DeAndre Levy

NFC Notes: Lions, Shepard, Redskins, Wilson

Recently appearing before a congressional subcommittee regarding brain injuries in football, former Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said his former organization didn’t want him speaking about CTE.

“The moment I said anything about it, I had two calls telling me I shouldn’t talk about it,” Levy said (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). “I don’t know if it was because it was CTE, or if it was because it’s just the general NFL rule of, like, only football. Only talk about football, only think about football. I posted simply the research … and I was told not to talk about it the first day it was out. And I’m just, like, you know, it could have just been locker room culture. Nobody wants to talk about anything other than football. But it didn’t sit well with me when I’m talking about brain injuries.

“It’s my brain. It’s not my shoulder, it’s my brain. It controls everything I do, it controls everything we think, everything we feel. And if I don’t have the right to speak about that as a player, I think it really speaks about the culture of the NFL, of what those conversations are. I think that’s indicative of the conversations that we don’t hear. The closed-door conversations between owners. They still are trying to find ways to silence us.”

The Lions responded to their former player’s statement, saying “[w]e are aware of his comments and we strongly disagree with this claim that anyone from our organization tried to silence him.”

Levy, 30, spent his entire eight-year career in Detroit. After being named as a second-team All-Pro in 2014, the linebacker signed a lucrative extension with the organization. However, a hip, knee, and meniscus injury ultimately forced him to hang up his cleats, and he’s since spent his team advocating for CTE awareness.

“I don’t think the owners are in touch with it,” Levy said. “It’s a business. We’re a number. Our brains and bodies are disposable.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • Matthew Stafford is listed as questionable for tomorrow’s matchup against the Saints with an ankle injury, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that the Lions quarterback is expected to play. The 29-year-old is one pace for one of his most efficient NFL season, as he’s completed 64.2-percent of his pass attempts for 1116 yards, nine touchdowns, and only one interception.
  • The Giants placed three wideouts (Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Dwayne Harris) on the injured reserve this past week, and it looks like they’ll be without another top receiver for at least this weekend. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan tweets that wideout Sterling Shepard is out for tomorrow’s contest in Denver. The former second-rounder has hauled in 22 receptions for 263 yards and one touchdown this season.
  • Back in 2012, the Redskins had selected quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round despite using the second-overall pick on fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III. However, as former offensive coordinator (and current 49ers head coach) Kyle Shanahan explains, the team was actually eyeing another notable signal-caller with that fourth-round selection. “Actually, our goal was we were going to take Russell Wilson in the fourth round knowing what type of offense we were going to run, and we wanted to pair some guys with that, but he went before that,” Shanahan said (via Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee). “And we had Kirk ranked high. He was there in the fourth. He fell that far, so we thought it made a lot of sense for the organization.”

NFC Notes: Levy, Freeman, Elliott

Free agent linebacker DeAndre Levy has filed an injury grievance against his former team, the Lions, but head coach Jim Caldwell told reporters on Wednesday that the club handled his March release properly. “We followed everything by the rules,” Caldwell said, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “We did exactly what we were supposed to do. That’s probably all I have to say on that. I don’t know the details of all these discussions and those kinds of things.” It was a no-brainer for the Lions to release Levy, whose career is in jeopardy after back-to-back injury-marred years, but his contention is that they acted in bad faith upon passing him on a physical when he wasn’t healthy. In doing so, the Lions avoided having to pay Levy the $1.75MM injury guarantee in his contract. By ridding themselves of Levy, the Lions jettisoned a player whose social justice work rubbed some in the organization the wrong way, per Birkett. It’s unclear what certain members of the franchise objected to specifically, but Levy did question the NFL on CTE and speak out in support of Colin Kaepernick‘s activism last year.

More from the NFC:

  • With the five-year, $41.25MM extension that the Falcons announced Tuesday, Devonta Freeman became the NFL’s highest-paid running back on a long-term deal. While it’s a nice contract for Freeman, it’s the latest sign that paydays aren’t what they used to be for backs, observes Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap. Contracts at the position have stagnated over the past several years, argues Fitzgerald, who notes that 12 pacts that RBs signed between 2003-07 were worth more than Freeman’s on a yearly basis when adjusting for inflation.
  • Speaking of running backs, the NFL won’t announce whether it’s going to suspend the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott until at least Thursday, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN. The league has been investigating Elliott for over a year on account of domestic violence allegations and other behavioral issues, and the slow process has frustrated both the reigning first-team All-Pro and the Cowboys.
  • The Giants worked out offensive lineman Connor Bozick on Wednesday, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. However, the signing of Corin Brooks means the Giants are likely to pass on Bozick, an undrafted rookie from Delaware. Bozick spent a little over a week with Detroit during the spring. He hasn’t caught on with another team since then.

