open field
The Free-Agent Countdown, 50 to 1
open field

The Free-Agent Countdown, 50 to 1

My picks for the top players on the market, and where they best fit

It's hard to imagine the Saints allowing Jimmy Graham to hit the market, though the two sides reportedly are 'millions apart' in negotiating new contract. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images) It's hard to imagine the Saints allowing Jimmy Graham to hit the market, though the two sides reportedly are 'millions apart' in negotiating new contract. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Part I of the top 2014 free-agent players available, which ranks 100-51, can be found here.

50. Vincent Rey

50-vincent-reyLB, Cincinnati (Age 26)

The restricted free agent was undrafted and has risen to the point where he had a couple monster games in ’13, including a three-sack effort vs. Ravens. Best fit: Bengals. They should be able to keep him, but if they get cheap there will be a lot of interest.

49. Justin Tuck          

49-justin-tuckEdge, New York Giants (Age 31)

After having nine sacks over the previous two seasons, Tuck had 11 in a contract year. He ranked 23rd in The MMQB Pressure Points, behind fellow UFAs Brian Orakpo (7th), Greg Hardy (9th) and Michael Bennett (10th). Best fit: Buccaneers. Gerald McCoy needs help.

48. Tarell Brown    

48-tarell-brownCB, San Francisco (Age 29)

A long-underrated performer in the 49ers’ secondary, Brown might command more of the spotlight if a team can overlook how he played with a rib injury late last season: Best fit: 49ers. They might find a way to keep Brown in the fold.

47. Charles Tillman                 

47-charles-tillmanCB, Chicago (Age 33)

The NFL’s reigning Man of the Year for his off-field efforts is known for being tough. Even at his age, teams always are looking to add players like that. Best fit: Bears. Things are shaky in that secondary, but Lovie Smith could make a play in Tampa.

46. Donald Butler  // Signed, SD

46-donald-butlerLB, San Diego (Age 25)

Didn’t have a great season in ’13, but Butler was a good player the previous two seasons. His battle with injuries will keep the price tag down. Best fit: Chargers. The scheme seems to be a fit but could he be better in a 4-3?

45. Michael Vick      

45-michael-vickQB, Philadelphia (Age 34)

By far the best free-agent QB, but at his age and the way he plays, time is ticking. He’ll never be consistent from the pocket, but he still can make plays with his feet. Best fit: Raiders. Depending on whom they draft, Vick could grab the starting role.

44. Geoff Schwartz  // Signed, NYG

44-geoff-schwartzG, Kansas City (Age 28)

Got a chance to start when Jon Asamoah was injured and never gave up the job. Schwartz is a good pass blocker, decent in the run game and can play tackle. Best fit: Giants. They need an almost total rebuild of the line.

43. Knowshon Moreno         

43-knowshon-morenoRB, Denver (Age 27)

A good all-around back who can pass protect and is relatively young with low miles (1,002 career touches). Running backs are never going to get big money in free agency. Best fit: Browns. They have plenty of cap space and a need.

42. Clinton McDonald // Signed, TB         

42-clinton-mcdonaldInterior DL, Seattle (Age 27)

An unsung hero for the Seahawks’ defensive line (13th in Pressure Points), McDonald would be a good addition for a 4-3 team needing a three technique off the guard. Best fit: Bears. Would be a good scheme fit, and they need help.

41. Willie Young // Signed, CHI

41-willie-youngEdge, Detroit (Age 28)

Teams not wanting to pay a big price for the top rushers should look to Young, who was overshadowed in Detroit but very effective rushing the passer. Best fit: Titans. They need more edge pressure to help DT Jurrell Casey.

40. Golden Tate // Signed, DET      

40-golden-tateWR, Seattle (Age 26)

Tate is really starting to come on as a multi-dimensional receiver. Had 64 catches for 898 yards. He’s outstanding after the catch and is a top punt returner. Best fit: Ravens. Would be a nice complement to Torrey Smith.

39. Chad Rinehart  // Signed, SD

39-chad-rinehartG, San Diego (Age 29)

Battled a toe injury in 2013 but showed he’s still the same good player he was with the Bills. Would be a good, low-cost signing for team needing toughness inside. Best fit: Falcons. Giants, Dolphins, Browns, Bears, Colts and Rams also looking for interior help

38. Jason Hatcher  

38-jason-hatcherInterior DL, Dallas (Age 32)

A move to the 4-3 and three technique was a boon for Hatcher, who put up a career-high 11 sacks and was one of top interior linemen in the league. Best fit: Falcons. They think they’re close, which means a need for instant rush from the interior.

