November 1st, 2020 at 6:22pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
UPDATE, 11/2/20 3:45pm: Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard was one of the two players to test positive, he announced in a tweet Monday. “I learned that like many others, I have tested positive for Covid 19. Thankfully, I feel completely normal so far. Please keep my family & I in your prayers as we navigate this. I look forward to being back on the field w/my teammates as soon as I am cleared & it’s safe to do so!,” he said. All of us here at the Rumors family of course wish Kennard a full and speedy recovery. The starter will be sidelined for at least this week’s game against the Dolphins.
11/1/20 6:22pm: We’ve got a new team to unfortunately be hit with COVID-19 positives, this time in the desert. The Cardinals had two players test positive for the virus over the weekend, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network tweets.
Luckily for Arizona they were on a bye this week, so it hasn’t disrupted them too much so far. Garafolo notes that they just kept the facility closed today for a deep cleaning, and that they’re slated to practice tomorrow. There are enhanced practice protocols for any team with positive tests, and presumably the Cardinals will be following those moving forward.
We don’t have word yet on who the players are, but we’ll be sure to pass that along whenever it’s reported. The Cardinals, who have gotten off to an impressive 5-2 start, are set to host the Dolphins in Week 9.
The Cardinals have a deal in place with linebacker Devon Kennard, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Kennard, who was just let go by the Lions, will ink a three-year, $20MM deal with Arizona, which includes $12MM in guarantees, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network (on Twitter).
The Lions flip-flopped on Kennard’s release briefly yesterday, pausing to scan the league for trade possibilities. Unable to find a deal, they released him outright, which opened the door for the Cardinals.
Kennard has been a solid producer over the last two seasons in Detroit. In 31 games (30 starts), Kennard recorded 104 tackles, 29 quarterback hits, 18 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks. The Cardinals will hope he maintains that level of production in Phoenix.
One cause for concern, which likely played into why Detroit was unable to find a trading partner for the edge rusher, is more advanced analytical tools were not fond of Kennard’s abilities as a pass rusher. In fact, while he has graded as a solid defender against the run in every season since 2015, his pass rush grade has never been considered average during the same time.
6:50pm: These trade efforts evidently failed. The Lions have released Kennard, according to a team announcement.
12:05pm: Hold the phone, because the Lions are on the phone. The club is discussing potential trades involving Kennard, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).
11:51am: The Lions are releasing linebacker Devon Kennard, as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. It’s not quite a Tom Brady-leaving-the-Patriots-level shocker, but it’s a surprise nonetheless. Kennard is coming off of back-to-back seasons with seven sacks, but the Lions have opted to move on from him.
Kennard came to the Lions in 2018 on a three-year, $18.75MM free agent deal. Since then, he’s tallied those aforementioned 14 sacks with 104 total stops, three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble with near-perfect attendance. Previous to joining the Lions, Kennard started in 35 games for the Giants and posted four sacks as a non-rush linebacker in his walk year.
The Lions have signed another hybrid-type player, and linebacker-edge defender Jamie Collins now has a contract that eclipses Kennard’s. It is possible the longtime Patriot will move in on Kennard’s role. The Lions also gave an eight-figure-per-year deal to offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The Lions will save nearly $6MM by moving on from 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.
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 DaveGettleman.
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.
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).
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.
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: