Luke Willson

NFC Rumors: Vikes, Saints, Hawks, Eagles

A left knee injury will shelve Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford for the second straight game on Sunday, but it’s not necessarily time to panic, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network says (video link). While Bradford’s knee is “painful,” according to Pelissero, doctors have not told the quarterback that it has any structural that would require surgery. Notably, Bradford underwent procedures for two torn ACLs in that knee earlier in his career. For now, Bradford and the Vikings are hoping he’ll return for their Week 4 home game against Detroit – the first of three divisional matchups in a row.

  • A lack of continuity is one of the key causes of the Saints’ years-long defensive struggles, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com observes. The Saints have started the most defenders (55) in the NFL dating back to 2014, and have also seen a league-high 23 defensive backs start at least two games in that span, per Triplett. The club has simply missed on too many defensive free agent signings and draft picks – including linebacker Stephone Anthony – to establish a rhythm on that side of the ball, Triplett contends. The Saints traded Anthony, a first-round selection in 2015, to Miami this week for a 2018 fifth-rounder after he failed to live up to his draft status in New Orleans. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, a 2013 first-rounder, may also find himself in another uniform soon. A starter in 57 of 58 career appearances, Vaccaro sat on the bench for a large portion of the Saints’ blowout loss to New England last week. Former teammate Scott Shanle, a retired linebacker, informed Triplett that Vaccaro is “the most bipolar player I’ve ever seen as far as consistency. When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the league. When he’s off, I just don’t get it.”
  • Seahawks tight end Luke Willson told Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times that he expected his offseason foray into free agency to go better than it did. Willson was on the market for a week before re-signing with the Seahawks on a modest deal worth between $1.8MM and $3MM. “To be honest with you it was a miserable process,’’ Willson said. “Not what I expected. I don’t know what day I officially signed back but it wasn’t the first few days and it was, whatever it was — four days of being unemployed felt like about four months.’’ Willson added that he has no complaints about the end result, noting that he’s still “making quite a bit of money playing football.” The 27-year-old has never been a prolific pass catcher during his four-plus seasons, meaning he could once again have trouble scoring a coveted long-term contract by next spring.
  • Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman erred in handing guard Isaac Seumalo a starting job before training camp began, Paul Domowitch of Philly.com opines. Roseman traded Allen Barbre to Denver on July 26 to further drive home the point that he wanted Seumalo in the starting lineup, but the second-year man is already headed to the bench in favor of Chance Warmack after a pair of rough games. The Eagles’ hope was that Seumalo would start all 16 games at left guard this year and then, perhaps as early as next season, shift to center to take over for Jason Kelce, Domowitch suggests. Kelce’s under contract for a few more years, so if Seumalo doesn’t return to a No. 1 role this season and show marked improvement, perhaps the former will stick around in 2018.

Contract Details: Taylor, Cook, Willson

The latest contract details from around the NFL:

  • Tyrod Taylor, QB (Bills): Taylor earns an additional $500K if the Bills make it to the divisional round of the playoffs in 2017, which becomes $1MM if they advance to the AFC Championship, and $2MM if they advance to the Super Bowl. The same package of incentives applies to 2018 (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).
  • Jared Cook, TE (Raiders): Two years, $10.6MM, $1.6MM in incentives (effectively a one-year $5.3MM deal with $800K in incentives) (Twitter link via Ben Volin of The Boston Globe).
  • Luke Willson, TE (Seahawks): One year, $1.8MM, $1MM in incentives (Twitter link via Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle).
  • Kayvon Webster, CB (Rams): Two years, $7.75MM. Salaries of $2.75MM (guaranteed), $3MM. $1MM 2017 roster bonus guaranteed, $500K 2018 roster bonus guaranteed. (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Sean Spence, LB (Colts): One year, $2.5MM. $750K signing bonus. $500K in incentives (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Kendall Wright, WR (Bears): One year, $2MM. $250K signing bonus. $2MM in incentives (Twitter link via Wilson).

Seahawks To Re-Sign Luke Willson

The Seahawks have agreed to re-sign tight end Luke Willson to a one-year deal worth up to $3MM, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com.Luke Willson (Vertical)

Seattle reportedly offered Willson a new deal during the 2016 season, but Willson didn’t consider it a serious proposal and didn’t even respond to it. Things have seemingly changed, as Willson will now return to the Pacific Northwest for a fifth campaign. He’ll work with alongside Seahawks tight ends Jimmy Graham and Nick Vannett.