37. Ben Tate               

37-ben-tateRB, Houston (Age 26)

The top free-agent back with size (5-11, 217) and speed, Tate should have some suitors, but no team will be banging the door for a running back. Best fit: Browns. Their running back position is wide open, and they have cash to spend.

36. Henry Melton   

36-henry-meltonInterior DL, Chicago (Age 27)

Was starting to become a dominating presence on the interior when he was tagged in ’13, but he tore his ACL in Week 3 and was arrested after a bar fight in December. Look for a one-year deal. Best fit: Bears. They need help inside and know what they have in Melton.

35. Daryl Smith        

35-daryl-smithILB, Baltimore (Age 32)

Finally given a chance outside of Jacksonville, Smith held the Ravens’ defense together after the retirement of Ray Lewis. Slumped against the run, but he’s a heady three-down linebacker. Best fit: Ravens. He looked like a natural fit in that scheme.

34. Karlos Dansby  // Signed, CLE

34-karlos-dansbyILB, Arizona (Age 32)

Played at an All-Pro level after leaving Miami. Was terrific against the run and pass. Teams will have to figure out when he starts to go downhill. Best fit: Cardinals. Pairing Dansby with Daryl Washington for another season makes too much sense.

33. Sam Shields // Signed, GB     

33-sam-shieldsCB, Green Bay (Age 26)

Has youth, size, length, speed and playmaking ability. His focus comes and goes on the field, and there’s some concern about how he’ll react to big money. Best fit: Chargers. If they can’t get one of the top corners, Shields would be a good option.

32. Everson Griffen // Signed, MIN                 

32-everson-griffenEdge, Minnesota (Age 26)

Had to sit behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison with the Vikings, but the 6-3, 273-pound Griffen is no secret. He can play anywhere up front, including as a standup OLB. Best fit: Vikings. With Jared Allen likely gone, Vikings need to retain Griffen.

31. Emmanuel Sanders        

31-emmanuel-sandersWR, Pittsburgh (Age 27)

Caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns as a restricted free agent after Patriots made a run. Has inside-outside versatility and is very good with the ball in his hand. Best fit: Jets. They could help themselves and keep him away from New England.

30. Malcolm Jenkins // Signed, PHI             

30-malcolm-jenkinsFS, New Orleans (Age 26)

Hasn’t quite lived up to being the 14th overall pick in 2009. He’s been a solid, versatile player but hasn’t stood out in any facet of the game. Potential is still there. Best fit: Eagles. They have to get more dynamic in the back end.

29. Dennis Pitta // Signed, BAL    

29-dennis-pittaTE, Baltimore (Age 29)

Wasn’t quite the same player when he returned late last season from hip surgery, but pre-injury Pitta was entering his prime as a pass-catching tight end. Best fit: Ravens. They desperately need him, even if it means placing the franchise tag on him.

28. Paul Soliai // Signed, ATL          

28-paul-soliaiInterior DL, Miami (Age 30)

One of the few pure nose tackles on the open market, and he’s been a very good player against the run and rushing the passer. Could have a bunch of suitors. Best fit: Chargers. Getting a physical presence in the middle of that defense would help immensely.

27. Randy Starks // Signed, MIA    

27-randy-starksInterior DL, Miami (Age 30)

Starks has been one of my favorite players to watch on film. He doesn’t look flashy, but he consistently gets the job done in all facets of the game. Best fit: Falcons. He would instantly add some teeth to the middle of the line and make others better.

26. Anquan Boldin // Signed, SF

26-anquan-boldinWR, San Francisco (Age 33)

Tremendous physical receiver who is at his best in big games. If this was strictly for the postseason, he’d be near the top. But he’s aging and limited a bit in middle of the field. Best fit: 49ers. Colin Kaepernick needs weapons, especially against physical Seahawks.

25. Arthur Jones // Signed, IND

25-arthur-jonesInterior DL, Baltimore (Age 28)

Has really come on the past two seasons to be a top-notch run defender who can bring a little bit to the pass rush. Jones seems to be getting better and is relatively young. Best fit: Dolphins. If Randy Starks doesn’t return, getting younger could be a plus.

