The Giants will be down one of their veteran tight ends for the season. Levine Toilolo was carted off a Giants practice field Wednesday, and the team subsequently announced he suffered a torn Achilles.
This was set to be Toilolo’s second season with the Giants. While the Giants signed Kyle Rudolph to pair with Evan Engram, Toilolo was in place as the team’s top blocking tight end.
Toilolo agreed to a pay cut to stay in New York this offseason, reducing his 2021 salary from $2.95MM to $1.35MM. This represents a tough break for the ninth-year veteran. Toilolo, who turned 30 last week, played in all 16 Giants games last season. One year remains on Toilolo’s deal.
Beginning his career with five seasons in Atlanta, Toilolo succeeded Tony Gonzalez as the Falcons’ starting tight end. The former fourth-round pick was part of Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI-bound team and, after a 2018 stopover in Detroit, later rejoined Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. Toilolo suited up for a second Super Bowl during his lone 49ers season.
New York does have some additional bodies behind Engram and Rudolph. Kaden Smith, who was also part of the 2019 49ers, remains on Big Blue’s roster. Fifth-year vet Cole Hikutinialso resides on Big Blue’s roster.
March 10th, 2021 at 5:51pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
It’s that time of year when teams are frantically maneuvering ahead of free agency. Due to the cap falling because of COVID-19, things are even more hectic than ever. We’ve seen a whole bunch of contract restructures come in, and there will be a whole lot more. Let’s catch you up on the latest batch and their financial implications:
The Panthers restructured Christian McCaffrey‘s contract recently, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network tweets. They converted $7MM of his $8MM base salary into a signing bonus, which freed up about $5.6MM in cap space for 2021. Almost a year ago McCaffrey signed his record-breaking extension that has him locked up through the 2025 season.
The Cowboys have had a busy week with Dak Prescott‘s massive extension now in the books, and they made a trio of moves to help clear some space. Dallas restructured the deals of Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La’el Collins, a source told Todd Archer of ESPN.com. The reworking of the three offensive linemen’s contracts cleared up about $17MM in cap space for Jerry Jones. As Archer notes, these moves have now gotten Dallas under the cap for 2021.
The Giants just cut top offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler as they look to clear cap space to keep guys like defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson. The Zeitler release isn’t the only shuffling they’re doing, as they also restructured the contract of tight end Levine Toilolo, and Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com tweeted the details. Rather than a procedural restructure like you see with star players, Toilolo actually took a pay-cut to stay with the team. He had been scheduled to make $2.95MM this year but agreed to reduce that to $1.6MM, saving the Giants north of $1MM against the cap.
We’ve got four other restructures to pass along, courtesy of this tweet from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The Saints restructured the deals of safety Malcolm Jenkins to save $3.4MM and offensive lineman Andrus Peat to save $6MM. New Orleans has the worst cap situation in the league, and they desperately needed moves like this to do things like franchise tag safety Marcus Williams.
The Eagles saved $2.4MM by reworking the deal of offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo. Philly is right up there with New Orleans in terms of bad cap situations, so GM Howie Roseman is likely far from done here.
The Steelers saved $880K by adjusting fullback Derek Watt‘s contract. Not exactly front page news here, but it should shore up Watt’s spot on the 2021 roster. T.J. and J.J.’s brother signed a three-year, $9.75MM pact last offseason.
Unless the NFL moves the franchise tag deadline back, the Giants have less than 24 hours to use their tag on Leonard Williams. Multiple issues could stand in the way of that taking place. While the Giants would be taking a risk if they do not tag the standout interior defender, they have less than $10MM in cap space. The Giants want to keep Williams around long-term, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post writes, but they will have a tough time tagging him at $19.4MM. A counterargument would be that the Giants should tag Williams as a precaution, rather than risk losing him next week, and worry about cap issues between Tuesday and the March 17 start of the new league year. The sides were not believed to be close to a long-term deal last year. If the Giants pass on a tag, they will be entering a crucial stretch ahead of the March 15 legal tampering period. They also have defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson as a UFA-to-be.
