Manti Te’o

Extra Points: Saints, Fins, Cowboys, Ravens

The Saints have too many linebackers and not enough spots, which could lead to the ouster of either Manti Te’o or Stephone Anthony, writes Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. Te’o hasn’t even played a down yet for the Saints, who signed him in May, but his two-year, $5MM deal includes just $600K in guarantees. With that in mind, the former Charger will be easy to jettison if he doesn’t impress Saints coaches in the coming weeks. Anthony’s contract, on the other hand, isn’t so team friendly. Cutting him wouldn’t save the Saints any money this year, yet it would leave them with $2.1MM-plus in dead money. While the 24-year-old was a first-round pick of the Saints not long ago, in 2015, he’s coming off a subpar second season that ended after 10 games on account of a knee injury.

More from around the NFL:

  • As of late June, the expectation was that Dolphins center Mike Pouncey would be ready for Week 1. That remains the case, it seems, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that Pouncey hasn’t had any setbacks during his recovery from the hip injury that kept him out of 11 games last year. As a result, both Pouncey and the Dolphins are “confident” a forthcoming hip exam will yield positive results. Still, for precautionary reasons, the Dolphins will limit Pouncey in practice throughout the year in hopes of having him for all 16 regular-season games (and potential playoff contests), relays Salguero.
  • Cowboys defensive end David Irving was a no-show for the team’s first day of camp on Friday, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com. It’s unclear why Irving was absent, but he’s now subject to a $40K fine for missing reporting day. Irving’s already set to serve a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
  • With training camp approaching, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun projects the Ravens’ season-opening roster. Veterans whose roster spots are in danger include tight end Maxx Williams, fullback Lorenzo Taliaferro, defensive ends Brent Urban and Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Brandon Boykin, writes Zrebiec. Urban is the only member of the group who appeared in every Ravens game last season, when he picked up two sacks on 150 snaps. Smith, a participant in over 47 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps and a starter in 13 appearances, played the biggest role of the five in 2016. But Smith only made a marginal impact statistically (20 tackles, sack, forced fumble), and his performance ranked a less-than-stellar 92nd among Pro Football Focus’ 106 qualified edge defenders.
  • Bears center Hroniss Grasu missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in August, and now it’s up in the air whether he’ll play another down for the team, suggests JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. Grasu’s old starting job now belongs to Cody Whitehair, who more than held his own as a rookie after shifting from guard to center in the wake of Grasu’s injury. So, if the Bears only keep eight offensive lineman this year, it may lead to Grasu’s demise. The 25-year-old was a third-round pick in 2015, when he started in all of his appearances, though a neck injury limited him to eight games that season.

NFC South Notes: Njoku, Bucs, Saints, Te’o

The Buccaneers met with Miami tight end David Njoku earlier this week, per Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Njoku, who registered 43 receptions and eight touchdowns last season, is expected to be one of two first-round picks at tight end, joining Alabama’s O.J. Howard. The Giants, who sit at pick No. 23 (four spots behind Tampa Bay) are also said to be “very high” on Njoku.

Here’s more from the NFC South:

  • Prior to re-signing with the Saints, defensive back Sterling Moore came close to joining another — as yet unidentified — club, as he detailed to SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). A career journeyman prior to 2016, Moore started 12 games for New Orleans last season. As Moore explains, the Saints circled back to him with an offer after he’d been negotiating with another team, allowing him the return he’d always preferred. Moore, 27, earned $760K last year.
  • Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara is expected to meet with the Saints on Wednesday, tweets Sean Fazende of WVUE FOX 8. Kamara, who recently fired his agent, could sneak into Round 1 despite being viewed as a Day 2 prospect for most of last year. A committee back with the Volunteers, Kamara managed less than 1,300 yards rushing during two years in Tennessee, but also averaged more than six yards per carry during that time.
  • The second year of Buccaneers center Joe Hawley‘s two-year deal is an option year, Caplan tweets. As previously reported, the full two-year pact is worth $5.5MM with $1MM fully guaranteed. If Tampa Bay opts to pick up his 2018 option, Hawley will receive a $250K option bonus, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • Manti Te’o‘s two-year deal with the Saints is worth $5MM with $600K guaranteed, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Te’o can earn $500K annually in per-game roster bonuses, according to Rapoport, and can rake in another $1MM per year in incentives, tweets Wilson.

Saints To Sign LB Manti Te’o

Manti Te’o has agreed to a deal with the Saints, a source tells ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett (Twitter link). The linebacker will receive a two-year deal. "<strong

Te’o, the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been hindered by injuries throughout his career. As a rookie in 2013, Te’o suffered a foot injury in the preseason which sidelined him for the first part of the regular season. In the following year, the linebacker missed six games due to a foot fracture. In 2015, Te’o missed four games as the result of an ankle injury.