24. Donte Whitner // Signed, CLE

24-donte-whitnerSS, San Francisco (Age 29)

Has a habit of being in the wrong place at a bad time (Seattle's fourth-down score in NFC title game), but instantly brings a hard-hitting attitude. Best fit: Bears. Pairing Whitner with a drafted safety could give Chicago a better chance against Aaron Rodgers.

23. Eric Decker // Signed, NYJ    

23-eric-deckerWR, Denver (Age 27)

Put up great stats the past two seasons with Peyton Manning, but he’s not a No. 1. Physical teams controlled him. He’s best when paired opposite another top WR. Best fit: Raiders. They have plenty of cap space and can weaken their division rival.

22. Antoine Bethea // Signed, SF                

22-antoine-betheaSS, Indianapolis (Age 30)

Another film favorite who fills the run with the best of them. Extremely durable (hasn’t missed a game since ’07) but you have to wonder how long that continues at his age. Best fit: Colts. He’s the stud strong safety they need; still will have to find a true free safety.

21. Chris Clemons // Agreed, JAX

21-chris-clemonsFS, Miami (Age 28)

An underrated, underappreciated player in the Dolphins secondary, Clemons should get the chance to flourish elsewhere. He can play both safety spots. Best fit: Eagles. They’re looking at wholesale changes in the back, and he shouldn’t break the bank.

20. Hakeem Nicks  

20-hakeem-nicksWR, New York Giants (Age 26)

If these ratings were purely my own feeling on free agents who will pay off big, Nicks would be near the top. He’s a legitimate No. 1 and still young. But he’s been beat up, and that’s a big issue. Best fit: Rams. They need somebody proven on the outside.

19. Vontae Davis // Signed, IND   

19-vontae-davisCB, Indianapolis (Age 26)

His career rebounded after the trade from Miami and he was one of the top CBs in the league last year. He was injured in the postseason and couldn’t sustain. Best fit: Colts. They have the cap space and not many other options.

18. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie   

18-d-rodgers-cromartieCB, Denver (Age 28)

Just look at the regular-season game against New England, before and after his injury, to gauge the effect he had on Denver’s defense. Questions about his attitude linger. Best fit: Broncos. Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger. DRC is the best they have.

17. Aqib Talib // Signed, DEN           

17-aqib-talibCB, New England (Age 28)

An unquestioned passion for the game and shutdown ability, but he’s never played 16 games and his off-field problems aren't that far removed. Best fit: Patriots. Both sides are comfortable with him there, and other teams might be reluctant to give him a big deal.

16. Lamarr Houston // Signed, CHI              

16-lamarr-houstonEdge, Oakland (Age 27)

A rare blend of size, strength and speed makes him a load to handle at the point of attack. Can play standup OLB, DE and DT. Right fit might be 4-3 tackle. Best fit: Bucs. They could use help at left end and tackle next to Gerald McCoy. Houston could man either spot.

15. Brent Grimes // Signed, MIA

15-brent-grimesCB, Miami (Age 31)

At his age, he’s looking at his final big contract and after a one-year prove-it deal in Miami, he should get it. He was terrific in man and zone and had 14 passes defensed and four INTs. Best fit: Dolphins. He’s a building block in that defense, and both sides want to deal.

14. T.J. Ward // Signed, DEN             

14-tj-wardSS, Cleveland (Age 27)

The best physical safety in free agency, Ward should have his share of suitors after the past two Super Bowl champions (Baltimore, Seattle) were keyed by hard-hitting defenses. Best fit: Browns. Hard to see them letting him leave with so much cap space available.

13. Jared Veldheer // Signed, ARI                  

13-jason-veldheerOT, Oakland (Age 27)

Played final five games after triceps surgery and wasn’t his best, but showed in 2011-12 that he’s a good left tackle. Best fit: Raiders. Veldheer wants to stay but was frustrated by lack of progress. That’s how GM Reggie McKenzie does it, just like mentor Ted Thompson.

12. Jason Worilds  // Transition tag

12-jason-worildsEdge, Pittsburgh (Age 26)

Finally got a chance to play every down when Lamarr Woodley was injured. He showed a knack for getting to the passer, and there is a dearth of 3-4 OLBs in free agency. Best fit: Eagles. Suitors will line up for Worilds. He’d bring instant impact opposite Trent Cole.

