Erik Walden

AFC Notes: Patriots, Freeney, Bengals, Iloka

Now that defensive end Rob Ninkovich has officially retired, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com wonders if the Patriots might consider signing free agent edge defender Dwight Freeney. Freeney, 37, is arguably the best pass rusher left on the market, and New England doesn’t have a true edge bender on its roster (Trey Flowers earned the highest pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus last season with a 76.8 mark). As Reiss notes, the Patriots brought Freeney in for a visit prior to the 2013 campaign, but oddly didn’t discuss a potential deal. Freeney indicated last month that he intends to continue his career in 2017.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Bengals safety George Iloka is expected to miss three-to-four weeks after suffering a knee sprain Sunday, according to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The diagnosis could have been worse, as Iloka went down with a non-contract injury (typically indicative of a torn ACL), but the five-year veteran didn’t suffer any ligament tears, a source tells Owczarski. While Iloka will likely be sidelined for the preseason, he should be ready by the time Week 1 rolls around. If not, Derron Smith would step into the starting lineup.
  • Erik Walden‘s one-year. deal with Titans is worth up to $3.25MM, Terry McCormick of Titan Insider tweets. The deal includes a $1.35MM base, a $300K signing bonus, a $1.1MM roster bonus, and $500K in incentives. It’s a decent package for Walden considering the tepid market he was met with this offseason. Meanwhile, the Titans are making only a small investment in a player who recorded 11.0 sacks in 2016.
  • You can cross Robert Griffin III off of the Ravens‘ list.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this post.

Titans To Sign Erik Walden

The Titans are signing linebacker Erik Walden, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Walden spent the previous four seasons with the rival Colts. "<strong

Walden had 11.0 sacks last year and it’s surprising that he was on the market for this long. The 31-year-old (32 in August) has plenty of motivation to excel this year and make the rest of the league pass on signing him.

Walden met with the Titans in the spring after the Colts informed him that he wouldn’t be back. After four months of little activity – save for conversations with the Jets in June – he has circled back to Tennessee. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus might help to explain the lack of interest Walden has generated this offseason. Despite his 11 quarterback takedowns last year, he still graded out as one of the six worst edge defenders in the league.

The Titans will use Walden as a reserve outside linebacker behind starters Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo – assuming he makes the team. Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, free agent addition Daren Bates, and rookies Jayon Brown and Josh Carraway are also pushing for playing time at OLB.

Walden fired agent Todd France at the tail end of March when he wasn’t getting enough bites and is now represented by Michael and Jason Katz of CSE Talent.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Interested In LB Erik Walden

Finally, things could be picking up for free agent Erik Walden. The Jets have had talks with the linebacker in recent weeks, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post (Twitter link). Costello adds that he is a name to keep an eye on for Gang Green. Erik Walden (vertical)

Walden had 11.0 sacks for the Colts last year and few expected him to still be available in June. But, for one reason or another, the market has moved like molasses for the 31-year-old (32 in August). Walden fired agent Todd France at the tail end of March when he wasn’t getting enough bites and hired Michael and Jason Katz of CSE Talent as his new representation. His only known visit of the spring came with the Titans after the Colts informed him he wouldn’t be retained.

The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus might help to explain the lack of interest Walden has generated this offseason. Despite his 11 quarterback takedowns last year, he still graded out as one of the six worst edge defenders in the league.

Walden may or may not be a high-impact player for 2017, but he would represent a cheap linebacker addition in the wake of David Harris‘ release. At minimum, a signing like this Jets can help make a case to fans that they’re trying to win, even though the team is clearly in a rebuilding phase.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FA Rumors: Ravens, Mangold, Bills, Walden

The Ravens may be close to bringing a free agent on board, as general manager Ozzie Newsome told reporters, including Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com“We’re working,” Newsome said. “And I can say there’s a high probability of that, yes.” That unidentified free agent could be interior offensive lineman Nick Mangold, who met with Baltimore today but left without a contract. Mangold would fit the Ravens’ need for a veteran center, and as Hensley notes, Baltimore lost a potential option when John Sullivan signed with Los Angeles earlier today. Newsome & Co. traded former starting pivot Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco last month.