However, the other part of this equation could cause the Giants to pay even more for a Williams tag. His grievance to be tagged as a defensive end is unresolved, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Should Williams win that grievance, his 2020 salary will balloon from $16.1MM (last year’s defensive tackle tag rate) to $17.8MM. That would bump his 2021 tag price to $21.4MM. Williams played more snaps as an inside defender in 2019, which would point to “defensive tackle” being the correct label for tag purposes. With the Giants up against the cap, this is not an insignificant difference.
Here is the latest from the Big Apple and western New York:
The Giants did do a little work on their cap situation Monday. They restructured tight end Levine Toilolo‘s contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The blocking tight end was set to earn $2.95MM next season. He will be back at a lower rate, with Schwartz estimating the Giants will save more than $1MM by making this move.
Recently dismissed from his post as Lions VP of player personnel, Kyle O’Brien will join the Giants’ front office. The Giants are adding O’Brien as a senior personnel executive, the team announced. O’Brien spent the past few years in Detroit under Bob Quinn, but the bulk of his experience came in New England.
Jonathan Bostic, (Washington): two-years, $5MM, $1.75MM guaranteed; $1.25MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $960k ($500k guaranteed), 2021: $1.69MM; $500k roster bonus in 2020, $200k in non-guaranteed weekly roster bonuses in 2020, $400k in non-guaranteed weekly roster bonuses in 2021, an additional $800k in annual incentives available as well, according to John Keim of ESPN.
The Giants have agreed to sign former 49ers tight end Levine Toilolo, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Toilolo will help fill the void following the retirement of veteran Rhett Ellison.
Toilolo, 29 in July, spent the first five years of his career with the Falcons and joined the Lions for his sixth season. Last year, he hooked on with the Niners on a one-year deal.
Like Ellison, Toilolo has built a rep for his blocking ability. He’s also flashed some catching ability in the past – with Atlanta in 2014, he hauled in 31 catches for 238 yards. And, in 2016, he stretched the field a bit with a 20.3 yards-per-catch average on a limited sample of receptions. In 2018, with the Lions, he had 21 catches for 263 yards.
The 49ers are set to sign tight end Levine Toilolo, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal is pending a physical, but should become official before the end of the business day on Wednesday.
Toilolo, 28 in July, spent the first five years of his career with the Falcons. Toilolo is mostly known for his blocking ability, but he did manage 31 catches for 238 yards in 2014 with Atlanta. He also stretched the field a bit with a 20.3 yards-per-catch average in 2016 on a limited sample of receptions. Last year, with the Lions, he had 21 catches for 263 yards.
Last year, the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus gave Toilolo an 87.0 score for pass blocking, the best of any qualified tight end in the NFL. With the Niners, the veteran will battle with sixth-round pick (and fellow Stanford product) Kaden Smith for playing time behind George Kittle. Garrett Celek, Ross Dwelley, and undrafted rookie Tyree Mayfield are also in the mix.
The Lions have signed veteran tight end Levine Toilolo to one-year deal, a source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Toilolo spent the last five years with Falcons.
The Lions have reinforced their tight end group after releasing starting tight end Eric Ebron earlier this month and allowing blocking specialist Darren Fells to leave in free agency. Toilolo and fellow free agent addition Luke Willsonnow lead the way at tight end for Detroit. 2017 draft pick Michael Robertsprojects as their top TE in support.
The Lions also met with free agent tight ends Ed Dickson, Brent Celek, and Logan Paulsenthis offseason, but Dickson and Paulsen have since signed elsewhere. Celek remains in free agency limbo, but it seems unlikely that Detroit will sign him after adding two other veteran TEs.
Detroit released starting tight end Eric Ebron last week, and also witnessed top reserve Darren Fells ink a new deal with the Browns. At present, the Lions’ starting end is projected as 2017 rookie Michael Roberts, but the club is fully expected to sign a veteran tight end, per Rapoport. Thus far, Detroit has met with Luke Willson, Ed Dickson, Brent Celek, and Logan Paulsen, and all but Dickson remain on the open market.
Toilolo, who was recently released by the Falcons, has never been much of an offensive force, as he’s failed to top even 300 yards receiving in any of his five NFL campaigns. The 26-year-old was famously deployed as a tackle when Atlanta ran out of offensive linemen in a 2014 contest, but Toilolo didn’t grade well as a blocker in 2017, at least according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked Toilolo 23rd and 29th among tight ends in run-blocking and pass-blocking, respectively.
