Kenny Vaccaro

AFC Notes: Chargers, Schofield, Vaccaro, Titans, Jets

The Chargers are seemingly never able to stay healthy, and this year hasn’t been any different. They’ve already lost Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett to season ending injuries. Last year’s second round pick, guard Forrest Lamp, has been expected to start for the team in 2018, but has been very slow in recovering from a knee injury that cost him his whole rookie season.

Michael Schofield is filling in for now, and in a recent interview with Dan Woike of the San Diego Union-Tribune, talked about his role. “I’m kind of a plug-and-play guy. I can play guard. I can play tackle. Right now, they need me at guard, so that’s where I’m going to be.” Woike echoes the sentiment many Charger fans have felt about Lamp, writing “even if Lamp is healthy, he still has much to prove, considering he essentially has not practiced since being drafted in the second round a year ago.”

Given Lamp’s history, it’s entirely possible Schofield ends up being a starting guard for the Chargers this year. Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Kenny Vaccaro only signed with the Titans earlier this week, but is already operating as the team’s starter according to Turron Davenport of ESPN (Twitter link). Davenport writes that Vaccaro has “taken pretty much all of the first-team reps” since signing with the team in the wake of Johnathan Cyprien’s season ending injury.
  • “Things aren’t looking great” for Juston Burris‘ roster chances, according to Matt Stypulkoski of NJ.com. The Jets’ fourth round pick in 2016, Burris hasn’t shown much through two seasons and appears likely to be cut at this point.
  • “It wouldn’t be a total shock to see the Jets in the mix” if the Raiders decide to shop Khalil Mack, writes Stypulkoski. Stypulkoski writes that the Jets “are looking to bolster the pass rush” so it sounds like whether it’s Mack or someone else, the Jets may be making a move soon.

Titans Sign Kenny Vaccaro

The Titans have found their starting safety. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the team has signed veteran defensive back Kenny Vaccaro. The Titans had been hunting for a safety since Johnathan Cyprien was placed on the injured reserve earlier this week.

We heard the other day that the 27-year-old was set to meet with Tennessee, although it sounded like the front office had other options on their radar. Those reports indicated that the organization was also eyeing safety Eric Reid. However, as Rapoport tweets, multiple flight cancellations prevented Reid from visiting his suitor. With Vaccaro generating interest from other teams, the Titans decided they had to make a move. Vaccaro had already had visits with the Jets, Dolphins, and Colts.

The 2013 first-round pick should immediately contribute to the Titans secondary. While Vaccaro hasn’t been able to put together a healthy season since 2015, he was still plenty productive last year. In 12 starts with the Saints, the safety finished with 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defended, and three interceptions. Due to those numbers, the veteran earned a spot on our list of the best remaining free agents.

With Cyprien out for the season with an ACL injury, the Titans were trying to figure out who to start opposite fellow safety Kevin Byard. Veteran Kendrick Lewis was currently slotted in as the starting strong safety, although the Titans also could have eyed one of Brynden Trawick or Dane Cruikshank for the gig.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans Considering Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro

In the wake of losing safety Johnathan Cyprien for the season, the Titans aren’t wasting any time in exploring outside options. The club has talked about safety Eric Reid and he could be brought in for a visit, head coach Mike Vrabel tells reporters. Meanwhile, Kenny Vaccaro will meet with the Titans on Friday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: Titans’ Johnathan Cyprien Done For Season]

Reid met with the Bengals in April, but he believes teams have been staying away from him due to his participation in anthem protests. Reid filed a grievance against the NFL in May and has been spotted working out with former teammate Colin Kaepernick. As a five-year starter who is still in the prime years of his career, Reid is clearly deserving of a roster spot somewhere. His opportunity may come with the Titans.

Vaccaro also offers years of starting experience, but he has been a victim of the league’s slow-moving free agent safety market this offseason. The Colts, Jets, and Dolphins showed interest in Vaccaro earlier this offseason, but we haven’t heard much about him in recent weeks. In his fifth season as a starter for the Saints last year, Vaccaro totaled 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, and a career-high three interceptions.

