J.J. Wilcox

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Brady, Taylor, Colts

The NFL postponed the DolphinsBuccaneers‘ Week 1 game until Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma (Twitter link). Both teams had byes that week, making this rare postponement easier. Both south Florida teams will now play 16 straight games.

Here’s the latest from several other AFC cities on Wednesday morning.

  • After a joint review by the NFL and NFLPA, the Patriots were determined to have followed protocol regarding a potential Tom Brady concussion last season, the sides said in a statement (via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, on Twitter). Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, said earlier this offseason her husband suffered a concussion last season that wasn’t reported by the Patriots. Brady issued a vague response when asked about this in July, but the quarterback turned over his medical records during this investigation — one that examined film from all 19 Patriots games, along with reports from unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and concussion spotters assigned to those respective games. While the NFL isn’t claiming Bundchen is lying about the concussions, Volin tweets this examination merely determined the Patriots followed protocol. This matter appears to be closed, from the league’s perspective.
  • Tyrod Taylor‘s agent contacted the Browns, Jets and 49ers prior to the Bills agreeing to a revamped deal with their incumbent starter, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reports. After those discussions, Carucci reports Taylor’s camp decided it was best to agree to the reworked Bills pact. The three teams possessed some degree of interest in Taylor had he hit free agency, but it evidently wasn’t enough to dissuade Taylor from staying with the Bills on a contract that now pays him $10MM less over the next two years than it would have under the previous terms. “Maybe a couple less touchdowns, but as far as yardage, I did what I did to get that deal in the first place,” Taylor said, via Carucci, about the adjusted contract. “So whether they thought that I didn’t deserve it, I don’t know. That’s up to them.” Taylor threw for just 12 fewer yards last season (3,023) and rushed for 12 more (580) than he did in 2015. Although, the quarterback played in one more game last season than he did during his first year as Buffalo’s starter.
  • The Texans‘ deal with cornerback Marcus Burley is for two years, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. A former sixth-round pick, Burley’s played in 38 games during his three-year career. After two seasons with the Seahawks, Burley played with the Browns in 2016. Cleveland cut him last week.
  • The Colts worked out offensive lineman Emmett Cleary, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. The Cowboys cut Cleary on Saturday after he played in 13 games for them last season.
  • Newly acquired Steelers defensive backs Joe Haden and J.J. Wilcox account for a combined $5.541MM in 2017 cap hits, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Pittsburgh now holds $11.07MM in cap space.

Steelers Acquire DB J.J. Wilcox

The Steelers have acquired safety J.J. Wilcox from the Buccaneers, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link). Pittsburgh will receive Wilcox and a 2019 seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round pick, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)

Tampa Bay had just signed Wilcox to a two-year deal this spring, but given that it inked T.J. Ward earlier today, the club no longer need Wilcox around for depth. The Buccaneers won’t take on any dead money by trading Wilcox because they didn’t employ a signing bonus on his contract.

The Steelers had also been mentioned as a potential destination for Ward, but they’ve instead picked up the 26-year-old Wilcox, who boasts 58 career games (38 starts). Wilcox will earn $3.25MM in 2017 and serve as depth behind Pittsburgh starting safeties Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis.

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Contract Details: Jones, Gresham, Church

Let’s take a look at the details of some recently-signed contracts:

Buccaneers Sign J.J. Wilcox

J.J. Wilcox has found a new home. Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that the safety has signed a deal with the Buccaneers. NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo says (via Twitter) that it will be a two-year deal worth up to $8.5MM.

J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)We’ve been hearing all week that there was mutual interest between both sides. However, Wilcox appeared to have a number of suitors. His former team, the Cowboys, were interested in bringing him back following the departure of Barry Church. The Seahawks and Dolphins were also connected to the free agent.

The former third-round had played his entire four-year career in Dallas. Wilcox served mostly as a sub during his first season in the league, but he established himself as a starter between 2014 and 2015. Last season, the safety reverted to a backup, as he finished with a career-low four starts (in 13 games) after losing his job to rookie Byron Jones.

The 26-year-old was still plenty productive. Wilcox finished the campaign with 49 tackles, one forced fumble, one interception, and a career-high six passes defended. Thanks to his performance, PFR listed him as the 12-best available safety in our positional free agent rankings.