11. Brian Orakpo // Franchise tag  

11-brian-orakpoEdge, Washington (Age 28)

After missing most of 2012 with a pec injury, Orakpo returned and showed he could be a well-rounded OLB instead of just a stud pass rusher. Will he hit the market? Best fit: Redskins. Hard to see Washington, which has cap space, letting Orakpo go free.

10. Linval Joseph // Signed, MIN   

10-linval-josephInterior DL, New York Giants (Age 25)

An emerging DT in a 4-3 scheme, Joseph also appeals to 3-4 teams looking for a nose or end to play both gaps. Joseph gives teams options, so he’ll be popular. Best fit: Redskins. You’d think the Giants will try to retain him, but if they don’t, Redskins could pounce.

9. Alterraun Verner // Signed, TB             

09-alterraun-vernerCB, Tennessee (Age 25)

Teams are drooling over his age and talent. He hasn’t yet been a top cover corner, but other teams think that’s coming soon. Best fit: Rams. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams just coached him in Tennessee, and Cortland Finnegan could be on his way out.

8. Eugene Monroe // Signed, BAL                

08-eugene-monroeOT, Baltimore (Age 27)

Stood out down the stretch after being acquired from Jaguars and has been a consistent performer. The eighth overall pick in 2009 has age on his side. Best fit: Dolphins. The top two tackles, Monroe and Branden Albert, will find homes in Miami or Arizona.

7. Branden Albert // Signed, MIA                

07-branden-albertOT, Kansas City (Age 29)

Is two years older than Monroe and has dealt with some injuries of late, but teams view him as a more proven commodity at this stage. Teams needing a left tackle will be lining up. Best fit: Cardinals. They’ve been looking for a left tackle. It’s time to land one.

6. Jairus Byrd // Signed, NO        

06-jairus-byrdFS, Buffalo (Age 27)

Tremendous safety who makes plays all over the field. With so many teams relying on a single-high safety, there aren’t many out there who fit the bill this side of Earl Thomas. Byrd is one. Best fit: Colts. They desperately need a true safety to make the defense go. 

5. Alex Mack // Transition tag         

05-alex-mackC, Cleveland (Age 28)

He’s long been one of the best centers blocking for the run, and he’s steadily improved as a pass blocker. If he hits the open market, Mack will have a line of suitors. Best fit: Browns. They have a ton of cap room. Why would they ever let him leave?

4. Michael Johnson // Signed, TB            

04-michael-johnsonEdge, Cincinnati (Age 27)

The franchise kept him off the market last season. Likely won’t happen again. He’s a physical freak at 6-7 and 260 pounds and tough against the run, but could improve as pass-rusher. Best fit: Vikings. New coach Mike Zimmer gives them an edge.

3. Michael Bennett // Signed, SEA

02-michael-bennettEdge, Seattle (Age 28)

 Was underrated in Tampa Bay, but that ended when he posted 8.5 sacks for the Seahawks and starred in their playoff run. His inside-outside versatility will entice. Best fit: Jags. Bennett didn’t play for Gus Bradley in Seattle, but there’s a scheme comfort there.

2. Jimmy Graham // Franchise tag

03-jimmy-grahamTE, New Orleans (Age 27)

Off-the-charts athletic ability makes him an impossible matchup all over the field. But despite not showing up against physical teams and being a liability in run blocking, he’ll still get paid. Best fit: Saints. There’s no way they let him go.

1. Greg Hardy  // Franchise tag       

01-greg-hardyEdge, Carolina (Age 26)

Just a terrific all-around end who busted through the shadow of fellow end Charles Johnson this season. Excellent pass rusher and might be even better against the run. He’s elite and young. Best fit: Panthers. They have some cap work to do, but they can’t let him go.

Click to read Robert Klemko’s Q&A with Hardy.




Photo credits (all photographers SI/The MMQB unless otherwise indicated): Simon Bruty (7); Al Tielemans (5); John W. McDonough (5); Robert Beck (4); Jed Jacobsohn (3); David E. Klutho (4); John Biever (2); David Bergman (2); Damian Strohmeyer; Andrew Hancock; Jeff Haynes; Heinz Kluetmeier; Guillermo Hernandez Martinez; Peter Read Miller; Greg Nelson; Carlos M. Saavedra; David Richard/AP; Steven Senne/AP; William Purnell/Icon SMI; P Photo/Nam Y. Huh; Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI; Mark Duncan/AP; Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images; Andy Lyons/Getty Images; Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI; Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI; Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images; Andrew Dieb/Icon SMI