It's a Free Country

FREE AGENCY IS A BALANCING ACT: A TEAM'S NEEDS AGAINST ITS SALARY-CAP SPACE; A PLAYER'S DESIRE FOR MORE MONEY VERSUS THE SECURITY OF STAYING IN A SYSTEM HE KNOWS. WITH THAT IN MIND, HERE'S SI'S RANKING OF THE 40 MOST ATTRACTIVE FREE AGENTS. IF LAST YEAR'S CROP OF TOP FA'S IS ANY INDICATOR, ONLY HALF OF THE CLASS OF 2015 WILL CHANGE TEAMS. STILL, WHAT WOULD THE OFF-SEASON BE WITHOUT A LITTLE DREAMING?
February 09, 2015

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FREE 2015 40 AGENT

1 Dez Bryant

WR COWBOYS

He can define an offense. Given the safety help that Bryant commands over the top, he was as valuable to Dallas's ground game this year as DeMarco Murray. Best fit: Cowboys, Panthers, Raiders

2 NDAMUKONG SUH

DT LIONS

More important than his destructive penetration is his ability to set up teammates' stunts and take on double teams. Suh makes an entire D-line better. Best fit: Raiders, Jaguars, Lions

3 JUSTIN HOUSTON

OLB CHIEFS

Steady improvements have made him a top five pass rusher, but he's also destructive against the run. That versatility is best suited for a 3--4 scheme. Best fit: Chiefs, Browns, Falcons

4 DEMARYIUS THOMAS

WR BRONCOS

When was the last time someone this big (6'3", 229 pounds) was this good running after the catch? Best fit: Broncos, Raiders, Falcons

5 RANDALL COBB

WR PACKERS

Heading into his fifth season he has a chance to be the most versatile offensive weapon in football. He can also spark a return game. Best fit: Packers, Panthers, Seahawks

6 BYRON MAXWELL

CB SEAHAWKS

The best corner on the market (assuming the Pats don't let Darrelle Revis go to save $25 million in cap space), he doubled his value this season by proving he can also slide inside and smother slot receivers. Best fit: Seahawks, Jaguars, Eagles

7 MIKE IUPATI

G 49ERS

He not only offers power and dexterity as a run blocker on the move, but he's also reliable in pass protection. Best fit: Jets, Colts, Chargers

8 JASON PIERRE-PAUL

DE GIANTS

Being a poor man's J.J. Watt will make him a very rich man this spring. Best fit: Giants, Bengals, Buccaneers

9 RODNEY HUDSON

C CHIEFS

Among the NFL's best-kept secrets, he can reach the perimeter and block in space, expanding a team's rushing and screen game. Best fit: Chiefs, Buccaneers, Redskins

10 JULIUS THOMAS

TE BRONCOS

A rare athlete in that he can line up anywhere and create matchup problems—which will allow buyers to overlook his shoddy blocking. Best fit: Broncos, Bills, Jaguars

11 DEMARCO MURRAY

RB COWBOYS

He's a firm, one-cut downhill runner, but his league-leading production this year was partly a function of a dominant O-line. Best fit: Titans, Browns, Cowboys

12 JERRY HUGHES

DE BILLS

This is flexibility: He came to life in 2013 as an outside linebacker in Mike Pettine's hybrid 3--4 scheme; this year he was even more dynamic in Jim Schwartz's 4--3. Best fit: Bills, Cardinals, Titans

13 JEREMY MACLIN

WR EAGLES

Capable of separating inside or on the perimeter, he can also pile up yards after the catch—a trait that's more valuable than ever in today's NFL. Best fit: Eagles, Jets, Raiders

14 TERRANCE KNIGHTON

DT BRONCOS

At 6'3" and 335 pounds, Pot Roast has amazingly light feet, a combination that enables him to make a handful of dominant run stops every game. Best fit: Falcons, Bears, Raiders

15 DEVIN MCCOURTY

FS PATRIOTS

A former cornerback, he's gained great range since moving to centerfield three years ago. With those old corner skills, he stifles tight ends in man coverage. Best fit: Patriots, Falcons, Bears

16 MICHAEL CRABTREE

WR 49ERS

His body control is second to none. That, paired with his uncanny ability to pluck balls at all angles, makes him a tough one-on-one matchup. Best fit: Texans, Panthers, Titans

17 JARED ODRICK

DT DOLPHINS

He has quietly become one of the best run-defending linemen in football—and he can contribute on passing downs too. Best fit: Dolphins, Bears, Raiders

18 KING DUNLAP

T CHARGERS

It took six years, but he has finally figured out how to maneuver his 6'9" frame for pass-blocking. GMs, though, must consider the possibility that his contract year was a one-hit-wonder season. Best fit: Chargers, Giants, Browns

19 JORDAN CAMERON

TE BROWNS

The 6'5", 249-pound tight end's fluid route running at the intermediate levels would add a new dimension to almost any offense. Best fit: Ravens, Browns, Seahawks

20 BRIAN ORAKPO

OLB REDSKINS

He was playing much better than his paltry numbers (half a sack in seven games) suggest before landing on IR with a torn right-pectoral muscle. He takes on blocks well and can bend the edge to create pressure. Best fit: Redskins, Cardinals, Colts

21 MARK INGRAM

RB SAINTS

The 2009 Heisman winner consistently showed a burst in averaging 17.4 carries and 74.2 rushing yards in 13 games (just nine starts). Despite a shaky beginning to his career, you can consider him a feature back after all. Best fit: Jaguars, Cowboys, Raiders

22 GREG HARDY

DE PANTHERS

He would be in the top five if not for a domestic violence charge that will go to trial later this month. On the field, Hardy possesses a rare blend of speed and quickness given his oversized frame. Best fit: Panthers, Jaguars, Falcons

23 JUSTIN FORSETT

RB RAVENS

Vision, patience, quickness—these traits make him an excellent fit for just about any team with a zone-running scheme. Best fit: Ravens, Jaguars, Raiders

24 RYAN MATHEWS

RB CHARGERS

When at his best, Mathews exhibits the quickness and explosiveness of a top five back. Durability is a major concern, though. Best fit: Colts, Chargers, Jaguars

25 ANTONIO CROMARTIE

CB CARDINALS

He's not good playing zone—but he's outstanding in man-to-man, especially when he can play off-man coverage and jump passing lanes. Best fit: Jets, Titans, Redskins

26 C.J. SPILLER

RB BILLS

He's not a workhorse, but what he does have—game-breaking speed—is priceless. Best fit: Bills, Jaguars, Colts

27 STEPHEN PAEA

DT BEARS

The big guy (6'1", 300 pounds) consistently showed power and initial quickness this year as the only effective force on Chicago's defensive line. Best fit: Bears, Raiders, Dolphins

28 ORLANDO FRANKLIN

G BRONCOS

Word is, he wasn't thrilled about moving from right tackle to left guard this season. He should be now; that shift will end up making him an extra $7 million or so on the open market. Best fit: Broncos, Vikings, Buccaneers

29 BRANDON GRAHAM

OLB EAGLES

Comparisons with Trent Cole are valid—he plays with great leverage—but he must demonstrate now that he can handle 50 to 60 snaps a game. Best fit: Eagles, Titans, Jets

30 DAVON HOUSE

CB PACKERS

Mark it down: Green Bay's dime cornerback is the hidden gem in this year's free-agent class. As a regular starter he'll be a very sturdy boundary defender for some interested team. Best fit: Packers, Titans, Dolphins

31 SHANE VEREEN

RB PATRIOTS

Quick out of the backfield and capable of beating linebackers, safeties and even the occasional corner when he splits out wide, Vereen provides value mainly as a receiver. Best fit: Patriots, Texans, Colts

32 BRANDON FLOWERS

CB CHARGERS

Over seven seasons he's blossomed into a solid all-around man-to-man corner in an era when man coverage is more important than ever. Best fit: Chargers, Jets, Titans

33 DAVID HARRIS

LB JETS

He has long been a ball hunter in a scheme that lets linebackers attack the run. He'd probably do just fine playing gap control, but that's something suitors must evaluate closely. Best fit: Bills, Browns, Raiders

34 SEAN WEATHERSPOON

OLB FALCONS

Any interested team will have to weigh his athletic short-area burst against his history of injuries, which have cost him 28 games over the last four years, including all 16 (Achilles) this season. Best fit: Jaguars, Raiders, Buccaneers

35 JABAAL SHEARD

OLB BROWNS

He has surprising quickness, though his forte is winning on contact along the edges. Best fit: Cardinals, Jets, Redskins

36 NICK FAIRLEY

DT LIONS

His ranking rises and falls with his fluctuating weight. Buyer beware: Not many fat men get leaner after a team makes them rich. Best fit: Raiders, Falcons, Jaguars

37 PERNELL MCPHEE

OLB/DE RAVENS

He's been used as a hybrid pass-rush specialist in sub packages, but plenty of teams are eager to see how his short-area quickness translates in a featured role. Best fit: Ravens, Titans, Jets

38 BUSTER SKRINE

CB BROWNS

Over the past two seasons this fantastic athlete has really honed his technique outside as well as inside. Best fit: Browns, Eagles, Lions

39 DOUG FREE

T COWBOYS

For a right tackle he moves well—but he was proved expendable when Jermey Parnell filled his spot capably during injury. Best fit: Redskins, Giants, Panthers

40 BRANDON SPIKES

LB BILLS

He's the best downhill-run-defending inside linebacker in football. The problem: Spikes lacks the agility to cover in space. Best fit: Browns, Buccaneers, Bills

PHOTOAL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BRYANT); ANDREW WEBER/USA TODAY SPORTS (SUH); JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/ SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DEMARYIUS THOMAS); TOM LYNN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (COBB); BILL KOSTROUN/AP (PIERRE-PAUL); G. NEWMAN LOWRANCE/AP (HUDSON); JED JACOBSOHN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JULIUS THOMAS, STADIUM); RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES (MURRAY); KEVIN JAIRAJ/USA TODAY SPORTS (HUGHES); EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES (MACLIN); MADDIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES (MCCOURTY); CATHERINE LANE/GETTY IMAGES (FLAG) PHOTOJOE SARGENT/GETTY IMAGES (SPILLER); TOM DIPACE (FRANKLIN); DERICK E. HINGLE/USA TODAY SPORTS (HOUSE); DARREN MCCOLLESTER/GETTY IMAGES (VEREEN); ANDREW WEBER/USA TODAY SPORTS (FAIRLEY); RAY CARLIN/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM/MCT/LANDOV (MCPHEE); JED JACOBSOHN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (STADIUM); CATHERINE LANE/GETTY IMAGES (FLAG) PHOTO

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