A.J. Klein

NFC Rumors: Johnson, Rodgers, Panthers

More details on David Johnson‘s Cardinals contract are emerging. In addition to the fourth-year running back seeing $24MM in full guarantees as part of his three-year, $39MM extension, Johnson will receive a $12MM signing bonus, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). His $5.7MM base salary in 2019 is fully guaranteed. The All-Pro’s 2020 base ($10.2MM) will have $5.1MM guaranteed fully at signing, per Graziano (on Twitter), but the other half of it is guaranteed for injury only. However, Johnson’s full 2020 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Cardinals’ roster by March of 2019.

Each of Johnson’s next three seasons include $750K in per-game roster bonuses. As far as cap numbers go, Johnson now has a $5MM hit this season. The former third-round pick will count $9.45MM against Arizona’s 2019 cap, $13.95MM in 2020 and $11.7MM in 2021, Graziano reports (Twitter link).

Here’s the latest out of the NFC, shifting toward its most important player.

  • Aaron Rodgers missed Packers practice again on Thursday, but this wasn’t unexpected. However, Mike McCarthy said it’s no layup that his two-time MVP quarterback will play Sunday against the Vikings, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Rodgers and McCarthy said Wednesday he does not need to practice in order to start Sunday.
  • It keeps getting worse for the Panthers. After serious injuries hit Greg Olsen and Daryl Williams in Week 1, Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner is in concussion protocol, David Newton of ESPN.com notes. Both of Carolina’s starting tackles — Williams and Matt Kalil — are already on IR. Both can return after eight weeks, but at this point, it can’t be assumed both will be back. Carolina could lose a more important player to its cause. Only two players can be recalled from IR. Amini Silatolu filled in for Turner last season, but he may have to play right tackle Sunday. However, the Panthers added Chris Clark to potentially do that. In addition to Silatolu, Newton writes Tyler Larsen and rookie UDFA Brendan Mahon will have a chance to start in place of Turner — in the event he can’t go Sunday.
  • Demario Davis rated as a top-10 Pro Football Focus linebacker last year, doing so for his work as an inside linebacker. It was expected the high-priced free agent would man the middle for the Saints, but they’ve moved him to the weak side, NOLA.com’s Josh Katzenstein notes. Second-year man Alex Anzalone is now stationed as New Orleans’ middle ‘backer, but the team rotated he, Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein as Davis sidekicks in Week 1. Sean Payton said the team’s still determining how it will structure its linebacker usage. Davis played all 66 snaps in the Saints’ loss to the Buccaneers, while Anzalone led the others with 34. Klein functioned in Davis’ role in 2017, playing all of the Saints’ Week 1 snaps in his first game with the team.

Saints Place LB A.J. Klein On IR

The Saints will be without one of their starting linebackers down the stretch and into the playoffs, as the club announced they’ve placed A.J. Klein on injured reserve. In a corresponding move, New Orleans has signed tight end John Phillips.A.J. Klein (Vertical)

Klein, 26, inked a three-year, $15MM with the Saints this offseason, staying in the NFC South after four seasons with the Panthers. While the New Orleans defense has experienced a remarkable turnaround in 2017, Klein hasn’t necessarily been a large part of that effort despite playing roughly three quarters of the club’s defensive snaps. The Saints are still just 23rd in rush defense DVOA, while Klein himself has graded as only the No. 82 linebacker among 92 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

While the loss of Klein will certainly lead to adjustments along the Saints’ front seven, the team does possess an ample amount of linebacker depth. Veterans such as Manti Te’o, Gerald Hodges, and the recently-signed Jonathan Freeny are all candidates to join the starting lineup opposite Craig Robertson.

Phillips, meanwhile, is now back in New Orleans after appearing in eight games for the club a season ago. An effective blocker but not much of an offensive weapon, the 30-year-old Phillips was with the Saints during training camp before being waived off injured reserve in September.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Contract Details: Garcon, Baker, Klein, Jones

Let’s take a look at some details of the free agent contracts signed today:

  • Chris Baker, DL (Buccaneers): Three years, $15.75MM. $9MM guaranteed. $1MM in sack incentives each season (Twitter link via Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post).
  • Jack Crawford, DL (Falcons): Three years, $10.3MM. $3.75MM in 2017 (Twitter link via Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com).
  • Pierre Garcon, WR (49ers): Two years, $23MM. $17MM guaranteed. Options for 2019 ($6MM), 2020 ($8.9MM), and 2021 ($9.6MM) (Twitter link via Tom Pelissero of USA Today).
  • Landry Jones, QB (Steelers): Two years, $4.4MM. $600K signing bonus (Twitter link via Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com).
  • A.J. Klein, LB (Saints): Four years, $24MM. $4MM signing bonus. $9.4MM guaranteed. 2020 season will void Klein is on Saints roster on last day of 2019 league year (via Nick Underhill of the Advocate).
  • Jeff Locke, P (Colts): Two years, $3.45MM. $1.25MM guaranteed (Twitter links via Ben Goessling of ESPN.com and Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star).
  • Ryan Mallett, QB (Ravens): One year, $2MM. $1MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Pelissero).
  • Akeem Spence, DL (Lions): Three years, $9MM. $3.5MM guaranteed. $1MM available via escalators (Twitter link via Peliserro).
  • D.J. Swearinger, S (Redskins): Three years, $13.5MM. $9MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Kinkhabwala).