Willson, 27, ranked as PFR’s No. 5 tight end heading into the free agent period. In 2016, Willson dealt with injuries and only managed to appear in 11 games, playing in roughly a third of Seattle’s offensive snaps. During that time, he posted 15 receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Offense

NFL free agency is right around the corner! The legal tampering period starts on Tuesday and free agency officially starts on Thursday. The list of available free agents will change between now and then as players re-sign with teams or get cut loose, but we have a pretty good idea of who will be available right now. After looking at the top defensive players, we now shift our attention to the other side of the ball.

Here are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each position. The rankings aren’t determined by earning power, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with a combination of short- and long-term value taken into account. You won’t find restricted free agents or franchise tagged guys here since they are unlikely to go leave their current clubs.

Player evaluation is always subjective, so we encourage you to make your voices heard in the comments section in cases where you disagree with us.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2017:

Updated 3-7-2017, 2:55pm CT

Quarterback:

  1. Mike Glennon
  2. Nick Foles
  3. Brian Hoyer (story)
  4. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  5. Colin Kaepernick
  6. Josh McCown
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Christian Ponder
  12. Blaine Gabbert
  13. Geno Smith
  14. Matt Schaub (story)
  15. EJ Manuel

Honorable mention: Ryan Nassib, Landry JonesShaun Hill Mike Glennon (vertical)

Colin Kaepernick’s agents have (wisely) let everyone know that their client will stand for the National Anthem in 2017. That may seem like a minor point, but teams say they would have automatically removed him from consideration if he continued his attention-grabbing protest. He grabbed headlines for his actions on the sidelines last year, but he actually turned in an OK season. From a football standpoint, Kaepernick would make sense for a lot of teams as a QB2 with upside.

Interestingly, this list includes three quarterbacks who couldn’t cut it as the Jets’ starter and three rejects from the 49ers. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all six of those players (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert) come with varying degrees of potential and proven effectiveness. Smith, somehow, could reportedly be retained by the Jets and installed as the starter in 2017.

Ryan Nassib is just outside of the top 15 here with EJ Manuel getting the final spot. Despite positive word about his play in practice, Nassib is unproven and the Giants’ apparent lack of interest in re-signing him says a lot. It’s also possible that he might not be 100% after ending the 2016 season on IR with an elbow injury. Manuel, for all his warts, has shown potential in small bursts.

Running back:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. Adrian Peterson
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Jamaal Charles
  6. Darren McFadden
  7. Jacquizz Rodgers
  8. Rex Burkhead
  9. Rashad Jennings
  10. Danny Woodhead
  11. Tim Hightower
  12. DeAngelo Williams
  13. Andre Ellington
  14. Chris Johnson
  15. Christine Michael

Honorable mention: Robert Turbin, Travaris Cadet, Benny Cunningham, Lance Dunbar, Bobby Rainey, Brandon BoldenDenard Robinson, James Starks

Adrian Peterson (vertical)As expected, the Vikings have cut Adrian Peterson loose and he is expected to garner interest from contending clubs this week. Some might peg Peterson as the most talented running back in this year’s free agent class, but it all comes down to how you weigh his age and injury history. Peterson has shocked the football world in the past with an incredible comeback, but I’m a little skeptical of his ability to do it again in his age-32 season. Eddie Lacy, who has injury question marks of his own, takes the top spot at the position.

The Patriots believe they won’t be able to match the offers that come in LeGarrette Blount‘s direction. Latavius Murray could circle back to the Raiders, but he won’t be agreeing to a deal with them before free agency opens on Thursday.

Jamaal Charles has the most impressive resume of anyone on this list, with the exception of Peterson. However, no one knows exactly what he can do after playing eight games in the last two years. He’ll turn 31 in December and that’s usually not an indicator of success for running backs.

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Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

[UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST EDITION OF THE TOP 2017 NFL FREE AGENTS BY POSITION]

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, 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.

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 2017:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Mike Glennon
  3. Nick Foles
  4. Brian Hoyer
  5. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  6. Case Keenum
  7. Matt McGloin
  8. Mark Sanchez
  9. Geno Smith
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Josh McCown
  12. Christian Ponder
  13. Blaine Gabbert
  14. Matt Schaub
  15. Ryan Nassib

Honorable mention: Shaun Hill

As of this writing, Kirk Cousins is far and away the best potential free agent quarterback in this year’s crop. By the time March gets here, we’re fully expecting Cousins to be spoken for. Ultimately, the Redskins could franchise tag him, work out a long-term deal with him, or swing some type of trade that nets them a massive haul of talent and picks. That will leave a crop of retread quarterbacks that would probably best serve as transitional options for QB-needy teams. Kirk Cousins

Mike Glennon hasn’t done much in his 18 career starts, but talent evaluators are still in love with his size and potential. The 6’7″ quarterback will get more money this spring than you might expect, particularly since there are no surefire QBs in this year’s draft.

