Following their Tuesday kicker workout, the Chargers are making a change at kicker. They signed Dustin Hopkins. To make room for the veteran on their roster, the Bolts cut incumbent Tristan Vizcaino.
Vizcaino beat out Michael Badgley for the Chargers’ kicker gig during the preseason but has struggled mightily with extra points this season. A second-year kicker, Vizcaino will land on the waiver wire.
Washington ended Hopkins’ six-plus-season tenure as their kicker last week, cutting him and going with the untested Chris Blewitt. A 2013 Bills draftee, Hopkins caught on with Washington in 2015 and signed new deals in both 2018 and 2021 to stay on in that role. He will now head to Los Angeles to kick for one of the AFC’s top teams.
After one game with the 49ers last season, Vizcaino made 6 of 7 field goals in his six-game Chargers run. But he accompanied that by connecting on just 10 of 15 PATs. Coming out of their Week 7 bye, the Bolts will have a more seasoned kicker in the 31-year-old Hopkins, who has been in the NFL since 2013.
Hopkins joined Elliott Fryat the Tuesday kicker workout but brings far more experience. This season, Hopkins has made 12 of 14 field goal tries and was 10 of 12 on PATs with Washington. The former sixth-round pick has made at least 81% of his field goal attempts in all but one season — 2020, when he came in at 79% — and has kicked in 93 career regular-season games.
Coming out of their bye week, the Chargers are looking into their suspect kicker spot. They worked out both Dustin Hopkins and Elliott Fry on Tuesday, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.
Washington released Hopkins last week, opting to go with Chris Blewitt. Hopkins had been Washington’s kicker since 2015. The 31-year-old specialist profiles as an intriguing free agent, and the Chargers have seen newcomer Tristan Vizcaino struggle immensely in his first season with the gig.
Although Vizcaino is 6-for-7 on field goals, he has missed five extra points in six games. Beating out Michael Badgley for Los Angeles’ kicker post, Vizcaino is 10-for-15 on PATs, inviting obvious speculation about his status coming out of the Bolts’ bye. With the Chargers looking like one of the AFC’s top teams, they may try and acquire more stability at the kicker spot entering Week 8.
Fry fared well at this workout, Yates adds, noting the young specialist made 9 of 10 field goals, with his only miss coming from 64 yards (Twitter link). South Carolina’s kicker from 2013-16, Fry has logged many workouts and spent time on practice squads since his Gamecocks eligibility ceased. But he has played in just one game, with the 2020 Falcons, as a pro.
Hopkins made 86% of his field goal tries this season and has hovered around this success rate throughout his career, leading Washington to give him new deals in 2018 and this past offseason. Washington retained Hopkins on a one-year deal worth $2.5MM in March.
The Washington Football Team will re-sign kicker Dustin Hopkins, per JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington (via Twitter). NFL Insider Adam Caplan reports that it will be a one-year, $2.5MM pact with $1.9MM guaranteed (Twitter link).
Hopkins had a rocky start to his pro career. After being selected by the Bills in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, the Florida State product won Buffalo’s placekicking job as a rookie but sustained a groin injury before the season got underway. He missed the entire 2013 season and then lost his roster spot the following summer, ultimately catching on with the Saints’ taxi squad towards the end of 2014.
He lost New Orleans’ kicking battle in the summer of 2015, but he finally found a home with Washington. He has served as WFT’s kicker for the last six seasons and just wrapped up a three-year, $6.875MM contract that he signed right before free agency opened in March 2018.
Hopkins, 30, did not disappoint in his first year under the new deal, sinking nearly 89.7% of his field goal tries in 2018 and 96.2% of his PATs (both career-highs). But he regressed a bit in 2019 and cratered in 2020, struggling to a 79.4% field goal percentage last season (25th in the league). That wasn’t an ideal platform campaign, but WFT was willing to bring him back just the same.
