Suh to the Raiders? Hardy to the Falcons? Crabtree to the Seahawks? (!) A look at the top players available when the market opens, and where they best fit
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. Click here for Nos. 51-100.
1. Ndamukong Suh // Signed with Dolphins
DT, Detroit (Age 28)
Could be the best defensive free agent to hit market since Reggie White in 1993. A disruptive force rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Must be accounted for on every snap. Has started every game in his career (suspended for two). Best fit: Raiders. If GM Reggie McKenzie wants to keep his job beyond this season, he has to land Suh, who should set the record for biggest defensive contract ever.
2. Dez Bryant // FRANCHISE TAG
WR, Dallas (Age 26)
The Cowboys didn’t let Bryant hit the market. He’s averaged 91 catches for 1,312 yards and 13.6 TDs the past three seasons. A complete receiver who can take over a game. Best fit: Cowboys. DeMarco Murray is also a free agent, but only one is a no-brainer to retain.
3. Justin Houston // FRANCHISE TAG
OLB, Kansas City (Age 26)
Ultra-productive pass rusher who has 33 sacks in past 27 games. Also plays the run well; plays within scheme and without need to be heroic. Has played left OLB, meaning he’s gone against (mostly) right tackles. Best fit: Chiefs. Tamba Hali will be 32 this season and isn’t long for the roster. Now franchised, Houston will be the next guy.
4. Demaryius Thomas // FRANCHISE TAG
WR, Denver (Age 27)
Has caught at least 92 passes for 1,430 yards and 10 TDs in each of past three seasons with Peyton Manning as his QB. Terrific athlete, but drops some easy passes and isn’t as strong against physical play as Dez Bryant. Best fit: Broncos. With TE Julius Thomas to hit market, Denver needed to keep at least one Thomas to pair with Emmanuel Sanders.
5. Devin McCourty // Re-signed with Patriots
FS, New England (Age 28)
Settled the Patriots’ troubled secondary when he switched from cornerback to free safety in middle of 2012 season. Fast, smart, unselfish and durable, McCourty is rock-solid in middle of field. Can also cover top TEs when needed. Best fit: Patriots. They know his true value, and he enjoys being in Patriots’ program. Would be difficult to project a divorce.
6. Jason Pierre-Paul // FRANCHISE TAG
DE, New York Giants (Age 26)
Hasn’t become the dominating presence his vast athletic skills seemed to promise when career began, but still capable of having an impact on the game rushing passer and defending the run. Had back surgery in 2013, so that would cause other teams pause. Best fit: Giants. Aren’t a feared pass-rushing team without him, so can’t afford to lose him.
7. Randall Cobb // Re-signed with Packers
WR, Green Bay (Age 25)
Dynamic offensive talent who can make plays lined up at any spot, and on special teams. Durability is knock (he missed 10 games with a broken leg in 2010), but he’s played at least 15 games in three of his four seasons. Best fit: Raiders. They have cap space, and GM Reggie McKenzie was with Green Bay when Cobb was drafted. Chiefs would be great fit, but probably can’t afford Cobb.
8. Julius Thomas // Signed with Jaguars
TE, Denver (Age 27)
When he’s on the field and healthy, Thomas is among the toughest matchups at the position, especially in the red zone (24 TDs in 27 games over the past two seasons). But he hasn’t yet proven to be durable, and that’s a concern. Best fit: Jaguars. They need to start getting some weapons around Blake Bortles, and tight end is a good place to start.
9. Byron Maxwell // Signed with Eagles
CB, Seattle (Age 27)
Has been to two Super Bowls starting opposite Richard Sherman, so Maxwell sees a lot of action and produced 24 passes defensed and six interceptions over the past two seasons. A long and physical player at 6-1, 207 pounds, he’ll fit some schemes but not all. Best fit: Eagles. He fits their physical profile and scheme perfectly, but the price tag will be high. May not play up to that contract.