DeAndre Levy Files Grievance Against Lions

Free agent linebacker DeAndre Levy has filed an injury grievance against the Lions, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press first reported last weekend that Levy would take this route.

Levy’s decision stems from the fact that the Lions passed him on their physical when they released him in March, even though he was dealing with a knee injury. By giving Levy a clean bill of health, the Lions avoided having to pay the 30-year-old the $1.75MM injury guarantee in his contract.

DeAndre Levy (vertical)“I figured there was something wrong because they passed me on a physical when I couldn’t even sit down to a chair or get into a linebacker stance at the time,” Levy told Rothstein. “In my mind, I didn’t think about the legal contract part of it. I thought, this is f—– up, like I can’t get into position, how can I pass a physical. I didn’t know it was a physical the first time.”

Levy suffered the injury in Week 1 last year and only made five appearances in 2016 as a result. He underwent meniscus surgery once during the season and again this past April, and now he’s “struggling to get up and down stairs.” In Levy’s view, the Lions treated him unfairly, so he regrets playing through the injury last season and putting himself in an even worse situation physically.

“This set me back another year and has been extremely difficult to deal with,” Levy said. “Physically difficult and then being chewed up and spat on after eight years of sacrificing so much for them.”

Before his mostly lost 2016, Levy missed 15 of 16 games in 2015 with a hip injury. He only played in six of 32 regular-season games during the previous two seasons, then, and will also miss a substantial portion of the 2017 campaign. Levy informed Rothstein that five or six interested teams have contacted him since he became a free agent, but he has held off on signing because he won’t be cleared until November or December. Further, after what happened in Detroit, Levy doesn’t want to put his fate in the hands of an NFL team’s medical staff again.

“I think right now, I’d be foolish, at this point in my career,” Levy said. “To put my health in the well-being of NFL doctors.”

While it’s unclear if Levy actually will play again, any team that signs him would be getting an accomplished defender. Before injuries derailed his career, Levy starred at times from 2009-14, particularly when he intercepted six passes in 2013 and then tallied 155 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pick in ’14 en route to second-team All-Pro honors. The Lions handed Levy a four-year, $33.7MM extension in the ensuing offseason, but he only saw half of that deal through.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Levy Planning Grievance Against Lions?

DeAndre Levy went from cornerstone Lions linebacker to unrestricted free agent in less than two years, with injuries largely paving his way out of Detroit.

But the linebacker appears to be at odds against his former team after undergoing a recent surgery, with an Instagram post that read, “‘Your knee is fine,’ they said,” (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, on Twitter). This calls into question the Lions’ assessment of his injured knee and could lead to a grievance.

Levy underwent surgery a few days ago, Birkett reports. The outside linebacker underwent a previous procedure to clean up meniscus tears in his knee last season, causing him to miss 11 games in 2016. Levy characterized the latest operation as “a retouch up on the meniscus and some other damage,” per Birkett, who adds Levy is unhappy with how the Lions handled his injuries over the past two seasons.

There was more going on than I was being told,” Levy said, via Birkett. “I can’t say what this means for free agency. My main focus is to actually heal and get healthy under trusted physicians.”

The Lions released Levy on March 9 and designated him as a post-June 1 cut. However, Levy had a $1.75MM injury guarantee in his contract. The Lions avoided paying that in the release by passing him on his physical, Birkett reports, assuming this will lead to a grievance against the team centering around that injury guarantee.

GM Bob Quinn said the team did not approach Levy about taking a paycut from the $5.75MM salary he was supposed to earn in 2017 because the Lions wanted to turn to younger linebackers. Levy turned 30 in March.

