Alan Branch

Lions Searching For Defensive Tackles

The Lions are scouring the defensive tackle market. They’re expected to bring in free agents Johnathan Hankins and Alan Branch for visits and former Titans defensive tackle Sylvester Williams is also on their radar, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. Meanwhile, they’re working on a deal with former Pats defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). 

The Lions project to start A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence on the interior defensive line, but they’re a little thin in support. Last year’s sixth-round pick Jeremiah Ledbetter and former UDFA Toby Johnson are the only other DTs on the roster as of this writing. It’s possible that the Lions will look to sign two or more of the aforementioned quartet of free agent defensive tackles to pad out the depth chart.

Given GM Bob Quinn‘s ties to the Patriots, Jean-Francois would be a logical signing for Detroit. Hankins, meanwhile, might be the most intriguing talent of the bunch given his success in the Giants’ 4-3 scheme from 2013-2016. Last year, he also performed well in the Colts’ 3-4 defense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots To Drop DT Alan Branch

The Patriots have exercised Kenny Britt‘s option for 2018, but they won’t be retaining defensive lineman Alan Branch. The Patriots are parting ways with Branch, a source tells Doug Kyed of NESN (on Twitter), allowing him to become a free agent. 

Branch was one of the Patriots’ top defensive performers in 2016, but he was hardly a factor in 2017. The Patriots made him a healthy scratch for an October game against the Bucs and he finished the season on the sidelines thanks to a meniscus tear. Given all of that, the Patriots were not expected to bring Branch back with a cap number of $4.55MM.

Kyed reports that the Patriots are declining Branch’s option, but Branch’s contract was previously reported as a straight-up two-year deal. In any event, it appears that the Pats will save $3.55MM by dumping Branch with just $1MM in residual dead money.

In 2016, Branch tallied a career-high 49 tackles to go along with 1.5 sacks. He ranked 25th in overall performance among Pro Football Focus’ 127 qualified interior defensive linemen that season, but this year he ranked just 98th.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots’ Alan Branch To Miss Time

The Patriots will be without Alan Branch for the final two games of the regular season, at minimum. The defensive lineman does not need surgery to fix his injured meniscus, but he is expected to miss “a few weeks,” Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link) hears. Alan Branch

The Patriots have already locked up the AFC East title, but they’re still looking to shore up a first-round bye over the next couple of weeks. If they can manage that, then Branch could theoretically return to action for the Pats’ first playoff game, which would be on January 13th. If they have to play in the Wild Card round, then they might have to start the playoffs without one of their starting defensive tackles.

At 11-3, the Patriots have a 90% chance of getting a first-round bye and a 70% shot at being the AFC’s top seed, per the New York Times’ playoff calculator. A win over the Bills this weekend coupled with a Jaguars loss to the Niners would seal up the bye.

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AFC East Rumors: Patriots, McCown, Cutler

The Patriots will be without two of their top cover men against the Jets. A late addition to the Pats’ injury report, Stephon Gilmore is out for Sunday’s game with a concussion. Gilmore was not listed on New England’s injury report prior to Saturday, but Josina Anderson of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter) the cornerback had experienced headaches since the Buccaneers game nine days ago. Eric Rowe is out with a groin injury, leaving the Patriots shorthanded on the outside. Gilmore’s concussion setback comes after he was a game-time decision to face the Bucs due to an ankle injury. Rowe hasn’t practiced since aggravating a groin problem in Week 4. New England did not sign anyone before Saturday afternoon’s deadline, so the team will not make a practice squad promotion for depth purposes as a result of these injuries.

Here’s more from New England and other AFC East headquarters prior to Week 6 Sunday.

  • Alan Branch, though, did make the trip with the Patriots to New York after being left off the travel roster for his team’s Week 5 tilt in Tampa, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports. Branch played in New England’s first four games after being re-signed this offseason. His season’s traversing a pattern Jabaal Sheard‘s did last year. After being left off the travel list for a midseason road trip, Sheard returned a week later and finished last season with 15 regular-season games played. Branch signed a two-year deal worth up to $12MM, so another healthy scratch would certainly be strange.
  • When the Jets were surveying the quarterback market, they became the latest team to turn to Josh McCown‘s five-game audition with the 2013 Bears as evidence of proficiency. New OC John Morton observed McCown’s work during that stretch — one that booked him the starting gig with the 2014 Bucs and probably played a key role in coaxing the Browns to sign him a year later — and tailored Gang Green’s offense around what McCown did well that season, Bob Glauber of Newsday notes. McCown has the Jets at a surprising 3-2, with the three wins exceeding his total with the Bucs and Browns combined. The 38-year-old quarterback is completing 71 percent of his passes in Morton’s offense.
  • That said, the Jets aren’t expected to let this season distract them from plans to acquire a long-term quarterback in 2018, Rich Cimini notes (on Twitter). In comparing this to the 2016 situation that saw the Jets re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick late in the offseason and then watching him regress last season, Cimini does not see the Jets turning to McCown again after this bridge season.
  • Despite some outside outcries for the Dolphins to bench Jay Cutler, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald doesn’t get the feeling Dolphins players are ready to see the recently acquired veteran demoted just yet. In attempting 26 passes against the Titans, Cutler completed just 12 for 92 yards. The Dolphins plan to stick with Cutler throughout the season, although that plan could certainly be revised down the road if this offense regresses further.

