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Nine free agents likely in demand this evening

Happy New League Year, everyone.

We’re just a few hours away from kicking off the brand new NFL calendar, which starts with the beginning of free agency (click here for some free agency rules, regulations and facts and figures).

We’ve been winding our way through a series of posts based on interviews with team bloggers over the last couple months and within a few days we will have posted one from each of the 32 teams.

While hundreds of players will change hands over the next few weeks, a couple handfuls came up as guys who will be in high demand, either from their current teams or from rivals who will be trying to steal those players away.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but here are nine names that have come up regularly in our research. Any thoughts on other players who will be hot targets or on where these guys will end up?

9. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers put a first-round tender on Wallace, but I believe the 26-year-old wide receiver is one of the rare restricted free agents for whom some team will be willing to pony up. Imagine a team like Cincinnati, which has two first round picks, taking the opportunity to weaken a division rival while adding a player who will help Andy Dalton and complement AJ Green. And they would still have a first left. Wallace will have suitors.

8. Chris Myers, Houston Texans – With the surprising release Monday of Eric Winston, speculation abounds that the Texans are clearing cap room to keep Myers. And who could blame them. Houston had one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2011 and this guy is one of the catalysts. I would guess he wants to stay with one of the most up-and-coming teams in the league, but if he does reach free agency, many teams giving his representatives a call.

7. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons – He’s aging and he might not be the player he once was. But John Abraham can still get to the quarterback. It just takes one team to make a big bid and I expect he’ll get a nice chunk of change from a contender.

6. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers – There are some questions about Jackson’s attitude and his inconsistency. But he has the potential to be a game breaking wide receiver and almost any team in the league could say they have a need for that. Especially with Dwayne Bowe off the market and Marques Colston perhaps working on a deal to stay in New Orleans, demand for this guy will be sky high.

5. Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions – There is a strong likelihood that Detroit retains Avril. Both sides seem to want that result. But until he is either signed or franchise tagged, fans are going to at least dream that he could end up in their colors. He’s not the sexiest defensive end currently slated to be on the market but he had 11 sacks in 2011 and he could fit well in one of the many markets where teams are looking for pass rushers to fine tune their defenses.

4. Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans – Finnegan has been more known for getting into a fight with Andre Johnson than for his play. But he’s the top cornerback on the market in an increasingly pass-happy league. Someone’s spending big bucks on this guy and it isn’t going to take long to happen.

3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts – Let’s be honest. If Manning is anywhere near his typical self in 2012, there are only a handful of teams in the league that wouldn’t benefit from his services. He’ll likely go to a contender, or at least to a team with many pieces in place that would benefit from a veteran quarterback. Denver, Miami, Arizona, Seattle and Tennessee seem to be reasonable fits as well. Expect a decision soon.

2. Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints – Normally offensive line isn’t sexy, but this guy pops up a lot. The two-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro could actually find himself a free agent due, in part, to the amount of money New Orleans spent retaining fellow guard Jahri Evans. Nicks is a stud and he’ll get big, big money — perhaps upward of $9 million — somewhere this offseason.

1. Mario Williams, Houston Texans – Who wouldn’t want this guy? And it looks like he’ll actually be available.

Have fun folks.

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