Darren Fells

Release Candidate: Texans TE Darren Fells

The Texans signed Darren Fells to a one-year deal in March, adding a proven blocking tight end to their offensive unit. However, the 33-year-old could be looking for work before the summer is through. 

Roughly six weeks after signing Fells, the Texans used a third round pick on San Diego State’s Kahale Warring, a 6’5″ tight end who has shown serious promise as a blocker. Meanwhile, the Texans also have the Jordans – 2018 rookies Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas – on their TE depth chart. Fells faces an uphill battle, even after the Texans released Ryan Griffin in May.

Fells’ blue collar blocking skills have made him a known commodity in a league obsessed with offensively explosive tight ends, but they might not be enough to get him over the hump in Houston. It’s also worth noting that Fells, despite his rep, wasn’t all that sharp of a blocker last season. Pro Football Focus assigned Fells a 72.9 pass-blocking grade in 2018, which put him near the middle of the pack among his position group, and a 55.9 grade in the run game, a mark which ranked near the bottom of the league.

Fells’ blocking foibles weren’t just recognized by the advanced metrics. The Browns, who inked him to a three-year, $12MM deal in the 2018 offseason, released him this year and took on a dead money hit of $1.4MM.

Fells seems likely to hook on somewhere for the 2019 season, but it might not happen with the Texans, who guaranteed him just $100K on his one-year, $1.5MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans To Sign TE Darren Fells

Darren Fells has a new home. On Monday, the Texans agreed to sign the tight end to a one-year deal, as Mark Berman of FOX 26 tweets

Fells, 33 next month, signed a three-year, $12MM deal with Cleveland just last offseason. But, earlier this month, the Browns cut him after being unable to find a suitable trade.

Fells was scheduled to carry a cap charge of $3.7MM. Instead, the Browns sent him packing and took on a dead money hit of $1.4MM.

In his lone season in Cleveland, Fells appeared in all 16 games, but played on just 38.5% of the Browns’ offensive snaps and managed only 11 receptions. While he wasn’t given many opportunities behind starting tight end David Njoku, Fells was effective when targeted. Among tight ends with fewer than 25 catches, Fells finished third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, meaning he was productive on a per-play basis.

While Fells has historically been praised as a blocking tight end, 2018 wasn’t a banner year for him in that regard, at least according to Pro Football Focus. PFF assigned Fells a 72.9 pass-blocking grade, which put him near the middle of the pack among his position group, but a 55.9 grade in the run game, a mark which ranked near the bottom of the league.

Fells will bring his blocking knowledge to the Texans’ TE group, which currently includes Ryan Griffin, Jordan Thomas, and Jordan Akins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Release TE Darren Fells

The Browns have released tight end Darren Fells after failing to trade him, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link). The Jets were mentioned as a possible suitor for Fells after reports emerged Saturday that he was on the trade block, but no deal came to fruition.

Fells, 33 next month, signed a three-year, $12MM deal with Cleveland just last offseason. He’d been scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.65MM in 2019, and would have carried a cap charge of $3.7MM. Instead, the Browns will now take on a dead money hit of $1.4MM by cutting Fells.

In his lone season in Cleveland, Fells appeared in all 16 games, but played on just 38.5% of the Browns’ offensive snaps and managed only 11 receptions. While he wasn’t given many opportunities behind starting tight end David Njoku, Fells was effective when targeted. Among tight ends with fewer than 25 catches, Fells finished third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, meaning he was productive on a per-play basis.

While Fells has historically been praised as a blocking tight end, 2018 wasn’t a banner year for him in that regard, at least according to Pro Football Focus. PFF assigned Fells a 72.9 pass-blocking grade, which put him near the middle of the pack among his position group, but a 55.9 grade in the run game, a mark which ranked near the bottom of the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Shopping Darren Fells, Jets Interested

The Browns have showed a strong willingness to make trades under new GM John Dorsey, most recently sending guard Kevin Zeitler to the Giants in exchange for defensive end Olivier Vernon. He isn’t done yet, as the team is shopping tight end Darren Fells in trade talks, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com (Twitter link).

Fells signed a three-year, $12MM deal with the Browns in March of last year, but they’re apparently looking to move on just one year into that pact. Fells has never offered much in the passing game, and is much more of a blocking tight end than anything else. He was an occasional redzone threat for the Browns last year, catching three touchdowns. He had just 11 receptions for 117 yards overall, although he did start 11 games.

With David Njoku the future at the position for Cleveland, the Browns don’t have too much of a need for an expensive blocking tight end. They can find a decent blocker on the open market for a cheaper price. Fells has only been in the league for five seasons, but he turns 33 in April. He never played college football, and made the leap to the NFL after playing professional basketball overseas for several seasons.

As for teams that might be interested, the Jets “have had internal discussions about trading for” Fells, sources told Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News (Twitter link). Mehta adds that New York “is in the market” for a blocking tight end. Fells did receive slightly above average marks from Pro Football Focus last year. If they can’t find a trade partner, it’s definitely possible the Browns could just release Fells outright.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Sign TE Darren Fells

The Browns will sign tight end Darren Fells to a three-year, $12MM contact , tweets Mike Garafolo of NFL.com. The deal contains more than $6MM in guarantees.

Cleveland had been on the lookout for a veteran tight end since releasing Gary Barnidge prior to the 2017 campaign. Fells, who turns 32 years old next month, will now team with former first-round pick David Njoku and Seth DeValve to give Cleveland a solid trio of tight ends.

Fells has never been a major part of his club’s passing attack, whether during his tenure in Arizona or his one-season run in Detroit. Last year, Fells collected 17 of 26 targets for 177 yards, but did manage to get into the end zone three times. As a blocker, Fells is roughly league-average in the run game but a top-10 option in the passing game, per Pro Football Focus.

