E.J. Gaines

Browns Place Kirksey, Gaines On IR

The Browns placed linebacker Christian Kirksey (hamstring) and defensive back E.J. Gaines (concussion) on injured reserve, according to a team announcement. Both players were forced out during the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs and those injuries have ended their seasons prematurely. 

Kirksey, a fifth-year veteran and team captain, started all seven of his games for the Browns this year. In that time, he racked up 29 tackles, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Kirksey averaged 90 tackles and three sacks between 2016 and 2017, so those numbers were off of his usual pace. According to Pro Football Focus, it has been a subpar 2018 for Kirksey, who currently ranks as one of the ten worst qualified LBs in the league. Still, losing Kirksey is a blow to the Browns D.

The Browns are hoping to get Joe Schobert back on the field soon and his return should take some of the sting out out of losing Kirksey. Schobert has been held out of the last three games with a hamstring ailment of his own.

Gaines joined the Browns on a one-year, $4MM deal in the offseason. Unfortunately, he’s done for the year after suffering his second concussion of the season. Gaines started in two of his six games and snagged his lone interception of the year against the Raiders in September.

To fill one of the vacated roster spots, the Browns have signed defensive back Juston Burris off the Jets’ practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Sign CB E.J. Gaines

The Browns have reached an agreement with free agent cornerback E.J. Gaines, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). It’s a one-year deal worth $4MM, while an additional $1MM is available via incentives, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com first reported Cleveland was nearing a deal with Gaines.

After ranking 27th in pass defense DVOA in 2017, Cleveland has overhauled its secondary this offseason. Not only did the Browns trade veteran Jason McCourty to the Patriots in exchange for pennies, but they’ve also signed free agents T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell to multi-year deals. With Gaines in tow, Cleveland will now have a bit of depth in a defensive backfield that also includes Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun.

Heading into free agency, PFR ranked Gaines as the fourth-best cornerback on the market and the No. 18 free agent overall. While other corners such as Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, and Aaron Colvin quickly flew off the board, Gaines’ market took longer to develop. He wasn’t exactly wanting for interest, though, as the Jets, Cardinals, and Texans all expressed some level of intrigue in Gaines.

Gaines, 26, appeared in 11 games for the Bills a season ago after being traded as part of the Sammy Watkins deal. During that time, Gaines ranked 12th in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback grades and ninth in Football Outsiders’ success rate. A former sixth-round pick, Gaines has started 37 total games and posted three interceptions during his four-year NFL career.

With Gaines off the market, the free agent cornerback class is now comprised of options such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bashaud Breeland, Delvin Breaux, Dontae Johnson, and Jeremy Lane.

[RELATED: Browns Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets, Browns To Meet With E.J. Gaines

The Jets and Browns have plans to meet with free agent cornerback E.J. Gaines, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. He’ll visit the Jets on Thursday and the Browns on Friday. 

Gaines met with the Cardinals last week, but left Arizona without a deal. Prior to that, he drew some interest from the Texans, but they seem pretty set at cornerback after adding Aaron Colvin and re-signing Johnathan Joseph.

Gaines, 26, appeared in 11 games for the Bills last year after coming over in the Sammy Watkins trade. He finished out as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 12 ranked cornerback and placed ninth in Football Outsiders’ success rate. Before the start of free agency, we ranked Gaines as the fourth-best corner on the market and the No. 18 free agent overall. It’s somewhat surprising to see him still on the board at this stage.

The Bills have not ruled out re-signing Gaines, but the addition of Vontae Davis probably means they’ll be moving on.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

E.J. Gaines To Visit Cardinals

The Cardinals are eyeing a cornerback to play opposite Patrick Peterson. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports (via Twitter) that Arizona will meet with E.J. Gaines today. The Texans had previously shown interest in the free agent cornerback.

Gaines, 26, appeared in 11 games for the Bills a season ago after being traded as part of the Sammy Watkins deal. During that time, Gaines ranked 12th in Pro Football Focus‘ cornerback grades and ninth in FO’s success rate. For that effort, PFR ranked Gaines as the fourth-best corner on the market and the No. 18 free agent overall. His final numbers included 48 tackles, nine passes defended, and one interception.

Arizona could surely use some reinforcement opposite Peterson. The team’s other cornerback options include Brandon Williams, C.J. Goodwin, Ronald ZamortJonathan Moxey, Jarell Carter, and Louis Young.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

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Texans Interested In CB E.J. Gaines

The Texans have interest in free agent cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is “firmly” on the club’s radar, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

[RELATED: Texans Pursuing LT Nate Solder]

Houston is clearly attempting to upgrade its secondary this offseason, as the team is also reportedly eyeing free agent defensive back Malcolm Butler. That should come as no surprise given that the Texans struggled against the pass in 2017, finishing with a No. 25-rank in Football Outsiders‘ pass defense DVOA. Additionally, Houston has two cornerbacks — Johnathan Joseph and Marcus Williams — scheduled to hit the open market on Wednesday.

Gaines, 26, appeared in 11 games for the Bills a season ago after being traded as part of the Sammy Watkins deal. During that time, Gaines ranked 12th in Pro Football Focus‘ cornerback grades and ninth in FO’s success rate. For that effort, PFR ranked Gaines as the fourth-best corner on the market and the No. 18 free agent overall.

The Bills, for their part, haven’t ruled out a reunion with Gaines. Although they recently signed veteran cornerback Vontae Davis to pair with Tre’Davious White, Buffalo is still open to re-signing Gaines.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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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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

Free Agent Rumors: Landry, Hitchens, Bills

The Dolphins are attempting to trade wide receiver Jarvis Landry after assigning him the franchise tag last week, but the club probably shouldn’t expect a first-round pick for their slot receiver, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes. Instead, fair compensation is likely to be a third-round pick, a low second-rounder, or perhaps a player, multiple sources tell Salguero. Landry can be an effective weapon, but any team that acquires him is either committing to carrying his $16MM+ salary in 2018, or inking him to a new deal, so Miami isn’t likely to get blown away in terms of trade offers. The Dolphins were expected to meet with Landry’s representatives at the combine on Wednesday, so a resolution could be coming soon.

Here’s more on 2018 free agency:

  • Cowboys free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens is seeking $10MM per year on the open market, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Dallas ranks in the bottom-third of the league in available cap space, so that price point could force Hitchens out of the club’s range. Indeed, multiple beat writers don’t believe Hitchens will re-sign with the Cowboys, while the Colts — who now employ former Dallas linebackers coach Matt Eberflus — are expected to pursue the 25-year-old. A fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2014, Hitchens appeared in 12 games a season ago and registered 55 tackles.
  • Although the Bills inked veteran defensive back Vontae Davis to a one-year deal earlier this week, they’re not giving up hope of re-signing free agent cornerback E.J. Gaines, general manager Brandon Beane told reporters, including Joe Buscaglia of WKBW (Twitter link). Buffalo acquired Gaines in 2017 as part of the return for wideout Sammy Watkins, and the 26-year-old went on to start 11 games, ranking 11th in the league in yards per pass. He’s expected to garner at least $6MM annually on the open market.
  • While new Lions head coach Matt Patricia has a clear working relationship with free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler, Detroit is more likely to fill its secondary needs internally, said general manager Bob Quinn (link via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com). Given that they may need to replace both Nevin Lawson and D.J. Hayden (and find a new slot corner with Quandre Diggs moving to safety), the Lions will likely give opportunities to 2017 rookies Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew. “We drafted those guys for a reason last year, and when we evaluated them in the postseason process, we liked what they did and their role,” said Quinn.
  • Veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez didn’t attempt a single pass for the Bears last season, but Chicago could nonetheless be open to a reunion. “You know, he did a good job this year,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com. “All the things we value with him: his veteran leadership and his experiences. Again he’s a free agent; those are all evaluations that are ongoing.” Chicago doesn’t have a backup for Mitch Trubisky on its current roster after announcing its intent to release Mike Glennon earlier today.
  • If linebacker Derrick Johnson doesn’t land a new deal on the open market, he has a standing to return to the Chiefs as a coach, head coach Andy Reid told reporters, including Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star (Twitter link). The Chiefs recently announced that they won’t re-sign the 35-year-old, but Johnson still wants to continue his career. Johnson is highly respected for his locker room presence, so it’s no surprise Reid would want the veteran defender on staff if his playing career is over.

AFC Notes: Hopkins, Gordon, Bills, Lewis

Even with poor quarterback play for much of the year, Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins has solidified his place in the top tier of NFL receivers. At 25 years old, Hopkins eclipsed the 1,300 yard marker and has managed double-digit touchdowns in a season for the second time in his career. But perhaps one of the most impressive things about Hopkins is that he’s never missed a game. The former first-round pick has played in 79 straight contests, but that streak is expected to end on Sunday, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Wilson notes that Hopkins is currently dealing with a calf injury and was forced to miss practice on Thursday afternoon. It’s not a good sign when a player misses practice late in the week and that is no exception even for a player like Texans number one wideout. Hopkins produced perhaps his best season yet in 2017 because of the offensive situation he had to deal with. It’ll be a shame if he doesn’t end up going on Sunday because of his ability to make insane catches at any time, like the one he pulled off against the Steelers in Week 16.

Here are more stories we’re following from the AFC as Week 17 approaches:

  • While Melvin Gordon‘s Week 17 status was more uncertain at the beginning of the week, it appears as if the talented running back is “optimistic” he’ll be able to go on Sunday, a source tells to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). The third-year back is dealing with an ankle sprain, but swelling is minimal, according to Rapoport. The Chargers would love to have Gordon available vs. the Raiders because their playoff hopes are still very much alive. The team does not have much depth behind their surefire number one back with Branden Oliver representing the only true backup on the depth chart. The Chargers have not signed an additional runner to the roster just yet, so it appears as if the team may think Gordon will be able to give to a go this weekend.
  • The Bills also face a must-win scenario in Week 17 in order to make the postseason. Two critical players in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and cornerback E.J. Gaines have been dealing with injuries throughout the week, but both look like they are trending in the right direction with gameday fast approaching, according to the team’s website. “He looks like he’s ready to go,” said head coach Sean McDermott of Gaines. The rookie head coach was hedging his bets a bit more regarding his number one wideout, stating that, “He practiced today and did some good things, we’ll get a better feel tomorrow.” In order to reach the playoffs, Buffalo needs to beat Miami on the road and get a Ravens loss, or have the Titans and Chargers both lose on Sunday afternoon.
  • Bengals longtime head coach Marvin Lewis is currently working through heavy speculation that he will be relieved of his duties come Monday morning. However, the coach told reporters yesterday that he has not discussed his current contract situation with owner Mike Brown, per Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Terrell passes along that the two do speak everyday. So if they do talk about his future with the team, they are not making it public at this time. The Bengals have fought through what will be the Bengals second straight losing season, and without any playoff wins to show in 15 years with the franchise, it appears likely the two sides will part ways at some point this offseason. Though it should be stated that Lewis has been able to stick around for this long even with an 0-7 playoff record to his name, so I guess anything is possible.