Jayron Hosley

Best Available NFL Free Agents: Defense

The most high-profile free agent signings occurred more than two months ago, but as we near June there are still talented NFL free agents available on the open market. Most of these players (with a few exceptions) won’t command much guaranteed money, and given that we’ve passed the May 12 deadline, none will factor into the compensatory draft pick formula. After examining the offensive side of the ball yesterday, let’s take a look at the defensive players who will try to find a home as training camp approaches…Donte Whitner (Veritcal)

1. Donte Whitner, S: Despite being released by the Browns last month, Whitner is still an excellent player, having graded as the league’s No. 24 safety among 89 qualifiers in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. Remarkably durable (he’s missed only three games in the past six years), Whitner visited with the Rams in early April, and is reportedly still on Los Angeles’ radar. Elsewhere, both the Chargers and the Cowboys could make sense as potential landing spots if San Diego and Dallas want to upgrade on Jahleel Addae and Barry Church, respectively.

2. Leon Hall, CB: Hall hasn’t lacked suitors this offseason, as the Cowboys, Cardinals, Giants, and Falcons have all shown varying levels of interest in the 31-year-old cornerback over the past several months. He’s not the boundary defender that he used to be, but Hall is a productive slot corner, which essentially makes him a starter in today’s NFL. Health questions have nagged Hall throughout his entire career, and an offseason back procedure won’t quiet those concerns, but the former Bengal figures to find a new home sooner rather than later.

3. Greg Hardy, DE: Clearly the best defender on this list in terms of pure talent, Hardy’s off-the-field issues don’t need to be rehashed here. The 27-year-old edge rusher and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are apparently lobbying NFL clubs for an opportunity, detailing the steps Hardy has taken to correct his pattern of behavior. However, it doesn’t appear as though many teams are convinced Hardy has changed his tune, as sources told Ed Werder of ESPN.com that no one is interested in Hardy, with executives calling him — at best — a “hard sell” to ownership and — at worst — “toxic.”
Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

4. Dwight Freeney, LB/DE: Freeney spent roughly a third of the 2015 season at home, waiting until the Cardinals called in October to get back on an NFL field. Now 36 years old, Freeney has become something of a cause célèbre of mine, as I think he’s a far more valuable player than the league apparently does. I outlined Freeney’s tools in April of last year, and much of what I wrote at the time still holds — any number of clubs could benefit from allowing Freeney to get after the quarterback 20-25 times per game. A reunion with Arizona isn’t out of the question, and the Ravens, Bengals, Panthers, Jets, Patriots, Lions, Chiefs, and Bills could all use an extra edge rusher.

5. Brandon Boykin, CB: At age 25, Boykin surprisingly had to settle for a minimum salary benefit contract to join the Panthers in March — he lasted less than two months on the roster, as he was released by Carolina earlier this week. That series of events, coupled with Boykin’s relative lack of playing time after being dealt to the Steelers last year, is hard to figure, as Boykin is considered one of the premier slot corners in the game. With teams lining up in sub packages more than 60% of the time, Boykin is capable of playing a substantial role, and shouldn’t stay on the street for long.

6. Mike Neal, LB: Neal started a career-high 15 games last season, and has posted at least four sacks in each of the past four years. He’s met with both the Lions and the Seahawks this offseason, but has yet to sign a contract, and would seemingly only be in line for a one-year pact at this point. The Packers selected fellow linebacker Kyler Fackrell in the third round of last month’s draft, so Green Bay probably isn’t an option (though Neal is open to returning). It’s possible that the 2015 Al Jazeera report that linked Neal to PEDs is hindering his market, a sentiment with which Neal agrees.Chris Culliver (Vertical)

7. Chris Culliver, CB: It’s been a trying 12 months or so for Culliver, whose 2015 one-game suspension voided his 2016 $8MM guarantee, making it much easier for Washington to release him — which they did earlier this month. Culliver, 27, also tore his ACL in November, meaning his availability for the start of the season could be in doubt. But Culliver is the one true outside cornerback on this list, and he has also has youth on his side. A smart team might sign Culliver to a two-year deal with limited or no guarantees for the 2017 season, let him rehab for the first half of 2016, and then evaluate him over the course of November and December.

8. Antrel Rolle, S: Rolle isn’t going to get the same kind of offers that fellow safety Whitner will — not only is he more than three years older, but Rolle ranked a little lower among safeties than did Whitner, coming in at No. 39 in the NFL according to PFF. Rolle has expressed an interest in reuniting with the Giants, with whom he spent the 2010-14 seasons, and on paper, it’s a match that makes a lot of sense, as New York needs a rangy free safety opposite Landon Collins. The Rams, Falcons, and Buccaneers could have interest in the veteran defensive back, as could the Colts if they plan to move 2016 second-rounder T.J. Green to cornerback, as has been rumored.

9. O’Brien Schofield, LB: Schofield and the Falcons were said to be working on a deal as far back as early March, but no signing ever came to fruition. At the time, the Cowboys, Bears, and Titans were reported to have interest in Schofield, and while he’s expressed his preference to return to Atlanta, he remains a free agent. Head coach Dan Quinn has stated he hopes that Schofield is re-signed, and the Falcons have in fact made an offer. Primarily a nickel linebacker, Schofield agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants in 2014 only to see it fall apart due to medical concerns — it’s unclear whether his current disagreement with Atlanta is due to injury questions or financial disparities.

10. Jeremy Mincey, DE: At 32 years old, Mincey isn’t going to suddenly blossom into a star, but he’s more than capable of being thrown into a defensive end rotation on a team that runs a 4-3 scheme. Mincey didn’t post any sacks last season, but he registered six quarterback takedowns in 2014, which led to him holding out for an extra $500K the following offseason. The Cowboys reportedly aren’t interested in a reunion, but Mincey did generate some level of trade interest last November, so it’s likely that there are clubs who’d be willing to offer a one-year deal.

Honorable mention: Chris Canty, DL; Henry Melton, DT; Kevin Williams, DT; Cortez Allen, CB; Antonio Cromartie, CB; Cortland Finnegan, CB; Jayron Hosley, CB; Will Allen, S.

Safety Walter Thurmond was not included on this list because he’s contemplating retirement and has reportedly turned down offers of $4MM per year.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Rumors: Giants, Taylor, Rex, Patriots

The Giants‘ already-thin secondary worsened after their first preseason clash on Friday, with four defensive backs lost to injuries.

While Landon Collins‘ leg injury is considered minor, fellow rookie safety Mykkele Thompson‘s is not. The 2015 fifth-rounder is expected to miss the rest of the season after what is believed to be an Achilles’ tendon tear, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

“Big concern” is the phrase Tom Coughlin used in describing Thompson’s outlook. Thompson represented much-needed depth for Big Blue’s back line, making his way onto the Giants’ second team at strong safety behind converted cornerback Bennett Jackcson. Sixth-year veteran Jeromy Miles resides as the Giants’ third-string strong safety presently.

Jayron Hosley and Trumaine McBride also left the game, but their setbacks aren’t expected to be regular-season-altering.

As the first full weekend of 2015 NFL action continues, let’s look at some news coming out of the Eastern divisions, continuing in Buffalo.