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. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they 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 are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:
Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.
Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.
There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.
What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.
Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.
Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.
Carlos Hyde didn’t have the kind of platform year he was hoping for, but he’s still just 26 and could headline a running back by committee group.
Jerick McKinnon‘s placement on this list figures to be controversial, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability can blow a game wide open. No one will bank on McKinnon to carry the ball 20 times per game, but he can be a real difference maker for a team out there.
Can Frank Gore outrun father time? History indicates that he can’t and so does his 3.7 yards per carry average in 2017. You have to give credit where credit is due, however. Gore has been ruled out by many for years, but he has not missed a regular season game since the 2010 season. He’s also just one year removed from cracking 1,000 yards and he almost did the same last year.
For most teams, Allen Robinson would be a franchise tag candidate. However, that may be too much of a luxury for the cash-strapped Jaguars. He presents a fascinating free agent case. Robinson missed all but three snaps of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on the board in the eyes of many. His 2015 season – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes GMs drool. His quieter year in 2016 (73 catches, 883 yards, and six touchdowns) is less worthy of salivation. His 2017 season, of course, was a lost cause. For all the question marks, you can expect Robinson to see more dollars than any other free agent WR this year, particularly since Jarvis Landry has been held back by the tag.
Some in the football world may prefer Sammy Watkins for his big-play ability, but his down contract year amidst a capable offense is cause for concern. His injury history doesn’t do him any favors either. No matter your feelings on Watkins, there’s no debating that this year’s WR market has a top tier comprised of just two players – Watkins and Robinson. With few quality receivers out there, they’ll both get paid.
Marqise Lee represents a much less sexy option (speaking in football terms, of course), but he had the most receptions of any Jaguars receiver in 2017 (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). Teams looking for a quality WR2 in free agency could do a lot worse than Lee and he’ll be far cheaper than the two-man top tier.
Danny Amendola hauled in 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season and continued his strong play in the playoffs. However, teams will wonder if he can thrive in his age-33 season while playing outside of the Patriots’ offense. It’s also quite possible that he never tests the market as his stated preference is to remain in New England.
After that, you’ll notice a pretty significant drop off. That’s because this year’s WR class isn’t all that deep. Terrelle Pryor had to settle for a one-year prove-it contract last year and, to put it mildly, he did not prove it. Paul Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, but that marked his first NFL season of real note.
Trey Burton spent most of the year behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles’ depth chart, but he emerged late in the season and set himself up nicely for free agency. Given his age and potential, there’s no question that he is the belle of the ball at tight end.
The rest of the tight end crop is not nearly as inspiring. Jimmy Graham has enjoyed back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Seahawks, but he’ll turn 32 in November and he’s no longer the monster playmaker that he was in New Orleans. He had ten touchdowns in 2017, but his 9.1 yards per reception average is a career low.
Odds are, you have Tyler Eifert ranked over Austin Seferian-Jenkins given the fact that Eifert has played just ten games over the last two years. ASJ, meanwhile, rebounded from personal issues to post a 50-catch season for the Jets. Personally, I’m picking Eifert based on upside. Hopefully, we can still be friends.
Offensive line play is down across the board and evaluators around the league have been openly complaining about an increasing dearth of tackles coming out of college. That makes for a generally uninspiring lot in free agency.
Nate Solder battled through injuries in 2017 and did not miss a game. He’s no longer a top-flight option, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 32 tackle last year, meaning that he’s starter quality at left tackle. You’ll notice that three of the top five tackles on this list are Patriots. There’s little chance that the Pats let all three get away.
Justin Pugh offers the ability to play both guard and right tackle, though he might not do either one particularly well.
Andrew Norwell is the undisputed king of this category after netting an All-Pro selection in 2017. Norwell also earned a career-high 88.8 overall score from Pro Football Focus, which positioned him third in the entire NFL amongst guards. A team with greater means than the Panthers might have used the franchise tag on him. Fortunately for rival teams in need of interior help (such as the Giants), they won’t cuff him with the one-year placeholder.