10. Jerry Hughes // Re-signed with Bills
DE, Buffalo (Age 27)
Busted out of Indianapolis after producing just five sacks in three seasons as a first-round pick, but revived career with 10 sacks in two seasons with Bills (one year as a full-time starter). Some will point to his great surrounding cast and doubt his potential. Best fit: Jets. They are sorely lacking a pass-rushing threat to go with their stout linemen.
11. Jason Worilds // RETIRED
OLB, Pittsburgh (Age 27)
Produced 15.5 sacks the past two seasons, but his athletic talent shows he is capable of more. Frustrating that he hasn’t been more dominating, but some teams out there will think they can unlock his potential greatness. Best fit: Titans. With ex-Steelers defensive boss Dick LeBeau now in Tennessee, there’s a scheme fit. Perhaps LeBeau has already seen enough of Worilds.
12. Pernell McPhee // Signed with Bears
OLB, Baltimore (Age 26)
Had to sit behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil for two years in Baltimore but has shown flashes of productivity and positional versatility. Low mileage and still young. Best fit: Colts. They need to throw a lot of resources at finding more pass rushers. Head coach Chuck Pagano was Ravens’ defensive coordinator when McPhee was drafted.
13. Jeremy Maclin
WR, Philadelphia (Age 27)
Came back from knee surgery to put up career highs for catches (85), yards (1,318) and touchdowns (10). Some teams will point to Eagles’ system and wonder if Maclin deserves to be paid as a No. 1 receiver. Best fit: Browns. With Josh Gordon suspended for 2015 and his career in doubt, Cleveland needs to find receivers quickly.
14. Mike Iupati // Signed with Cardinals
G, San Francisco (Age 28)
Mammoth (6-5, 331 pounds) and powerful left guard who has gone to three straight Pro Bowls. Can dominate in the running game, but his occasional woes in pass protection have kept him from being the annual All-Pro most envisioned. Has dealt with variety of injuries. Best fit: Colts. Quarterback Andrew Luck needs a lot better protection, and they need someone to open up some running holes.
15. Bryan Bulaga // Re-signed with Packers
RT, Green Bay (Age 26)
Can be a dominating tackle in both run and pass game. Some teams thought he had left tackle potential in the 2010 draft. Finished two seasons on injured reserve, and dealt with knee injury and a concussion last season. Best fit: Colts. They have plenty of cap space. Add a pass rusher, guard and right tackle, and they’ll be cooking with gas.
16. Nick Fairley
DT, Detroit (Age 27)
Powerful and talented interior force who can rush passer and stop the run when he wants to—or is on the field (has missed 16 games in his four seasons). No question about potential. Can someone unlock it? Best fit: Seahawks. Complete pipe dream as they still have to pay QB Russell Wilson, but Fairley would look nice in the middle of that line.
17. Brandon Flowers // Re-signed with Chargers
CB, San Diego (Age 29)
Teams always look for top-tier cornerbacks, and Flowers showed he can be that after a strong season with Chargers on one-year deal. Some might be scared off because he was released by Chiefs, and he's small at 5-10, but Flowers can play. Best fit: Jets. Lack of cornerbacks really hurt them last season, and it’s hard to see the secondary being that thin again.
18. Derrick Morgan
OLB, Tennessee (Age 26)
Deftly made switch to 3-4 OLB and showed versatility, so he’ll appeal to 3-4 and 4-3 teams. Consistent, with at least six sacks in each of past three seasons. Best fit: Chargers. They have to develop more of a pass rush or else they won’t topple Denver in the AFC West.
19. DeMarco Murray
RB, Dallas (Age 27)
Reigning rushing champion with 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns, to go with the 1,121 and nine he put up in 2013. Hard runner with good vision, and very good receiver out of the backfield. Injury woes dominated first two seasons, and he can put the ball on the ground. Best fit: Cowboys. Could linger on the market, which will bring price tag more in line for Dallas. Smart move is taking less money to stay behind that line.
20. Greg Hardy
DE, Carolina (Age 27)
Ferocious pass rusher who had 26 sacks over ’12 and ’13 seasons. Plays the run just as well. After high-profile domestic violence case, teams will tread carefully and likely won’t guarantee much of his contract. Best fit: Falcons. Clock is ticking on GM Thomas Dimitroff, who is desperate for a pass rusher. This may be a gamble he’s willing to take.
21. Brian Orakpo
OLB, Washington (Age 29)
Hasn’t finished two of the past three seasons, but is among most consistent and productive pass rushers in league when healthy. Best fit: Bills. Jerry Hughes will likely find a bigger pay day, so Rex Ryan will need an outside rusher to pair with Mario Williams.
22. Rodney Hudson // Signed with Raiders
C, Kansas City (Age 26)
Not yet elite, but on his way. Rock-solid run- and pass-blocking. Not a well-known name, but Chiefs’ rivals know his value and may come knocking, along with many others. Best fit: Falcons. Was a second-round pick of current Atlanta assistant GM Scott Pioli when Pioli was Chiefs GM. They have a ready-made spot for him.
23. Brandon Graham // Re-signed with Eagles
OLB, Philadelphia (Age 27)
Among leaders in pass-rushing productivity the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Few players make more of their snaps than Graham. Has 4-3 and 3-4 appeal, which should open up his market. Best fit: Titans. All the teams listed above with the other pass rushers will be playing musical chairs. It’s going to depend on fit and timing with who gets whom.
24. Jared Odrick // Signed with Jaguars
DT, Miami (Age 27)
Constantly a disruptive force as both a 3-4 DE and 4-3 DT at 6-5 and 304 pounds. Can get after the passer and stand up blockers against the run. Much more impactful than his sack numbers (just one in ’14) would indicate. Best fit: Patriots. They have a habit of going after players who have success against them. Watch Odrick vs. Logan Mankins in ’13.
25. Buster Skrine // Signed with Jets
CB, Cleveland (Age 26)
An aggressive cornerback who can be boom or bust, Skrine isn’t afraid of competition (he held off first-round pick Justin Gilbert last season). Performed well in a defense that puts pressure on its cornerbacks. Better player than people think. Best fit: 49ers. They could get hit hard in free agency, and Skrine is their type of physical player.
26. Torrey Smith // Signed with 49ers
WR, Baltimore (Age 26)
One of better deep threats in league, but has some limits as a short and intermediate receiver, and can drop some easy passes. Will appeal to vertical teams. Best fit: Jaguars. They’ll be looking for a lot of weapons to help Blake Bortles. A deep threat is needed.
27. Kareem Jackson // Re-signed with Texans
CB, Houston (Age 27)
A first-round pick in 2010, Jackson got off to a very slow start, but he’s rebounded to become a good outside cornerback with a nose for the ball. A little small, so won’t fit all schemes. Best fit: Lions. With veteran Rashean Mathis likely to find more money elsewhere, Detroit needs another cornerback, and Jackson would fit scheme nicely.
28. Davon House // Signed with Jaguars
CB, Green Bay (Age 26)
A very talented player with good size (6-1, 195 pounds), House has produced when healthy, but he’s missed 10 games over past three seasons with unlucky injuries. Somebody is going to see the potential and take the leap. Best fit: Eagles. If they don’t want to pay Maxwell’s contract, House could be the cheaper and eventually better option.
29. Charles Clay
TE, Miami (Age 26)
A multi-dimensional athlete who can line up anywhere from fullback to receiver and cause problems for a defense. Averaged 63.5 catches the past two seasons. An emerging talent. Best fit: Dolphins. Hard to see them parting with an ascending player.
30. Dan Williams // Signed with Raiders
DT, Arizona (Age 28)
An excellent run-stopping nosetackle who is consistent and always in the right spot. Can give you a little bit rushing the passer, but his real value is on the first two downs. Best fit: Browns. They need a true 3-4 nose to really make Mike Pettine’s scheme work.
