Brian Cushing

Raiders Cancel Visit With Brian Cushing

The Raiders won’t be meeting with Brian Cushing after all. After agreeing to terms with fellow veteran ‘backer Derrick Johnson, the Raiders have called off their scheduled Sunday summit with Cushing, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets

Initially, it appeared that Cushing would join a revamped linebacker group that includes newcomers Johnson, Emmanuel Lamur, and Tahir Whitehead. That would have been quite a crowd, however, especially since holdovers Cory JamesBruce Irvin, Shilique Calhoun, and Nicholas Morrow are also under contract.

Cushing’s March meeting with the Seahawks appears to be the only visit he’s taken thus far in free agency. With the Oakland visit 86’d, his reps will continue to scour the market for other options.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders To Meet With LB Brian Cushing

[UPDATE: The Raiders have cancelled the meeting.]

Former Texans linebacker Brian Cushing is slated to visit the Raiders on Sunday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Raiders recently added Derrick Johnson to their linebacker group and Cushing could be the latest veteran to join. 

Cushing comes with question marks, including two career PED violations, the most recent of which cost him ten games in 2017. He has also struggled with knee issues that sidelined him in 2012 and 2013. Still, he was a significant contributor for the Texans in 2015 and 2016.

Cushing started all 104 regular season games he played with the Texans over the course of nine seasons with the team. Despite his achievements, the aforementioned bans and injuries have apparently hampered his market. We had Cushing ranked as the 12th best linebacker available heading into free agency. In retrospect, that may have been a bit too high. The 30-year-old (31 in July) met with the Seahawks in March, but left Seattle without a contract.

So far this offseason, Jon Gruden has overhauled the Raiders’ linebacking corps with the additions of Emmanuel Lamur, Tahir Whitehead, and Johnson in free agency. Meanwhile, Navorro Bowman remains in limbo.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks To Meet With Brian Cushing

Free agent linebacker Brian Cushing will meet with the Seahawks on Wednesday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). This could be the start of a reunion for Cushing and Pete Carroll, who served as his head coach at USC. 

[RELATED: Seahawks Trade Michael Bennett To Eagles]

Cushing comes with question marks, including two career PED violations, the most recent of which cost him ten games in 2017. He has also struggled with knee issues that sidelined him in 2012 and 2013. Still, he was a significant contributor for the Texans in 2015 and 2016.

Cushing started all 104 regular season games he played with the Texans over the course of nine seasons with the team. Despite his achievements, the aforementioned bans and injuries will hamper his market. We have Cushing ranked as just the 12th best linebacker in this year’s class, a group that is topped by Nigel Bradham, NaVorro Bowman, Zach Brown, Preston Brown, and Anthony Hitchens.

He may prove to be a cost-effective addition to the Seahawks who are working to bolster their front seven in the wake of Wednesday’s Michael Bennett trade. The Bennett deal might not be the team’s only major shakeup today as they are also set to meet with Richard Sherman to discuss his future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, 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 on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

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 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more

Texans Plan To Release Brian Cushing

Brian Cushing will not make it to a 10th season with the Texans. The former first-round pick will be a free agent soon.

The Texans plan to release Cushing before the start of free agency, Mark Berman of Fox 26 reports (on Twitter). The former defensive rookie of the year played in only five games last season and has encountered trouble with performance-enhancing drugs.

Cushing started all 104 regular-season games he played with Houston but will turn 31 this offseason and will save the franchise $7.64MM in cap space. Two years remain on Cushing’s contract.

This release would give the Texans more than $64MM in cap room as they prepare for an offseason that will feature upgrade attempts along their offensive line and in the secondary, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle notes.

McClain reports Cushing texted him this is “part of the business” (Twitter link). The veteran linebacker will join the list of non-rush ‘backers available as free agents. Once the Texans release Cushing, he’ll be free to sign with any team immediately as a street free agent.

Cushing played an integral role for the Texans for nearly a decade. He’s the franchise’s all-time leading tackler with 664 stops. But the team drafted Zach Cunningham in last year’s second round and added productive rookie UDFA Dylan Cole last year as well, marginalizing the longtime defender.

The former USC talent has experienced frequent injury problems as well, tabbing his career surgery count at more than 20. He served a 10-game ban for a positive PED test last season and was popped for four games back in 2010. Knee injuries sidelined Cushing for extensive portions of the 2012 and ’13 campaigns, but he rebounded to be a full-time player in both of Houston’s subsequent AFC South championship slates in 2015 and ’16.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Activate LB Brian Cushing

Veteran middle linebacker Brian Cushing missed the first ten games of the regular season after being suspended once again for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. The Texans had placed him on a roster exemption list last week, but has now activated him to the 53 man roster, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Wilson adds that Cushing is likely to be active for the team’s Week 14 matchup against the 49ers.

Brian Cushing (Vertical)

Head coach Bill O’Brien seemed to be excited about getting one of the leaders of his defense back.

“Absolutely, his leadership, No. 1, his knowledge of our defense, his experience playing in our defense, his toughness,” O’Brien said. “All of those things could definitely help our defense.”

Cushing, 30, has known no other franchise than Houston since he was drafted by the team in the first round back in 2009. Since then, Cushing has played a full 16 games in a regular season just three times, having been suspended once prior for four games in 2010.

However, when the linebacker is on the field, he’s frequently around the football having led the team in tackles twice in his eight previous years in the league. Cushing appeared in 13 games last season, collecting 38 solo tackles in the process.

The Texans defense has taken multiple hits throughout the year, losing two of the best defenders at their position in J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season. Cushing will likely take the place of Zach Cunningham and start next to fellow inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Hawks, Lions, Texans, Giants

The Seahawks had hoped to re-sign Dwight Freeney after cutting him last week, but the Lions claimed him off waivers before they could so, as Freeney explained to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). Seattle needed to reinforce its depth at linebacker, and waiving Freeney was simply the easiest move the club could make. That’s not to say there wasn’t a financial component to the Freeney’s release, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times noted last week. Nevertheless, Freeney now heads to Detroit, a team that had interest in signing him at several points earlier in the season, tweets Birkett.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Linebacker Brian Cushing is now eligible to return to the Texans after serving a 10-game PED suspension, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. Houston has a one-week roster exemption for Cushing, whom Wilson reports is still in excellent shape. That exemption expires next Monday, and head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t commit to placing Cushing on the Texans’ active roster before the club’s Week 13 contest against the Titans. Cushing did not appeal his most recent PED ban, the second of his NFL career.
  • Giants running back Orleans Darkwa earned a $150K bonus by surpassing 500 yards rushing for the season on Sunday, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com. While New York’s offense has been extremely poor as a unit, Darkwa has been surprisingly effective. In 10 games (seven starts), the 25-year-old Darkwa has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and ranks as a top-15 back in DVOA, DYAR, and success rate, all of which are Football Outsiders metrics. Darkwa is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the spring after earning $1.1MM in base salary this year.
  • The Dolphins have designated offensive lineman Eric Smith to return from injured reserve, reports Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (Twitter link). Smith, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Virginia, earned a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster before going down in October. If activated, he’ll earn something of a multi-game tryout over the rest of the regular season. The Dolphins have already placed three other offensive lineman on IR this year, so Smith could see playing time down the stretch.
  • The NFL has agreed in principle to a deal that would donate nearly $100MM to social causes put forth by the league’s players, according to Jim Trotter and Jason Reid of ESPN.com. However, several members of the Players Coalition — a group led by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins that negotiates with owners — have since departed, citing a lack of communication on the unit’s proceedings. The agreement does not tackle the league’s ongoing debate regarding national anthem protests, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post.

AFC Notes: Cushing, McCown, Pats

The latest from around the AFC:

  • Texans linebacker Brian Cushing earned the second PED suspension of his career Wednesday, and while he appealed the previous ban in 2010, he’s not going to fight the punishment this time. “It is with the deepest remorse, he humbly apologizes to his fans, teammates and coaches,” Cushing’s attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said. “After consulting with his attorney and his agent he felt rather than dragging the appellate process out, this would be the best way to proceed.” Cushing will sit out the Texans’ next 10 games, which means the earliest he’ll see the field again is Dec. 3 in Tennessee.
  • The roster bonuses in quarterback Josh McCown‘s contract with the Jets could make it difficult for him to keep the starting job as the season progresses, ESPN’s Adam Schefter notes. Already on a fully guaranteed $6MM salary, McCown will earn $125K for each game he starts in 2017. Given that the Jets are more likely to contend for the first overall pick in the 2018 draft than a playoff spot this season, McCown might not be long for the No. 1 role. Not only would the Jets save money by benching McCown, but they’d get a chance to evaluate one or both of their young signal-callers, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
  • Factoring in this season, linebacker Kyle Van Noy‘s two-year extension with the Patriots amounts to a three-year, $12.87MM contract, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. The deal comes with $5.5MM in guarantees, including a $3.5MM signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $2MM salary for 2018. It also features a reporting bonus ($100K) and two workout bonuses (one for $7,095, another for $25K) in 2017 and a $100K roster bonus in both 2018 and ’19.
  • The Raiders are nearing an extension with one of their top players.

Brian Cushing Gets 10-Game Suspension

The NFL announced Wednesday that it has suspended Texans linebacker Brian Cushing 10 games without pay for violating its policy on performance-enhancing drugs (Twitter link via Mark Berman of FOX 26). Cushing will be eligible to return to the Texans’ active roster Nov. 28. In the meantime, he’ll lose $4MM in salary and the Texans could attempt to recoup some of his signing bonus, per Field Yates of ESPN (on Twitter).