Now that one of their own priority FAs is back in the fold, Finlay suggests that Washington could try to lock up CB Ronald Darby before free agency opens on Wednesday (Twitter link).
Dustin Hopkins‘ availability for Week 11 appears to be in question, so the Redskins are getting an early start on examining replacement help.
With Hopkins “a bit banged up,” per Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitterlinks), Washington brought in several kickers for a Tuesday workout.
Blair Walsh, Roberto Aguayo, Kai Forbath, Sam Ficken and Jon Brown participated, Yates reports. Of the quintet, only Ficken has kicked in a 2018 game. Walsh and Forbath had gigs last season, with the Seahawks and Vikings, respectively, while Aguayo has not kicked in a game since his rough 2016 season.
Forbath has a history with Washington, having been Hopkins’ predecessor. The UCLA product served as the Redskins’ kicker from 2012-14 before moving on to roles with the Saints and Vikings. The latter cut him this year, giving the job to rookie Daniel Carlson, whose grip on it lasted two games.
The Redskins went through this with Hopkins last season. He missed eight games in 2017, and Washington used Nick Rose as its kicker during that time. Rose is not believed to have been among today’s tryout contingent. Also perhaps soon to be available is Chandler Catanzaro, whom the Buccaneers sent to waivers on Monday. But his two misses Sunday helped the Redskins pick up a road win.
Richard Sherman has taken some flack for his one-year deal with the 49ers, but he has no regrets about acting as his own agent.
“I don’t think any agent in the business could have done a better job of negotiating this contract,” Sherman told Peter King of The MMQB. “As long as I’m content with what I’m making, nothing else matters to me. Once I make a Pro Bowl, $8MM the next year is guaranteed for me. It gives me the ability to control my destiny. The 49ers have skin in the game. I have skin in the game. In my former contract, no matter what I did this year, nothing would be guaranteed to me next year. I couldn’t feel secure in my contract. Now, if I play the way I know I’m capable of playing, I know I’m going to get paid.”
Sherman’s deal is a three-year, $39MM pact, but a deeper look shows that the real base value is just $21.15MM with another $18MM coming in the form of bonuses. In order to earn the full $39MM, Sherman must play in every regular season game, be on the field for 90% of snaps, and earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in each season. In other words, it’s unlikely that Sherman will actually see the full value of the deal. Still, Sherman is content with how things played out and intimated that he wanted the opportunity to face his old team twice per year.
Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (on Twitter) had more on the 49ers’ proposed trade for cornerback Aqib Talib from the Broncos, which Talib rejected. The 49ers were going to send a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft in exchange for the services of the five-time Pro Bowler. In the end, the Broncos traded Talib to the Rams for a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft.
The Buccanneers looked to shore up their kicking woes of late by attempting to land former Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins before he re-signed with the Redskins, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The Bucs cut former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo prior to last season and Nick Folk was cut last month after missing a majority of last season on injured reserve with a minor-injury designation. Free-agent addition Patrick Murray hit 82.6% of his kicks with Tampa Bay last year in 23 attempts, with a long of 50 yards.
The Giants and offensive lineman John Greco agreed to a one-year deal last month and Ralph Vacchiano of SNY (on Twitter) that his salary for 2018 will be $1.02MM. Greco appeared in six games for the Giants last season after spending the previous six seasons as a mainstay within the interior of the Browns’ offensive line.
The Redskins have taken care of one of their own free agents in advance of the legal tampering period. Kicker Dustin Hopkins has agreed to a new deal, according to a team announcement. It’s a three-year deal worth $6.875MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal includes a $1.2MM signing bonus.
Hopkins, 28 in October, has been with the Redskins since 2015. In that time, he has made 73-of-87 field goal attempts along with 93-of-98 extra point tries. He has been perfect on short-range attempts in that time, making all 26 of his field goals from 20-29 yards out.
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.
Despite the Redskins headed toward a second consecutive playoff absence, the team will bring its kicker back for this season’s final games.
