A.J. Bouye

AFC Notes: Patriots, Jaguars, Ingram, Jets

Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll is set to become the offensive coordinator at Alabama, and ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss writes that the departure will leave “a notable void on the staff.” The former Browns, Dolphins, and Chiefs offensive coordinator will surely have more of an opportunity to run his own system at Alabama, although Reiss notes that Daboll was considered the “coordinator-in-waiting” if Josh McDaniels left the organization for a head coaching gig.

Who’s going to fill the role? Well, Reiss believes Bill Belichick will give a long look at several coaching assistants, including Nick Caley, Mike Pellegrino, and Cole Popovich. The team could also look to promote promising assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski.

Reiss also throws one other name into the mix: former head coach Chip Kelly.

Let’s check out some more notes from the AFC…

  • The Jaguars believe former first-rounder Jalen Ramsey is capable of being a top cornerback, but will that prevent the organization from pursuing another defensive back? Ryan O’Halloran of Jacksonville.com suggests that Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye could be an option, and one opposing coach believes the duo would form a “lethal” combination. Of course, the writer notes that the hypothetical would be moot if the team re-signs Prince Amukamara.
  • If Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram hits the open market, ESPN.com’s Mike Wells believes he’d be an intriguing option for the Colts. Indy was tied for 19th in sacks last season, while Ingram has compiled 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
  • ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini explores which of the Jets impending free agents they should prioritize re-signing. Left tackle Ben Ijalana and linebackers Josh Martin and Mike Catapano. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is at the bottom of Cimini’s list.

Texans Unlikely To Franchise CB A.J. Bouye

Although the Texans want to retain pending free agent cornerback A.J. Bouye, they’re not expected to use the franchise tag to do so, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The Texans have just under $25MM in available cap space, so deploying a tender that’s likely to come in around $14.297MM simply isn’t tenable."<strong

[RELATED: 2017 Franchise Tag Candidates]

An undrafted free agent out of Central Florida in 2013, Bouye had started only eight games during his first three years in the league, but was pressed into duty in 2016 and ended up starting 11 contests. During that time, Bouye managed one interception and 16 passes defensed, and graded as the NFL’s third-best corner behind Denver’s Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, per Pro Football Focus. In the most recent edition of PFR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, Bouye ranked seventh overall, and was the only defensive back listed within the top 10.

Bouye has expressed an interest in returning to Houston, but he could be poised to cash in on the open market — earlier this month, Wilson predicted Bouye could earn as much as $13MM annually via free agency. Given that he’s only 25 years old and has just a single season of elite production, Bouye is viewed by rival general managers as the “most intriguing” free agent on the board, per Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). As such, front offices must weigh the risk of Bouye being a one-year wonder versus his potential as a shutdown cornerback.

If he does reach free agency, Bouye will join a corner class that features several other high-profile defensive backs, including Trumaine Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Brandon Carr.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2017 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2017 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Wednesday, March 1st. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2017’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently projected the 2017 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $168MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $21.395MM
  • Running back: $12.377MM
  • Wide receiver: $15.826MM
  • Tight end: $9.894MM
  • Offensive line: $14.444MM
  • Defensive end: $16.955MM
  • Defensive tackle: $13.468MM
  • Linebacker: $14.754MM
  • Cornerback: $14.297MM
  • Safety: $10.961MM
  • Punter/kicker: $4.863MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals: Maybe Jones should headline a category titled “Super Duper Virtual Locks.” In January, coach Bruce "<strongArians said that the Cards would apply the franchise tag to Jones if they were unable to immediately lock him up to a long-term deal. Then, just this week, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offered additional confirmation of that plan. The $16.955MM tag will be applied to Jones in the next couple of weeks and the two sides will then have until the summer to work out a long-term deal. The odds of a longer pact coming together seem pretty good, considering the Cardinals knew what they were getting themselves into when they traded for Jones last year.

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admits that Short will “probably” be tagged and, unlike ex-teammate Josh Norman, Short doesn’t have a problem with it. The 28-year-old was the third-best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers will gladly pay him ~$13.5MM on a one-year deal. A multi-year agreement could require an average annual value of $17MM, so our early guess is that Short will wind up actually playing on the tender.


