Brandon Williams (DT)

No Timeline For Ravens DT Brandon Williams

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams does not have a timeline for return as he works his way back from a foot injury, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters, including Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link).Brandon Williams (Vertical)

Williams, who re-signed with the Ravens in March on a five-year, $52.5MM deal, has missed each of Baltimore’s last two games (which, coincidentally or not, have both been losses). The Ravens have allowed more than 160 yards rushing to both the Jaguars and the Steelers over the past two weeks without Williams, who appeared in all 16 games from 2014-16. Williams, 28, graded as the NFL’s No. 39 interior defender among 127 qualifiers in last season, per Pro Football Focus, which assigned Williams stout marks against the run.

With Williams sidelined, Baltimore has asked fellow defensive tackle Michael Pierce to play increased snaps — he’s seeing action on nearly 80% of the Ravens’ defensive plays after lining up on just a third of the club’s snaps a season ago. With fellow starter Brent Urban done for the season, Carl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi, and Willie Henry are also seeing time. Third-round rookie Chris Wormley has yet to be active on gameday in 2017, but that could hypothetically change later in the year.

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North Notes: Packers, Williams, Bengals

The Packers made a rare foray into the non-street free agent portion of the offseason waters by signing Martellus Bennett. That move figures to pay off, in the eyes of some anonymous NFL personnel men.

Bennett is way better than Jared Cook,” one personnel director said, via Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an expansive piece. “And he’s smarter. And he’s not as selfish. He’s going to be loud, but you’ve got to live with that.”

Chiming in on this debate, a scout told McGinn: “Cook is faster straight-line, yes, but their body type is totally different. When you walk up on Bennett, that is a man. Cook can’t block you or me. Bennett can. He can seal an edge.”

While these evaluators said the deal for Bennett comes with risk because of the pass-catcher’s age (30) and recent injury struggles. Bennett injured an ankle last season and reinjured it to the point he might require offseason surgery. One GM also mentioned 12 tight ends he would rather have than Bennett next season — a list that included Jack Doyle, Jermaine Gresham and Kyle Rudolph — but the same GM told McGinn he would only take two of those tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Rudolph) over Bennett as a blocker.

Here’s more from the Norths as free agency nears its third week.

  • Lance Kendricks‘ two-year Packers accord will be worth $4MM, with $1.2MM guaranteed, per McGinn. This could prove to be a value-re-establishing pact for Kendricks, who saw the Rams get out of a four-year, $18.5MM deal by cutting him.
  • Brandon Williams received interest from beyond Baltimore, but the Ravens succeeded on a persistent push to retain him. The fifth-year nose tackle wasn’t keen on being the latest impact Ravens UFA defection. “I wanted to come back. I tried to kind of leave hints,” Williams said, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Ravens signed their former Division II find to a five-year, $52.5MM deal. That pact includes a $12.5MM signing bonus. The Bills’ decision to revert back to a 4-3 look will make Williams the league’s highest-paid nose tackle by a wide margin.
  • Despite Kevin Minter pledging to come to Cincinnati for the 2017 season, Reuben Foster remains an option for the Bengals with their No. 9 overall pick, Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. Minter signed a one-year deal, and Foster — if taken at No. 9 overall — would be under team control for five. Plus, Minter has positional versatility that would allow him to play alongside the Alabama middle linebacker.
  • Ricky Jean-Francois left his Bears visit without a contract, and the UFA defensive lineman will make his way to Seattle for a scheduled Seahawks summit, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets. Anderson added

Ravens Re-Sign DT Brandon Williams

The Ravens are keeping one of their top free agents in Baltimore. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams is re-signing with the team, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. It’s a five-year deal, Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun tweets. The pact is worth $54MM, including $27MM in guarantees, which makes Williams the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

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Earlier Thursday, it was said that Williams’ agent was only working on a contract with the Ravens, though the Titans later found a way to get involved. The overtures from Tennessee didn’t work – Williams, 26, is sticking with the only team he’s ever known in the NFL and is in line to remain in Baltimore through his prime seasons.

Williams entered the league as a third-round pick in 2013 and has since totaled 55 appearances and 46 starts in Baltimore. Last year was the third straight 16-game campaign for Williams, who also started all of the Ravens’ contests for the second season in a row and ranked 39th in performance among Pro Football Focus‘ 127 qualified D-linemen.

Williams joins safety Tony Jefferson as the second major signing on the defensive side of the ball during this free agency period for the Ravens. After finishing an excellent sixth in defensive DVOA last season, the club also has free agent cornerback Morris Claiborne on its radar.