Here’s more from the free agent front:

  • Free agent defensive back Marcus Cromartie will work out for the Bills on Friday, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee (Twitter link), who indicates Buffalo would be willing to play Cromartie at either corner or safety. Cromartie, 26, hit the open market last month after San Francisco declined to offer him a restricted free agent tender. He’s appeared in 21 games during his three-year NFL tenure, mostly acting as a special teams player during that time. Cromartie has generated a good amount of interest since being cut lose, as the Jets, Seahawks, Eagles, and Lions are all keeping touch.
  • Linebacker Erik Walden has hired Michael and Jason Katz of CSE Talent as his new representation, tweets Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal. Walden, 31, fired agent Todd France at the tail end of last month. His only known visit came with the Titans after the Colts informed him he wouldn’t be retained. PFR ranks Walden as the sixth-best edge defender remaining on the board.
  • Two new players have hit the free agent market after being waived/released today: the Packers cut ties with defensive tackle Ego Ferguson after he failed a physical, and the Saints parted ways with veteran backup quarterback Luke McCown.

AFC South Notes: Colts, Jags, Titans, Walden

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano believes bringing in a young running back is “paramount,” per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com (Twitter link). Indianapolis’ backfield is currently composed of Frank Gore, who is entering his age-34 season, and 27-year-old Robert Turbin, who was recently re-signed on a two-year deal. Backs that could be available when the Colts are on the board at pick No. 15 include Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey.

Here’s more from the AFC South:

  • Although the Colts will likely sign a fourth quarterback in the coming weeks, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign the club is worried about Andrew Luck‘s health, tweets Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. New general manager Chris Ballard simply is accustomed to keeping four signal-callers on the offseason roster, a strategy the Chiefs employed when Ballard worked in Kansas City. At present, Indianapolis has Luck, Scott Tolzien, and Stephen Morris under contract.
  • The Jaguars are likely to begin extension conversations with the younger members of their roster in the near future, but cornerback Aaron Colvin — who is entering his contract year — is likely to play out the season and hit the open market with the hope of moving to outside corner, a source tells Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida-Times Union. Colvin only played in 10 games in 2016 due to a suspension and an ankle injury, and his playing time will be limited once again in 2017 thanks to the presence of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
  • Free agent linebacker Erik Walden fired agent Todd France three days after meeting with the Titans earlier this month, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, who adds Walden has not yet found new representation. Walden’s visit with Tennessee is the only known meeting he’s taken so far this offseason after the Colts informed him he wouldn’t be retained. PFR ranks Walden as the sixth-best edge defender remaining on the board.
  • The Titans have promoted offensive assistant Luke Steckel to assistant wide receivers coach, per Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com (Twitter link). Steckel will now work under Frisman Jackson, whom Tennessee hired as it WRs coach earlier this year. Prior to joining the Titans, Steckel spent four seasons in Cleveland as an assistant to the head coach

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.

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. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

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Titans Host Erik Walden On Visit

Colts free agent linebacker Erik Walden is visiting the Titans today, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).Erik Walden (vertical)

Walden indicated last week that the Colts wouldn’t be re-signing him, an unsurprising decision given that Indianapolis is attempting to get younger on defense (new general manager Chris Ballard told veteran safety Mike Adams the same thing). Walden, 31, signed a four-year deal with the Colts prior to the 2013 campaign, and ended up appearing in 60 games for the club. After averaging only four sacks per season from 2013-15, Walden put up 11 quarterback takedowns last year, but still graded out as one of the six worst edge defenders in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Titans have already gotten out of the race for inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, but Walden would give Tennessee a veteran presence on the edge. After playing more than 70% of the Colts’ defensive snaps a year ago, Walden would serve in a rotational backup role for the Titans, who already employ Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Tennessee ranked 14th in the NFL in adjusted sack rate last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts To Let Erik Walden Depart?

Erik Walden is operating like a player who knows he will have to find a new NFL home. Despite delivering a career-best season in his Colts contract year, the pass-rusher appears set to leave Indianapolis after tweeting a parting-ways message today (all Twitter links).

We haven’t heard much from the 31-year-old UFA this offseason despite Walden coming off an 11-sack season. But the Colts signed younger talents Jabaal Sheard and John Simon this week and made a potential depth addition in Barkevious Mingo.

While Walden came through with 11 sacks, that represented a big leap from his usual production level. He’d only once before delivered more than three in a season, coming with a six-sack slate for the 2014 Colts. However, he’s two years younger than Lorenzo Alexander, who’d delivered a nondescript pass-rushing career prior to breaking out for 12.5 sacks, so there could be a slower-developing market for Walden. Alexander received two years and $9MM from the Bills. Walden finished a four-year, $16MM Colts deal in January.

Prior to playing in Indianapolis, Walden entered the league as a sixth-round pick in 2008. He bounced around until playing two full seasons with the Packers en route to landing that UFA Colts deal in 2013. He only missed three regular-season games for the Colts during his tenure.