Patriots Make Alan Branch Healthy Scratch

Alan Branch was one of the Patriots’ top defensive performers in 2016. In 2017, he’s effectively done a disappearing act. The Patriots have responded by making him a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the Buccaneers, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com tweets. Branch also did not travel with the team to Tampa. Alan Branch

Branch is being cut out of the Patriots’ plans just months after re-signing on a two-year deal worth $8.45MM. At this point, it’s hard to see the 32-year-old (33 in December) playing out the second year of his contract. One has to wonder if he’ll even get to finish out the first year.

Branch’s deal included $3MM in guarantees at signing, but the Pats can wiggle out of their obligation to him in 2018 by eating just $1MM in dead money while saving $3.7MM against the cap. If he were to remain on the roster when the 2018 league year starts, he’d collect on a $1MM bonus.

Branch, a former second-round pick, was ranked as PFR’s No. 8 free agent interior defender at the outset of free agency. At the time, the Patriots’ decision to re-sign him seemed like a smart one. He turned in back-to-back seasons with 16 appearances, and 15 starts. In 2016, the veteran tallied a career-high 49 tackles and chipped in 1.5 sacks for the Super Bowl champs. Branch also ranked 25th in overall performance among Pro Football Focus’ 127 qualified interior defensive linemen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Finalize Alan Branch Deal

The Patriots agreed to re-sign defensive tackle Alan Branch to a two-year contract worth up to $12MM just over a month ago. That deal finally became official Monday, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com.

[RELATED: Marshawn Lynch To New England?]Alan Branch

The 2017 season will be the fourth in New England for the 32-year-old Branch, who was previously with the Cardinals, Seahawks and Bills. Branch is coming off back-to-back 16-appearance, 15-start campaigns, and the 10-year veteran tallied a career-high 49 tackles and chipped in 1.5 sacks in 2016 for the Super Bowl champions. He also ranked 25th in overall performance among Pro Football Focus’ 127 qualified interior defensive linemen.

Branch, who totaled the second-most snaps among Patriots D-linemen last season (625), is primed to serve as the starting unit’s elder statesman in 2017. The other expected No. 1s, Kony Ealy, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, are each 25 or younger. The Pats also have 20-something reserves in Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy and Geneo Grissom.

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Contract Details: Bennett, Bouye, Branch

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

  • Martellus Bennett, TE (Packers): Three years, $20.25MM. $6.3MM guaranteed. Base salaries of $900K, $3.6MM, $5.65MM. $2MM roster bonus due on first day of 2018 league year. $600K in annual per-game roster bonuses. $$250K annual workout bonus (link via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).
  • A.J. Bouye, CB (Jaguars): Five years, $65MM. $26MM guaranteed. $10MM signing bonus. Base salaries of $3MM, $13MM, $13MM, $13MM, $13MM. $500K annual workout bonus (Twitter link via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
  • Alan Branch, DT (Patriots): Two years, $8.45MM. $3MM guaranteed. $2MM signing bonus. Annual $400K workout and weight bonus of $400K each. $3.55MM available via not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (link via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com).
  • Ted Ginn, WR (Saints): Three years, $11MM. $3MM guaranteed. $3MM signing bonus. Base salaries of $2MM, $3MM, $2.5MM. 2018 $500K roster bonus. $500,000 aviailve vie playtime, catches incentives (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Tanner Purdum, LS (Jets): One year, $980K. $400K guaranteed (Twitter link via Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press).
  • Brandon Williams, DT (Ravens): Five years, $52.5MM. $27.5MM guaranteed. $12.5MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Jeff Zriebec of the Baltimore Sun).
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB (Falcons): One year, $775K (minimum salary) (Twitter link via Wilson).

Patriots To Re-Sign Alan Branch

The Patriots have reached agreement with defensive tackle Alan Branch on a two-year deal that can be worth up to $12MM, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Alan Branch (vertical)

Branch, 32, has spent the past three years in New England, and has started 15 games in each of the past two campaigns. The Patriots reportedly believed they had made a “solid offer” to Branch last week, and Branch apparently agreed, as he’s now under contract through the 2018 season. In 2016, Branch graded as the league’s No. 25 defensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, which gave him excellent marks against the run.

Branch, a former second-round pick, was ranked as PFR’s No. 8 free agent interior defender. He’ll slot back into a Patriots defensive line that includes Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grisson, and Vincent Valentine.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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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AFC East Rumors: Patriots, Branch, Jets

The Patriots and Dont’a Hightower are maintaining positive, productive dialogue, Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald writes. Still, Hightower is intrigued by the idea of finding out his value on the open market, so there remains a real chance that he reaches free agency on March 9. The Pats have not extended a formal, written proposal since last summer.

[RELATED: Find Out Where Dont’a Hightower Ranks On Our Top 50 Free Agents List]

Here’s a look at the latest out of the AFC East: