Connor Barth

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

Bears Sign K Cairo Santos

The Bears are signing free agent kicker Cairo Santos, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Of course, with Santos in Chicago, Connor Barth is out of a job. Cairo Santos (Vertical)

Santos met with both the Bears and Bucs recent weeks. When he visited with the Bucs, he was not yet healthy enough to resume playing. When the Bears met with him, he still had a bit to go in rehab and the inconsistent Barth was coming off of a strong performance. Now that Santos is healthy and Barth has faltered again by missing a game-tying field goal in Sunday’s loss to the Lions, the timing was right for a change.

Santos spent his entire career with the Chiefs until a groin injury slowed him this year, causing the team to cut him in September. Before his release, he converted 3-of-3 field goal tries this season and went 6-for-6 on extra points. Last year, he nailed 31 of 35 field goal tries, good for fifth in the league amongst kickers (88.6%).

Next up for Santos and the Bears is a tough road matchup against the red-hot Eagles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears Meet With K Cairo Santos

The Bears met with Cairo Santos on Thursday and gave him a physical, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. As of this writing, the Bears have not signed Santos to a deal, but it is a sign that they are at least mulling a kicking change. Cairo Santos (Vertical)

Connor Barth is coming off of a strong performance in which he sank field goal attempts from 45, 44, and 49 yards in a rainy game against the Packers. However, he has been inconsistent overall this season. All in all, Barth has missed four of his 14 field goal tries, though three of those attempts were from 40-49 yards out and one was from further than 50 yards.

Santos has been on the market since being waived/injured by the Chiefs in late September. The Buccaneers reportedly wanted to sign him in October, but he was not healthy enough to play at that time.

Before getting cut loose, he converted 3-of-3 field goal tries and went 6-for-6 on extra points. He also had ten touchbacks on his 18 kickoffs. Last year, the 26-year-old sank 31 of 35 field goal tries, good for fifth in the league amongst kickers (88.6%).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears Audition Two Kickers

The Bears could be considering a change at kicker. Today, the team brought in Roberto Aguayo and Josh Lambo for a tryout, a league source tells Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune (on Twitter). Roberto Aguayo (vertical)

Connor Barth has been the Bears’ kicker since taking over for Robbie Gould in 2016. Last year, the veteran converted on just 78.3% of his field goals. This year, the 31-year-old has missed two of his four attempts, though one of those was a 57-yard try against Green Bay last week. The other miss was a 47-yard attempt against the Steelers in Week 3. To his credit, he is a perfect 7-of-7 on extra points in 2017 and he missed only one XP last year.

If signed, this will mark Aguayo’s second stint with Chicago in 2017. The former second round pick was claimed by Chicago after he was waived by the Bucs, but he was unable to prove himself in camp and was dropped three weeks later. The Bucs took on Aguayo’s $428K salary guarantee when they picked him up on the waiver wire and they had nothing to show for it.

Lambo lost the Chargers’ kicking competition to undrafted rookie Younghoe Koo this summer. After he was cut, he worked out for the Raiders, Eagles, and Jaguars, but was unable to find a home with any of those teams.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears To Sign K Connor Barth

The Bears will sign kicker Connor Barth, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. The veteran will earn $155K guaranteed during the one-year deal.

Connor BarthThe 30-year-old kicker spent the 2016 season with Chicago, where he replaced long-time player Robbie Gould. The veteran ultimately converted an underwhelming 78.3-percent of his field goals. Fortunately, he was a bit more accurate on extra points, missing only one in 32 attempts.

Over his eight-year NFL career, Barth has connected on 84-percent of his field goals and 99-percent of his extra points. Besides the Bears, Barth has spent time with the Buccaneers, Broncos, Chiefs, Dolphins, and Saints.

We ranked Barth as one of the better kickers available this offseason, though there were seven others ahead of him.

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.

Read more

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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NFC Notes: Bears, Lions, Gettleman, Baalke

Bears kicker Connor Barth missed a pair of field goals during his team’s six-point loss earlier today. Through five games, the 30-year-old has connected on five of his eight attempts, and Barth has been around the league long enough to recognize that the Bears will probably explore the kicker market.

“Nothing surprises me these days,” he told Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s the NFL. So just gotta go back to work. Like I said, those are kicks I usually make. I gotta make them.”

Coach John Fox was non-committal when discussing Barth’s roster status, but he wasn’t ready to lay all of the blame on his kicker.

“We look at everything every week,” coach John Fox said. “But I don’t think that’s on one guy, by any stretch.”

The veteran was signed by the Bears right before the season, with the 30-year-old replacing long-time kicker Robbie Gould.

We took a swing around the AFC earlier today, now let’s round up a few more notes from around the NFC…

  • Ezekiel Ansah has been dealing with a high ankle sprain since Week 2, but according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan (via Twitter), tests have revealed that the injury is no more serious than that. Caplan reports that Ansah will not require surgery and the Lions are optimistic we will begin practicing soon.
  • Kyle Meinke of MLive.com does not expect Lions head coach Jim Caldwell to be fired mid-season, especially since he is still well-respected and even revered by his players. However, he will surely not survive into 2017 if the team does not show dramatic improvement over the remainder of the 2016 campaign.
  • The Panthers’ secondary is a mess right now, and as David Newton of ESPN.com writes, there is really no one else to blame but GM Dave Gettleman. Newton observes that the one area Gettleman hasn’t spent money on is the secondary. He has put together that unit in piecemeal fashion with midrange draft picks and older veterans who came cheap, letting starters like Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman walk because they didn’t fit into his financial plan. Now, Gettleman’s approach is starting to catch up with him.
  • Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com believes that 49ers GM Trent Baalke is on the hot seat, largely as a result of his repeated failure to address the team’s weaknesses at impact positions. The problem is that there is nothing Baalke can do to strengthen the team for the final 11 games, so if San Francisco does not improve on its own, Baalke’s tenure with the club could be over.

Ben Levine contributed to this post.

Contract Details: Broncos, Bears, Sanchez

The Broncos and receiver Emmanuel Sanders were nearing a contract extension in late August, but the deal Los Angeles gave fellow wideout Tavon Austin led to Sanders raising his asking price, reports James Palmer of NFL Network (Twitter link). Sanders and the Broncos ended up agreeing to a three-year, $33MM pact with $27MM in guarantees on Wednesday. Austin hasn’t been on Sanders’ level in terms of production, but the Ram is four years younger. That helped Austin secure a longer, richer deal – four years, $42MM – with a few million more in guaranteed money ($30MM).

More contract details from around the NFL:

  • Guard Josh Sitton‘s three-year accord with the Bears is worth $21MM, $9.5MM of which guaranteed, as Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune tweets. Sitton can earn an additional $250K per season if he makes the Pro Bowl, something he did three time in Green Bay.
  • Quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s one-year deal with the Cowboys comes with a $2MM base salary and no guaranteed money, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • Receiver/returner Devin Hester‘s contract with the Ravens is for one year and $1.1MM, including $100k fully guaranteed, Adam Caplan of ESPN.com tweets.
  • New Broncos QB Austin Davis making $1.25 million this year, according to Mike Klis of 9News (on Twitter). He’ll get another $200K if he takes 50% of Denver’s offensive snaps, which is a long shot for a signal-caller who’s behind Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch on the team’s depth chart.
  • Kicker Connor Barth‘s agreement with the Bears is for one year and $885K, relays Biggs (Twitter link). Barth’s predecessor, Robbie Gould, was scheduled to make $3MM this season before the Bears released him.
  • Earlier Thursday, the Steelers made guard David DeCastro the richest offensive lineman in franchise history.

Connor Byrne contributed to this post.

Bears To Sign Connor Barth

MONDAY, 9:15am: Barth’s deal with the Bears is for one year, tweets ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter.

SUNDAY, 9:51pm: The Bears are having a busy night, as after agreeing to a three-year contract with guard Josh Sitton, the club is planning to sign kicker Connor Barth, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Barth is the replacement for longtime Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who was released earlier today.Connor Barth

[RELATED: NFC North Transaction Tracker]

Barth, 30, has been in the NFL since 2008, and has spent time with the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Broncos during his seven-year stint. He had signed with the Saints earlier this summer, but was released yesterday as part of final cuts. Last year, Barth was in his second go-round with Tampa, and he nailed 23-of-28 field goal attempts. From 50+ yards, Barth was three-for-five, and he only missed one extra point.

Given that the Bears were presumably looking to save money by releasing Gould, it’s likely that Barth signed for something close to the minimum.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.