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Titans Interested In Brandon Williams

The Titans are among the teams with interest in free agent defensive tackle Brandon Williams, according to Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com (Twitter link). However, the two might not be able to find common ground on a price, McCormick adds.

Brandon Williams (Vertical)

As of earlier Thursday, Williams’ agent was working on a contract with the Ravens, the 28-year-old’s only NFL employer to date. Williams entered the league as a third-round pick in 2013 and has since piled up 55 appearances and 46 starts in Baltimore. Last year was the third straight 16-game campaign for Williams, who also started all of the Ravens’ games for the second season in a row and ranked 39th in performance among Pro Football Focus‘ 127 qualified D-linemen.

Given his track record, the 335-pound Williams – who ranks as one of the top free agents left on the board – figures to come at a high cost. An adept run defender, Williams would further beef up a Tennessee ‘D’ that already fared well against opposing rushers last season, when it ranked second in ground yards allowed and 10th in DVOA versus the run.

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Latest On Brandon Williams

Although several clubs want to take a meeting free agent defensive tackle Brandon Williams, his agents are working on a contract with the Ravens, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Brandon Williams (Vertical)

The 28-year-old Williams has so far spent his entire career with the Ravens, who selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft. Williams has been durable, having appeared in 16 games in each of the past three seasons, and productive. In addition to piling up 16 starts for the second straight year, he ranked as Pro Football Focus‘ 39th-best D-tackle among 127 qualifiers last season.

Williams, who rates as PFR’s No. 4 free agent interior defender, is expected to command a Damon Harrison-esque contract: five years, $46.25MM.

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Ravens Trying To Re-Sign Williams, Mallett

As of earlier Wednesday, it appeared impending free agent defensive tackle Brandon Williams was definitely on his way out of Baltimore, but that’s not the case, tweets Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. The Ravens are still working to re-sign Williams before the market opens Thursday.

Brandon Williams (Vertical)[RELATED: Ravens To Sign Tony Jefferson]

The 28-year-old Williams has so far spent his entire career with the Ravens, who selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft. Williams has been durable, having appeared in 16 games in each of the past three seasons, and productive. In addition to piling up 16 starts for the second straight year, he ranked as Pro Football Focus‘ 39th-best D-tackle among 127 qualifiers last season.

Along with Williams, the Ravens are attempting to re-up a lower priority free agent-to-be in quarterback Ryan Mallett, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (Twitter link). After stints with New England and Houston, Mallett joined the Ravens late in the 2015 season and served as Joe Flacco‘s primary backup last year. In six appearances (two starts) with Baltimore, the 28-year-old has posted a 59.2 percent completion rate, two touchdowns against three interceptions, and 5.7 yards per attempt.

 

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Ravens Expected To Lose Brandon Williams?

Brandon Williams tenure with the Ravens may be on ice. Although Baltimore is reportedly working to re-sign the veteran defensive tackle, Williams might not return to Baltimore next season, per Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links). Still, the Ravens are still “very much” in the mix for Williams, adds Zriebec. The Sun scribe continues that there have been plenty of “rumblings” regarding Williams signing with the Giants, but he’s unsure if a decision has been made.

Brandon Williams (Vertical)The 2013 third-round pick has spent his entire four-year career with the Ravens. He’s played in 16 games for each of the past three seasons, and he’s started every game over the past two campaigns. This past season, he collected 51 tackles and one sack. Pro Football Focus graded Williams as the 39th-best defensive tackle last season among 127 eligible candidates. Meanwhile, we ranked Williams as the third-best available defensive tackle.

The Ravens currently have two defensive tackles on their roster in Michael Pierce and Carl Davis. Meanwhile, the Giants are rostering Jay Bromley, Damon Harrison, Anthony Johnson, and Robert Thomas.

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Cole’s Latest: Jackson, Zeitler, Poe, Williams

DeSean Jackson looks set for a raise despite having turned 30 during the 2016 season. His market is heating up on Day 2 of the legal tampering period, and it’s expected to clear the $11MM mark in terms of AAV, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report notes (on Twitter). The 10th-year deep threat is likely to leave Washington, and two Redskins rivals — the Cowboys and Eagles — remain interested, per Cole. He adds the Patriots and Buccaneers are in on Jackson as well. We’ve heard Jackson’s salary could climb toward the $12MM-per-year neighborhood. That would lean toward a team like the Bucs ($58.3MM in cap space), with the Cowboys and Eagles on the lower end of the cap-room hierarchy and the Patriots not big on monster skill-position contracts. Dallas’ interest, though, has been disputed, with Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting the team isn’t interested. The Cowboys have just $8.3MM in cap space.

Here’s more from free agency, courtesy of Cole.

  • Kevin Zeitler may raise the guard salary ceiling, and the Jaguars continue to come up in connection to the former Bengals first-round pick, Cole tweets. The Jags re-signed guard Patrick Omameh on Tuesday, but at $775K, that won’t figure to preclude them from making a splash to upgrade their front. Zeitler’s been connected to a $12MM-per-year deal on a heated guard market. Kelechi Osemele‘s $11.7MM currently tops all guards. Jacksonville has $75.6MM in cap space. The Jags’ line does not have a veteran contract on its interior, with rookie-deal cogs Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann having been the primary starters last season, along with Omameh.
  • Dontari Poe might not get the kind of long-term security he wants this year, and Cole tweets the five-year Chiefs starting nose tackle could opt for a one-year deal and re-enter free agency in 2018. The Chiefs prioritized Eric Berry among their big two free agents, signing the cornerstone safety to a record extension. They also drafted Chris Jones in the second round in 2016 and are short on cap space, with a league-low $4.6MM presently. Poe made Pro Bowls in 2013 and ’14, but a 2015 back surgery slowed him. And Poe’s 2016 season, per Pro Football Focus, didn’t compare with his work at his peak. Cole notes Poe could look for a team that wants him to rush the passer more. Poe made just more than $6MM in 2016 on a fifth-year option.
  • Conversely, Ravens 3-4 nose Brandon Williams looks like he’ll do well in his first UFA foray. Cole tweets the fifth-year defender could well sign for around what the Giants paid Damon Harrison last year (five years, $46.25MM). That would bridge the gap for 3-4 nose players between Marcell Dareus and the field, and it might be more than the Ravens ($12MM-plus in space) can afford.
  • After one tampering day, Cole notes (on Twitter) Andre Branch could have a strong market. Cole associates the veteran defensive end as being worth between $7-9MM per year. Branch recorded 5.5 sacks on what could be a short-term stay with the Dolphins in 2016. As of January, the Fins wanted to keep Branch in Miami, but not much has surfaced on the now-two-time free agent since.
  • The Tony Jefferson rise seems real, with Cole now reporting (on Twitter) the Cardinals safety could earn more than $9MM annually. Previously, Cole had Jefferson — likely the market’s top safety after Berry re-signed in Kansas City — pegged to command around $7MM per year. But Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com attached the safety to a market around nearly $10MM AAV.

Latest On Ravens’ Top Free Agents

With less than two days until the legal tampering window opens, the Ravens run the risk of losing three key free agents. One appears to be already set to explore avenues elsewhere, with Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun reporting (on Twitter) the Ricky Wagner ship “appears to have sailed.” The fifth-year lineman is expected to receive top right tackle money and depart Baltimore.

Wagner’s arrow, though, had been pointed out of Maryland for some time now. He’s viewed as a top tackle in a weak market at that position, and the Ravens were reportedly ready to live with Wagner leaving if it meant they could retain Brandon Williams. That now no longer looks certain, either. The team has made several proposals to the fifth-year nose tackle but hasn’t found common ground, per Zreibec (via Twitter).

Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said Williams would be a Ravens priority, but the former Division II standout may be in position to make more on the open market, given Kawann Short being franchise-tagged in Carolina. Zreibec notes the Ravens could meet with Williams’ agent on Monday, but that’s not certain at this juncture.

The third player in question here, Kyle Juszczyk, won’t command the kind of money the aforementioned pair will this week. And the Ravens are expected to meet with the fullback’s agent on Monday, Zreibec tweets. Juszczyk, though, is expected to garner high-end fullback money, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, who notes the fifth-year fullback’s price point is expected to “shatter” what the Ravens will pay.

Juszczyk, who rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 fullback last season (largely on the strength of his top-flight pass blocking), has 97 career receptions for 769 yards and five touchdowns. Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman is the highest-paid fullback at $2.1MM per year, so that could be in line to change.

Wagner and Williams profile as two of the league’s top free agents, with Wagner possibly looking at nearly $10MM per year. Both the Vikings and Bears are said to be interested in his services. The Ravens made an attempt to retain him in February, but Wagner “rebuffed” the offer. Baltimore hovers on the low end in terms of cap space, sitting with barely $13MM.

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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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