Free Agency  

 

Top 101 NFL free agents for 2015

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  • By Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling
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Need a pass rusher, running back or top-level wide receiver? This is a great free agency period for your team. Just don't expect to find a quarterback, safety or offensive tackle.

Ranked below are our top 101 unrestricted free agents. We have removed all the potential free agents that have since received the franchise tag. We also keep removing players like Devin McCourty that re-signed with their own team. Keep checking our list because salary cap casualties could be added before free agency starts. Based on who's available, these are the players we'd want to sign:

Tier 1: Difference-makers


1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions: Outside of quarterbacks and the two unanimous All-Pros (J.J. Watt, Rob Gronkowski), Suh and Odell Beckham are the two unique talents around whom we would most like to build a franchise. A double-team defeater against the run as well as the pass, Suh is on a Hall-of-Fame career path. He appears headed for Miami when free agency starts.

2. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos: The two-time Pro Bowl selection isn't much of a blocker and has struggled with ankle injuries in multiple seasons. Those concerns are trumped by a rare skill set as a mismatch creating space in the middle of the field, excelling after the catch and posting up in the red zone. Thomas is a difference-making talent in the prime of his career. 

3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Murray was a tackle-breaking monster for the first three months of the season en route to Offensive Player of the Year honors. The No. 1 concern for potential suitors isn't the benefit of the Cowboys' dominant offensive line. It's that Murray was saddled up for a back-breaking 497 touches. He wasn't as elusive in December and January. 

Tier 2: Impact Starters


4. Mike Iupati, G, San Francisco 49ers: He has been among the best maulers in the run game at guard in the entire league throughout his career. But Iupati is not great in pass protection and isn't coming off his best season.

5. Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers: Hardy is not available to be signed until he comes off the Commissioner's Exempt List, and he could be facing further suspension. But his talent, production and age are worth ranking in the top five here. Someone will give him a chance.

6. Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks: He's the best option in a relatively thin cornerback crop. That makes him a candidate to be overpaid, but he'd fit well with former Seahawks assistants Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn.

7. Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Speed kills. Smith has averaged nearly 17 yards per catch for his career and regularly draws long pass interference penalties. Just don't expect him to be a true No. 1 receiver.

8. Jason Worilds, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He doesn't always finish plays with sacks, but Worilds consistently pressures the quarterback. He will get paid.

9. Pernell McPhee, OLB/DE, Baltimore Ravens: He can rush standing up from the outside or play defensive tackle. But plenty of Ravens defenders have struggled away from Baltimore.

10. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: He might not be as productive away from Chip Kelly's system. Unless he goes to Andy Reid's system. 

11. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions: A boom-or-bust pickup, Fairley can be one of the best at his position when motivated.

12. Bryan Bulaga, T, Green Bay Packers: In a tackle-thin market, Bulaga offers rock solid starter status on the right side.

13. Jared Odrick, DT, Miami Dolphins: Quality, versatile defensive line starters are not easy to find in free agency. That's why the Jaguars are set to give him big money. 

14. Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver Broncos: One of the NFL's premier run-stuffers, Knighton has played for new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio in every one of his six seasons. He's a better scheme fit in Oakland than Denver.

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15. Rodney Hudson, C, Kansas City Chiefs: There are whispers that Hudson's goal is to become the NFL's highest-paid center. We aren't quite as high on him as we were on Alex Mack last year. Hudson looks headed to Oakland. 

Tier 3: Starters with questions


16. Derrick Morgan, DE, Tennessee Titans: Much like Graham, Morgan gets more pressures than sacks. He's also best utilized as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. He went to college in Atlanta. It's no secret that the Falcons' top need is pass rusher.

17. Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins: Prior to getting hit with the franchise tag early last March, Orakpo held down a top-10 spot on our list -- only to go down with his third career torn pectoral injury. The Falcons were reportedly hot on his trail at this time in 2014.

18. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers: Crabtree denied playing through a foot injury last season, but the game film suggests otherwise. Any team signing him will have to hope he can recover the impressive pre-Achilles tear form that helped propel the 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII.

19. Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers: While injury prone, Mathews is one of the hardest-running early-down backs in the league. He's a perfect player to pair with a pass-catching back in the draft.

20. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: We think AJ has more left in the tank than Steve Smith did when he left Carolina last season. Smith turned out to be a solid free agent value, and Johnson could be even better as a No. 2 option.

21. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills: Chris Wesseling wanted to rank Spiller much higher, but "peak Spiller" has only come out once in five seasons. He's a great complementary part, not a foundation to build around.

22. Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins: More of a versatile H-back than a big-bodied tight end, Clay is reportedly seeking $6 million annually. The Dolphins want to keep him, but they'll have competition from the Bills and others. Clay is not technically a free agent because the Dolphins placed the transition tag on him, meaning they can match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere. 

23. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Cleveland Browns: Often overlooked and overrated, Sheard can provide solid starter snaps at a reasonable price.

24. Orlando Franklin, G/T, Denver Broncos: He excelled as a guard last season, and Franklin's versatility to help out at right tackle will earn him money in a thin offensive line market. He's expected to land in San Diego. 

25. Chris Culliver, CB, San Francisco 49ers: He hasn't been the most consistent player throughout his career and he previously suffered a torn ACL, but Culliver has loads of talent. He's coming off a strong season and has a high ceiling.

26. Rahim Moore, S, Denver Broncos: Forget that play against Baltimore. Moore has developed into a quality starting safety, and he's only 25 years old.

27. Dan Williams, NT, Arizona Cardinals: Williams has improved every season since getting taken in the first round during the Whisenhunt/Graves era. There are way more 3-4 defenses in the NFL than there are true nose tackles like Williams.

28. Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns: If this list came out a year ago, Cameron would have ranked in the top 15 because he's a matchup nightmare. Concussion woes now jeopardize Cameron's future.

29. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers: The Inconvenient Truth can still block, catch and turn a 1-yard stuff into a 4-yard gain like a boss. He's a nice veteran short-term pickup for a team seeking a title like Philadelphia. 

30. B.J. Raji, DT, Green Bay Packers: 2013 was an off year. 2014 was an injury year. The talent is there, but it's been a while since we've seen it.

31. Trent Cole, DE/OLB, Philadelphia Eagles: Cole, 32, hasn't topped eight sacks since 2011, but was still bringing the heat via hits and hurries last season. He's a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end.

32. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Oakland Raiders: Wisniewski is a solid starter in his prime. So why are the Raiders being linked to Hudson as his replacement?

33. Davon House, CB, Green Bay Packers: House is seeking a starting job after four years as a sub-package corner in Green Bay. Don't be surprised if the Packers re-sign him and allow Tramon Williams to walk.

34. Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay Packers: Williams was an above-average starter last season, but he turns 32 years old next month. He will have to settle for a short-term contract.

35. Stephen Paea, DT, Chicago Bears: The Bears have struggled up front against the run, but Paea did emerge as a disruptive pocket pusher last season. Washington is known to have strong interest. 

36. Henry Melton, DT, Dallas Cowboys: A Rosenthal favorite, Melton was effective for the majority of last season as an interior pass rusher.

37. Brandon Spikes, LB, Buffalo Bills: Spikes has a niche skill-set as a premier two-down run-stuffer.

38. Antonio Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals: Still a quality starter, Cromartie seems likely to follow Todd Bowles to New York for a reunion with the Jets.

39. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons: Weatherspoon was the Falcons' top defender before Lisfranc, knee and Achilles injuries limited him to 20 of a possible 48 games over the last three seasons.

40. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Similar to Miles Austin a few years back, Shorts is a strong after-the-catch threat whose explosiveness has been sapped by lingering soft-tissue injuries. Word around the campfire is that he is interested in a Cleveland homecoming.

41. Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots: The Gronk generation's answer to Kevin Faulk in New England, Vereen is basically a younger version of Reggie Bush at this point.

42. Antrel Rolle, S, New York Giants: The weekly #hottakes on his radio appearances are more consistent than his pass coverage.

43. Rolando McClain, LB, Dallas Cowboys: Does any team want to bet on lightning striking twice without any more drama? McClain probably has more value to the Cowboys than any other team.

44. Perrish Cox, CB, San Francisco 49ers: Something is in the water in San Francisco, where the 49ers have coached up a lot of cornerbacks to career years. Cox played like a Pro Bowl pick for much of last season.