31. Sean Weatherspoon // Signed with Cardinals
LB, Atlanta (Age 27)
Named a defensive captain in 2012, Weatherspoon is a terrific athlete with top-notch instincts. However, he missed most of the past two seasons with injuries, so his future is in doubt. Can play any linebacker spot. Best fit: Falcons. They know him and health history so might be willing to give a little bit more money.
32. Rolando McClain
LB, Dallas (Age 26)
Was one of best stories in NFL last season. Had gone from eighth overall pick in 2010 (by Raiders) to out of football in 2013 to glue of resurgent Cowboys defense. A very good athlete with great instincts. Really hurt his market when he reportedly violated the league’s substance abuse policy and is facing a four-game ban. Best fit: Cowboys. Great fit all around, and can’t see many teams committing to a suspended player with a troubled past.
33. Michael Crabtree
WR, San Francisco (Age 27)
Became one of the game’s top receivers in 2012, but an Achilles tear set him back in ’13 and appeared to take away some of his explosiveness in ’14. Teams could on a return to form this season. Tough, smart, competitive. Best fit: Seahawks. OK, this might just entertain me, but the thought of Crabtree crossing rivalry lines and teaming with nemesis Richard Sherman is good fun.
34. Rahim Moore
FS, Denver (Age 25)
Will entice many teams with his age and athletic ability. Has improved in coverage (five interceptions last season) but still struggles at times. Missed tackles are a problem. Should have a lot of suitors. Best fit: Bears. They have to land one of the top free safeties, and they’ll have competition with Colts, Jaguars, Titans and Eagles.
35. Chris Culliver
CB, San Francisco (Age 27)
Knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season seemed to linger into ’14, but he eventually settled into being a good corner who can run with speedy wideouts. His size—6-0 and 199 pounds—will appeal to many teams. Best fit: Eagles. Has the type of size they covet and would be an instant upgrade on what they had last year.
36. Antonio Cromartie
CB, Arizona (Age 31)
Getting up there in age but still one of the better cover corners in the league. Will never be a big tackler, and his concentration can wane, but he can match up with No. 1 WRs if needed. Best fit: Jets. New coach Todd Bowles had Cromartie in Arizona, so he knows his positives and weaknesses well and can make them work.
37. Jabaal Sheard
DE, Cleveland (Age 26)
Had 15.5 sacks his first two seasons but struggled once team moved to 3-4. Would benefit from returning to playing in 4-3. Has shown ability to be a dominating player, but consistency is a problem. Best fit: Buccaneers. With Adrian Clayborn released, Tampa needs some edge pressure to go along with Gerald McCoy on the inside.
38. Antrel Rolle
SS, New York (Age 32)
Still a very good safety who is dependable (missed one game since 2006) and a playmaker (nine interceptions, 21 passes defensed past two seasons). Teammates love him and know for being an unselfish leader. Best fit: Eagles. They’re among the many teams looking for safety help, and as a division rival, they’ll know his scouting report well.
39. Terrance Knighton
DT, Denver (Age 29)
Came into his own as a run stuffer and pass rusher when he left Jacksonville for Denver. Probably won’t get the payday he envisions, so a return isn’t out of the question. Weight is a constant issue, as it was with Jaguars. Best fit: Broncos. They need him in the middle of that defense, and both sides should find common ground once Knighton sees the market.
40. Tramon Williams
CB, Green Bay (Age 32)
This veteran can still play. Has 27 interceptions over past seven seasons. Missed one game over past five years, and he played through a lot of injuries that affected his performance. Best fit: Vikings. For some reason, they always end up with Packers at the end of their careers, and Minnesota could use the help.
41. Clint Boling // Re-signed with Bengals
OG, Cincinnati (Age 26)
Developed into a good run-blocking guard but has struggled in pass blocking. Smart and tough, he became a valuable part of a very good Bengals offensive line. Best fit: Washington. Jay Gruden is the former Bengals offensive coordinator, so he knows the calming influence Boling can have.
42. Orlando Franklin // Signed with Chargers
OG, Denver (Age 28)
Struggled in pass protection at RT but settled in nicely at guard for the Broncos last year. Has always been able to run block very well. Durable player. Best fit: Rams. Could use some instant help at right guard, and Franklin would certainly be an upgrade.
43. Stephen Paea // Signed with Washington
DT, Chicago (Age 27)
Picked a good time to have a career year with six sacks last season. Fits the bill if a team is looking for a pass rusher. Has never been a standout against the run. Best fit: Broncos. If Knighton doesn’t return to Denver, then Paea would be a possibly cheaper alternative.
44. David Harris
ILB, New York Jets (Age 31)
Harris is still one of the smartest players in the league and can help a defense get to the next level. Sometimes not everything is about athletic ability. Best fit: Bills. Wanted to fit him to Buffalo initially but it already had Kiko Alonso. With the reported trade to Philadelphia for LeSean McCoy, that’s no longer an issue. Rex gets his defensive QB.
45. Stefen Wisniewski
C, Oakland (Age 26)
Looked to be one of the league’s top young centers, but pass protection waned. Still hard-nosed and durable; his best years are to come. Best fit: Jaguars. If you have a young QB and want him to have success, you better have a reliable guy in front of him.
46. Rey Maualuga // Re-signed with Bengals
ILB, Cincinnati (Age 28)
Increasingly has a tough time staying healthy (missed seven games over past two seasons) but is a good player without a glaring weakness. Best fit: Vikings. They could be looking for a starting middle linebacker, and Mike Zimmer knows Maualuga can run his scheme.
47. Mark Ingram // Re-signed with Saints
RB, New Orleans (Age 25)
Thanks to the Saints’ running back rotation, he has low miles. Has steadily improved during career to become a good runner and decent receiving option. Market could be hurt by his failure to stay healthy. Best fit: Cardinals. They have a home-run threat in Andre Ellington but really need a big back to carry the load.
48. Mason Foster
LB, Tampa (Age 27)
Wasn’t a good fit for Lovie Smith’s defense but is capable of being a productive middle linebacker in a different system. Struggled with injuries last season. Best fit: Falcons. Defensive assistant Raheem Morris was Foster’s coach in Tampa and probably thinks he can be better in Atlanta’s scheme.
49. Jordan Cameron
TE, Cleveland (Age 27)
Broke out with 80 catches, 917 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. But last season was wiped out with various injuries, including a concussion for the third straight season. That will scare off a lot of teams. Best fit: Patriots. Made an impression with nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown at New England in ’13. Patriots have a need for a move tight end, and they aren’t afraid of injury problems on short money.
50. Shane Vereen // Signed with Giants
RB, New England (Age 26)
Dynamic receiving running back (99 receptions over past two seasons) who is a matchup nightmare against linebackers and can line up at receiver. Has improved inside, but he’s not an every-down back. Best fit: Giants. With Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, Giants have two solid every-down backs, but they lack a receiving threat to make Ben McAdoo’s system really go.
Photos: Carlos M. Saavedra (Suh, Bryant, Fairley, Odrick, Harris, Wisniewski); Jed Jacobsohn (Houston, J. Thomas, Moore, Culliver, Rolle); John W. McDonough (D. Thomas, McCourty, Flowers, Murray, McClain); Al Tielemans (Pierre-Paul, McPhee, Maclin, Hardy, Houston, Graham, Paea); Robert Beck (Cobb, Maxwell, Iupati, Weatherspoon); Peter Read Miller (Worilds); David E. Klutho (Bulaga, Knighton, Boling); Wesley Hitt/Getty Images (Morgan); Simon Bruty (Orakpo, T. Smith, Jackson, Franklin, Maualaga, Cameron); Fred Vuich (Skines, Ingram); Jonathan Ferrey (House); Bill Frakes (Clay, Sheard); Chris Keane (Dan Williams); Brad Mangin (Crabtree); Guillermo Hernandez Martinez (T. Williams); Walter Iooss Jr. (Vereen); Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images (Hughes)
[widget widget_name="SI Newsletter Widget”]