Teams looking for stopgap QBs will find a plethora of experienced, though perhaps uninspiring, signal callers. Nick Foles, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick all have their best football behind them, but they could hold down the fort for a team in 2017 and maybe even find some success if the defense is strong enough. Of course, the ideal role for those guys would probably be as a backup to a better, younger quarterback.

Running back:

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Eddie Lacy
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Darren McFadden
  6. Jacquizz Rodgers
  7. Rashad Jennings
  8. Danny Woodhead
  9. Rex Burkhead
  10. Tim Hightower
  11. DeAngelo Williams
  12. Andre Ellington
  13. Chris Johnson
  14. Christine Michael
  15. Robert Turbin

Consider Le’Veon Bell‘s name written in Etch-A-Sketch, because he is very unlikely to get near the open market. That could leave Eddie Lacy as the best tailback available in March. Lacy has struggled with weight issues in recent years and he lost much of the 2016 season to injury. Still, he is a bruising back that could nicely complement a quicker ball carrier. Before he was shut down for the year, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry in five games for Green Bay.

LeGarrette Blount (vertical)In the last two years, LeGarrette Blount seems to have put his off-the-field troubles behind him. Whether that’s a sign of his maturity or a product of the Patriots’ culture remains to be seen. Teams can ignore his past indiscretions, but they will be wary of his age. Blount turns 31 in December.

Latavius Murray has shown glimpses of being a special running back, but he has been inconsistent and his 4.0 yards-per-carry average of the last two years isn’t overly impressive. Darren McFadden ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, but 2016 was pretty much a lost year for him. Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to break out last year, but he wound up succumbing to the same injury bug that took down a host of other Buccaneers running backs. Speaking of injuries, Rashad Jennings was initially brought to the Giants to be a workhorse back, but two of his three years in New York were marred by ailments. Everyone in this tier has the potential to make a difference, but none should be counted on as anyone’s main guy in 2017.

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Extra Points: Steelers, Hawks, Giants, Chiefs

The oldest defensive player in the NFL, linebacker James Harrison, is reportedly planning to return for his age-39 season in 2017, and the Steelers are interested in bringing back the pending free agent. “Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we’re definitely open to it,” team president Art Rooney II told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday. “And, from what I understand, at least he’s open to it.” Despite his advanced age, Harrison led the Steelers in sacks (five) in his 14th NFL season and became the franchise’s all-time leader in that category (79.5).

Regardless of whether Harrison’s career continues with the Steelers, they’ll prioritize upgrading their pass rush this offseason, Rooney indicated. “That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on,” said Rooney, whose club finished ninth in sacks and 15th in quarterback hurries in 2016.

Elsewhere around the league…

  • The Seahawks made a contract offer to pending free agent tight end Luke Willson, but it wasn’t “extremely serious” and he “didn’t really respond to it,” the 27-year-old told KJR-AM 950 (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). Willson also revealed that, although his preference is to re-sign with the Seahawks, he’s “excited” about the chance to test the open market. While Willson hasn’t put up gaudy numbers in his four-year Seattle career (74 catches, 976 yards and seven touchdowns in 56 games), he could have a case for a significant payday. As Condotta notes, Willson has similar numbers to San Francisco’s Vance McDonald (64 receptions, 866 yards, seven TDs in 48 games), who landed an extension featuring $16MM in guarantees in December. The Seahawks already have one expensive tight end in Jimmy Graham, who’s due a $7.9MM salary next season.
  • A subpar season – not to mention the $2.5MM in cap savings that would accompany his release – could cost running back Rashad Jennings his place on the Giants’ roster, but he expects to return in 2017. “I’ve got one more year on my contract, and I’ve got a lot to prove. I look forward to doing it in New York again,” the soon-to-be 32-year-old told James Kratch of NJ Advance Media. Jennings, who averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per rush on 181 carries in 2016, added that he and head coach Ben McAdoo had a “very upbeat” exit meeting.
  • Chiefs long snapper James Winchester‘s contract extension is a five-year, $4.45MM pact featuring $500K in guarantees and a $500K roster bonus for 2017, reports Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Winchester can also earn $10K in workout bonuses for every year of the deal.
  • Free agent linebacker Justin Tuggle worked out for the Raiders, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The son of longtime NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle spent 2013-15 in Houston, where he appeared in 42 games and started 11, but didn’t play this season after he was unable to survive the Browns’ final cuts in early September.

Seahawks Notes: Shead, Sherman, Willson

Seahawks starting cornerback DeShawn Shead will undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Injured during the Seahawks’ divisional-round loss to the Falcons, Shead is looking at a “standard recovery” of around eight months, per Rapoport.