Wilcox will joined a Buccaneers safety corps that includes Chris ConteKeith Tandy, and Ryan Smith.

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J.J. Wilcox To Visit Seahawks

In addition to meeting with the Buccaneers, free agent safety J.J. Wilcox will visit the Seahawks, reports Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). Wilcox spent the first four seasons of his career with the Cowboys, but they won’t attempt to re-sign the 26-year-old, per George.

J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)

Wilcox is now poised to become the second safety to leave Dallas in free agency this year, joining soon-to-be Jaguar Barry Church. Functioning as the Cowboys’ third safety behind Church and Byron Jones last season, Wilcox appeared in 13 games and picked off the fifth pass of his career. Wilcox only started four contests – down from 16 in 2014 and 13 in 2015 – but Pro Football Focus ranked his performance a terrific 27th among 89 qualified safeties.

The next chapter of Wilcox’s career could take him to Seattle, which boasts a highly accomplished secondary and two star safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Chancellor is currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason, though, and Thomas flirted with retirement after an injury-shortened 2016.

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Bucs To Meet With J.J. Wilcox

The Buccaneers have scheduled a visit with free agent safety J.J. Wilcox, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com reports.J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)

Wilcox appeared in 13 games last year as the Cowboys’ third safety behind Church and Byron Jones, but given that Dallas is reportedly bracing to lose many of its internal free agents, Wilcox appeared to be a goner. But with Church out of the picture, the Cowboys may push harder to re-sign Wilcox, as the club might not be comfortable starting special-teamer Jeff Heath in the back end.

Safety is a definite need area for the Buccaneers. Chris Conte has been re-signed, but Bradley McDougald is a pending free agent. Keith Tandy figures to take at least one of Tampa Bay’s starting safety jobs after playing well down the stretch in 2016, but the club could use another defensive back. Wilcox ranks 12th on PFR’s list of free agent safeties.

Conte’s deal, meanwhile, is a two-year, $5MM pact with $2.5MM guaranteed, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. The max value is $7MM.

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Several FAs On Dolphins’ Radar

Already set to meet with Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons after the market opens Thursday, the Dolphins have several other players on their radar on the eve of free agency, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Duron Harmon

With injured safety Isa Abdul-Quddus questionable to take the field in 2017, the Dolphins are prioritizing the position and could pursue the Patriots’ Duron Harmon and the Cowboys’ J.J. Wilcox, to name a couple. Harmon ranks as PFR’s 12th-best free agent and, although he figures to come at a high price, would perhaps form a quality tandem with star strong safety Reshad Jones.

The 26-year-old Harmon hasn’t been a full-time player in New England, where he only started four of 16 appearances there last season (and 12 of 63 since his career began in 2013) and partook in 48.6 percent of defensive snaps. The same has been true for Wilcox in Dallas, where he started 38 of 58 appearances from 2013-16. Only four of his starts (13 games) came last year, though his performance did rank an above-average 27th among Pro Football Focus’ 89 qualified safeties (Harmon was 54th). If the Dolphins want to add Wilcox, it appears they’ll have to compete with another Florida-based franchise, the Buccaneers, for his services.

Miami agreed to re-sign defensive end Andre Branch to a big-money deal Thursday, but that might not be the last time it addresses the position this offseason. The team would like to add two more ends, though it has so far passed on top available names like Calais Campbell and Jabaal Sheard, per Jackson. The Dolphins have reached out to a less notable player, the Cardinals’ Alex Okafor, who’s coming off a 15-appearance, 3.5-sack season. Okafor, 26, didn’t start a game last year, but he did line up with Arizona’s No. 1 defense 12 times in 2014, when he posted a career-high eight sacks, and 13 times in 2015.

Along with Okafor, the Dolphins have fellow D-linemen – tackles Terrell McClain and Lawrence Guy – on their radar, Jackson writes. The Dolphins are at least the fourth team eyeing McClain, a 28-year-old who spent the previous three seasons in Dallas and is coming off the most productive showing of his career. McClain tallied personal bests in appearances and starts (15 apiece), tackles (39), sacks (2.5) and forced fumbles (two) in 2016.

The 26-year-old Guy, meanwhile, played the majority of the past three seasons in Baltimore, where he picked up a career-high 10 starts across 16 appearances in 2016. In 484 snaps, Guy only registered one sack – down from a personal-best 4.5 in 2015 – though his performance did rank an impressive 38th among PFF’s 127 qualified interior defensive linemen.

Shifting to the offensive side of the ball, Miami wants “two reasonably priced guards” and hasn’t ruled out re-signing Jermon Bushrod, relays Jackson. After playing with the Saints and Bears from 2007-15, Bushrod signed a cheap pact ($1.5MM) with Miami last offseason and proceeded to start all of its games this past year. PFF pegged him as one of the four worst guards in the league, however.

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Mutual Interest Between Bucs, J.J. Wilcox

Mutual interest exists between the Buccaneers and free agent safety J.J. Wilcox, reports Jenna Laine of ESPN.com, but the Cowboys are now hoping to retain the 26-year-old defensive back after seeing Barry Church sign with the Jaguars, tweets Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram.J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)

Wilcox appeared in 13 games last year as the Cowboys’ third safety behind Church and Byron Jones, but given that Dallas is reportedly bracing to lose many of its internal free agents, Wilcox appeared to be a goner. But with Church out of the picture, the Cowboys may push harder to re-sign Wilcox, as the club might not be comfortable starting special-teamer Jeff Heath in the back end.

Safety is a definite need area for the Buccaneers, as both Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald are pending free agents. Keith Tandy figures to take at least one of Tampa Bay’s starting safety jobs after playing well down the stretch in 2016, but the club could certainly use another defensive back. Wilcox ranks 12th on PFR’s list of free agent safeties.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday 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. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.

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 franchised players 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 this offseason:

Edge defender:

  1. Nick Perry
  2. Jabaal Sheard
  3. John Simon
  4. DeMarcus Ware
  5. Lorenzo Alexander
  6. Andre Branch
  7. Julius Peppers
  8. Charles Johnson
  9. Datone Jones
  10. Dwight Freeney
  11. Chris Long
  12. Mario Williams
  13. Paul Kruger
  14. Courtney Upshaw
  15. Jarvis Jones

Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks."<strong

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 players with youth still on their side, Datone Jones figures to interest clubs thanks to his versatility, as he can vacillate between end and linebacker, while fellow former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is solid against the run. 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. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, 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. Calais Campbell
  2. Johnathan Hankins
  3. Brandon Williams
  4. Dontari Poe
  5. Chris Baker
  6. Bennie Logan
  7. Nick Fairley
  8. Alan Branch
  9. Jared Odrick
  10. Karl Klug
  11. Terrell McClain
  12. Lawrence Guy
  13. Stacy McGee
  14. Stephen Paea
  15. Sylvester Williams
    Honorable mention: Paul Soliai

Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans."<strong

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, Karl Klug), and run stoppers (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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Cowboys Bracing To Lose Free Agents

The Cowboys’ list of pending free agents is rife with talented players, including cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, and wide receiver Terrance Williams, but Dallas might not be able to retain many (if any) of their unsigned free agents, as Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram reports the Cowboys “could lose them all.”Terrance Williams (Vertical)

[RELATED: Tony Romo Wants To Join Broncos]

At present, the Cowboys rank last in the league with just $3.3MM in cap space, and as such, don’t figure to be aggressive in the early goings of free agency, per Hill, who adds Dallas will “let the market come back to them.” At wideout, the Cowboys won’t be a factor in the Williams sweepstakes if his value approaches the $7MM range (as is expected), but the club will attempt to re-sign fellow free agent pass-catcher Brice Butler if the price is right.

In the secondary, the Cowboys won’t retain both Carr and Claiborne and could potentially lose both, while Church will also price himself out of Dallas’ range if he lands a contract north of $7MM (Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports reported $5MM as the Church sweet spot earlier today). The Cowboys are reportedly open to starting Jeff Heath at safety opposite Byron Jones, per Hill, which lessens the need to re-sign either Church or Wilcox.

Dallas still plans to target a wide receiver and pass rusher this offseason, but owner Jerry Jones believes those needs can be addressed either through the draft or the second wave of free agency, according to Hill.

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