Earl Mitchell

West Notes: Mitchell, Broncos, Poe, Raiders

Despite being released off a defense that ranked 29th last season, Earl Mitchell logged an extensive street free agency tour before signing with the 49ers. After a Broncos offer to Mitchell was reported last night, the new 49er said the Seahawks also made him an offer, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com (on Twitter), before he opted for the Bay Area. The Seahawks joined the Falcons as fellow NFC teams pursuing Mitchell, who played four seasons with the Texans and three with the Dolphins. This is his third four-year contract.

That pact came partially because of Mitchell’s history in Houston. New 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina coached Mitchell with the Texans, and DeMeco Ryans being hired as defensive quality control coach meant a former teammate was going to be on staff. Both hires helped sway Mitchell, per Wagoner (on Twitter). New GM John Lynch also called Mitchell “a priority for us to sign.”

Here’s more from some teams out west, beginning with one of the suitors Mitchell declined:

  • The Broncos lost an assistant offensive line coach who was affiliated with the organization for less than a month when John Benton agreed to become the 49ers’ O-line instructor. They plan to fill his position by bringing in a college coach of their top lineman, with former Boise State and Washington offensive line coach Chris Strausser set to succeed Benton, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Strausser coached Broncos center Matt Paradis — and Bears left tackle Charles Leno — during his time in Idaho before spending the past three seasons with the Huskies. Strausser has coached in college for more than 25 years; this will be his first NFL job.
  • Spotrac calculates Dontari Poe‘s market value as being just north of $12MM per year, putting the Chiefs defensive tackle on the Gerald McCoy/Michael Brockers plane. But someone like Nick Fairley on a shorter-term, lower-cost deal be more effective, Conor Orr of NFL.com writes. Poe hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2014 and only has 2.5 sacks since his six-sack slate that year. He stands to join Brandon Williams, Johnathan Hankins and Bennie Logan among free agent defensive tackles. The Chiefs are negotiating with Poe and Eric Berry, with the franchise tag almost certainly coming into play for one.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul could also make it to free agency, although there’s a reasonable chance the Giants tag him. However, should he venture onto the market, Matt Mosley of the Dallas Morning News writes the Broncos or Raiders could be fits. Pass rush isn’t exactly high on the Broncos’ radar, with Von Miller and Shane Ray under contract, but it wasn’t two years ago when Denver drafted Ray in Round 1. However, the Broncos have plenty of greater needs and JPP could aim for Olivier Vernon-type money — which they don’t realistically possess. The Raiders play a 4-3 scheme but obviously have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin employed, so that would be an interesting fit.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, 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, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

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 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Extra Points: Bills, Redskins, Bengals, 49ers

Bills general manager Doug Whaley might be content to go into 2017 with Cardale Jones at quarterback, but the team is only going to release Tyrod Taylor if rookie head coach Sean McDermott signs off on it, according to Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. Whaley and McDermott have equal say in how the Bills assemble their roster, per Carucci, who notes the coach hired an offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison, who might be able to get more out of Taylor. Dennison is a Taylor fan, having previously coached him in Baltimore, and Albert Breer of The MMQB senses that the coordinator would like for Buffalo to continue with Taylor under center.

More from around the NFL:

  • The Redskins haven’t engaged in negotiations with any of their impending free agents yet, but talks will take place at next week’s combine, reports Mike Jones of Washington Post. John Keim of ESPN.com passed along slightly different information earlier this month, writing that the Redskins had held discussions with unsigned tight end Vernon Davis. Regardless, no deal has materialized for Davis, who’s on a list of UFAs that also includes quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and defensive lineman Chris Baker.
  • The torn ACL Giovani Bernard suffered in November could help spur the Bengals to select a running back as early as Round 1 of the draft, writes Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Neither Bernard nor Jeremy Hill reached the 4.0 yards-per-carry mark last year, though the former posted strong pass-catching numbers and the latter scored nine touchdowns. Hill is set to enter the last year of his contract in 2017, while Rex Burkhead is on track to hit free agency next month after putting up a lofty 4.6 YPC on 74 tries in 2016. Head coach Marvin Lewis spoke on both Hill and Burkhead on Friday, telling Geoff Hobson of the team’s website: “We have to coach [Hill] better. We bet on him. We have no other choice. We bet on Jeremy to continue to progress and move forward. Our job is to try and re-sign Rex. That doesn’t affect Jeremy.”
  • After spending 12 years with the 49ers, including the past four as their director of college scouting, Matt Malaspina took a job as a college scout with the Packers on Friday, per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. In doing so, Malaspina became the second front office member to leave the San Francisco organization this week. The 49ers and assistant general manager Tom Gamble parted ways Wednesday.
  • In other 49ers news, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell‘s four-year, $16MM agreement with the club includes $6.5MM in guarantees, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.

AFC Notes: Jags, Broncos, Chiefs, Browns

Jaguars vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin said Friday he “doesn’t see any reason” why the team’s trades with the Dolphins involving tight end Julius Thomas and left tackle Branden Albert would fall through before they become official March 9. That indicates Albert has passed a physical with the Jags, notes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union (Thomas has also passed his with Miami). As for free agency, with upward of $70MM in cap space, Coughlin expects the Jaguars “to be very competitive” in bidding for outside help.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Before defensive tackle Earl Mitchell agreed to a deal with the 49ers on Friday, the Broncos offered him a three-year contract featuring a $4.5MM salary in 2017, reports Mike Klis of 9News (Twitter link). He ended up with a four-year, $16MM pact that includes $5.5MM next season.
  • Kansas City could pursue soon-to-be former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in the coming weeks, but it would be unwise to regard the Chiefs as one of the favorites for his services, argues Adam Teichner of ESPN.com. If the Chiefs were to fail in an attempt to reel in Romo, they’d risk causing irreparable damage to their relationship with Smith, opines Teichner. Considering that, the Chiefs might only get involved in the Romo sweepstakes if they’re sure they’re going to come out on top.
  • The Browns could turn to quarterback Tyrod Taylor in free agency if the Bills release him, and after studying tape of the dual threat, Dan Labbe of cleveland.com contends that he’s “no less intriguing” than much-ballyhooed New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo. By opting for Taylor, the Browns would save the premium in draft picks they’d have to pay for Garoppolo – whom they’d nonetheless prefer to acquire – and would still have the option of selecting a QB to develop behind Taylor, Labbe writes.
  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski doesn’t expect the back injury that kept him out of the Patriots’ lineup from late November onward, including for their Super Bowl-winning playoff run, to limit him in 2017. Gronkowski told ESPN on Friday that there’s “no doubt” he’ll be ready for Week 1. Longer term, the 27-year-old said earlier this month he’d like to play at least six more years, though he wasn’t willing on Friday to put a number on how much longer he’ll last. “I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play,” Gronkowski said. “My mindset is to keep on going” (via Ryan Hannable of WEEI).

49ers Sign Earl Mitchell

The 49ers are making a free agency splash well before March 9: The club has agreed to a four-year, $16MM deal with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). The team announced the signing of the veteran lineman Saturday.

Earl Mitchell (Vertical)

Mitchell, who will enter his age-30 season in 2017, came available when the Dolphins released him last week. The 49ers were among several teams to show interest in Mitchell, who also visited with the Seahawks, Broncos and Falcons. Mitchell would have made $4MM next season had the Dolphins retained him, but he’ll now rake in $5.5MM as a Niner, per Garafolo.

A seven-year veteran who went in the third round of the 2010 draft, Mitchell divided his career between Houston and Miami before reaching a deal with the 49ers. He has collected 100 appearances, 38 starts and 5.5 sacks to this point, and is coming off a season in which he only played nine games on account of a calf injury.