Detroit signed the outside linebacker to a four-year, $33.74MM extension in the summer of 2015 to make him the highest-paid 4-3 outside ‘backer at the time of the deal. However, he played just six games since after running into extensive injury trouble. Hip and knee problems sidetracked Levy, who had played 16 games in three of the previous four seasons. A grievance would mark the second straight complex offseason regarding the release of a linebacker for the Lions, who went through a lengthy ways-parting saga with Stephen Tulloch last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Notes: Levy, Boldin, Quinn, Becton

The Lions released linebacker DeAndre Levy rather than asking him to accept a paycut because the club wants to get younger on defense, general manager Bob Quinn told reporters, including Justin Rogers of the Detroit News (Twitter link). Detroit’s current linebackers — Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Thurston Armbrister, and Antwione Williams — are all 27 years old or younger, while Levy is now 30 and had only played in six games over the past two seasons.

Here’s more from the Motor City:

  • Detroit is still “open for business” during the free agent period, says Quinn (Twitter link via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). The Lions have been involved in the open market, especially along the offensive line, where the team added T.J. Lang and Ricky Wanger to fortify the right side. Additionally, the Lions made several low-cost signings such as cornerback D.J. Hayden, tight end Darren Fells, and defensive lineman Cornelius Washington and Akeem Spence.
  • One free agent the Lions may sign is veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, as Quinn indicates the club still has interest in retaining the 36-year-old, tweets Rogers. Boldin has already indicated he’ll return for a 15th NFL season, but he may not sign with a club until later this summer. On 95 targets, Boldin managed 67 receptions for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. The Ravens, meanwhile, are also interested in a reunion with Boldin.
  • The Lions recently met with free agent offensive tackle Nick Becton, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. Becton, 27, was an undrafted free agent in 2013, and has since spent time with the Chargers, Giants, Saints, and Bears. He hasn’t appeared in a game since 2015, when he played in five contests for Chicago.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.

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. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

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Extra Points: Browns, Osweiler, Jets, Eagles

The Browns are reportedly trying to trade Brock Osweiler after acquiring him (and more specifically, his contract) from the Texans yesterday, and while Cleveland might be willing to pay Osweiler’s deal down to $8MM or so, some executives don’t think the Browns will find a taker. “Get the [expletive] out of here,” said one personnel man, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Another evaluator: “No one will do their new trade … but I don’t blame them for trying.”

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Free agent safety Tony Jefferson reportedly turned down a better proposal from the Browns before signing with the Ravens, and Jefferson himself says Cleveland $1.5MM more than Baltimore, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link), Jefferson claims the Jets offered him the same overage, although Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News disputes that assertion (Twitter link).
  • Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks saw $4.35MM of his $4.85MM 2017 base salary fully guarantee today, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. Kendricks has long been the subject of trade rumors, and the base salary guarantee could impact any such discussions. Unlike signing bonus money, which accelerates onto the original team’s cap in the event of a trade, guaranteed base salaries stay with the player and carry over to the acquring club.
  • Both linebacker DeAndre Levy (Lions) and safety Aaron Williams (Bills) were designated as post-June 1 releases, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com and Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Those decisions will save Detroit and Buffalo some cap space the short term, but both teams will see dead money incur on their 2018 books.

Lions To Release LB DeAndre Levy

After eight seasons with the team, the Lions are releasing linebacker DeAndre Levy, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The veteran will be designated a June 1st cut, allowing the team to save some extra cap room for next season (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press on Twitter). The linebacker was set to make $5.75MM this upcoming season, and his cap hit accounted for $8.39MM. The organization saves around $1MM by making this move.

DeAndre Levy (vertical)Levy joined the Lions as a third-round pick in 2009, and he quickly established himself as a reliable presence on the defensive side of the ball. The linebacker missed only seven regular season games through his first six years in the league, including a career-year in 2014 when he collected 151 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, and one safety. Levy earned second-team All-Pro honors following the season, and he subsequently signed a four-year, $33.74MM extension with the Lions.

Detroit’s investment hasn’t paid off over the past two seasons. Levy has only appeared in six games (four starts) since inking the new deal, compiling 21 tackles. A report from earlier this month indicated that the team hadn’t approached the 29-year-old about a pay cut, but there were indications that Levy would still return to the Lions for the 2017 season.

The team will presumably be eyeing some reinforcement at linebacker following this move. The team is currently rostering four players at the position, including Thurston ArmbristerTahir WhiteheadAntwione Williams, and Paul Worrilow.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Munnerlyn, Lions, Hyde

Captain Munnerlyn will be 29 before the 2017 season begins, but the veteran slot cornerback does not have a medium-length contract on his mind. The Vikings free agent is seeking a long-term pact and a raise.