  • Tyrod Taylor‘s push for becoming the least-likely Week 1 starting quarterback in the league received a boost after his Bills debut, with Rex Ryan announcing the former Virginia Tech product will start in Buffalo’s next preseason game — Thursday against the Browns — per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. While this comes in an attempt to give the one-time sixth-round pick a shot against a starting defense, as Taylor flashed his “excellent” speed against the Panthers’ second-stringers, it doesn’t cement a Taylor ascent. Matt Cassel started in the Bills’ first preseason tilt, with EJ Manuel doing so in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage.
  • Ryan saw his exit from New Jersey coming entering his sixth and final season there, according to an upcoming Real Sports segment with Andrea Kremer (per Brian Costello of the New York Post), with the current Bills coach knowing the Jets were going to “stink” after not doing much in free agency last year. “100 percent I knew I was done,” Ryan told Kremer. “… (Jets owner Woody Johnson) couldn’t [keep me]. There’s no chance that he could have brought in another GM and kept me again. It wouldn’t have worked in New York, they weren’t going to allow it. The media wouldn’t allow it; it wasn’t going to work.
  • Many NFL owners will be upset if Roger Goodell loses in the Deflategate saga, offers CSNNE.com’s Gary Tanguay. “I think this is personal,” Tanguay said. “I think there are some owners, for whatever reason, want to get at Robert Kraft and the Patriots organization. I think they sent Goodell to be their whipping boy. The way the NFL has looked so far, they’ve looked so bad even though I think the Patriots are guilty, if Goodell loses this, he will take heat from the owners.”

Giants Activate Hosley, Cut Two Players

4:40pm: The Giants have officially added Hosley to the roster, cutting cornerback Chandler Fenner and wide receiver Julian Talley to make room, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. The team now has one opening on its 53-man roster.

12:00pm: The Giants are expected to activate cornerback Jayron Hosley today and add him to the 53-man roster, according to Art Stapleton of The Bergen Record (via Twitter). The Giants will have to make a roster move in order to make space.

Hosley, 24, was hit with a four-game suspension in June for violating the substance-abuse policy. The Giants secured a roster exemption for Hosley upon his return but it expired today, meaning they had to either put Hosley on the roster or let him go. The 2012 third-round pick appeared in 23 games for the Giants between 2012 and 2013, making seven starts. In that time, he registered 45 tackles, seven pass deflections, one interception, and one forced fumble.

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Giants, Redskins

LeSean McCoy is under contract with the Eagles through 2017, but 2014 acts as something of a contract year for the veteran running back, since his salary balloons next season to $9.75MM, significantly more than he’s making in any other year of his deal. With his cap number on the rise and running back contracts around the league on the decline, McCoy is off to a slow start this season, writes Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap. While the Eagles’ banged-up offensive line isn’t doing Shady any favors, he “doesn’t look like the same player” he was in 2013, according to Fitzgerald, who suggests that a down year for McCoy would force the Eagles to make a difficult decision for 2015.

Here’s more from around the NFC East:

  • The roster exemption the Giants received for cornerback Jayron Hosley, who is back from suspension, is for a week, so the team won’t have to make a move to get down to 53 players until next Monday, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News (via Twitter).
  • Appearing on WIP in Philadelphia, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly confirmed the club has not brought free agent lineman Richie Incognito for a workout, says Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link), who adds that it sounds like there’s no interest there.
  • The Redskins have multiple openings on both their 53-man roster and their practice squad, but those spots likely won’t stay open for long. Mike Jones of the Washington Post tweets that the team is having a large group of players in to audition today.
  • Earlier this morning, we rounded up a few Cowboys items.

Minor Moves: Friday

We’ll track Friday’s minor transactions from around the NFL right here, as teams gear up for Week 4’s games. The latest moves will be added to the top of the list throughout the day….

  • The Patriots have replaced offensive lineman Chris Martin on their practice squad, re-adding defensive tackle Ben Bass to take his place, as Phil Perry of CSNNE.com writes.
  • Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley has been reinstated from suspension following the Giants’ fourth game of the season last night, tweets Howard Balzer of The SportsXchange. The team will receive a roster exemption for Hosley, meaning New York will have until Monday to decide whether to cut the cornerback or someone else in order to get down to 53 players.