In his previous trip to free agency, in 2014, Mitchell landed a richer deal – four years and $19MM – though he did it as an in-his-prime player fresh off a 14-start season. While the full details of his new pact aren’t yet known, Mitchell has landed an impressive payday in the wake of both an injury-shortened season and a release. He’ll now join a 49ers defense that finished last season 28th in DVOA and will attempt to turn things around under new coordinator Robert Saleh.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Broncos’ Offseason Plans

The Broncos will attempt to address their defensive line during the free agent period, according to Mike Klis of 9NEWS. Former Dolphin Earl Mitchell is one candidate to join Denver’s front, and Klis reports Mitchell will meet with the Broncos on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Mitchell has a busy schedule, as he’ll visit the Seahawks on Monday/Tuesday, the 49ers on Tuesday/Wednesday, and the Falcons on Thursday/Friday.Earl Mitchell (Vertical)

[RELATED: Broncos Working To Re-Sign Kayvon Webster]

If Denver is able to sign Mitchell (who would play end in the Broncos’ 3-4 scheme), it will then focus on securing a replacement for nose tackle Sylvester Williams, per Klis. Williams, a former first-round pick, is expected to test the free agent waters on March 9. The Broncos are also interested in retaining defensive lineman Vance Walker, who missed the entirety of the 2016 after tearing his ACL, according to Klis.

On the offensive side of the the ball, the Broncos will target at least one lineman in free agency, reports Klis. Denver holds an expensive option on left tackle Russell Okung, right tackle Donald Stephenson is expected to be released, and the Broncos’ guards could also be upgraded. Denver’s offensive line ranked as just the league’s No. 24 unit in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus’ year-end rankings.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FA Notes: Jeffery, Mitchell, Gillislee, Bell

“Those things will pick up as we get further down the road,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of contract negotiations with free agent receiver Alshon Jeffery. However, as Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times writes, those decisions will start to “pick up” next week. Wednesday is the first day teams can assign the franchise tag to their impending free agents, and Jefferey could surely be in line to be slapped with the designation.

Jeffery also received the franchise tag last offseason, meaning his projected tag value for this season would be around $17MM. Jefferey didn’t necessarily have a “prove-it” season thanks in part to a four-game suspension, so the organization may not want to make the 27-year-old one of the highest paid wideouts for a second-straight year. Additionally, the Bears may not want to invest in the receiver long-term.

Let’s take a look at some other notes pertaining to the league’s free agents…

  • Following his release by the Dolphins earlier this week, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has lined up a number of visits. According to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the veteran is set to meet with the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Broncos next week. Mitchell joined Miami prior to the 2014 season, playing in 37 games over his three seasons with the team.
  • The Bills don’t want to lose running back Mike Gillislee like they did wideout Chris Hogan, writes ESPN.com Mike Rodak. The organixation assigned their former receiver the cheapest restricted free-agent tender last offseason, and the Patriots swooped in and signed him for practically nothing. The Bills have until March 9th to assign a similar tender to Gillislee. In 15 games last season, the running back ran for 577 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries.
  • Joel Corry of CBSSports.com writes that the franchise tag may be a “blessing” for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The former agent notes that front offices are wary of signing running backs to lucrative, long-term contracts, citing the deal signed by DeMarco Murray. The running back franchise tag is projected to be valued at around $12MM, and Corry is skeptical that Bell could earn that kind of money (per year) via a standard contract.
  • Defensive tackle Nick Fairley and the Saints would both embrace a reunion, but Nick Underhill of The Advocate wonders if the two sides can make the money work. Following a season where he recorded 6.5 sacks, the writer believes Fairley could be in line to make around $9.5MM next year. While the Saints have the financial flexibility to make that work, Underhill wonders if they’d actually be willing to commit that kind of money.