However, Pete Carroll described Shead’s injury as “significant”, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (on Twitter), and one that will require “a really long time” to overcome. So while this could be Carroll just not wanting to put a timeline on it, his tone indicates Shead could miss some time next season. He did not express that kind of concern about Tyler Lockett‘s availability after his late-season broken leg, so another Richard Sherman counterpart could be required in the starting lineup come the 2017 season.

The 28-year-old Shead started a career-most 15 games for Seattle this season, intercepting one pass, deflecting 14 and making 80 tackles. He will be a restricted free agent. Seattle should not have to worry about placing a $2.8MM second-round tender on Shead now that he’s suffered this injury, Joel Corry of CBS Sports tweets.

Here’s more coming out of Seattle.

  • Speaking of Sherman, the cornerback played this season with a “significant” MCL injury, Carroll said (via Condotta, on Twitter). Carroll described the injury as weighing on Sherman mentally. The sixth-year cornerback was not listed on the injury report for a knee malady this season, Condotta notes (on Twitter). Sherman’s name appeared on the “Not Injury Related” section of missed-practice reports this season, but the Seahawks are admitting now he was injured, creating a minor controversy. Sherman appeared on the DNP report in 11 separate weeks, Michael Cohen of SeattlePI.com tweets, with 10 such weeks being listed as NIR and the other for an ankle ailment. The All-Pro talent is under contract with the Seahawks through 2018.
  • Luke Willson, though, is an impending UFA and said he hopes to stay with the Seahawks next season. Although, the tight end said he hasn’t talked with the team about a new deal, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets. Willson’s fourth season as a Seahawk ended as his worst statistically. He played in just 11 games and caught only 15 passes for 129 yards for an offense that featured a re-emerging Jimmy Graham.
  • Carroll sounded like he believed the current cast of offensive linemen could improve as opposed to being set on seeking upgrades, Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com tweets. After a season that featured Russell Wilson battling injuries and the offensive front struggling to secure a pocket for the franchise passer, Kapadia argues standing pat here would be a mistake. The Seahawks spent the least amount of money on their offensive line this season, and Pro Football Focus graded the NFC West champions’ unit as the worst in the league.

Seahawks TE Luke Willson Suffers Knee Injury

Tight end Luke Willson suffered ligament damage in his knee during the Seahawks’ win over the Falcons yesterday, head coach Pete Carroll told reporters, including Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (Twitter link). It’s possible that Willson will require surgery, per Carroll.Luke Willson (Vertical)

[RELATED: Seahawks Cut Jordan Hill From IR]

Willson, 26, has taken a backseat to Jimmy Graham in 2016 as the latter has finally found his footing in Seattle. However, while Graham has outproduced Willson in terms of offensive numbers, Willson has actually played more snaps that Graham (168-to-159), and Willson has been a valuable asset as a blocker in two-tight end sets. While he hasn’t graded well overall according to Pro Football Focus’ statistics, Willson has ranked as an above-average pass-blocking tight end.

The Seahawks do have the tight end depth to withstand the loss of Willson, as the club boasts third-round rookie Nick Vannett and fifth-year pro Brandon Williams. If Seattle wants to add another tight end to its roster, one obvious candidate would be Marcus Lucas, who is currently on the Hawks’ practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2016 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure is projected to be $1.696MM in 2016. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2016 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:Keenan Allen (Vertical)

49ers: Gerald Hodges, LB

Bears: Marquess Wilson, WR

Buccaneers: William Gholston, DE; Mike Glennon, QB; Akeem Spence, DT

Cardinals: Andre Ellington, RB; Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S; Alex Okafor, LB

Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR

Colts: Sio Moore, LB; Hugh Thornton, G

Cowboys: J.J. Wilcox, S; Terrance Williams, WR

Dolphins: Jelani Jenkins, LB; Dallas Thomas, T; Dion Sims, TE; Kenny Stills, WR

Eagles: Bennie Logan, DT

Falcons: Kemal Ishmael, S; Levine Toilolo, TE

Jaguars: Josh Evans, S; Dwayne Gratz, CB

Jets: Brian Winters, G

Lions: Larry Warford, G

Packers: David Bakhtiari, T; Micah Hyde, S

Patriots: Duron Harmon, S; Chris Jones, DT; Logan Ryan, CB

Raiders: Mychal Rivera, TE

Rams: T.J. McDonald, S

Ravens: Ricky Wagner, T; Brandon Williams, DT

Saints: Terron Armstead, T; John Jenkins, DT

Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE

Steelers: Markus Wheaton, WR

Titans: Brian Schwenke, C

Washington: Jordan Reed, TE