The Titans’ current group of reserve safeties includes Kendrick Lewis, Brynden Trawick, and fifth-round pick Dane Cruikshank.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Saints, Vaccaro, Texans

Saints free agent safety Kenny Vaccaro is still on the market, but it’s not due to any health issues, Nick Underhill of The Advocate tweets. And, although the safety market didn’t develop as expected, Underhill anticipates that he’ll land somewhere before training camp starts.

It’s possible that Vaccaro turned down some low-cost deals early on in free agency, as Underhill notes that there was “no need [for him] to hurry and sign a deal when free agency opened.” He may have some regrets about that now, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Vaccaro won’t be able to find a team on a low-cost one-year deal.

The Colts, Jets, and Dolphins showed interest in Vaccaro earlier this offseason, but we haven’t heard much about him in recent weeks. While we wait to see where the former Saints safety will land, here’s more out of the South divisions:

The Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

There are still plenty of impact free agents left on the board, including some big names. Here’s a look at some of the high-profile veterans that are still looking for work in advance of training camp: 

Kaepernick probably stands as the most talented quarterback left on the open market, but his ongoing collusion case against the NFL complicated matters. It seems unlikely that he’ll land anywhere between now and the start of the season, but friend and former teammate Eric Reid probably has a better chance of signing somewhere, despite being in a similar boat. Recently, the duo was spotted working out together in California.

It seems like just yesterday that Murray was the league’s most fearsome running back. Unfortunately, Murray’s age has caught up to him to some extent and he was overshadowed last year in Tennessee by the younger Derrick HenryThe Titans dropped Murray in March and he has not found a new NFL home despite meeting with the LionsSeahawks, and Dolphins since his release. Recently, the Saints tried to include Murray in their cattle call for running backs, but he declined the invite.

Peterson has lobbied the Texans, Saints, Packers, Panthers, Dolphins, and Rams to sign him, but we have yet to hear of any reciprocated interest from those clubs. It’s possible that Murray and Peterson won’t sign unless a running back injury opens up an opportunity for them. Teams could also steer clear of Peterson altogether given his desire for a starring role despite his lack of star performance over the last two years.

Bryant is the biggest name on this list, but we shouldn’t expect to see him sign anywhere until July. There have been conflicting reports on his market, but the latest word indicates that he is receiving interest, despite concerns about his demeanor in the locker room.

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The Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

The biggest names in this year’s free agent class such as Kirk Cousins, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, and Trumaine Johnson have long been spoken for, but plenty of notable players remain on the board here in June. With a hat tip to James Palmer of NFL.com (on Twitter), here’s a look at some high-profile veterans who are still seeking work this summer: 

Of course, Kaepernick’s situation is more complicated than the rest. Lately, the only updates we’ve heard regarding Kaepernick have been tied to his pending collusion case against the NFL. Former teammate Reid is certainly closer to the NFL radar after an April meeting with the Bengals, but he also believes teams are shying away from him due to his participation in anthem protests. Reid filed a grievance of his own against the NFL in May and has been spotted working out with Kaepernick.

Unfortunately for Murray and Peterson, filing a grievance for age bias against running backs is not an option. The Titans kicked Murray to the curb in March and he has not found a new NFL home despite meeting with the Lions, Seahawks, and Dolphins since his release. Peterson has lobbied the Texans, Saints, Packers, Panthers, Dolphins, and Rams to sign him, but we have yet to hear of any reciprocated interest from those clubs. Given Peterson’s reluctance to be on the lower end of a timeshare in New Orleans last year, one has to imagine that Peterson will not be a real consideration for teams unless a starter gets injured in camp. Murray could be a more attractive option for teams. Although he averaged just 3.6 yards per tote with the Titans last year, he contributed in the passing game with 39 receptions.

Bryant says he has no regrets about turning down a three-year, $21MM offer from the Ravens, but right now it looks like he blew his opportunity at a solid free agent deal. Reportedly, many teams are unwilling to consider him for even the league minimum, so it seems unlikely that he’ll find the lucrative one-year contract he’s seeking. On the plus side, his former employer says multiple teams have checked in on him.

Things have been eerily quiet for Maclin after he was displaced by the Ravens, though the Eagles and Cowboys considered him internally in the spring. We also haven’t heard a peep about Decker since his spring meetings with the Raiders and Ravens. Both players are roughly in the same boat – they were 1,000-yard receivers in 2015, but they are on the wrong side of 30 and haven’t done much on the field in the last two years. Still, both profile as low-risk/high-reward signings.

