Dion Lewis

NFC Notes: Foles, Trubisky, Bears, Ifedi, Lewis, Giants

We heard earlier today that the Bears were planning an open quarterback competition between Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky, but that might not be entirely accurate. Both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy insisted during a teleconference with the media that it would be a fair battle and even that Trubisky would take the first snaps whenever they hit the field for their first practices, but Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune is skeptical.

Trubisky is the incumbent and is being treated as such for now, but Biggs thinks the team is just paying lip-service to the former number two overall pick. “Short of the 31-year-old falling on his face or being injured,” it’s Foles’ job to lose, Biggs writes. It makes sense why Pace doesn’t want to admit defeat with Trubisky, considering he traded up to draft him so early in 2017. Biggs writes that it’s the inverse of the situation the Bears had in 2017, when Mike Glennon was technically the starter but everyone knew Trubisky would be taking over sooner rather than later. As of right now, Foles looks like a heavy favorite to be under center Week 1.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • Speaking of the Bears, one big move they made this offseason was signing offensive lineman Germain Ifedi away from the Seahawks. The 2016 first-round pick played both tackle and guard extensively during his time in Seattle, and Chicago is planning to play him in side at guard Pace said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Ifedi was a full-time starter the past few years with the Seahawks, but never lived up to his draft status.
  • Running back Dion Lewis agreed to sign with the Giants back on March 23rd, and now we’ve got the details. New York got a pretty good deal, as Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com tweets that Lewis received a one-year deal worth $1.55MM with nothing guaranteed. New Giants coach Joe Judge was with Lewis during their time with the Patriots. Lewis turns 30 in September but doesn’t have too much tread on his tires since he’s never been a workhorse back. Lewis signed a four-year, $20MM deal with the Titans in 2018, but lasted only two years in Tennessee after Derrick Henry emerged as the undisputed featured back. He should backup Saquon Barkley in 2020.
  • In case you missed it the Lions are likely looking to trade down from the third overall pick, and they could have their eye on Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah.

Giants, Dion Lewis Agree To Deal

Dion Lewis will be heading back east. Recently released by the Titans, the veteran running back will sign with the Giants, according to Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The parties agreed to a one-year deal.

The former Patriots running back spent two years with the Titans. While Lewis will turn 30 in September, he has logged only 710 touches in since coming into the league in 2011.

A 2011 Eagles fifth-round pick, Lewis was a late-blooming talent. He caught on as a key Patriots presence in the mid-2010s and led the team in rushing (with 896 yards) in 2017. The Titans signed the diminutive back to a four-year, $20MM deal. Lewis’ market did not hit the level it did two years ago, but he will have a chance to work as the top complementary option to Saquon Barkley.

This move will also reunite Lewis with Joe Judge. He becomes the latest Patriot to join the Giants, following tackle Cameron Fleming and special-teamer Nate Ebner. Lewis spent three seasons with the Patriots, coming back from injuries in both 2015 and ’16 to spearhead the ’17 Pats’ ground attack. Lewis scored nine of his 18 career touchdowns during that 2017 slate. Lewis lost out to rushing champion Derrick Henry last year, totaling just 54 carries and just 373 scrimmage yards.

The Giants have struggled to fill their No. 2 running back spot. Wayne Gallman remains under contract, but he was drafted two coaching staffs ago and saw just 29 carries last season.

Titans To Release Dion Lewis

The Titans are moving on from Dion Lewis. The running back has been released from his contract, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: Titans Prioritizing Tannehill Deal?]

This was an expected move. The Titans are intent on bringing Derrick Henry back, either with a tag or a brand new deal to keep him from free agency.

Lewis, meanwhile, is no longer worth the remainder of the four-year, $20MM deal he signed with the team in the 2018 offseason. After averaging 5.0 yards per carry in the Patriots’ varied backfield, he’s averaged just 3.5 yards per tote for the Titans across the last two seasons with an increasingly smaller role. Last year, he appeared in every game, but carried the ball just 54 times for 209 yards.