West Notes: Broncos, 49ers, Raiders, Vegas

The Broncos could express interest in left tackle Branden Albert and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, each of whom played for the Dolphins in 2016, per Mike Klis of 9NEWS (Twitter links). Mitchell was released on Thursday and could be a fit with Denver thanks to his relationship with Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and defensive line coach Bill Kollar. Albert was also thought to have been released, but Miami is now close to trading the 32-year-old to Jacksonville. It’s unclear if Denver would still be interested in Albert if forced to sacrifice draft compensation.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two West divisions:

  • In addition to confirming several previously-reported hires, the 49ers announced another wave of coaching staff additions tonight. The list of new coaches includes Jeff Hafley (defensive backs), Johnny Holland (linebackers), Jason Tarver (senior defensive assistant) and Bobby Slowik (defensive quality control). Tarver, a former coordinator at the NFL level, is a holdover but is shifting away from LBs coach in order for San Francisco to add Holland, a former Cleveland coach.
  • The Broncos have granted the 49ers permission to interview John Benton for their vacant offensive line position, as Klis reports in a separate piece. Denver hired Benton as its assistant offensive line coach last month, but obviously he hasn’t actually worked with any Broncos players as of yet. Benton has worked with new San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan in the past, as the pair was employed by Houston from 2006-09.
  • Although previous reports have indicated the Raiders‘ plan to relocate to Las Vegas is “dead,” Oakland executive Mark Badain recently told the NFL the club has financial backing from two banks willing to loan the Raiders money for their move, tweets Jason Cole of Bleacher Report. The Raiders last month lost the support of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was planning to put $650MM towards a Vegas stadium, but reportedly still had “high hopes” of moving to Nevada.

Dolphins To Release Earl Mitchell

We have another notable release in Miami. The Dolphins are cutting defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Mitchell was due $4MM this upcoming season. Instead, his contract will leave just $500K in dead money. Earl Mitchell (vertical)

[RELATED: Dolphins Cut Branden Albert]

Mitchell was said to have “internal support” within the Dolphins front office, but his fan club was not large enough to keep him in South Florida. After missing half the season with a calf injury, Mitchell only ended up playing one-quarter of Miami’s defensive snaps. Apparently, the Dolphins feel that they can acquire defensive line depth elsewhere for cheaper.

Mitchell, 30 in September, left the Texans in free agency to sign with the Dolphins prior to the 2014 season. The defensive tackle received a four-year, $19MM deal with $8MM guaranteed, thanks in large part to his work ethic and leadership skills. In his first year as a Dolphin, Mitchell was a highly-valued sub as he notched 33 total tackles and 2.0 sacks. In the last two seasons, however, his production has noticeably dipped.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Fins, Bengals, Ravens, Raiders

Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has “internal support” within the Dolphins front office, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, which means the 29-year-old may not be a simple cap casualty this offseason. Mitchell is scheduled to count $4.5MM on Miami’s 2017 salary cap, but the Dolphins could clear out all but $500K of that total by releasing him in the coming weeks. After missing half the season with a calf injury, Mitchell only ended playing a quarter of Miami’s defensive snaps, but Jackson reports that his “motor and leadership” are respected.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Kevin Zeitler and the Bengals hadn’t initiated contract negotiations as of a month ago, and Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer continues to believe the veteran guard will leave this spring via the free agent market. If the Bengals are faced with a choice between Zeitler and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the club will likely side with Whitworth, per Dehner, especially given that Zeitler could “break the bank” as the No. 1 interior lineman available. Finding a solution along the offensive line was among the list of Cincinnati’s key offseason needs that I outlined earlier this month.
  • The Ravens could be suitor for free agent safety Tony Jefferson, reports Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, who notes Baltimore “wouldn’t mind pairing” Jefferson with Eric Weddle in the back end. Jefferson, 25, could make sense for a number of teams and is expected to be one of the top safeties available. However, no club signed him to a restricted free agent offer sheet last year when the cost for doing so would have been minimal.
  • Speaking on 97.5 The Game, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie sounded interested in re-signing running back Latavius Murray, but admitted Oakland could get priced out of the picture. “He’s one of those kinds that don’t come around too often when you talk about size,” said McKenzie. “I’m always in position to want to re-sign our own players, but the finances of it always will play a part. You never know there’s 31 other teams out there who may be communicating to his representatives.”