45. Clint Boling, G, Cincinnati Bengals: True starting guards like Boling usually get paid big money on the open market.

46. Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints: He's a league average starter who is known as a good leader in the locker room.

47. Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans: Accuracy and durability are issues, but Locker has a higher ceiling than any of the other quarterback options in free agency. At best, he should compete to start.

48. Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens: Don't expect a big contract after Forsett's big season, but he's a nice fit for any team running zone blocking.

49. Da'Norris Searcy, S, Buffalo Bills: With few quality safeties out there, Searcy looks like a smart value pickup.

50. Joe Barksdale, T, St. Louis Rams: You can plug him in to start at right tackle.

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51. Kenny Britt, WR, St. Louis Rams: The good: Britt established a career-high with 48 receptions last season. The bad: He topped 70 yards in just two games.

52. James Carpenter, OG, Seattle Seahawks: Too often a liability in pass protection, Carpenter hasn't lived up to his first-round draft pedigree.

Tier 4: Needs the right role


53. Justin Blalock, G, Atlanta Falcons: He has been a solid starter throughout his career, but is on the wrong side of 30. He'll have suitors.

54. Walter Thurmond, CB, New York Giants: Thurmond was a highly effective slot corner in 2013, but that is the only season in which he has stayed healthy.

55. Buster Skrine, CB, Cleveland Browns: Playing opposite Joe Haden, Skrine has been targeted more than any cornerback in the league over the past two years. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he might be viewed as an inside corner on the open market.

56. Kendrick Lewis, S, Houston Texans: Lewis salvaged his value by emerging as one of the most consistent defensive backs in Houston after a subpar showing with the Chiefs in 2013.

57. Brian Hoyer, QB, Cleveland Browns: If the goal is to hold the fort for a raw rookie, teams could do a lot worse than Hoyer. If the goal is to contend for the playoffs with Hoyer under center, his limitations will be exposed -- just as they were down the stretch last season.

58. Mason Foster, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Foster didn't fit Lovie Smith's defense, but looked like a decent young starter in 2013. Perhaps he could join old friend Raheem Morris in Atlanta.

59. Dwight Freeney, LB/DE, San Diego Chargers: Freeney is strictly a situational pass rusher now, although he can still be effective.

60. Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions: For the right price (one-year, $3.5 million), Bush can still help teams as a passing-down threat.

61. Bruce Carter, LB, Dallas Cowboys: Carter makes plenty of big plays, but he gives them up as well.

62. Cory Redding, DE, Indianapolis Colts: Aside from Vontae Davis, Redding was outplaying anyone on the Colts' defense in the playoffs last season.

63. Brooks Reed, LB, Houston Texans: Peter King once predicted Reed would win Defensive Player of the Year. That should be worth something.

64. Kendall Langford, DT, St. Louis Rams: Quality rotation defensive linemen are not easy to find. Langford was only cut because he was paid big money and was backing up Aaron Donald.

65. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals: He's a below average starter and an above average backup.

66. Jarvis Jenkins, DE, Washington Redskins: Jenkins never made the leap as a second-round draft pick billed as the prototype 3-4 defensive end.

67. Mike Adams, S, Indianapolis Colts: Adams exceeded expectations as a late-period free-agent signing, solidifying the back end of the Colts' defense. Will there be much interest in a 34-year-old safety?

68. Akeem Ayers, LB, New England Patriots: Ayers played a key role for the Super Bowl champions after the 2-14 Titans couldn't find a spot for him.

69. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts: Nicks regained a semblance of his playmaking form down the stretch last season, but the Colts didn't think highly enough of him to bench an obviously struggling Reggie Wayne.

70. Karl Klug, DE, Tennessee Titans We see Klug as a situational pass rusher who could surprise with six to eight sacks in a 4-3 defense like Seattle's.

71. Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland Raiders: Branch was a quality starter in his prime, but severe lower-leg injuries have limited him to just five of 32 games over the past two years. We don't know how he will bounce back at age 28.

72. Barry Cofield, DT, Washington Redskins: He's coming off an injury-plagued season, but run stuffing nose tackles are very hard to find.

73. Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots: Ridley is an interesting power back, albeit one coming off ACL surgery.

74. Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins: Helu might have overtaken Pierre Thomas as the best screen-pass specialist in the league last year.

75. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Indianapolis Colts: Bradshaw is effective whenever he plays. Unfortunately, that seems to be roughly a half-dozen times per year. One of the most hard-charging backs in the league has been betrayed by his lower legs.

76. Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland Browns: Rubin once had a reputation as a premier run-plugger. The Browns had the league's worst run defense in 2014.

77. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The No. 20 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft ended up playing just 36 games in four years with the Bucs. Even when healthy, Clayborn hasn't been disruptive as a pass rusher.

78. Chris Myers, C, Houston Texans: The former Pro Bowler won't work on most teams, but a zone-blocking team needing a starter could do a lot worse. Hello, Gary Kubiak.

79. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears: Former coach Marc Trestman believed that Tillman was playing at a Pro Bowl level early last season. On the other hand, Tillman is a 34-year-old cornerback coming off a second torn triceps injury.

80. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago Bears: The seven-time Pro Bowl selection isn't going to hang with tight ends in coverage in his mid-thirties, but he can still provide solid run defense with a move inside if the Bears opt to bring him back for a 13th season.

81. Rob Housler, TE, Arizona Cardinals: Housler is one of the NFL's speediest tight ends, but Bruce Arians doesn't have any use for that species if they don't block. He needs a change of scenery.

82. Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders: A perennial tease.

83. C.J. Mosley, DT, Detroit Lions: A late bloomer, Mosley is coming off the most effective season of his 10-year career.

84. Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints Thomas is a role player, but he still does that role (passing downs) well.

85. Patrick Robinson, CB, New Orleans Saints: An oft-burned first-round draft bust through four seasons, Robinson was noticeably stingier in coverage last year.

86. Ron Parker, S, Kansas City Chiefs: A career special teamer, Parker started 15 games last season, splitting his time between cornerback and safety. That versatility has value.

87. Anthony Spencer, DE, Dallas Cowboys: Returning from microfracture surgery, Spencer struggled to make an impact before coming on in late December.

88. Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins: He had two recent 1,000-yard seasons and he's not yet 30, but Hartline is best used as a third receiver.

89. O'Brien Schofield, DE, Seattle Seahawks: Schofield flashed as a rotational pass rusher on a Super Bowl team.

90. Malcolm Smith, LB, Seattle Seahawks: Smith went from Super Bowl MVP to Super Bowl benchwarmer in one calendar year. Perhaps Dan Quinn will recruit him to Atlanta.

91. Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta FalconsOnly one season removed from a 1,000-yard campaign, Douglas can upgrade plenty of No. 3 receiver slots out there.

92. Stevie Brown, S, New York Giants: He's a playmaker at a position that looks awfully thin in this market.

93. Kevin Williams, DT, Seattle Seahawks: The longtime Vikings stalwart looked reborn as a situational run-stuffer in Seattle last season.

94. Louis Delmas, FS, Miami Dolphins: Delmas has struggled with injuries in recent years, but was dependable in the 13 games he appeared in before tearing his ACL in December.

95. Dawan Landry, SS, New York Jets: Landry had one of his better seasons in 2014, but isn't a ballhawking safety. A good fit in a Rex Ryan-type of scheme.

96. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Miami Dolphins: Moreno showed his ability in his final season in Denver, but the recurring injury bug bit him again in 2014 in Miami, sidelining him for all but three games.

97. Jeron Johnson, SS, Seattle Seahawks: He never played a ton of snaps in Seattle because the position is so deep, but he's an intriguing talent that could evolve into a starter.

98. Tommy Kelly, DE, Arizona Cardinals: Released by the Patriots before last season, Kelly showed a surprising amount of gas left in the tank in Arizona.

99. Marcus Gilchrist, SS, San Diego Chargers: He has positional flexibility and the size that teams are looking for in defensive backs.

100. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Rodgers might not do anything that well, but he can catch passes, handle short yardage, and do all the little things teams want in a third down back.

101. Michael Vick, QB, New York Jets: We still believed Vick could help a team last offseason, but his heart didn't seem to be in the one-year Jets stint.

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