Although they boast the most cap space in the league, the Browns have refrained from adding top-of-the-market players, preferring to sign mid-tier options (at least thus far). In addition to Fells, Cleveland has brought in Carlos Hyde, Donald Stephenson, Chris Hubbard, and Chris Smith.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

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. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they 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 are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Extra Points: Vander Esch, Cousins, Brees

During his teleconference on Monday, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock opined that Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch could shoot up the charts if he clocks in at under 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard-dash at the combine. Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (video link) hears that Vander Esch has been beating that number in practice, which means that we could see him climb the boards in the coming weeks.

Last year, Garafolo was hearing similar rumblings about Temple’s Haason Reddick and he catapulted from the second round to No. 13 overall where he was snagged by the Cardinals. Recently, a scouting director told Matt Miller of Bleacher Report that LVE will go in the first round, though he is unlikely to crack the top 15.

Vander Esch, a high-end athlete for his position, broke out in 2017 with an eye-popping 141 tackles, the most by any Boise State player in an individual season since 1988. He also had 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, and two interceptions.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Mike Florio of PFT wonders if this year’s free agent quarterbacks could fall victim to collusion. Already, we’ve heard talk that the Jets will not simply hand Kirk Cousins a blank check, despite their desperate need for a franchise QB. Florio anticipates similar talk to emerge about Drew Brees, who would likely garner $30MM/year from a contender in a fair market. Meanwhile, there’s talk that lesser options like Case Keenum and A.J. McCarron may get less than the value of Blake Bortles‘ now exercised $18MM option with the Jaguars. If QBs of that caliber are stifled, then injury-prone players like Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater will certainly feel it too. Ultimately, teams will be able to find leverage in this year’s draft, which has multiple QB candidates for the first round.
  • This year, free agent blocking tight ends like Darren Fells (Lions), Lee Smith (Raiders), and Virgil Green (Broncos) figure to earn more than expected, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The reason, Rapoport says, is because of poor draft talent in that area and a lack of other options. Last offseason, tight end Rhett Ellison landed a four-year, $18MM free agent deal from the Giants despite averaging just ten catches per season over the course of his five-year career, so there is precedent for TEs to cash in even without gaudy stat lines.
  • If you’re not doing so already, you can follow Pro Football Rumors on Twitter: @ProFootballRumors. It’s a must-follow for all NFL fans, particularly with free agency right on the horizon.

NFC Notes: Seahawks, Richardson, Redskins, Bucs, Lions

With teams officially able to place the franchise tag on players beginning tomorrow, there is growing speculation that the Seahawks will use the option on defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, writes Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

Condotta cited a number of league insiders who believe the team is likely to use the tag due to the Seahawks paying a steep price to acquire him leading up to the 2017 season. Shortly before the 2017 campaign kicked off, Seattle sent wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick to the Jets in exchange for the fifth-year lineman.

With the Seahawks likely to have about $14 MM in cap space this offseason, they would likely need to rework some deals or extensions in order to afford the $14.5 MM tag the defensive tackle would command. In the piece, Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly said Richardson could be a transition-tag candidate, which would cost the Seahawks roughly $11.7 MM.

If the team doesn’t use the tag, it is likely to lose out on the impact defensive tackle. In January, it was reported the Richardson has a soft spot for the Jets and could land back with his former team.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • The Redskins are interested in re-signing receiver Ryan Grant, according to ESPN’s John Keim. In 2017, Grant posted career highs with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns. Keim notes the team is expected to look for a speed wideout to pair with Josh Doctson on the outside. If the team brought back Grant, that would essentially relegate him to fourth-wideout duties.
  • The Lions plan to bring back tight end Eric Ebron, and unrestricted free agent Darren Fells and the team are not close to a contract extension, the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett writes. Should Fells leave, which seems likely, Birkett says Michael Roberts is planning on playing a starter’s role in 2018. Ebron’s $8.25 MM deal becomes guaranteed on the first day of the new league year.
  • The Buccaneers are hiring Brentson Buckner as their new defensive lineman coach, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports (Twitter link). Buckner spent the last five seasons working with the Cardinals in the same position.

Lions Sign TE Darren Fells

Darren Fells was apparently impressed by his visit to Detroit yesterday. NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo reports (via Twitter) that the Lions have signed the tight end to a one-year deal worth $1.5MM.

Darren FellsThe 30-year-old was non-tendered by Arizona earlier this week, and it was apparent that his tenure with the team was over following their signing of tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Other than a brief stint with the Seahawks, Fells had spent his entire career with the Cardinals. The former undrafted free agent ultimately played in 38 games (24 starts) for Arizona, hauling in 40 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns. This past season, the tight end caught 14 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown.

The 30-year-old will certainly provide the Lions with some depth, as the team was only rostering tight ends Eric Ebron and Cole Wick. Fells will presumably be relied on as a blocker.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

TE Darren Fells To Visit Lions

Former Cardinals tight end Darren Fells will be visiting the Lions tomorrow, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Arizona decided to non-tender the restricted free agent earlier today. It was expected that Fells’ tenure in Arizona might be over following the team’s signing of Jermaine Gresham.Darren Fells

Following a breakout 2015 campaign, Fells took a step back this past season. The tight end ultimately played in 14 games (seven starts), hauling in 14 receptions for 154 yards and one touchdown. In three NFL seasons, the 30-year-old has collected 40 receptions for 536 yards and four touchdowns.

The Lions could use some depth at the position, as they’re currently rostering only a pair of tight ends in Eric Ebron and Cole Wick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.