Brian Cushing

This is the second PED-related suspension for Cushing, a ninth-year man who served a four-game ban in 2010. Another such suspension would force Cushing to sit for at least two years, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (on Twitter). The 30-year-old is now in line for his shortest season since 2012, when injuries limited him to five games. Aside from that season and 2013, when he only suited up seven times, Cushing entered this year having played in no fewer than 12 games in any individual campaign. He has also started in all 100 career appearances.

While the former USC star has been a staple in Houston since it drafted him 15th overall in 2009, this suspension could give the team another reason to cut ties with him after the season. The Texans used a second-round pick this past offseason on a potential replacement, Zach Cunningham, as Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com tweets. Further, releasing Cushing would save the Texans $8.5MM and leave them with only $1.2MM in dead money in 2018.

While Houston will have an interesting decision to make on Cushing in the offseason, it has nearly a full slate to play before then. Already off to an 0-1 start after taking a beating from AFC South rival Jacksonville last week, the Texans will now have to go the next couple months without a key defensive starter (albeit one who has had a rather inconsistent career, according to Pro Football Focus). Along with Cunningham, possible in-house fill-ins include Brian Peters and Dylan Cole – two players who lack NFL track records as defenders.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Siemian, Bolts, Browns, Cushing

After his second missed start this season, Trevor Siemian is expected to return on Sunday for the Broncos-Titans game, a player source informs Mike Klis of 9News. The first-year starter has missed 2 1/2 games now, with the two Paxton Lynch starts showing perhaps the rookie is not ready for regular duty.

Klis points out the mid-foot sprain Denver’s starter suffered is usually an injury that shelves players for multiple games, using Ronnie Hillman‘s six missed contests during the 2014 season as an example. Lynch completed 12-of-24 passes for 104 yards against the Jaguars last week, picking up his first win as a starter but doing so in less-than-optimal fashion.

Siemian is coming off his best game as a pro — a 368-yard, three-touchdown effort in an overtime loss to the Chiefs — but now needs to distance himself from another setback to avoid an injury-prone label after already missing time with a shoulder malady. For the Broncos, they likely need the second-year success story to return to make a last-ditch run at the AFC West title or possibly just to make the playoffs. Siemian (15 touchdown passes, seven INTs, 2,396 air yards) continuing to play reasonably well would continue to muddy the waters for the franchise in the future, though, with the first-round investment in Lynch still putting him in line as the quarterback of the future.

Here’s more from the AFC, continuing with more out of the West.

  • A substantial amount of money being tied to players on IR contributed to the Chargers‘ decisions about their replacements and extension decisions, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. In losing players like Stevie Johnson, Keenan Allen, Jason Verrett and Danny Woodhead, the Bolts have a 17-man IR contingent and that represents $29.3MM of the team’s cap space. This helped influence what kind of experience the Chargers ($1.3MM in cap room) could target as replacements for these players since longer-tenured veterans naturally cost more. Additionally, this matter partially impacted extension talks for Melvin Ingram or Woodhead, Gehlken reports, adding the Joey Bosa cash-flow uncertainty affected these talks as well. Both are impending UFAs, with Ingram set to be an in-demand commodity if he reaches the market.
  • Placed on IR recently, John Greco suspects he suffered the same mid-foot Lisfranc injury Joel Bitonio did, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The Browns‘ starting right guard, Greco would likely undergo surgery just as Bitonio, Cleveland’s left guard starter, did in October. The 31-year-old Greco’s been a Browns starter since 2012 and is optimistic about a 2017 return, just like Bitonio. He will visit Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., next week to determine the next course of action. Despite entering what would be his 10th NFL season, Greco is under contract for just $975K in 2017.
  • Jamar Taylor and the Browns agreed to a three-year deal worth $15MM, and Joel Corry of CBSSports.com argues (on Twitter) this is a team-friendly pact despite the former Dolphins corner finishing the 2015 season as a healthy scratch for his former employer. This salary rests $2MM per year less than displaced starter Tramon Williams is making, leading Corry to believe Williams won’t be around next season (Twitter link) after Taylor supplanted him in the lineup. Williams will turn 34 in March and, as part of a three-year deal worth $21MM, would stand to make $7.5MM in 2017 — all but $500K of which is nonguaranteed, pointing to a cap-casualty future for the former Packers cog.
  • Brian Cushing‘s been playing with multiple broken bones in his back in his eighth Texans season, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. “There’s two fractures in my back, but those are things you have to push through,” Cushing said. “Obviously, it’s painful, and I’m not able to get as many reps as I want in practice right now, but I’ll be out there Sunday with my team. I’ve missed a number of games with season-ending injuries, and I don’t want to miss any more time, so as long as I can walk, I’ll be out there.” The 29-year-old Cushing played at least 14 games in 2014-15 but saw his ’12 and ’13 slates end early because of ailments.