The Panthers are bringing in a longtime defensive line starter. They agreed to terms with DaQuan Jones on a one-year deal Tuesday, per Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). The team announced the deal, which Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes is worth $4.05MM (Twitter link).
A six-year Titans starter, Jones visited the Panthers on Tuesday, Rapoport tweets. Jones’ most recent Tennessee contract expired, sending him to free agency. The Panthers marked his first offseason connection, and the seven-year veteran should be expected to play a key role with his new team.
Jones has logged 16-start seasons in five of the past six years, moving into the Titans’ lineup in 2015 and only missing time (four games) in 2017 since. Although the Titans cratered in almost every defensive aspect last season, Jones graded as a middle-of-the-pack defensive tackle — in the view of Pro Football Focus — in 2020. The former fourth-round pick registered career-high marks in tackles (49) and quarterback hits (six) last season. Jones graded as a top-30 interior defender in 2019, excelling against the run to help propel the Titans to their first AFC championship game in 17 seasons.
The 29-year-old lineman played in a 3-4 defense throughout his career but now figures to slot alongside 2020 first-round pick Derrick Brown in Carolina’s 4-3 look. The Panthers cut longtime starter Kawann Short and lost key contributor Zach Kerr in free agency. Kerr signed with the 49ers last month; Short remains a free agent.
September 29th, 2020 at 5:47pm CST by Sam Robinson
The Titans and Vikings‘ football activities are on hold for the time being due to a Titans coronavirus outbreak. Here is the latest from perhaps the NFL’s defining September story:
The NFL is keeping open the possibility of moving the Steelers-Titans game to Monday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The league wants to keep the Tennessee home game scheduled for Sunday but views Monday as a contingency plan that would allow more time for testing and contract tracing.
Some of the players involved in the outbreak have surfaced. The Titans have placed defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, long snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, ESPN.com’s Field Yates and NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero report (Twitterlinks). Three Titans players have tested positive for the virus, though it is not known if these are the three. Eight Titans players and staffers combined are believed to have tested positive. The five non-players who tested positive were all football-side staffers, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. This includes outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who received word of his positive test Saturday.
While the Titans are closing their facility doors until Saturday, the Vikings will not practice until at least Thursday, Breer tweets. The NFL has suspended in-person activities for both teams until further notice. The Vikings are set to play the Texans on Sunday in Houston. Both Minnesota and Tennessee’s games are scheduled for noon CT.
Family members of Titans and Vikings players and staffers will be tested as well, the league announced. No players and staffers were tested on Sunday, with the COVID-19 protocols stipulating tests occur daily but not on game days.
Referee Clete Blakeman’s crew, which worked Sunday’s Titans-Vikings game, will not work a Week 4 contest, according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The crew will undergo daily testing this week.
Historically, the Titans have a point to lock up key players before they can leave via free agency. Taylor Lewan and Kevin Byard both landed extensions well in advance, but the ongoing uncertainty may leave players like tight end Jonnu Smith in limbo, GM Jon Robinson says.
“I’m a big analogy guy,” Robinson told Paul Kuharsky. “It’s no different than if I was if I was working for Pepsi or Coke, and I knew that we weren’t going to have as many sales. …You wouldn’t go out and buy a new house.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like. It’s something that we will certainly talk about. You know, we’ve talked to the players and the reps. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now with everything, and I would say certainly with the salary cap too, because we’ve got to be mindful. What you don’t want to do is do something and then you’ve got to undo it or try to unpack it a year, two years from now, given the uncertainty of the salary cap.”
Smith was mostly been as a blocker in his early years, but he flashed his hands last year. The 24-year-old (25 in August) caught 35 passes for 439 yards and three scores, giving the Titans a glimpse of what could come. The former third-round pick is slated to count for just $933K this year and he’s in line for a pay bump in 2021.
The Jets looked to be Kirk Cousins‘ backup plan, and the franchise had to move on to some its own contingency signings soon after. Most notably, the Jets sought a backfield option that ended up in San Francisco.
Once the Jets didn’t sign McKinnon, they moved on to Isaiah Crowell. However, Mehta reports the Jets agreeing to terms with McKinnon would not have precluded them from adding Crowell as well. Although, the team already has Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.
Mehta reports the Jets felt their offer was strong enough to close a deal with the 25-year-old McKinnon, but the team also felt Kyle Shanahan was determined to win a bidding war. The end result shows that to be the case. The four-year, $30MM contract makes McKinnon one of the league’s highest-paid running backs.
The 49ers also beat the Jets on Richburg, but it doesn’t sound like the competition was as fierce between the two franchises as it was for McKinnon. New York eyed Richburg but knew the ex-Giants center was going to sign for more than what the team was willing to pay him. Despite having less cap space than the Jets, the 49ers signed Richburg for five years and $47.5MM.
Jones ended up re-upping with the Titans instead of replacing Muhammad Wilkerson on the Jets’ front, signing for three years and $21MM. Mingo will be one of the players the Seahawks turn to in an effort to replace Michael Bennett. The Jets’ interest in Mingo may not have been too strong, with it only taking a two-year, $6.8MM deal for the Seahawks to sign him.
Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless otherwise noted:
A.J. McCarron, QB (Bills): Two years, $10MM. $3MM in 2018, $7MM in 2019. $1.1MM of ’19 salary guaranteed for injury. 2019 salary fully guaranteed on Day 5 of 2019 league year. Bills would incur $2MM dead-money charge by cutting McCarron after one season (via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com).
DaQuan Jones, DE (Titans): Three years, $21MM, $14MM fully guaranteed at signing. $6MM base salary for 2019 fully guaranteed (per Caplan).
Virgil Green, TE (Chargers): Three years, $8.6MM, $5.9MM fully guaranteed, which covers the first two years of this deal (per Adam Caplan of ESPN.com, on Twitter).
Cody Davis, S (Jaguars): Two years, $5MM, $2.5MM fully guaranteed. Deal contains option bonus due 22 days before the start of the 2019 league year (via Caplan).
The 26-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. He totaled 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 12 games before suffering a season-ending biceps tear. Prior to that injury, he started 44 consecutive games over three seasons.
With Jones on the defensive front, the Titans allowed just 88.8 yards per game on the ground, the fourth-best mark in the league, and surrendered the fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL with five.
The Jets are “very likely” to sign offensive lineman Spencer Long on Wednesday, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). They are also pushing to land defensive end DaQuan Jones as well, JLC adds.
Last week, we rated Long as the 16th best interior lineman available. The advanced metrics aren’t crazy about Long – he graded out as just the 19th best center in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus – but he was well liked in Washington and also offers experience at guard. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard a whole lot about the Jets and Ryan Jensen, who is viewed by many as the best center available in free agency this year.
Jones, 26, enjoyed the best season of his young career in 2017. He totaled 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 12 games before suffering a season-ending biceps tear. Prior to that injury, he started 44 consecutive games over three seasons. The Titans would like to re-sign him, but it sounds like the Jets are closing in.
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:
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 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
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.
January 17th, 2017 at 6:00pm CST by Dallas Robinson
According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.
If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $1.8MM in 2017. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.
Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2017 courtesy of the proven performance escalator: