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Top 101 NFL free agents for 2014

*Like this draft class, the 2014 free-agent crop is deep and talented. Teams looking for a defensive lineman or cornerback are especially in luck. *

Ranked below are our top 101 unrestricted free agents. Players designated with the franchise tag have been removed. Keep checking our list because salary cap casualities 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) Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills: A natural playmaker with plus ball skills, Byrd is Earl Thomas' chief rival as the game's top cover safety. Guys this good usually don't make it to free agency. 

TIER 2: Impact starters

2) Eugene Monroe, OT, Baltimore Ravens: Of all the offensive linemen available, Monroe offers the best mix of age, talent and demonstrated production in both the running and the passing game.

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3) Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: Johnson's sacks took a dip in 2013, but disruption still counts as production. In addition to providing stout run defense, Johnson was among the leading defensive ends in batted passes and quarter hurries.

4) Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns: Considering age, pedigree and effectiveness in both the pass and run games, there's no center we would rather have. (UPDATE: The Browns placed the transition tag on Mack on Monday.)

5) Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders: Houston is hardly a household name, but he's a young, scheme-versatile lineman capable of pushing the pocket and stopping the run. That's a rare NFL commodity.

6) Jared Veldheer, OT, Oakland Raiders: Measuring in at a towering 6-foot-8, Veldheer is athletic enough that he was tried at center early in his career. With a projected $65 million in cap space, the Raiders have no excuse for letting him get away.

7) Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs: Albert isn't a strong run blocker, but he's been an elite pass protector for years.  Assuming the Chiefs don't pay him, the Cardinals and Dolphinswill be happy to oblige.

8) Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans: Verner timed his first Pro Bowl season well. But why did the Titans want to lock up teammate Jason McCourty first?

9) Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks: He's been one of the most underrated and underpaid pass rushers in the NFL for the last two years. That should end in March. (UPDATE: Bennett signed a four-year deal with the Seahawks on Monday.)

10) Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots: Some off-field questions remain, but he's one of the most physical man coverage cornerbacks in football. A return to New England would not be a surprise.

11) T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns: Ward is better as an extra linebacker in the box than in coverage. 

12) Brent Grimes, CB, Miami Dolphins: Undersized and over 30 years old, Grimes might not break the bank compared to his younger cornerback counterparts. However, he's one of the very best at his position.  (UPDATE: The Dolphins signed Grimes to a four-year contact.)

13) Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis Colts: Enigmatic on and off the field, Davis is just entering his prime. The Colts should shell out big bucks to keep him.

14) Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos: The worst-case scenario for Decker is that he's a true No. 2 receiver that will be overpaid as a No. 1. There's no question he's a young, quality starter.

15) Jason Worilds, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Finally trusted with a starting job, Worilds racked up seven sacks and 20 quarterback hits in the final eight games of the 2013 season. Was that a career turnaround or a contract push? (UPDATE: Worilds was given the transition tag by the Steelers, and quickly signed it.)

16) Jason Hatcher, DT, Dallas Cowboys: Age (32) is a big concern, but Hatcher was as disruptive as nearly any interior defensive lineman in the league last season. He's a better pass rusher than run defender.

17) Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears: A year ago, he could have been No. 1 on this list. So why not swing for the fences for a young player that has displayed top-five talent at his position? (Even if he's coming off a torn ACL.)

18) B.J. Raji, DT, Green Bay Packers: Raji is a candidate to be overpaid based on his name value. Yet there's no denying he's in his prime and has shown ability to be a plus starter if motivated.

19) Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: Though never a starter, Griffen has flashed dominant pass-rushing ability as a highly athletic and versatile nickel-package specialist. (UPDATE: Griffen re-signed with the Vikings on a five-year contract.)

20) Sam Shields, CB, Green Bay Packers: Cornerbacks with sub-4.40 speed and the ability to lock down special receivers such as A.J. Green and Josh Gordon get paid. (UPDATE: Shields re-signed with the Packers on a four-year, $39 million contract.)

21) LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: With Worilds staying in Pittsburgh, Woodley is the most intriguing 3-4 outside linebacker available by far. Injuries are a concern but he can be a dominant player and is only 29 years old.

22) Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins: Starks is everything Raji is billed to be, but he's now on the wrong side of age 30.

23) Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants: On the list of players responsible for the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI trophy, Nicks ranks no lower than third. That said, his playmaking has all but vanished over the past two seasons. Can he regain it or have chronic lower-leg injuries stalled his career?

24) Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers: Finley is a major injury risk after undergoing cervical fusion surgery. Would you rather roll the dice on a difference-maker's best-case scenario or go the safe route in Dennis Pitta? You have our answer.

25) Linval Joseph, DT, New York Giants: The 2010 second-rounder is a young, improving run-plugger capable of pushing the pocket from the interior.

TIER 3: Starters with questions

26) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Maclin is still talking to the Eagles, but he would be better off on a one-year, make-good deal in Denver or Detroit now that Riley Cooper has re-signed. (UPDATE: Maclin agreed to terms with the Eagles.)

27) Donald Butler, LB, San Diego Chargers: Still just 25 years old and just a notch below Pro Bowl-caliber, Butler is the Chargers' top offseason priority as one of the few nucleus players on defense. (UPDATE: Butler agreed to terms with the Chargers.)

28) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver Broncos: His love for the game is in question. His rare cover skills are not. This cornerback crop is deep.

29) Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens: He might not truly be a top-100 NFL player, but he's a quality pair of hands that Joe Flacco trusts. He's not going anywhere. (UPDATE: Pitta agreed to terms with the Ravens.)

30) Brandon Spikes, LB, New England Patriots: Spikes plays just two downs, but he makes an impact on those snaps as one of the league's most ferocious run-stoppers.

31) Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: Don't discount Allen's endurance. He's not the pass rusher he once was, but he can still credibly play more snaps than practically any other player.

32) Arthur Jones, DE, Baltimore Ravens: The oldest of the Jones brood that includes UFC's Jon "Bones" and Patriots sack artist Chandler, Arthur is about to get paid as a run-stopping defensive end capable of disrupting the passing game.

33) Michael Vick, QB Philadelphia Eagles: Vick might be entering the stage of his career where he's just good enough to get you beat. (And he's still an upgrade on many starters out there.)

34) Paul Soliai, NT, Miami Dolphins: There aren't many humans on the planet built like him. He's a one-person solution to your run defense problems.

35) Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks: A destitute man's Hines Ward, Tate is a demon as a blocker and with the ball in his hands after the catch. His numbers have been artificially deflated in the NFL's run-heaviest offense.

36) Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans: Tate is a strong one-cut runner that doesn't excel in the passing game. He has the most promise in a weak crop of free-agent backs.

37) Malcolm Jenkins, S, New Orleans Saints: It wasn't long ago that Jenkins was viewed as one of the league's brightest young safeties.

38) Walter Thurmond, CB Seattle Seahawks: Nickel back is a starting job in today's NFL. And there aren't many better at it than Thurmond, who could be an intriguing choice for current Jaguars coach -- and former Seahawks defensive coordinator -- Gus Bradley.

39) Karlos Dansby, LB Arizona Cardinals: It's hard to imagine Dansby replicating his success in most systems, but he was positively electric in Arizona last year.

40) Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants: After two straight down years, Tuck was strong against the run and rushing the passer in 2013. Don't be surprised if he leaves New York.

41) Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets: Cromartie was a legitimate shutdown corner in 2012, but was burned deep with alarming frequency last season. There has to be concern that he's losing a step while turning 30 this offseason.

42) Red Bryant, DL, Seattle Seahawks: Bryant can still plug the run with the best of them. He was released to prevent the Seahawks from paying a $3 million bonus in March. *(UPDATE: Bryant signed a four-year deal with the Jaguars.) *

43) Rodger Saffold, OL, St. Louis Rams: Saffold is a capable blocker at both tackle and guard. What he can't do is stay healthy.

44) Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers: Similar to Reggie Wayne two offseasons ago, Boldin likely will have to settle for a three-year deal worth $5 to 6 million per. (UPDATE: Boldin struck a deal Monday to stay with the 49ers.)

45) Anthony Collins, OT, Cincinnati Bengals: Perhaps the NFL's premier swing tackle over the past half-decade, Collins has flashed plus pass protection every time he's gotten a shot at extended playing time.

46) Donte Whitner, S, San Francisco 49ers: Will all of those bone-jarring hits catch up to Whitner as he enters his ninth season?

47) Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: Underrated as an athlete and playmaker, Edelman is an injury-prone role player whose career year was largely the result of filling the vacuum left by better talents in New England. If you weren't willing to pay him last year, why break the bank now?

48) Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: Can he duplicate Reggie Bush's success in a greener pasture? McFadden can't be relied upon for 16 games, but at least one team will be tempted to help him recapture 2010 to 2011 form when he was one of the most effective per-play backs in the NFL.

49) D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns: Jackson is a plug-and-play starter on the inside that will add leadership to any team he joins. (UPDATE: Jackson agreed to a four-year, $22 million contract with the Colts on Thursday; deal includes $11 million in guaranteed money.)

50) Louis Delmas, S, Detroit Lions: A throwback to an NFL era full of big hitters, Delmas can still fit in some systems as an enforcer. Durability is a concern. (UPDATE: Delmas signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins.)

51) James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers: Jones is a smart, tough receiver who is dynamic after the catch. He could be a bargain despite his inconsistent hands.

52) Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: He's craftier than explosive. That might cause teams to see him as a slot receiver. New England showed interest last year.

53) Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts: There aren't many safeties this good in coverage who make it to the market. Bethea's pricetag could be significant.

54) Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans Saints: Sproles isn't the returner he once was, but he gives defenses a lot to think about as a receiver who can still catch 50-plus passes.

55) Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Carolina Panthers: Munnerlyn can't handle bigger receivers one-on-one on the outside, but he turns in as many big plays as any cornerback in the league.

56) Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City Chiefs: He wasn't worth the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, but Jackson has developed into an excellent run-stopping 3-4 defensive end. There aren't a ton of guys quite like him.

57) Willie Young, DE, Detroit Lions: Young pass rushers who have shown flashes of excellence are candidates to get big money on the open market.

58) Pat Sims, DT Oakland Raiders: There are games he completely blows up the opposing offensive line, and games he disappears quietly.

59) Tarell Brown, CB, San Francisco 49ers: Brown is probably no better than an average NFL starter. That's still worth plenty.

60) Daryl Smith, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Smith quickly made everyone forget about Ray Lewis with a nice mix of big playmaking and smarts.

61) Michael Oher, OT, Baltimore Ravens: The anticlimactic ending for "The Blind Side 2" would include Oher winding up as a mid-level NFL free agent. He's a backup option to the top tackles available.

62) Jon Asamoah, G, Kansas City Chiefs: The 2010 third-round draft pick always was a solid starter until he was inexplicably benched for Geoff Schwartz down the stretch last season.

63) Zach Strief, RT, New Orleans Saints: He's done a nice, consistent job keeping Drew Brees upright.

TIER 4: Effective in the right role

64) Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos: Coming off a career year, Moreno benefited from slack boxes provided by the threat of Peyton Manning's aerial attack. He was outplayed by Montee Ball during the Broncos' Super Bowl run. An injury risk prior to 2013, Moreno is ideally used as a tandem back.

65) Shaun Phillips, DE, Denver Broncos: He was surprisingly effective last season, but will be a target for a short-term deal because he turns 33 in May.

66) Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions: He became a punching bag in Detroit for his poor hands, yet he's a complete player who could start for most teams in the league.

67) Davin Joseph, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The two-time Pro Bowl selection's career has been derailed by injuries and poor play the past two years.

68) LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots: Blount has never received high marks for fundamentals, but he was an unstoppable juggernaut for a few games in the Pats' makeshift power-based offense.

69) Zane Beadles, G, Denver Broncos: The dearth of high-quality guards could land Beadles a plum contract from a needy team such as the Giants.

70) Chris Clemons, S, Miami Dolphins: A durable, league-average starter, Clemons has been unable to land a long-term deal from the Dolphins or any other team.

71) Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: The NFL's rushing leader in 2011, Jones-Drew is the latest example that change happens quickly in the NFL. He lost all semblance of big-play ability in his eighth season. How much of that was supporting cast?

72) Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona Cardinals: It's easy to forget he gained 759 yards through the air as a 24-year-old. Roberts is a fine rotation receiver.

73) Travelle Wharton, G, Carolina Panthers: Wharton is a quality short-term solution at guard, assuming he wants to play.

74) Rashad Jennings, RB, Oakland Raiders: A fine pickup to split up the workload as long as you don't pay him like a starter.

75) Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears: The defense's answer to Jones-Drew, Tillman was alternately injured and ineffective one season after joining the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year. He appears to be toeing the cliff.

76) Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Rice is still just 27 years old, but is coming off a torn ACL on top of concussion and hip injuries earlier in his career.

77) Anthony Spencer, DE/LB, Dallas Cowboys: Staring down the barrel of age 30 and coming off microfracture knee surgery is not an enviable position for a free agent. Take the money that's on the table while you still can.

78) Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Atlanta Falcons: With no hint of pass rushing ability, Babineaux has been one of the Falcons premier defenders the past few seasons. That speaks volumes about Atlanta's defensive shortcomings.

79) Josh McCown, QB, Chicago Bears: The journeyman outplayed Jay Cutler last season. If he could arrange for "quarterback whisperer" Marc Tresman to follow him in a package deal, McCown would make for a much more attractive stopgap option.

80) Antonio Smith, DE, Houston Texans: An excellent free-agent acquisition back in 2009, Smith has been a durable, scheme-versatile pass rusher. On the downside, he turns 33 years old early next season.

81) Geoff Schwartz, OL, Kansas City Chiefs: A hulking road-grader, Schwartz bounced around the league as a swing lineman before taking Jon Asamoah's job down the stretch last season.

82) Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets: He could either be an incredible bargain or out of the league in a year. There will be no in-between.

83) Chris Cook, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Cook will tempt teams with ideal size and plus athleticism, but he's had character issues and has been burned too often in coverage.

84) Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings: The six-time Pro Bowl selection could still help teams out as a rotational player.

85) Perry Riley, LB, Washington Redskins: A nice bargain pickup candidate if he can improve his tackling. *(UPDATE: The Redskins have signed Riley to a multiyear deal worth about $4 million annually.) *

86) Matt Cassel, QB, Minnesota Vikings: The quintessential "bridge" quarterback, Cassel can hold the line until a rookie is ready. (UPDATE: Cassel re-signed with the Vikings on a two-year deal.

87) Jon Beason, LB, New York Giants: Exposed as a coverage liability with the Panthers early last season, Beason helped shore up the Giants' run defense during a 7-3 run to close out 2013.

88) Clinton McDonald, DT, Seattle Seahawks: A key cog in Seattle's defensive line rotation, McDonald is an effective -- if undersized -- pass rusher.

Harrison: Team needs in free agency

With free agency set to kick off on Tuesday, March 11, Elliot Harrison identifies top priorities for each NFL franchise. **READ**

89) Brandon Browner, CB, Seattle Seahawks: Browner was coming off a subpar season even before the suspension announcement. At his size, he's a scheme-specific corner. Will Jaguars coach Gus Bradley be interested in a reunion?

90) Josh Freeman, QB, Minnesota Vikings: It wasn't so long ago that we thought Freeman had a promising career ahead. Young, experienced quarterbacks with big arms aren't easy to find.

91) Brian De La Puente, C, New Orleans Saints: It's telling that the Saints aren't going nuts to re-sign him.

92) Corey Graham, CB, Baltimore Ravens: A niche player with the Bears and Ravens for seven years, Graham is a plus nickel back and star special teamer.

93) Austin Howard, OT, New York Jets: Howard is no longer a liability as a pass protector. That doesn't mean he should be paid like a quality starter.

94) Wesley Woodyard, LB, Denver Broncos: One of the league's premier coverage linebackers in 2012, Woodyard was ill-suited to the middle linebacker role and fell out of favor during the Super Bowl run.

95) Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans: There is some untapped potential here as a catch-first tight end.

96) Mike Mitchell, S, Carolina Panthers: He had a nice year for Ron Rivera as a big hitter in the back end.

97) Asante Samuel, CB, Atlanta Falcons: He's a great candidate to get paid just $3-4 million and still start 16 games.

98) Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Wesseling believes Gerhart might wind up as a starter in 2014.

99) Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans:He's coming off a broken leg, but could still be a capable pair of hands at tight end.

*100) Ted Ginn, WR, Carolina Panthers: *For much of last season, Ginn was the most dangerous playmaker among Panthers wide receivers. It's no coincidence that the position is a major team need in 2014.

*101) Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans: *He looked like the worst player in the NFL at times last year. Watch the tape. Some team will try to turn his career around.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" picks the biggest free agent bargains and plays the revolutionary game: "Get my lunch."

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