Henry, meanwhile, has been sensational. Last year, he turned in a 1,540-yard season – that’s not counting his 446 postseason rushing yards, the most by any player whose team did not reach the a Super Bowl.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans RB Dion Lewis Not On Roster Bubble

There’s been some speculation that Titans running back Dion Lewis could be on the roster bubble, but it sounds like the veteran isn’t going anywhere. Veteran NFL reporters Paul Kuharsky tweets that Lewis is “not on any bubble” and is “on the roster without question.”

This isn’t overly surprising news, as the Titans inked Lewis to a four-year, $20MM deal last offseason. However, the “roster bubble” speculation wasn’t completely unfounded. Lewis saw a reduced role following the late-season emergence of Derrick Henry, and the Titans could save a chunk of money by letting go of Lewis. Specifically, the team could save $3.175MM by releasing him prior to March 17th.

On the flip side, Lewis provides running back depth and some much-needed passing-catching prowess. While his 2018 stats don’t match the numbers he compiled with the Patriots in 2017, the 28-year-old was still solid during his first season in Tennessee. In 16 games (seven starts), Lewis compiled 517 rushing yards and one touchdown, and he added a career-high 59 receptions for 400 yards and another touchdown.

If the team were to move on from Lewis, they’d still be left with plenty of running back depth. Outside of Henry, the Titans are also rostering Jeremy McNichols and Dalyn Dawkins, and ERFA David Fluellen is expected to return next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Panthers, Newton, Titans, Davis, Henry, Buccaneers, Winston

Just three years ago, Cam Newton was the league’s MVP who led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. The past two years haven’t gone nearly as well for him, and now Newton is on the “hot seat” according to David Newton of ESPN.com. He notes that 2018 will be a big year for Newton as he starts anew with a new offensive coordinator and scheme.

“If he doesn’t show improvement after consecutive down years, there will be a lot of questions about his future” he writes. Newton is the face of the franchise, but the team could theoretically get out of his contract relatively easily after this season. It would be shocking if it happens, but according to this report, it’s not totally inconceivable that the end of the Cam Newton-era in Carolina could be near if he doesn’t turn things around this season.

Here’s more from the league’s southern divisions:

  • Corey Davis “was one of the stars” of the Titans’ early offseason workouts, according to Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com. The fifth overall pick in 2017, Davis was somewhat limited by injuries last season, but still flashed a ton of potential. Wyatt notes that Davis “looked smooth during the offseason, snatching the ball out of the air with ease in traffic”, and that the team is “counting on Davis to make a big leap in Year 2.”
  • Jameis Winston‘s suspension may have caught a lot of people by surprise, but it didn’t shock the Buccaneers, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Stroud writes that the Bucs had been bracing for the suspension for quite some time, and re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick back in March knowing they might need him to start some games.
  • “The plan” is for Derrick Henry to be the Titans‘ lead back in 2018, according to Wyatt. The Titans signed Dion Lewis to a four-year, $20MM deal this offseason, but apparently view him as more of a complimentary piece.

Contract Details: Lotulelei, Bradham, Lewis

Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL:

Titans Sign RB Dion Lewis To Four-Year Deal

The Titans have agreed to sign running back Dion Lewis to a four-year deal, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Lewis’ new contract is worth $20MM in total and contains $3MM in incentives, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). He’ll collect $11.5MM in guarantees, reports Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

The running back’s decision ultimately came down to the Titans and his former team, the Patriots (via ESPN’s Dianna Russini on Twitter). This is the second former New England player to head to Tennessee, as the Titans signed cornerback Malcolm Butler earlier today.

Lewis is an ideal pass-catching alternative for number-one running back Derrick Henry. When healthy, Lewis was one of Tom Brady‘s top targets over the past four seasons, and he’s gradually improved in the rushing game, as well. 2017 may have been Lewis’ best NFL season, as he finished the campaign with a career-high 896 rushing yards and six touchdowns (5.0 yards per carry). He also added another 32 receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns. Pro Football Focus was seemingly a fan of Lewis’ versatility, as he ranked fifth among 58 eligible running backs. Lewis placed 29th in our rankings of the top-50 free agents.

With Lewis out of the picture, the Patriots will likely lean even more on James White in the passing game. Meanwhile, Henry and Lewis will likely see the bulk of the snaps for the Titans, with David Fluellen and Khalfani Muhammad currently slated as backups.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Several Teams Comprise Heated Lewis Market

On a player-friendly second tampering-window day, Dion Lewis has yet to make his decision. He’s going to be receiving a notable raise from his previous contract, however, when he does choose his next team.

The 27-year-old running back does not look like he will be returning to the Patriots, who were not believed to be a bidder if the price escalated to a certain point. Now that it apparently has, the Dolphins, Jets, Giants, Titans, Texans, Colts and 49ers are in on Lewis, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports.

The Jets, Colts and Titans were reported suitors earlier this week, but the remaining teams are now diving into the fray.

The Giants signed previous Pats passing-down back Shane Vereen in 2015 but haven’t found much in the way of backfield success in several years, and the 49ers may well lose Carlos Hyde in free agency. The Dolphins traded away Jay Ajayi and have versatile runner Kenyan Drake. Houston, interestingly, has a Lamar MillerD’Onta Foreman setup but is evidently eyeing big-name help.

Lewis’ asking price was rumored to be around $6MM per year, and given the events of Tuesday and the number of interested teams here, it’s quite possible the sixth-year veteran could surpass that despite having just one 100-touch season on his resume. However, that also means Lewis could have a few productive seasons left despite being set to turn 28 later this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FA Rumors: Lewis, Moncrief, Jets, Fuller

Despite having surpassed the 100-touch mark just once in a season, Dion Lewis may well have surged to the point of being the top running back available. And the healthy market expected for the 27-year-old back shows no signs of slowing down. However, the Patriots are going to try to keep Lewis, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. However, he notes Lewis’ price may “far outpace” what the Pats are willing to spend to keep him. The Colts, Titans and Jets look to be the early favorites for Lewis. The Titans being run by former Patriots exec Jon Robinson — who was in New England when the Pats acquired Lewis — and the fact Tennessee just released DeMarco Murray would make the AFC South team a logical suitor. The Jets have passing-down veteran Bilal Powell going into the final year of his contract, and the Colts are without a proven back now that Frank Gore is out of the picture.

New England still has James White and Brandon Bolden under contract. Here’s the latest from the market:

  • The Bears placing their transition tag on Kyle Fuller may not dissuade teams from inquiring about the corner. JLC hears from multiple execs the fifth-year cornerback could be in line to see an offer sheet. However, Chicago holds $50MM in cap space and would seemingly be an obvious threat to match an offer that comes Fuller’s way. La Canfora reports the Packers, Titans, Buccaneers and Texans are doing extensive work researching the cornerback market. With Fuller tagged, Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler are the prizes currently unattached.
  • Muhammad Wilkerson will make his fourth visit on Monday, meeting with the Redskins, per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). One of the top defensive UFAs available, the eighth-year defensive lineman has already visited the Packers, Saints and Chiefs.
  • Donte Moncrief is likely to exit Indianapolis, and the Ravens are interested, La Canfora hears. The Ravens, as of now, possess less than $5MM in cap space. But with Moncrief perhaps in line for a one-year deal after an inconsistent Colts tenure, La Canfora writes Baltimore is in the mix for the athletic target.
  • Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the Jets may be a bit out of sync as far as terms go, but the team remains intent on retaining the tight end, per JLC. Now armed with the most cap space in the league, the Jets would be able to meet ASJ’s reported $7MM-AAV asking price. But it’s uncertain if they will. La Canfora connects the Falcons and Seahawks as being interested in Seferian-Jenkins.
  • The Broncos are expected to have interest in Ja’Wuan James if the Dolphins are intent on gauging trade offers for their four-year right tackle, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. Denver, which has started four different right tackles in its past four season openers, is again in need of a right tackle. Although John Elway said Menelik Watson will be back, it’s hard to believe the Broncos wouldn’t try to upgrade after their most recent right tackle signee did not fare well.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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