INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots fights off the tackle of Michael Boley #59 of the New York Giants in the first half during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Since free agency is the next big thing in the NFL, here's a list of each AFC team's top free agent and where they could end up playing in 2012. Want to see the top NFC free agents? Check out this link.
The 2011 season is officially over and the 2012 season is about to begin -- kind of. Free agency for the 2012 season opens on March 13 and we'll be able to see what the rosters of different teams will look like before the draft in April.
It's usually the big name free agents people pay attention to the most so we've perused the list of every NFL free agent and determined the No. 1 free agent for each team. Some teams' top free agent is obvious, while others are debatable.
Here's a look at the top free agent for each team, starting with the AFC:
Welker was the second leading receiver in the league last season, behind only Calvin Johnson, with 1,569 yards. He was by far Tom Brady's favorite target at wide receiver and he, along with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Welker isn't necessarily a spring chicken; he turns 31 this season.
Where He Could End Up: The Patriots do everything they can to keep him in New England. The Bengals have some extra cash to throw around after the Carson Palmer trade and could use somebody reliable to play opposite of A.J. Green. Still, Welker is widely expected to stay in New England, possibly via the franchise tag if a longterm deal can't be worked out.
Buffalo Bills: WR Stevie Johnson
After two straight 1,000-yard seasons, Johnson is an unrestricted free agent. Johnson has the talent and ability to be one of the league's better wide receivers and reminds me a little of Chad Johnson (before he became Chad Ochocinco).
Where He Could End Up: There are a lot of free agent receivers on the market and Johnson, while good, won't be grouped in with the elites. The Bills could probably keep him around without breaking the bank but if Johnson wants to test the free agency market, the Patriots could use help at wide receiver, as could the Texans.
Pouha has over 100 tackles from the nose tackle position in the last two seasons, which is quite impressive. He is 33, which means he's on the downward slope of his career but he has some good years left in him as a run stopper.
Where He Could End Up: If the Jets decide not to keep him around, a team like the Browns could use Pouha on their defensive line. They struggled to stop the run in the tough AFC North all season and Pouha could give them some much needed help.
The Dolphins had to use the franchise tag to keep Soliai in Miami for the 2011 season and with much bigger concerns, like who's going to play quarterback in 2012, re-signing might be on the back burner. He isn't much of a pass rusher but he's a 355-pound boulder in the run game.
Where He Could End Up: I wouldn't be surprised to see Soliai leave Miami in 2012. They need a quarterback and that's probably, or at least it should be, the No. 1 priority. Soliai could do a lot of good for a team like the Steelers or Ravens, who are always looking for good defensive players, or maybe a team like the Buccaneers, Rams or Colts, who all desperately need help stopping the run.
The NFL is a passing league which means a player that has the ability to make his way to the quarterback is incredibly valuable. Williams only played in five games in 2011 before hitting IR and the Texans used him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He played well but is probably best suited to play 4-3 defensive end.
Where He Could End Up: I wouldn't be surprised if the Texans let Williams test the market. There aren't a ton of teams that could afford him. The Bengals, Titans, Redskins and Chiefs are the four teams with the most money to burn and most teams in the league would be willing to spend the money (if they had it) to bring Williams in.
Finnegan isn't the biggest cornerback in the league but he plays like he is. He doesn't get beat deep very often and he's got to be considered the most annoying defender in the league by wide receivers (ask Andre Johnson). He probably falls short of elite status but he would definitely help teams in need of cornerback help.
Mincey doesn't fall into the category of elite pass rushers but he is a defensive end with a lot of talent and he's coming off an eight-sack season, his best yet. Teams that can't afford a guy like Mario Williams could make a move for Mincey.
Where He Could End Up: Expect the Jaguars to hold on to Mincey but if they let him test the market, a team like the Chargers, Bills or Titans, who need help getting to the quarterback, could use Mincey's help.
Bad timing. Both of the Colts top two wide receivers, Wayne and Pierre Garcon, are set to hit the free agency market at the same time. I wouldn't be surprised if the team could only keep one of them around. Who's it going to be?
Where He Could End Up: Don't be surprised if the Colts let Wayne walk. If Wayne does go on the market, a team like the Patriots could use help at wide receiver, as could the Bengals, Buccaneers, Browns, Bears and Texans.
The Broncos are lucky, they don't have a lot of big-name players heading off to free agency. Brodrick Bunkley came to Denver as a free agent from the Eagles and he had a pretty good season. He didn't necessarily make the Broncos' defense great in any way but his impact was noticeable. The Broncos should sign him for another couple years.
Where He Could End Up: Bunkley may not attract a ton of attention from other teams so I think he'll re-sign with the Broncos, but he could end up with a team needing help on the defensive line like the Browns, Raiders or Rams.
Jackson is one of Philip Rivers' favorite targets and one of the best wide receivers in the league. He'll be grouped in with the elite guys that potentially hitting the market. The Chargers want him back but if they don't use the franchise tag on him, he would cost a ton of money.
Where He Could End Up: I think the Chargers to do everything they can to keep Jackson in San Diego but if not, I could see a team like the Patriots, Bears or Buccaneers to be throwing some money at him. They have a little more to burn than some other teams and could use the help at wide receiver.
Bush isn't the No. 1 running back in Oakland -- that title belongs to Darren McFadden. But in McFadden's four seasons, he's never played all 16 games. In 2011, he went out after seven games, Bush took over and did a pretty good job. Bush is probably looking to start somewhere.
Where He Could End Up: The Raiders may try to convince Bush to stay in Oakland because they know McFadden is injury prone, but I doubt he stays. A team like the Bengals could use Bush to replace Cedric Benson. The Patriots, Redskins and Browns could use help at running back too.
Carr is likely the best in a fairly deep group of free agent cornerbacks. He and Dwayne Bowe are by far the two biggest free agents for the Chiefs. Luckily they aren't in a terrible position when it comes to cap space, but they still may only be able to sign one. If Carr hits the open market, he's going to get paid. He'll probably get paid if he stays too.
Where He Could End Up: Carr is a good corner and good corners usually stay put. However, we saw Nnamdi Asomugha leave Oakland last year and that can happen again. If he leaves Kansas City, once again, the Bengals are a team that could afford him. They have the most cap space and desperately need help in the secondary. The Patriots need a cornerback too.
Rice is coming off of three straight 1,000-yard seasons and his best year of his career so far with 1,364 yards. With Joe Flacco's inconsistent play at times, the Ravens can't afford to lose one of the better running backs in the NFL.
Where They Could End Up: I don't think Rice will be going anywhere. The Ravens don't have a ton of money to spend but I think if worse comes to worse, they'll use their franchise tag on Rice to keep him in Baltimore for another season so they can work something out next year.
The Steelers are in the worst shape of any team when it comes to cap space. Luckily their biggest free agent, Mike Wallace, is restricted, which means their biggest unrestricted free agent is William Gay. He's not the most talented corner in the league but he's tough and that's good for the Steelers. He's been helped by top-notch safety play while in Pittsburgh so if he goes to another team and he's left on his own, he could struggle.
Where He Could End Up: Gay won't attract a ton of attention on the market, especially considering how deep the market is at the cornerback position, but if the Steelers don't want him, he could end up with a team who needs help in the secondary and doesn't have a ton of money to spend. The Packers, Giants and Cowboys fit that description.
Nelson came to Cincinnati in 2010 and revitalized his career in 2011. He played well for the Bengals as their starting free safety and put himself in a position to get a decent pay increase. The Bengals are in the best shape of any team when it comes to cap space. They have a ton of money to spend, the only question is if they'll spend it or not.
Where He Could End Up: I think the Bengals bring Nelson right back to Cincinnati in 2011. They need help at strong safety and cornerback and the last thing they want to do is put themselves in a position where they have to find a new free safety too. However, if he doesn't stay, the Patriots, Giants, Raider or Vikings could use him to help struggling pass defenses.
Jackson missed the 2010 season but in 2011 he played like a pro bowler. Good linebackers can be hard to come by so the Browns would be smart to keep him around to make sure their defense stays competitive and at the level of the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals' defenses.
Where He Could End Up: Jackson will probably stay in Cleveland but if he doesn't, their Ohio neighbor, the Bengals, could use him after the latest news that Rey Maualuga was charged with assault this past week. If he doesn't go to Cincinnati, the Ravens could very well take him in.