Devon Kennard

Lions Agree To Deal With LB Devon Kennard

The Lions have agreed to a deal with free-agent outside linebacker Devon Kennard, according to Peter Schrager of Fox Sports (on Twitter). Schrager opines that Kennard’s versatility will make him a good fit in the scheme of new Lions head coach Matt Patricia.

Kennard’s deal will be worth three years, $18.75MM, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (on Twitter). There was undoubtedly a need at outside linebacker for the Lions, with Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow set to hit unrestricted free agency. They already know their front seven will take a hit next season, as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata agreed to a deal with the Eagles on Tuesday.

In four seasons with the Giants, who took Kennard in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, he’s started 35 games, including a career-high 11 starts last season. The 26-year-old managed to rack up four sacks last season despite playing as a non-rush backer. It was the second time in his career that he’s collected at least four sacks.

Kennard had said last month that he believed he would fit well within new Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher‘s 3-4 scheme. It was also reported before the season that the Giants were interested in signing Kennard to a long-term deal. But they’re now under a new regime with general manager Dave Gettleman.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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

New York Notes: Claiborne, Mayfield, Giants

Morris Claiborne said shortly after the Jets‘ season concluded he would like to be back in New York. The sides will have to negotiate another contract, since Claiborne finished up a one-year deal, but Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets the Jets have begun negotiations with the UFA corner. Claiborne signed a $5MM deal with the Jets last season, and Gang Green will enter this offseason with far more cap room that it had a year ago. While a sizable chunk of that space could be used to chase Kirk Cousins, the Jets will have opportunities to build their roster they haven’t had in recent years. Pro Football Focus graded Claiborne poorly in 2017, but he played in the most games (15) he has since his 2012 rookie season and will only be 28 next season. He should generate some interest on the market. The Jets could save $6MM by cutting Buster Skrine, whom PFF did not rate much higher than Claiborne, and they will be in the market for corners this offseason regardless of how they proceed with Claiborne.

Here’s the latest out of the Big Apple:

  • Baker Mayfield met with the Jets at the Senior Bowl and had a summit scheduled with the Giants, but that meeting never occurred, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post reports. Although Mayfield has not been mocked to the Giants much early in the pre-draft process, he would be on board with a develop-behind-Eli Manning scenario. “Throwing the ball to (Evan) Engram, Shep and Odell Beckham wouldn’t be too bad, there’s some studs right there,’’ said Mayfield, a college teammate of Sterling Shepard‘s. “Being there, it’s a big-time franchise and in the spotlight. I think I thrive on that. That would be an ideal situation.” The Giants are expected to take a quarterback at No. 2 overall but have made it clear this offseason they intend to keep Manning.
  • The Jets are almost certainly going to pursue Cousins, but they also hold the draft’s No. 6 selection. If the Broncos land Cousins and pick a non-quarterback at 5, New York could be set to snag a passer. That could play into Josh McCown‘s hands, as a player who wants to be back with the team, since the Jets may opt to keep him as a bridge option. “Yeah, it’s hard to say, ‘Hey I want to go somewhere else,’ after you had the best year of your career,” McCown said, via Calvin Watkins of Newsday. “I like being there, and I love the organization and the guys and the locker room. I think it was a good foundation laid, something special, something that can be built.” The Jets could hold more than $90MM in cap room after pre-free agency cuts, making McCown — who played for $6.5MM in 2017 — more affordable.
  • On the subject of players who want to stay in New York, count Devon Kennard as a fan of new Giants DC James Bettcher. Mostly a base-set linebacker in 2017, Kennard is a UFA. He started 35 games in four seasons with the Giants and calls Bettcher’s possible 3-4 conversion “advantageous” to his skill set. “It’s multiple and he likes versatile linebackers. That sounds right up my alley,” Kennard said, via Newsday’s Tom Rock. “… I expect to hear from (the Giants) in the next few weeks now that the coaching staff is established. Maybe then, but you never know. I don’t know what they’re thinking because it’s a new GM and head coach.” Kennard recorded four sacks last season despite playing as a non-rush ‘backer — the second four-plus-sack slate of his career.
  • Talk of a Sheldon Richardson/Jets reunion surfaced recently, but with Cimini envisions it taking eight figures per year to sign him. He doesn’t see the Jets going for that (Twitter link).

