. Cleveland hasn't had a legitimate quarterback in centuries and has no chance of signing Peyton Manning. Manning won't have much of a say in this scenario. He'll be forced to play for the Browns, and throw to the likes of Greg Little, Ben Watson and perhaps Special Agent Peyton Hillis. Unfortunately for Cleveland, free agency doesn't work this way.
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers. Age: 26.
With Adrian Peterson's status in doubt, the Vikings need to find help for Christian Ponder. Getting Mike Wallace to play across from Percy Harvin would definitely please the young quarterback - and Minnesota wouldn't even have to surrender a first-round pick.
St. Louis Rams: Carl Nicks, G, Saints. Age: 27.
A pure guard will never go this high in the NFL Draft, but we know that Carl Nicks is arguably the best player at his position in the NFL. The Rams desperately need upgrades on the offensive line. One more year of getting knocked around, and Sam Bradford will definitely have a severe case of David Carr Syndrome.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Lions. Age: 27.
The Buccaneers want to use Mason Foster outside, so they have a massive hole in the middle of their defense. Stephen Tulloch is one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
Washington Redskins: Scott Wells, C, Packers. Age: 31.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is coming off a nasty knee injury. Scott Wells is a stud center and a perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's scheme, so the Redskins could "draft" him and move Will Montgomery into Lichtensteiger's spot.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. Age: 29.
Blaine Gabbert is probably a lost cause, but Gene Smith needs to put him in the best possible position to succeed because his job is on the line. Jacksonville's receiving corps is trash, and Vincent Jackson would obviously be an enormous upgrade.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. Age: 27.
New head coach Joe Philbin worked with Matt Flynn in Green Bay, so this match is pretty obvious. I didn't mock Flynn to the Redskins, by the way, because of the rumors that they aren't interested in him.
Carolina Panthers: Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs. Age: 26.
The Panthers have a huge void at cornerback across from Chris Gamble. With almost no shot to land Morris Claiborne, Carolina will have to turn to free agency.
Buffalo Bills: Jeremy Mincey, DE, Jaguars. Age: 28.
Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix have made it known that they'll be targeting a pass-rusher this offseason. Jeremy Mincey had a breakout 2011 campaign and will command a huge contract in the coming weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs: Nick Hardwick, C, Chargers, Chargers. Age: 30.
The Chiefs need some sort of interior lineman this offseason, depending on where they want to use Rodney Hudson. Hudson would play at guard if Nick Hardwick somehow made his way to Kansas City. I'm sure the Chiefs would love to rob their divisional rival of its top lineman.
Seattle Seahawks: Ben Grubbs, G, Ravens. Age: 28.
Robert Gallery was brought to Seattle because of offensive line coach Tom Cable, but the former Raider struggled in his new home. Ben Grubbs is the top free agent available, so he's a no-brainer at this spot.
Arizona Cardinals: Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans. Age: 28.
Richard Marshall is a free agent, while Greg Toler is coming off an ACL tear. Arizona can fill its need at conrerback by re-signing the former, but why not just find an upgrade at the position?
Dallas Cowboys: Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers. Age: 31.
Carlos Rogers is talented, but a bit old. That may not matter much to the Cowboys, who are in win-now mode. I don't need to tell you how big of a need the cornerback position is for Dallas.
Philadelphia Eagles: Curtis Lofton, ILB, Falcons. Age: 26.
The Eagles will pursue Curtis Lofton in free agency, so I'll just mock him here. Philadelphia desperately needs help at inside linebacker, and either Lofton or Stephen Tulloch are expected to be added to the roster.
New York Jets: Jarret Johnson, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 31.
The Jets have to find an upgrade at outside linebacker. Jarret Johnson has always been a favorite of Rex Ryan's, so there's a good chance he'll sign with New York in real life.