Our rundown of the best of the second-tier free agents includes a Super Bowl MVP, a couple of first-round quarterbacks and lots of the kind of steady middle-class talent that makes up the bulk of NFL rosters
Note: This list represents unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired after the 2014 season. It doesn't include “street” free agents, whose contracts were terminated before they were set to expire (their ranks will grow in the coming days) and who are free to sign before unrestricted free agency begins on March 10. Age listed is for the start of the 2015 regular season. Status updates appear to the right of the player's name. Our ranking of the top 50 free agents will appear Wednesday.
51. Ryan Mathews
RB, San Diego (Age 27)
Has played 16 games only once in his career, including just six in last season. When healthy, a very good runner (career 4.4 average) and receiver, and has overcome fumbling problems that plagued him early in his career. Best fit: Falcons. With the release of Steven Jackson, Atlanta needs an every-down back.
52. Mark Sanchez
QB, Philadelphia (Age 28)
Inconsistent passer who turns the ball over far too much for his skill set (career: 82 TDs, 80 interceptions). He's a better fit for the Eagles than stats showed—line injuries and Philly's sluggish run game contributed to his problems. Best fit: Eagles, depending on what they do in the draft and with Nick Foles. Sanchez showed comfort in Chip Kelly’s scheme.
53. Stephen Gostkowski // Franchise tag
K, New England (Age 31)
Coming off a career year when he made 94.6 percent of his field goals, and he’s also one of the top kickoff men in the league. Best fit: Patriots. With a team this good, I have a hard time seeing Bill Belichick relying on a rookie kicker.
54. Nate Washington
WR, Tennessee (Age 32)
Has always been a solid performer for the Titans, even with their mediocre (at best) quarterback play. Getting up there in age, but possesses skills to help a team. Best fit: Dolphins. With the release of Brian Hartline, Washington would be a good veteran addition.
55. Jermaine Gresham
TE, Cincinnati (Age 27)
Has never lived up to first-round status—despite dazzling physical skills he’s been purely average. Best fit: Broncos. They could lose two TEs, Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, and perhaps think Peyton Manning can make Gresham look better than Andy Dalton did.
56. Justin Forsett
RB, Baltimore (Age 29)
Underrated journeyman who broke out with 1,266 yards and 52 catches behind a good offensive line in Baltimore. A durable performer who showed he can be an every-down back when given the opportunity. Best fit: Colts. Trent Richardson obviously isn’t the answer, and Forsett has the varied skills to make Andrew Luck better.
57. Ryan Mallett
QB, Houston (Age 27)
After serving as Tom Brady’s backup, Mallett finally got a chance to start in Houston and lasted two games (one efficient performance against Cleveland) before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Best fit: Texans. He knows Bill O’Brien’s system as well as anybody, and Houston doesn’t have a franchise quarterback yet.
58. Frank Gore
RB, San Francisco (Age 32)
Is up there in age but has had four straight 1,000-yard seasons and eight in his last nine. Incredibly tough and powerful runner who'll help somebody. Best fit: Washington. New GM Scot McCloughan knows Gore, who'll be the type of leader to help revive the franchise.
59. Brian De La Puente
C, Chicago (Age 30)
Steady if unspectacular veteran who is efficient at both center and guard. Ended last season on injured reserve but should have decent market once Rodney Hudson of Kansas City signs with a team. Best fit: Raiders. They could be looking for a replacement for Stefan Wisniewski, and Hudson will be too expensive.
60. Doug Free
OT, Dallas (Age 31)
Undisputed veteran leader of standout offensive line in Dallas. Has increasingly battled injuries (he missed five games last season) after being durable for four straight years. Best fit: Cowboys. They know what they have in the room, and Free has been amenable to taking less money to stay in previous years.
61. James Carpenter
G, Seattle (Age 26)
Didn’t come close to living up to being the 25th overall player drafted in 2011 and really struggles to sustain in the run game. But the physical skills are there. Best fit: Washington. It needs help on the offensive line, and GM Scot McCloughan was in Seattle when the Seahawks drafted Carpenter.
62. Cecil Shorts
WR, Jacksonville (Age 27)
Despite his small-school background (Mount Union) and the Jaguars' quarterback woes, Shorts has shown he can be a productive NFL receiver. Not the most durable player. Best fit: Browns. He’s from the area, and Cleveland needs a big influx of viable receiving targets.
63. Niles Paul
TE, Washington (Age 26)
Got a chance to show he was more than a special teams standout and produced (39 rec., 507 yards, 1 TD). He’s versatile and on the rise, and a team will be enticed by what he could do as a full-timer. Best fit: Bills. They need a more athletic player to pair with Scott Chandler.
64. Ahtyba Rubin
DT, Cleveland (Age 29)
Looked to be miscast as a 3-4 nosetackle last season because he couldn’t hold the point of attack well enough. However, that may have been because of injury. Could be better in a 4-3. Best fit: Lions. They like to bring in veteran types and could have holes to plug.
65. Jimmy Wilson
CB, Miami (Age 29)
Versatile player who saw time at nickel and safety in his fourth season. Has been mostly a role player for Miami, but another team could do more with him. Best fit: Saints. They need help in the secondary, and Wilson has the type of versatility that DC Rob Ryan could utlize.
66. Bruce Carter
OLB, Dallas (Age 27)
Played all three LB spots but Sam seemed his best spot. Finished 2014 strong but has struggled with consistency, injuries. Led team with five INTs. Best fit: Dolphins. They have an opening at SLB, and Carter could be plug-and-play if the Dolphins think his future is bright.
67. Malcolm Smith
LB, Seattle (Age 26)
Former Super Bowl MVP got caught behind the talent in the Seahawks’ linebacking corps. Good athlete who has developed his instincts. Can play any linebacker spot. Best fit: Raiders. Former Seattle and USC positions coach Ken Norton Jr. is the new coordinator in Oakland, which needs a middle linebacker.
68. Tyson Alualu
DT, Jacksonville (Age 28)
Though overdrafted as 10th pick in 2010, Alualu is a durable, athletic and strong interior line player. Such players at 6-3 and 300 pounds have value in this league. Best fit: Seahawks. They need help on the interior line and also could project Alualu as a strong-side end.
69. Derek Newton
OT, Houston (Age 27)
Showed vast improvement in ’14 after being terribly inconsistent (sometimes just terrible) in his first three years, but that’s what you get with a seventh-round pick. Best fit: Texans. With so much time invested in developing Newton, it’s difficult to see the team parting with him. But former coach Gary Kubiak could use a RT in Denver.
70. Jake Locker
QB, Tennessee (Age 27)
Another one who didn’t live up to his draft position (eighth overall in 2011), Locker constantly battled injuries. But he has shown glimpses of being a decent starter when healthy. Best fit: Eagles. Like Mark Sanchez, Locker could be another mobile veteran reclamation project.
71. Walter Thurmond
CB, New York Giants (Age 28)
Never got off the ground with the Giants after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2, but he’s still the player who had good inside/outside ability with Seattle. Best fit: Giants. Both sides should finish what they started, and New York is always looking for secondary help.
72. Patrick Robinson
CB, Saints (Age 27)
A great athlete who has yet to put it all together after being a first-round pick in 2010. He was benched early last season but rebounded to play solid down the stretch. Best fit: Jets. They may need three cornerbacks to get that thin unit up to speed.
73. Louis Delmas
SS, Miami (Age 27)
After injuries and inconsistency in Detroit, Delmas found a home in Miami before tearing his ACL in Week 14. Likely won’t receive much interest until training camp. Best fit: Dolphins. Off an injury, he won’t cost much, and he's shown he can perform in Miami's D.
74. Eddie Royal
WR, San Diego (Age 29)
Has never lived up to his rookie season in Denver, when he had 91 catches and 980 yards, but still has his quickness and can get open at any spot. Best fit: Panthers. Could be a low-cost option to give Cam Newton the speedy slot receiver he doesn't have.
75. Lance Kendricks
TE, St. Louis (Age 27)
Not much of a blocker, but at 6-3 and 250 pounds with some speed, Kendricks is a good athlete for the position. Best fit: Browns. Doesn’t look like Cleveland will bring Jordan Cameron back. Kendricks would be a low-cost player to give the team options.
76. Da'Norris Searcy
S, Buffalo (Age 26)
An underrated player with the Bills who showed a knack for big plays. Also very valuable on special teams. Could get a lot of interest from smart teams. Best fit: Colts. They have money to spend and two openings at safety.
77. B.J. Raji
DT, Green Bay (Age 29)
Found a tepid market as an FA last year and took a one-year prove-it deal with Packers, but missed 2014 with a torn triceps. Still a good nosetackle when healthy. Best fit: Packers. Injury will scare teams off, so he could be back on another prove-it deal.
78. Brooks Reed
OLB, Houston (Age 27)
Has 14.5 sacks in four seasons, six in his rookie campaign when he was tasked with replacing Mario Williams. Solid two-way player in a 3-4 scheme. Best fit: Colts. They lack outside linebackers, so expect them to entertain all options in draft and free agency.
79. Letroy Guion
DT, Green Bay (Age 28)
Proved invaluable once B.J. Raji went down with an injury. Was basically the Packers’ only decent run defender on the line. Best fit: Packers. They still need a lot of help there, and he showed enough to be given a contract. Will he take it?
80. Corey Peters
DT, Atlanta (Age 26)
Took time to return to form following Achilles surgery late in ’13 but by end of ’14 was a good two-way player. Could vault up this list if others saw same. Best fit: Lions. With Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley potentially gone, they'll need reinforcements.
81. Dan Connolly
G, New England (Age 33)
Solid, workmanlike G who can also play C. Great leader and teammate. Injury problems will give other teams pause. Best fit: Patriots. As 2014 showed, they lack options at guard. Could see him not having much of a market and returning at least for camp.
82. Ray Rice
RB, No team (Age 28)
Viewed as a toxic after his domestic violence suspension. His putrid season in 2013 wrongly blamed on him and not Baltimore's poor line play. Best fit: Cowboys. Good fallback should DeMarco Murray leave, and Dallas is used to spotlight Rice would bring.
83. Brandon Spikes
ILB, Buffalo Bills (Age 28)
Still one of the top first- and second-down run defenders in the league, but few teams will view him as a three-down option, which will limit market. Best fit: Giants. They have needed a big thumper in the middle for some time. Will bring toughness.
84. Perrish Cox
CB, San Francisco (Age 28)
Has bounced around in his first five years in the league but played well at times last season, including five interceptions. Best fit: 49ers. Fellow free agent Chis Culliver had better season and will likely sign elsewhere. Cox a decent fallback.
85. Rob Sims
G, Detroit (Age 31)
Tough competitor with decent feet who's viewed as a standout leader. Struggles against the better DTs but still has games left. Best fit: Lions. With center Dominic Raiola as good as gone, Detroit could really use a leader on its interior.
86. Bradley Fletcher
CB, Philadelphia (Age 29)
Up-and-down player last season who was inactive for the final game. Miscast as a No. 1 CB. Has good size, athletic ability and experience. Best fit: Lions. Veteran Rashean Mathis is a free agent, and Fletcher could be a younger option.
87. Nate Allen
S, Philadelphia (Age 27)
Struggled to the point that it would be a surprise if he returned to Eagles at anything other than a backup. But thin safety talent around league and in draft means someone will take a chance. Best fit: Bears. Will bring in a bunch of guys to try to figure out DB spots.
88. Joe Barksdale
OT, St. Louis (Age 26)
Decent run blocker who struggles at times in pass protection, Barksdale is a good stop-gap measure for a team looking to give a young player more time. Best fit: Panthers. They can use all the help they can get on the offensive line.
89. Adrian Clayborn
DE, Tampa Bay (Age 27)
Former first-round pick never consistently showed the type of athletic and pass rush ability he did in college. Biceps injury ended 2014 season after one game. Best fit: Falcons. Dan Quinn needs a lot of pieces to make his defense work in Atlanta.
90. C.J. Mosley
DT, Detroit Lions (Age 32)
Tough inside player who probably benefited from the talent around him. Getting up in age but would be good fit for contender looking for inside help. Best fit: Broncos. Terrance Knighton and Mitch Urein are FAs and might not return. Mosley would be good, low-cost option.
91. Denarius Moore
WR, Oakland (Age 26)
Highlight-reel speedster fell out of favor and was benched last season. Still, talent is there. Best fit: Panthers. If Carolina can’t get a top-tier free agent like Torrey Smith, Moore would be good, alternative with speed.
92. Jermey Parnell
OT, Dallas (Age 28)
Former basketball player and defensive end wasn’t made a full-time OT until 2010 with Dallas. Brought along slowly, was decent fill-in for injured Doug Free. Best fit: Washington. Big needs on the line, and new OL coach Bill Callahan knows Parnell from Dallas.
93. Brian Hoyer
QB, Cleveland (Age 29)
After being the toast of his hometown, Hoyer struggled down the stretch and was benched as line woes and lack of targets finally caught up with Cleveland. Best fit: Texans. With Ryan Mallett a free agent, Texans coach Bill O’Brien would like to have the confidence knowing that at least one in-house quarterback is steeped in his teachings as New England’s offensive coordinator.
94. Kenrick Ellis
DT, New York Jets (Age 27)
Never got much playing time (15 percent of snaps last season) behind the vaunted trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, but Ellis is quietly a solid player. Best fit: Browns. Mike Pettine, former Jets DC, could bring in his former player to strengthen Cleveland’s interior line.
95. Owen Daniels
TE, Baltimore (Age 32)
Proved to be a reliable, if limited, target for Joe Flacco one year after a broken leg. Perfect veteran player to have around. Best fit: Ravens. With Dennis Pitta’s future in doubt, Daniels would give Ravens cover while developing a younger player.
96. Nate Irving
ILB, Denver (Age 26)
Coming off knee surgery but showed some promise before that. Plays strong and has athletic ability. Can play Mike or Sam spot. Best fit: Bears. Figure Broncos coach John Fox to come calling for some of his former players.
97. Marcus Gilchrist
SS, San Diego (Age 26)
Solid player who developed into an assignment-sure strong safety after a move from slot cornerback. Still has that versatility. Struggles in space. Best fit: Chargers. John Pagano likes using multiple safeties, and Gilchrist has a growing rapport with FS Eric Weddle.
98. Kenny Britt
WR, St. Louis (Age 26)
After being a disaster on and off the field his final three seasons in Tennessee, Britt seemed to get things going with Rams with a 48-catch, 748-yard season without a quarterback. Best fit: Rams. Britt should sign short term to continue the positive vibes where he is.
99. Lance Briggs
OLB, Chicago (Age 34)
He’s far from the dominating presence he once was but still a good player. Injury last season will really hurt his value. Best fit: Saints. Could be the type of veteran leader New Orleans needs on that side of the ball.
100. Virgil Green
TE, Denver (Age 26)
A good blocking tight end with upside as a pass-catcher. Didn’t see many targets with Broncos’ weapons, but another team could be enticed. Best fit: Browns. They need a lot of help at the skill positions.
Coming Wednesday: The top free agents, 1-50.
Photos: John Biever (Mathews); Al Tielemans (Sanchez, Washington, Free, Carpenter, Carter, Raji, Connolly, Fletcher, Parnell); Jared Wickerham (Gostkowski, Alualu); Simon Bruty (Gresham, Forsett, Rubin, Daniels); Fred Vuich (Mallett, Hoyer); Jed Jacobsohn (Gore, Cox, Allen, Moore); David E. Klutho (De la Puente, Kendrick, Reed, Irving, Britt); John W. McDonough (Shorts, Locker, Royal, Sims, Briggs, Green); Carlos M. Saavedra (Paul, Wilson, Searcy); Bill Frakes (Robinson, Delmas); Gary Bogdon (Alualu); David Bergman (Smith); Greg Nelson (Newton); Robert Beck (Giuon); Damian Strohmeyer (Peters); Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Thurmond); Ronald Martinez/Getty Images (Rice); Jared Wickerham/Getty Images (Spikes); Michael Thomas/Getty Images (Barksdale); Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images (Clayborn); Rich Schultz /Getty Images (Ellis)
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