Washington activated Dustin Hopkins from injured reserve on Saturday. He will replace kicker Nick Rose, whom the team waived, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
A strained muscle in Hopkins’ hip resulted in the IR placement, but he’ll be back in time for Week 15. This is Hopkins’ third NFL season; he’d kicked in 31 Redskins regular-season games prior to appearing in just five thus far this season.
Rose fared well in Hopkins’ absence, making 10 of 11 field goal tries. He made 18 of 20 extra point attempts in the eight games since being summoned to replace the incumbent. He’ll now head to waivers and could well warrant an opportunity as a free agent at some point soon if unclaimed.
Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins is being placed on injured reserve with a strained rotator muscle in his right hip, a source tells JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington (on Twitter).
With Hopkins out, the Redskins are auditioning replacements. Andrew Franks, Marshall Koehn, Mike Nugent, and Nick Rose all showed their stuff in D.C. on Tuesday, Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link) reports. Franks, Koehn, and Nugent are well acquainted after they all participated in the Buccaneers’ workout last week.
Hopkins connected on 9 of 11 field goal attempts this season. In Sunday’s game against the Niners, he connected on tries from 21 and 48 yards, though he missed one extra point try.
Although the Jaguars have been speculatively mentioned as a trade destination for Giants quarterback Eli Manning given the presence of executive VP Tom Coughlin, Manning has no interest in being dealt, as Bob Glauber of Newsday writes. “I’ve not heard [the Jacksonville speculation], I’ve not felt it, not thinking about it,”Manning said. “I don’t want to play anywhere else. I love this team, love this organization, and I want to be here.” New York, of course, won its first game of the season on Sunday night, while Jacksonville fell to 3-3 with a loss to the Rams. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles‘ role in the team’s offense has been severely reduced, but general manager David Caldwell & Co. will likely finish out the campaign with Bortles under center before targeting signal-caller upgrades in the offseason, as Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com writes.
Here’s more from the NFC East:
On the heels of their dominant first win of the season over the Broncos on Sunday night, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY pointed out (Twitter link) that Giants coach Ben McAdoo gave play-calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan for the team’s Week 6 affair.McAdoo had been a subject of criticism given the Giants nightmarish start to the season, but it looked like the change may have things turned around, at least for the time being, as New York avoided many big mistakes with the offense going to a more run-oriented approach. The team rushed for a total of 148 yards on the game, with starter Orleans Darkwa accounting for 117 of those yards on 21 carries.
In another Giants twist, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is scheduled to report to the team’s facility tomorrow morning for a meeting/update on his status, tweets Josina Anderson of ESPN.com. The 10-year cornerback was suspended indefinitely last week for a number of events, which included walking out on a team meeting as well as storming off the field after the Giants lost to the Chargers two weeks ago. Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the best nickelbacks in football last season with him being voted to a second team All-pro by Pro Football Focus and the Associated Press in 2016-17. However, New York’s defense didn’t seem to miss the veteran defensive back all too much as the team picked off Trevor Siemian twice and held the Broncos out of the endzone for much of the game last night.
The Redskins will likely work out free agent kickers this week as incumbent Dustin Hopkins battles a hip injury, head coach Jay Gruden told reporters, including Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Hopkins — who is dealing with a partially torn hip and will miss Week 7, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com — converted both of his field goal attempts on Sunday, but missed an extra point that nearly proved crucial in a tight victory over the 49ers. On the season, Hopkins has been successful on 81.8% of field goals, and both of his misses were on 50+ yard attempts.
The Eagles worked out linebackers Donald Butler, Sean Spence and Jelani Jenkins today, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com. After starter Jordan Hicks suffered a foot injury this past Thursday night, it looks like Philadelphia is on the hunt for a potential replacement. Hicks, 25, does not yet have a timetable of when he’s likely to return, and with Joe Walker being the only other middle linebacker currently on the roster, if Philadelphia was to sign a free agent, the player would stand to have a legitimate chance of getting meaningful playing time.