Giants Haven’t Discussed Extension For OBJ

The Giants haven’t had any recent talks regarding extensions for key players such as wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., guard Justin Pugh, center Weston Richburg, or linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com.Odell Beckham Jr.

New York reportedly isn’t prioritizing a new deal for Beckham, and that’s likely because the star wideout is under team control for at least more seasons. Thanks to the fifth-year option, the Giants have Beckham signed through 2018 at a cost south of $11MM. In 2019, Big Blue could opt to utilize the franchise tag to retain Beckham for one more year, although that tender would come with a price tag exceeding $18MM. Beckham recently indicated his desire to become the NFL’s highest-paid player, but that’s not a realistic goal in today’s quarterback-driven league.

Pugh and Richburg, however, are entering the final years of their respective rookie contracts, which makes their situations all the more pressing. The franchise tag isn’t a practical option, as the offensive line tender’s price is enhanced by tackles, meaning it’s unsuitable for interior lineman. As James Kratch of NJ.com reported last month, the Giants aren’t expected to reach an extension with Pugh, who seems intent on hitting the open market. A new pact for Pugh would need to include at least $25MM in guarantees for Pugh to take the offer “seriously,” per Raanan.

At linebacker, Kennard isn’t a full-time player, as he saw action on roughly 40% of the Giants’ snaps. As a ‘backer who comes off the field on third downs, Kennard isn’t on track for a hefty pact. Casillas is an every-down player, but he’s entering his age-30 campaign and didn’t earn positive grades from Pro Football Focus a year ago. Still, he’s a stabilizing force on New York’s defense, and Rannan suggests there are reasons for Big Blue to “extend its relationship” with Casillas.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2017 Proven Performance Escalators

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.Donte Moncrief (Vertical)

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:

49ers: Aaron Lynch, LB; Marcus Martin, OL

Bears: Charles Leno, T; Will Sutton, DT

Bengals: Russell Bodine, C

Bills: Preston Brown, LB; Seantrel Henderson, T

Broncos: Michael Schofield, OL

Browns: Christian Kirksey, LB

Buccaneers: Kevin Pamphile, G

Cardinals: John Brown, WR

Chiefs: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G; Zach Fulton, G; Phillip Gaines, CB

Colts: Donte Moncrief, WR

Cowboys: Anthony Hitchens, LB

Falcons: Devonta Freeman, RB

Giants: Devon Kennard, LB

Jaguars: Aaron Colvin, CB; Brandon Linder, G; Telvin Smith, LB

Lions: Nevin Lawson, CB; Travis Swanson, C

Packers: Corey Linsley, C; Richard Rodgers, TE

Panthers: Tre Boston, S; Trai Turner, G

Raiders: T.J. Carrie, CB; Justin Ellis, DT; Gabe Jackson, G

Rams: Maurice Alexander, S; E.J. Gaines, CB

Redskins: Bashaud Breeland, CB; Spencer Long, G; Morgan Moses, T

Texans: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE; Andre Hal, S

Titans: DaQuan Jones, DL; Avery Williamson, LB

Vikings: Shamar Stephen, DT

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/29/15

Today’s minor NFL signings, cuts, and other moves:

  • The Patriots announced that they have released running back Joey Iosefa. Iosefa lasted only two weeks on the club’s active roster. He saw 14 carries against the Titans in Week 15 and ran for only 51 yards. His spot has ostensibly been usurped by the recently-added Steven Jackson.
  • The Giants announced that they have placed 2014 fifth-rounder Devon Kennard on injured reserve. Kennard, who also missed four games last season, has 58 tackles to his credit for Big Blue.
  • The Steelers placed fullback Roosevelt Nix on injured reserve, as Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle tweets. The Steelers also announced that they have promoted linebacker L.J. Fort to the active roster.
  • The Bills placed Marcus Easley on IR, as Wilson tweets. Back in March of 2015, the special teamer inked a four-year pact worth $7MM with the Bills. A sizable chunk of that money – $2.2MM – was guaranteed.
  • Texans cornerback Charles James will be placed on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending foot injury, Wilson tweets.
  • The Chargers announced that they have claimed tight end Asante Cleveland off waivers from the Patriots.

Extra Points: Fitzpatrick, Hughes, Thomas, Robinson, Carr, Kennard

  • With the Texans hitching their wagon to veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (known more for his intelligence than his physical ability) in 2014, Houston Chronicle beat writer Brian Smith released a few sobering tweets about Fitzpatrick’s prospects as a starter. Says Smith: “Recurring criticism of Fitzpatrick by analysts: Too much of a gunslinger with not enough of an arm.”
  • The Bills have a new defensive scheme this year under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, but Jerry Hughes‘ deployment won’t change. “He’s brought in his 4-3 scheme, but as far as what I’m doing it’s pretty much the same thing I did last year,” Hughes told Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News. “My hand is in the ground and I’m coming off the edge trying to create pressure to get to the quarterback.” Drafted by the Colts in the first round in 2010, Hughes disappointed in Indianapolis. However, a trade to Buffalo last year gave Hughes new life as a pass-rush specialist, and he capitalized on the opportunity. Hughes registered 10 sacks, nine more quarterback hits and 39 quarterback hurries. In fact, he ranked first in the league in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rush Productivity metric. Hughes will make just under $4MM this season before hitting free agency.
  • ESPN’s James Walker came up with two notable names when asked about potential surprise veteran cuts by the Dolphins: “Some veterans I think who are on the bubble include former Jeff Ireland draft picks who didn’t live up to their potential. Running back Daniel Thomas and tight end Michael Egnew come to mind. The Dolphins are no longer waiting on their potential. Both former highly-touted picks must bring it this summer or they could lose their roster spot.”
  • Julius Thomas, who emerged as a Pro Bowl tight end for the Broncos last season, could be a franchise tag candidate next year. Accordingly, he’s monitoring the Jimmy Graham situation with interest, writes the AP’s Arnie Stapleton.
  • Rams No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson admits the mental part of the game is giving him trouble early in his NFL career (via ESPN’s Nick Wagoner): “It’s frustrating that I’m not up to pace right now because the playbook is more intense and things are changing but once I get back to where I’m comfortable, things will calm down and I can be myself out there…Right now it’s a lot of thinking going on, it causes me to move a little slower. Once I get up to speed, I can move with the snap count and stuff like that.”
  • Raiders second-round rookie Derek Carr has already ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Matt Schaub, relays CSN Bay Area’s Scott Bair.
  • Giants rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard “impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side,” according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. A 6-3, 250-pounder out of USC, Kennard, whose father was a Super Bowl winning center for the Cowboys, was viewed as a tweener prospect, albeit one with outstanding intangibles and make-it traits.
  • Free agent offensive guard Garrett Reynolds visited the Cowboys, per ESPN’s Adam Caplan (via Twitter). Reynolds started 23 games over the last three years for the Falcons, but struggled last season and was released in February.

Giants Sign Beckham Jr., Three Others

The Giants have signed four more of their draft picks, most notably Odell Beckham Jr., reports Greg Salamone of Giants.com. Beckham was the team’s first-round selection, a receiver out of LSU.

The team also signed, second-round center Weston Richburg of Colorado State, fifth-round linebacker Devon Kennard of USC, and sixth-round cornerback Bennett Jackson of Notre Dame.

The only Giants’ rookie still unsigned is defensive tackle Jay Bromley out of Syracuse. The Queens, New York native Bromley was drafted in the third round.