Le’Veon Bell
, RB, Steelers: We’ve known for a while now that the Steelers will use the franchise tag on Bell. For all of his off-the-field headaches, Bell still stands as one of the league’s most dynamic running backs and a one-year, $12.3MM deal would suit Pittsburgh just fine. Sometime after the tag is in place, we’re expecting the two sides to agree on a long-term deal. As I wrote in our most recent edition of the Free Agent Power Rankings, Bell will top LeSean McCoy‘s ~$8MM AAV and Doug Martin‘s $15MM in guarantees on a new multiyear pact. Of course, other factors such as cash flow will be pivotal in talks, particularly given the limited shelf life of running backs.
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AFC Rumors: Texans, Patriots, Ihedigbo

While upgrading at quarterback will be a priority for the Texans, reaching an agreement to keep A.J. Bouye in Houston will be the AFC South champions’ top priority, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle notes. This gels with what came out of Houston last week, with a report indicating the team eyes a Bouye re-up and a DeAndre Hopkins extension. Finishing behind only the Broncos’ standout pair on Pro Football Focus’ 2016 cornerback rankings, Bouye emerged as one of 2016’s top breakout players, and McClain Chronicle comrade Aaron Wilson expects the fifth-year player to secure a deal that pays him upwards of $13MM annually. Bouye comes in at No. 7 on PFR’s Free Agent Power Rankings.

Here’s more from Houston and some other AFC locales.

  • Bob McNair said the Texans will target a young quarterback in the draft after an investment in Brock Osweiler did not generate much this season. This means the team does not stand to be a player in the Tony Romo sweepstakes. At least, that was the last update coming out of Houston. But McClain expects the Texans to take a look at Romo if he hits free agency. McClain agrees with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport by saying the Texans won’t be interested in trading for Romo, and the longtime Houston reporter notes the soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback will have to take a big pay cut if he wants to play for the Texans. However, McClain doesn’t expect the team to bypass this potentially high-caliber stopgap solution entirely.
  • No surprise walkoff retirement appears to be in the cards for Tom Brady, with the 39-year-old passer relishing in the joy of the Patriots‘ most recent Super Bowl championship and saying on Instagram (via Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com) the mythical nature of winning championships is “why I’ll never stop as long as I’m able.” Brady insisted he wants to play into his mid-40s, and remaining a top-tier quarterback by that time would put him on uncharted terrain. Brett Favre serves as basically the only comparison of a 40-year-old high-end passer. The Patriots, though, aren’t counting on a slowdown soon, planning an extension after the 2017 season.
  • Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent, and Joel Corry of CBS Sports (via Twitter) expects the Patriots to place a rare first-round tender on their top cornerback. Corry anticipates that price to come in at nearly $4MM after settling in at just over $3.6MM last year. Another team would have to surrender a first-round pick to sign Butler in the event the Patriots don’t match the offer sheet.
  • James Ihedigbo became a starter almost immediately after signing with the Bills late in the season, and although the veteran safety ended his year on IR, he wants to return to the Bills, he told the team’s website. The 33-year-old Ihedigbo made three starts for the Bills, his fifth NFL employer, last season.

Texans Notes: Novak, Hopkins, Bouye

Nick Novak had a career-year in 2016, and some members of the Texans organization believe he played a major role in the team clinching a playoff birth.

The 35-year-old played last season on a one-year, $965K contract, and the impending free agent would like to return to Houston for the 2017 campaign.

“I want to be back,” Novak told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done and I’m excited to be back with the same guys. I really feel like I can help the Texans get to where they want to go. I leave it up to my agent and the personnel department to get a deal done.

“I don’t know what kind of progress is being made, but it’s all positive. I’ve heard some really good things from [general manager] Rick Smith, [coach] Bill O’Brien, [special teams coordinator] Larry Izzo. We’ll see what happens.”

Let’s check out some more notes coming out of Houston…

  • The Texans passing offense was among the worst in the league this past season, and Smith understands that the team needs more out of the quarterback position if they want to contend. “We’ve got to get better production from the quarterback position,” Smith told Wilson. “We’ve got to get better production from all across our football team. We’ve got to do a good job of analyzing our football team, and that’s what we’re doing now, trying to figure out where we’re strong, where we’re weak and how we can go about improving.” Of course, Smith did note that he still believes in starter Brock Osweiler, who is owed $16MM next season. Reports from earlier this week indicated that the organization would likely take a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
  • Despite having one of the worse seasons of his career, wideout DeAndre Hopkins is still to eager to stick around Houston. “I love this organization and what this team is doing,” Hopkins told Wilson. “It seems like we’re getting better and better every year, so why not?” We learned earlier this week that the Texans would like to extend Hopkins, who finished last season with 78 receptions for 954 yards and four touchdowns.
  • A.J. Bouye is in line for a well-deserved payday, writes Wilson. Instead of taking a less-lucrative, multi-year offer last offseason, the cornerback decided to opt for a one-year, $1.6MM contract with the Texans. The 25-year-old clearly made the right decision, as he’s projected to be the best free agent defensive back. Wilson expects that the Texans will have around $25MM in cap space, and he projects Bouye to receive an offer that pays around $13MM annually.

Texans Seeking Hopkins, Bouye Extensions

No surprise here, but the Texans are hoping to hammer out an extension with DeAndre Hopkins this offseason, owner Bob McNair told reporters on Wednesday (link via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle). Last year, Hopkins staged a brief holdout at the start of training camp over his contractual situation. McNair also says he wants to strike a long-term deal with pending free agent cornerback A.J. BouyeDeAndre Hopkins

[RELATED: Mutual Interest Between Texans, A.J. Bouye]

Those are good young players,” McNair said of Hopkins and Bouye. “Those are the kind of players that we want to keep around here. So, yeah, certainly we’re going to work on that and see if we can get both of them taken care of. It’s certainly our intention.”

Hopkins is scheduled to earn $7.915MM as he enters his fifth-year option year. As one of the league’s most talented wide receivers, he’d be in line for a massive payday if he were ever allowed to reach the open market. The Texans still have the franchise tag at their disposal to keep him through 2018 (or even ’19 with a second tag), but they could have a much happier Hopkins if they can agree to a long-term pact.

Last year, Hopkins had only 78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns, but that dip in production can be traced directly to the team’s quarterback woes. In the year prior, he had a career-high 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection.

Currently, A.J. Green leads all wide receivers with a $15MM/year average annual value on his deal. In terms of guaranteed money per year, however, the list is led by Julio Jones ($7.1MM) and Demaryius Thomas ($7MM). Hopkins’ reps will have all of these numbers in mind as they discuss a new deal, particularly given the expected salary cap increases over time.

Bouye went from an unknown to an elite cornerback in a flash. He was nothing but stellar this year but without any real history before that, he’ll make for a very interesting contractual case. It sounds like the Texans will work to lock up the former UDFA before the start of free agency, but his reps may be eyeing a bigger deal than what Houston will offer during the exclusive period. On the most recent edition of PFR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, Bouye was ranked seventh.

It’s hard to come up with a comp for Bouye since he is such a unique case, but I expect him to best teammate Kareem Jackson‘s four-year, $34MM deal ($20MM in total guarantees) signed in 2015. At the time, Jackson only had two truly strong seasons under his belt (2012 and 2014) with three so-so campaigns. Jackson’s first-round pedigree probably helped matters, but Bouye is more than a full year younger than Jackson at the time of his negotiations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings 2.0

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams, the offseason is already underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the early January edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

Free Agent Power Rankings 2 (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): Cousins may not be the best player on this list, but he will come away with the most guaranteed money of any free agent this offseason. Quarterbacks are perpetually in high demand and short supply and as a result Cousins could become one of the league’s three highest paid signal callers. Because Washington has already used the franchise tag on Cousins, a repeat would cost them a whopping $23.94MM for 2017. The belief is that Cousins is seeking that $23.94MM number as an AAV goal. There has been talk of the Redskins shopping their star QB, but the team has since publicly stated its intention of locking him up to a long-term dealKirk Cousins (vertical)

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Jones has been an absolute stud ever since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2012. If we go by the numbers at Pro Football Focus, 2016 was actually Jones’ best year to date. This past season, he finished out with a strong 87.4 overall score, tying him for seventh amongst all edge rushers with Houston’s Whitney Mercilus. In the previous four seasons with New England, Jones averaged a 79.38 on PFF. Every team could use a sack machine like Jones, but coach Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. He’s technically ticketed for unrestricted free agency, but it doesn’t sound like Jones is going anywhere.

3. Kawann Short, DT (3): Unlike former teammate Josh Norman, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short says he won’t have any problem signing the franchise tender if the team tags him. “I wouldn’t fight it or anything,” said Short in early January. In 2016, he turned in his fourth straight 16-game season and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best interior defender. Short, 28 this week, also had six sacks on the year. I think the Panthers would be wise to hit Short with the ~$13.468MM franchise tag or sign him to a long-term deal, but there is at least a non-trivial chance of him reaching the open market.

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Mutual Interest Between Texans, A.J. Bouye

Both Bill O’Brien and A.J. Bouye expressed interest in having the breakout corner return on a second Texans contract. The fourth-year cornerback stands to be a coveted commodity on the UFA market, but the third-year coach identified him as a player to retain.

From people I talk to around the league, he’s a top corner. We’d love to have A.J. back,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Entering the season a relatively unknown talent, the former UDFA finished as 2016’s No. 3 overall cornerback in the opinion of Pro Football Focus — behind only Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. As a result of this campaign, Bouye figures to be a sought-after prize for a team in need of a corner. That could make a Texans return tricky if the 25-year-old reaches free agency. But Bouye expressed a desire to return, with the obvious caveat of uncertainty about the upcoming process.

I would like to be back,” Bouye said. “It’ll mean a lot because it’ll show that they wanted me and saw what I did this year and there are better things that are going to happen in the future from an individual and team standpoint. I’ve been through a lot here with the organization, a lot of ups and downs, and they never gave up on me. I’m appreciative of that. I’d like to be back, but we’ll see what happens.”

Bouye made 62 tackles, intercepted one pass and broke up 16 others. The No. 8-ranked player on PFR’s free agent list, Bouye joins a UFA cornerback crop that as of now includes Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick. Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent.

The Texans spent almost all of their free agency and draft capital on offense last year but still boasted the No. 1 defense without J.J. Watt for the most part. Although Bouye stands as by far the top free agent for a Texans team that is projected to possess more than $25MM in cap room, the possibility he could command an eight-figure-per-year deal may price him out of Houston. Houston has Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph on its 2017 books for $16MM combined.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Notes: O’Brien, Hopkins, Bouye

The Texans will now look ahead to the 2017 campaign after last night’s season-ending loss to the Patriots, so let’s take a look at a few Houston-related notes as the club starts gearing up for another playoff run:

  • Head coach Bill O’Brien said prior to last night’s game that he would return as the team’s head coach in 2017, and he adamantly reaffirmed that statement after the game was over. O’Brien said, “I’m tired of answering it. I can’t even have a sense of humor about it. I’ll be the Texans’ coach” (Twitter links via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
  • Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is preparing to enter his fifth-year option year at a cost of just under $8MM, but Wilson writes that, if history is any indication, the Texans will sign Hopkins to a long-term deal this offseason. Houston has a tradition of hammering out contract extensions for their best players, and despite a statistical regression from his sensational 2015 campaign, Hopkins is clearly in line for a deal that will make him one of the highest-paid wideouts in the league.
  • Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com names the offensive line as the Texans’ biggest area of need, and she writes that the team will likely draft a quarterback in April and have a competition during training camp to determine the starter. The Texans have just shy of $25MM in cap space, but they do have to address the contract situations of a number of players, including Hopkins and Duane Brown, so unless they can restructure a few deals and somehow shed some of Brock Osweiler‘s salary, they will be unable to make a big splash at the quarterback position.
  • Cornerback A.J. Bouye came out of virtual anonymity to become perhaps the best cornerback in the league this season, and he did so just as he is about to hit unrestricted free agency. As Wilson writes, a new contract for Bouye will be a top offseason priority for the Texans, and Bouye did say after last night’s game that he would like to be back in Houston. But the franchise tag, which is projected to be over $14MM for cornerbacks this year, will likely be unpalatable for the Texans, and Bouye’s financial opportunities elsewhere may preclude him from giving the Houston a hometown discount. PFR recently named Bouye as the eighth-best free agent in the first version of our 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings.
  • Despite dealing with some painful injuries this season, one of Bouye’s colleagues in the defensive backfield, Johnathan Joseph, missed just three games in 2016, and per Wilson, the 32-year-old plans to return for his 12th NFL season. Joseph is under contract through 2017, but considering the Texans could save $7MM by cutting him, he may be a release/restructure candidate.
  • We learned earlier today that Texans DT Vince Wilfork plans to call it a career.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings

The regular season is over and, for most teams, the offseason is underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the November edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

2017 Free Agent Power Rankings With Text (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): In 2015, Cousins established himself as a solid NFL quarterback. That summer, the Redskins told Cousins they wanted him to prove it all over again before giving him a monster contract. Cousins was happy to oblige and he has now increased his value even further. After a so-so start to 2016 season, Cousins closed out strong to finish as Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 ranked QB, putting him ahead of notables such as Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Philip Rivers. All of those players have gotten their big pay day and now it’s time for Cousins to join the club. "<strong

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Before you start salivating over the idea of Jones joining your favorite team’s front seven, we have some bad news: Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. Whether it’s on a one-year, $16.955MM deal or a multi-year contract that tops Olivier Vernon‘s Giants deal, it sounds like Jones is staying put. Jones, 27 in May, played in all 16 games this year and racked up 11 sacks.

3. Kawann Short, DT (4): Contract talks between the Panthers and Short stalled last summer and Fletcher Cox‘s market-boosting deal with the Eagles didn’t help matters. Short wound up playing 2016 for peanuts ($1.473MM) and he turned in yet another stellar season. Short was the fourth-best interior defender in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus, and his 87.7 overall score was roughly the same as his 2015 mark, even though he had five less sacks. In June, it was said that the Panthers did not want to go too far beyond an average annual salary of $15MM. If he’s not franchised tagged or signed to a long-term deal by Carolina, there are a few teams that will happily go beyond that point.

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