I’m looking for a four- or five-year deal; just somewhere I can finish my career at, and go from there,” Munnerlyn said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I don’t want a one- or two-year deal. I definitely don’t want to do that. I want to get something longer, so I can settle in and see if I want to make [Minnesota] my home.

Munnerlyn finished a three-year, $12.2MM Vikings deal and received more slot reps than almost any corner in football during that span. Using the cap’s increase to $167MM behind the reasoning, Munnerlyn is targeting a raise from the $4.2MM base salary he earned in 2016. Two of his agents were scheduled to meet with Vikings executive vice president Rob Brzezinski on Friday. Munnerlyn joins the likes of A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne and others on the cornerback market.

Here’s more from the NFC North on Combine Saturday.

  • The Lions are open to discussing an extension with Eric Ebron, but Bob Quinn said (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com) that conversation won’t occur for months. Detroit has Ebron’s fifth-year option decision due in early May. Ebron is due $3.9MM in 2017, and Meinke notes Quinn’s recent comments on the tight end suggest he is genuinely interested in keeping him in the Motor City long-term. Ebron could see a bigger role in ’17 if the Lions don’t bring back Anquan Boldin. The 23-year-old tight end set career highs in receptions (61) and yards (711) last season despite playing in just 13 games.
  • Recipient of an extension that hasn’t benefited the Lions, DeAndre Levy has yet to be approached about a pay cut or restructure, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com notes. This course of action may be coming this offseason after Levy’s last two years of work — just 21 tackles and six games played since signing that four-year, $33.74MM extension — but it hasn’t yet. And Quinn expects Levy to return in 2017, although that decision isn’t final yet. As a result of Levy’s injury issues, linebacker is a glaring need for the Lions going into free agency.
  • Packers contract negotiator Russ Ball met with Micah Hyde‘s agent on Friday at the Combine, ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reports. ESPN confirmed Ball met with the agents of Packers UFAs Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook, T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter. However, Lang has already said he won’t sign before free agency commences. Green Bay isn’t likely to retain Tretter, either. Hyde said he would love to stay in Green Bay, identifying it as the best place for him, but hasn’t heard much from the team this offseason about a reunion.

North Notes: LaFell, Levy, Garoppolo

Brandon LaFell turned in a strong 2016 for the Bengals after signing a modest one-year, $2.5MM deal with the club last offseason. As a result, Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer says that LaFell is one of Cincinnati’s top free agent priorities, as the Bengals believe his strong route-running skills and his red zone presence would be even more effective if they can get fully healthy seasons from A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. LaFell indicated that he would like to return, though he should attract plenty of attention on the open market if he does not re-up with Cincinnati before free agency opens.

Now for more from the league’s North divisions:

  • The Lions may approach linebacker DeAndre Levy about a restructure that allows him to make the same amount of money that he would earn under his current deal if he stays healthy, but Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press says that, from Levy’s perspective, it may be best to rebuff any such efforts. After all, if Levy were to be released, plenty of teams would be happy to pay him and gamble on his health (Twitter links).
  • The Lions need to address their pass defense in a big way, having yielded the highest completion percentage in modern NFL history (72.7%) in 2016. Nate Atkins of MLive.com says that Detroit is more likely to focus on pass rushers and cornerbacks, but he adds that the team should not ignore the safety position either, especially since Glover Quin is in his 30s and Tavon Wilson is entering the final year of his contract. To that end, Atkins names a few safeties the team could select in this year’s draft.
  • Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer believes that if the bidding for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gets high enough, the Browns should be willing to send their No. 1 overall pick to New England to acquire him. After all, if they’re willing to spend that pick on UNC signal-caller Mitch Trubisky, whose collegiate experience is limited, they should be willing to use that selection on a QB who has a little professional experience and who has a lot of upside in his own right.
  • Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the biggest objective for the Steelers this offseason is to find an outside linebacker that can generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Bud Dupree showed some promise down the stretch in 2016, but Jarvis Jones is unlikely to return, and if the club re-signs the ageless James Harrison, Dulac believes it would not make much sense to acquire another veteran free agent OLB. As such, he writes that Pittsburgh could once again address the position in the first round of the draft.
  • We learned earlier today that former Ravens first-rounder Matt Elam was arrested on serious drug charges in Miami.