Earlier updates:

  • According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter), the Ravens have cut defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali’i from their practice squad. With Fitzgerald Toussaint and Deonte Thompson returning to the squad after being waived from the active roster, the team is now carrying the maximum 10 players.
  • Safety Chris Prosinski, who was recently placed on injured reserve by the Jaguars, has been removed from the team’s IR list with an injury settlement, tweets John Oesher of Jaguars.com. I touched on how injury settlements work earlier today in my PFR Glossary post explaining the injured reserve list.

New Drug Policy To Be In Place By Week 3

The NFL and the NFLPA will not finalize an agreement on a new drug policy today, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), who reports that a deal should be in place early this week. In fact, the negotiations could be completed by as early as Monday night, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.

After approving the altered policy on Friday, the union has continued to hammer out minor issues with the league — however, Rapoport tweets that the return dates of suspended players is not a point being debated. Rather, the two sides are discussing “language issues,” such as the use of neutral arbiters in the event of law violations. As La Canfora notes, lawyers for the two parties have worked on the agreement for nearly four years, so there’s a committed approach to concluding negotiations.

Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that both the NFL and the NFLPA are pleased with the final outcome of the process, and that the new agreement is “one both are proud of.” Additionally, Rapoport says (Twitter link) that Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley, who was hit with a four-game suspension in June for violating the substance-abuse policy, could see his ban dropped, making him eligible to play in Week 3.

NFC Links: Graham, Davis, Giants

It’s been more than a week since the beginning of Jimmy Graham‘s hearing over his franchise tag designation. Those who are antsy for a solution may have to wait a bit longer – sources tell ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio that a ruling isn’t expected until next week. Even then, the losing party will likely appeal the decision. The entire process could stretch beyond July 15, the deadline for inking a long-term deal.

Additionally, we learned some more interesting information about the hearing. Florio reports that Saints head coach Sean Payton testified against Graham, but the specifics weren’t known. We can likely assume one thing, however – if Graham loses his case, Payton’s going to have some difficulty convincing his tight end to participate in “wide receiver drills” during training camp.

Let’s see what else is happening around the NFC…

NFC Notes: Orakpo, Hosley, Packers, Ponder

Although he refuses to hold out, Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo still hopes to get a multiyear contract worked out with the team this summer, as Jason Reid of the Washington Post writes. The two sides have discussed the parameters of a deal, but Orakpo deferred to GM Bruce Allen when asked if there had been progress toward an agreement.

“You’ve got to ask Bruce about that,” Orakpo said. “You’ve got to ask them boys (senior Redskins management) about that. Money talks.”

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • The suspensions just keep on coming for the Giants, who announced today that cornerback Jayron Hosley will miss the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. News of Hosley’s suspension comes on the heels of a six-game ban for safety Will Hill, who was subsequently waived by the club. As Paul Schwartz of the New York Post tweets, assuming he doesn’t meet the same fate as Hill and find himself looking for a new team, Hosley’s four-game suspension will cost him about $134K of his $570K salary.
  • Lori Nickel and Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explore whether Packers receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are both in line for new contract extensions.
  • Addressing for the first time the Vikings‘ decision not to exercise his fifth-year option, Christian Ponder said he wasn’t surprised at all by the decision, as Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press details. It gives me an opportunity,” Ponder said of not having a contract beyond 2014. “It has my options open after the season whether I have leverage to stay here or go somewhere else, whether there’s a better place for me to play.”
  • Vernon Davis, who is reportedly seeking a new contract, tells Maggie Gray on SI Now that he’s keeping a close eye on Jimmy Graham‘s positional grievance, even though Davis considers himself a tight end and not a receiver. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has the quotes from the 49ers tight end.
  • New Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford isn’t saying much about what his plan will be for this upcoming season, writes Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. One thing Tedford did tip, however, is that he’s a fan of a running back by committee approach.
  • Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post passes along Reed Doughty‘s Instagram farewell message to the Redskins and their fans, suggesting the unrestricted free agent won’t be re-signing with the team.

Zach Links contributed to this post.