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Poll: Who Will Be Next FA Safety To Sign?

The slow development of the safety market has been one of the major storylines of the offseason, and while there are a number of reasons as to why some of the top available players at the position remain unsigned, it is still surprising to see players of their ilk without work at this point in the league year. Indeed, three of PFR’s top 10 remaining defensive free agents are safeties, and we would like to know which one you think will be the first to sign with a club.

Our top-rated defensive player still available, Eric Reid, could be having difficulty fining a team because of his history of protesting the national anthem. Indeed, the only team that has brought him in for a visit, the Bengals, asked him about his plans in that regard moving forward. But Reid’s fellow free agent safeties on our Top-10 list, Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro, have not made the same public stances — though Boston was fairly outspoken following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer two years ago — and they haven’t had any better luck, so it could be his status as a safety, more so than his status as a political activist, that is dampening Reid’s market.

Of course, Reid himself feels differently, and he has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL. That will surely not help his cause, but on the field, Reid is a solid and versatile player capable of playing either defensive back or linebacker. His skillset would fit nicely on a team like the Cardinals or Buccaneers.

Boston, meanwhile, has drawn interest from a number of clubs, and he is coming off the best season of his career. He is far from a perfect player, but he does have the ability to play deep safety, and he picked off five passes for the Chargers in 2017. He appeared to be coming into his own after being released by the Panthers last year, and while he is not great in coverage, he has shown that he can at least be serviceable in that regard. He is also a capable pass rusher.

Vaccaro, on the other hand, was terrible in coverage in 2017, but he has shown the ability to line up at safety or at slot corner in his career, and he could theoretically play linebacker in sub-packages as well. He recently met with the Colts, and two weeks ago we heard that he was going to meet with the Jets, though it is unclear whether his summit with Gang Green has actually happened yet. He met with the Dolphins earlier in the offseason, but after the Fins used their first-round pick on Minkah Fitzpatrick, they are probably no longer interested in Vaccaro.

Again, these three players are not without flaws, particularly in coverage, and with the league moving further and further away from traditional in-the-box safeties, maybe we shouldn’t be as shocked that they remain without work. After all, younger players on rookie contracts frequently offer a strong presence in the run game while they work on their coverage skills, so it could be that teams just don’t want to pony up the cash for a veteran to do the work that a less experienced player can do.

Presumably, however, Boston or Vaccaro will eventually find a new team, and Reid may as well, despite his grievance. Let us know which of them you think will sign first, or if you think another safety like Corey Graham will get a chance before they do. We’d also like you to explain your choice in the comments section and let us know what you believe is holding up the safety market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Julio, Panthers, Bucs, Rams

As expected, Julio Jones reportedly did not attend the opening day of Falcons organized team activities, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.

He adds head coach Dan Quinn will address the situation on Tuesday and did not respond to questions about the reports that Jones wants an update to his contract. Though he is absent, the two sides appear amenable and are likely to work things out in due time.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculates Jones, who has three years left on his current deal, could be trying to get the team’s attention after Matt Ryan‘s new contract is set to pay the quarterback ($30MM) twice the amount that Jones is to receive ($14.25MM). His current deal slots him in as the No. 8 receiver on the pay scale, behind players like Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and Davante Adams.

Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap says that the word “update” could mean the Falcons moving money forward in Jones’ contract to make the team’s key player happy. On a team in win-now mode, the move could be seen as avoiding potential chemistry issues in the locker room. A recent example of this, according to Fitzgerald, is a similar situation with Antonio Brown and the Steelers.

“The Steelers twice moved money forward in Brown’s contract to prevent a player from being unhappy. In 2015 the Steelers moved $2 million from 2016 up to 2015 and in 2016 they moved $4 million from 2017 into 2016. Overall the team fronted him $4 million and then extended him in 2017.”

Regardless of what the course of action Atlanta chooses to pursue, it is unlikely to hinder it from fielding one of the top three receivers in the league in 2018.  

