Darren Fells

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.

RFA/ERFA Tender Decisions: 3/9/17

Unrestricted free agent news will obviously dominate the day, but several clubs also had to make decisions on whether to offer tenders to restricted and exclusive rights free agents. All RFA tenders listed are original round/right of first refusal (worth $1.797MM), and all links go to Twitter:

RFAs:

Tendered:

Non-Tendered: 

ERFAs:

Tendered:

Non-Tendered: 

TE Darren Fells Likely To Leave Cardinals?

Now that the Cardinals have re-signed Jermaine Gresham to a four-year deal, fellow tight end Darren Fells isn’t expected to return to Arizona, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Darren Fells

[RELATED: Cards, Chandler Jones Talking Extension]

Fells is a restricted free agent this offseason, and given that he only produced 154 receiving yards in 2016, it’s difficult to imagine the Cardinals would need to use anything other than the original round tender in order to retain him. That tender would cost $1.797MM, however, which may prove too steep for the cap-strapped Cardinals (especially considering Fells’ limited role in the offense).

Theoretically, Arizona could non-tender Fells and subsequently sign him to a cheaper deal, but it’s also possible the lack of interest in a reunion is coming from Fells’ side of the table. Entering his age-31 season, Fells may want to head to a club where he’d occupy a larger offensive presence. Working in Fells’ favor as he potentially seeks a new team is his blocking acumen, as Pro Football Focus gives Fells excellent marks in both the run and pass game.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cards Re-Sign Darren Fells, Add Shaun Prater

The Cardinals announced a pair of roster moves today, confirming in a press release that they’ve re-signed tight end Darren Fells and added safety Shaun Prater to their roster. Fells had been an exclusive rights free agent, while Prater had been available on the open market.Darren Fells

Fells, 29, took on a more substantial role in the Cardinals’ offense in 2015, establishing new career highs in receptions (21), receiving yards (311), and touchdowns (three). In the wake of John Carlson‘s retirement, the Cardinals signed Jermaine Gresham as a free agent, and expected continued development from 2014 second-rounder Troy Niklas, but it was Fells who led all Arizona tight ends in catches.

Because Fells only has two accrued NFL seasons under his belt, he was an exclusive rights free agent, meaning that if the Cardinals tendered him a contract offer, he’d have to sign it if he wanted to play in the NFL in 2016. Assuming Fells accrues a third season in ’16, he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency next winter.

As for Prater, the veteran safety spent time with multiple teams in 2015, and was eventually cut by the Broncos near the end of the regular season. The 26-year-old has appeared in 21 NFL games, but only saw any real action on defense during the 2013 campaign for the Vikings. Prater’s new deal with the Cardinals is likely a reserve/futures contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Kilgore, Carroll, Thompson, Fells

49ers center Daniel Kilgore suffered a broken left leg in a loss against the Broncos one year ago, but his 2015 debut doesn’t appear to be imminent, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. When asked if he could sit out the 2015 season, Kilgore didn’t rule out that scenario.

“I wouldn’t suspect that, but there’s always that possibility,” Kilgore said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have said I would be in this situation. So you always have that possibility.”

Let’s round up a few more odds and ends from around the NFC….

  • Joining a chorus of NFL head coaches who have had to shoot down college rumors in recent weeks, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that a return to USC is “not happening,” as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes.
  • Good news for the Panthers: Shaq Thompson appeared to suffer a serious injury on Sunday, but a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) that it turned out to only be a sprained MCL for the rookie linebacker.
  • Cardinals tight end Darren Fells may miss two or three weeks with a sprained shoulder, a source tells ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss (on Twitter). Fells had an MRI on Monday morning to better assess the damage.
  • As we detailed yesterday, the Buccaneers have two players now eligible to begin practicing, and the club announced today that both Demar Dotson (IR-DTR) and Akeem Spence (PUP) will rejoin their teammates on the practice field beginning Tuesday. Tampa Bay will have a three-week window to activate the duo.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com feels that Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery is worthy of a long-term investment. Jeffery’s performance in Detroit – eight receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown – reinforced his importance to the team in the view of Dickerson, who says Chicago should not let the wideout reach the open market next spring. Dickerson doesn’t view Jeffery as an elite receiver, but he does feel that he is in the next tier, along with guys such as T.Y. Hilton, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. I’d agree with that assessment, though Jeffery has to stay healthy in order to justify that type of money.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.