Erik Walden

South Notes: Texans, Watson, Titans, Bucs

Given that he tore his ACL in early November, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to be available for organized team activities, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link). While losing a dynamic talent like Watson clearly cratered Houston’s 2017 campaign, the fact that he went down relatively early in the season does have a silver lining, as he’ll now be ready for offseason work. The Texans don’t have a first- or second-round pick in 2018, so they’ll rely on free agency and Watson returning to his excellent form in order to compete next year.

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

  • Although the Titans spoke with Erik Walden‘s agent at the scouting combine, the veteran edge defender is expected to test the open market, tweets Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com. Earlier this offseason, I noted that finding a young pass rusher should be at top priority for Tennessee, so the 32-year-old Walden may not be a fit. Walden managed four sacks as a rotational rusher during his first season with the Titans, but he posted 11 sacks as recently as 2016. Entering the free agent period, PFR ranked Walden as the 15th-best free agent edge defender.
  • The Buccaneers are targeting free agent kicker Chandler Catanzaro, reports Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Tampa Bay has been atrocious at kicker for the better part of two years, as Roberto Aguayo, Nick Folk, and Patrick Murray have all struggled as the club’s primary kicker. Indeed, Football Outsiders ranked the Bucs 30th in the NFL with -13.2 points created on field goals and extra points. Catanzaro, who converted 83.3% of his field goals in 2017, isn’t the only kicker Tampa Bay is looking at, as the Redskins’ Dustin Hopkins is also on the team’s radar.
  • Buccaneers free agent guard Kevin Pamphile is drawing interest from eight-to-ten teams, per Laine. Pamphile, 27, has been a full-time starter over the past two seasons, and last season played 70% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps, third among Bucs offensive linemen. Additionally, while Pamphile is typically a guard, he does offer the ability to play all five positions along the offensive line. That versatility could be attractive to a number of clubs, as Pamphile could fill in at tackle or center if a need arises.

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

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.

Read more

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.