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • The Panthers sale to David Tepper is expected to go through without “any surprises,” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair told ESPN’s David Newton. Tepper needs 24 votes — 23 with the absence of former Panthers GM Jerry Richardson — on Tuesday when the 31 NFL owners convene. Richardson is unlikely to attend, but nothing has been set in stone.
  • Florida Football Insiders posted a list of potential free agent targets for the Buccaneers, and named DeMarco Murray and Kenny Vaccaro as possibilities. Murray would make for a solid one-two punch with rookie running back Ronald Jones, while Vaccaro would bring a veteran presence to a shaky pass defense.
  • Linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, the Rams‘ fifth-round pick, underwent surgery on his foot and is expected to return sometime during training camp, head coach Sean McVay told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry (Twitter link). Okoronkwo starred at Oklahoma in 2017, earning Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Big 12 after logging 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Extra Points: Rams, Manziel, Eagles, Colts

The majority of the 2018 NFL Draft class is now signed, but that’s not the case in Los Angeles. The Rams have yet to sign a single pick.

Should fans be concerned? To put it simply, no.

This isn’t new to the team, as Michael David Smith of PFT writes, as it likes to address financial planning with its players before giving them a large signing bonus. Like in years past, the Rams rookies will all generally sign at once sometime in the next few weeks.

“One of the things that we think is important with that is bringing the rookies in as a group, having them live together as a group, and not having any real differentiation between the first-round pick and the undrafted rookie,” Demoff said. “They’re in the hotel together. They’re eating meals together. They’re doing things together. And then [by the time] they all scatter, we’ll sign their contracts. They’ll leave knowing the contract’s done, so they don’t have to worry about that headache when they go on vacation.”

So no need to panic Rams fans. This is par for the course.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Eagles signed running back Matt Jones earlier in the week. The Philly Voice’s Jimmy Kempski has the details at two years for $1.5MM, none of which are guaranteed (Twitter link). He joins a crowded backfield that includes Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.
  • The Colts have had visits from Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston and Bashaud Breeland in recent days. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star tweets, however, the meetings were merely informational and no signings are imminent.
  • And we’ll also make pitstop in the CFL, where Johnny Manziel is not guaranteed to start for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith writes. Smith quotes head coach June Jones, who praised current starter and former Oregon standout Jeremiah Masoli. “Let me tell you something right now, he’s got his work ahead of him to beat out Jeremiah,” Jones said of Manziel. “He’s got a lot to catch up on, but he’ll spend the time to get that done. I know he will because he’s already learned that lesson.” Though Masoli has the leg up, it won’t be long before Manziel is given the reins, given he can stay out of trouble.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Jefferson, Colts

The College Advisory Committee told Malik Jefferson to stay in school for another year. After becoming a third-round pick of the Bengals, Jefferson is glad that he didn’t listen.

It’s not really good feedback,” Jefferson said, via Max Olson of The Athletic. “If a guy wants to come out early, they have to make a decision on their own. Really, if you’re not like a top-10 guy coming out early, it’s just up in the air from there. You just don’t know. Anything can happen.”

Instead of continuing his education without being compensated for playing, Jefferson will now back up Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict with a contract worth $3.4MM over four years.

You say stay in school, but a kid wants to better himself and his future,” Jefferson said. “So you can be making money for the university, struggling, trying to eat dining hall food, waking up early, having to go through extreme pressures and not getting paid for none of that. Or you can not go to school, just play football all day, study film and get better and work out all day and max yourself out.”

Jefferson may be happy with his choice, but in defense of the CAC, the Texas product probably anticipated going late in the first round or somewhere in the second when he declared for the draft.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Colts met with safeties Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro on Monday, but Stephen Holder of the Indy Star (on Twitter) hears that nothing is imminent with either player at this time. Boston and Vaccaro both offer significant starting experience, but the free agent market has been painfully slow to develop for them and other safeties this year.
  • Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis struck an agreement with Kansas prosecutors to have his drug-possession charge dropped if he completes one year of probation, as Rich Cimini of ESPN.com writes. While with the Chiefs in January, Pierre-Louis was charged with several misdemeanors, including marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Jets signed him to a two-year, $5.25MM deal this offseason.
  • The Bills are taking a look at former Cowboys and Bucs defensive end Ryan Russell.