Saints To Sign LB A.J. Klein

The Saints are signing linebacker A.J. Klein, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Saints have been prioritizing defensive help this offseason, particularly help in the front seven.

Klein might not be the only defensive pickup the Saints make today if the rumored Malcolm Butler-for-Brandon Cooks deal is completed.

Klein was said to be seeking a starting job this offseason. He will move on from the Panthers after playing alongside the likes of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and join a Saints team that’s had issues at this position. Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony has not been able to provide clear evidence he’s going to be a long-term answer, and the Saints moved him from middle ‘backer to the strong side in the offseason.

A 25-year-old fifth-year player, Klein will join a linebacking corps that houses Anthony, Dannell Ellerbe and Craig Robertson. Kuechly’s 2016 injury opened the door for more Klein playing time; he made seven starts but only accumulated 29 tackles. As a part-time starter in 2014-15, Klein made 39 and 48 stops, respectively, while vacillating from the middle to the outside in Carolina’s 4-3 scheme. New Orleans pivoted back to a 4-3 look recently, so Klein won’t have as steep of a learning curve as he would going to a 3-4 team.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as franchised players aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for this offseason:

Edge defender:

  1. Nick Perry
  2. Jabaal Sheard
  3. John Simon
  4. DeMarcus Ware
  5. Lorenzo Alexander
  6. Andre Branch
  7. Julius Peppers
  8. Charles Johnson
  9. Datone Jones
  10. Dwight Freeney
  11. Chris Long
  12. Mario Williams
  13. Paul Kruger
  14. Courtney Upshaw
  15. Jarvis Jones

Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks."<strong

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among players with youth still on their side, Datone Jones figures to interest clubs thanks to his versatility, as he can vacillate between end and linebacker, while fellow former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is solid against the run. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Johnathan Hankins
  3. Brandon Williams
  4. Dontari Poe
  5. Chris Baker
  6. Bennie Logan
  7. Nick Fairley
  8. Alan Branch
  9. Jared Odrick
  10. Karl Klug
  11. Terrell McClain
  12. Lawrence Guy
  13. Stacy McGee
  14. Stephen Paea
  15. Sylvester Williams
    Honorable mention: Paul Soliai

Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans."<strong

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Karl Klug), and run stoppers (Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Panthers LB A.J. Klein Seeking Starting Job

Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein said he’ll be looking for a starting gig when he hits the open market next month, according to SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link)."<strong

[RELATED: Panthers Release Paul Soliai]

As Klein alluded to in his interview with SiriusXM, he’s been stuck behind one of the best linebacker duos in the league for the duration of his career. Klein, 25, is a fine reserve, but he’s no Luke Kuechly or Thomas Davis, and was never going to usurp either player for starting time. Carolina used a first-round pick on fellow ‘backer Shaq Thompson in 2015, further decreasing any chance Klein would venture into the club’s starting lineup.

While Klein hasn’t been a regular during his time with the Panthers, he has averaged roughly six starts per season over the past four years thanks to injuries along Carolina’s linebacking unit. In 2016, though, Klein only played on about a third of the Panthers’ defensive snaps, but did see action on nearly half the club’s special teams plays. All told, he managed 29 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Burnett, Long, Adams

ESPN’s staff put together a list of each team’s starter whose job is in jeopardy. Among the most notable are 49ers running back Frank Gore, Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and Packers safety Morgan Burnett. On Burnett, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky says, “When the Packers drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, the thinking was that he would start alongside Burnett. Now, there’s a chance he could start instead of Burnett. Coach Mike McCarthy likes what Micah Hyde has done at free safety, and when Burnett strained his oblique muscle this week, he put Clinton-Dix in Burnett’s strong safety spot. The Packers made a major investment in Burnett last summer with an $8.25 million signing bonus as part of a four-year extension, but he followed it with an unproductive season.”

Here’s a few miscellaneous links from around the league:

  • Panthers veteran linebacker Chase Blackburn is on that list, as second-year man A.J. Klein is pushing for the starting job, but Blackburn is embracing his role as mentor, writes Scott Fowler in the Charlotte Observer.
  • With the Eagles in Chicago to play the Bears tonight, Zach Berman of Philadelphia Inquirer writes about the relationship between Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who helped Long get his career back on track during their time together at Oregon.
  • The Steelers were hoping 2012 second-rounder Mike Adams would challenge for a starting tackle job, but that’s not happening, writes ESPN’s Scott Brown. Adams has been inconsistent, and “It would be charitable to put Adams among the Steelers’ best seven offensive linemen through the first 11 practices,” according to Brown. Adams started 10-of-15 games played last season, but struggled and “earned” a -4.9 overall rating from Pro Football Focus.
  • Cowboys rookie safety Ahmad Dixon’s ‘Welcome to the NFL’ hit left him with a concussion, reports Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram.
  • The Seahawks’ secondary has established itself as the “Legion of Boom.” The Buccaneers are trying to establish the offensive equivalent, with the trio of Vincent Jackson, first-rounder Mike Evans and second-rounder Austin Seferian-Jenkins going by the “Three Dunkateers,” writes USA Today’s Jim Corbett.