All told, the Notre Dame product has managed only 30 starts in four years with the Chargers, and he hasn’t been especially productive. Still, he ranks as the No. 7 free agent linebacker on PFR’s updated list, mostly based on potential upside.

The Saints have remade their linebacker group a bit this offseason, adding middle linebacker A.J. Klein and outside linebacker Alex Okafor. The addition of Te’o would give New Orleans nine LBs in total, for the time being. It’s not clear how New Orleans will use Te’o given the presence of Klein and last year’s starting middle linebacker Craig Robertson. Robertson, in theory, could see time on the outside, allowing Te’o to play predominantly in the middle. Klein could also see some snaps at outside linebacker, but the inside is his best position.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (on Twitter) first reported that a deal was close.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Manti Te’o Visiting Saints

Linebacker Manti Te’o will visit the Saints today and tomorrow, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Manti Te'o (vertical)

Te’o, the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been hindered by injuries throughout his career. As a rookie in 2013, Te’o suffered a foot injury in the preseason which sidelined him for the first part of the regular season. In the following year, the linebacker missed six games due to a foot fracture. In 2015, Te’o missed four games as the result of an ankle injury.

All told, Te’o has managed only 30 starts in four years with the Chargers, and he hasn’t been especially productive. Still, he ranks as the No. 13 free agent linebacker on PFR’s list, mostly based on perceived upside.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

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. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

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 players who received the franchise tag, 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 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

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 the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. 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. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, 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. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

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, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, 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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Manti Te’o Suffers Torn Achilles

Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o has suffered a torn Achilles, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes. Linebacker Manti Te’o went down with a non-contact injury on Sunday against the Colts and an MRI today confirmed the team’s worst fears. Te’o will be placed on season-ending IR. Manti Te'o (vertical)

Te’o opened the season with a bang as he racked up ten tackles against the Chiefs. Things seemed to be pointing to a productive year for the 25-year-old, but his season has ended prematurely instead.

Te’o, the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft, is no stanger to the injury bug. As a rookie in 2013, Te’o suffered a foot injury in the preseason which sidelined him for the first part of the regular season. In the following year, the linebacker missed six games due to a foot fracture. Last year, Te’o missed four games as the result of an ankle injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Browns, Te’o, Jags, Jets, Simmons

The Browns endured an agonizing defeat for the second straight week, and their new kicker hovered at the center of the loss to the Dolphins. Cody Parkey missed three field goals, including what would have been a game-winning 46-yarder at the end of regulation. But the new Cleveland kicker was reportedly not the preferred choice of Browns special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Instead, the sixth-year Browns ST boss wanted the team to sign Robbie Gould, whom the Bears recently released, but he was overruled by Browns management, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports. The Browns signed Parkey on Saturday morning after top kicker Patrick Murray sustained an injury Friday. Cleveland’s decision-makers decided Gould, a 12th-year veteran, was too expensive for them. This led to the decision to bring in third-year man Parkey, per Salguero.

Gould made $3.6MM with the Bears last season and remains a free agent. Parkey, per OverTheCap, is set to make $529K upon signing with the Browns, who possess just more than $48MM in cap space.

Here’s more from the AFC as Week 3’s night-game schedule continues.

  •  The Chargers fear starting inside linebacker Manti Te’o tore his Achilles’ tendon, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (on Twitter). He will undergo testing on Monday to determine the severity of the injury that forced him out of the Chargers’ Week 3 loss to the Colts, Gehlken tweets. One of the Bolts’ captains, Te’o was beginning a contract year that would lose steam if he’s no longer able to play this season. The 2013 second-round pick has made 34 starts for the Chargers since his rookie season. An injury to the former Notre Dame standout would likely thrust rookie fifth-rounder Jatavis Brown into the lineup.
  • Broncos third-round safety Justin Simmons missed today’s game because of a broken bone in his left wrist, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Simmons operates as Denver’s third safety, but the team saw backups Will Parks and Shiloh Keo record turnovers. The defending champions released Keo earlier this week after his two-game suspension ended but re-signed him shortly after, likely due to Simmons’ status.
  • Jaguars owner Shad Khan has given Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley a long leash, but the team that received a fair amount of hype based on its offseason is now 0-3. The Jags are set to make their annual London trip next weekend, and with the bye looming, an 0-4 return from England will bring about a change of some sort, Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union writes. After today’s 19-17 loss to the Ravens, the Jaguars — who will now occupy the No. 1 slot in the waiver order as the pecking order shifts to reflect this season’s records instead of 2015’s — are 12-39 under Bradley. That’s by far the worst mark in franchise history for a coach in his first four years. Both Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio went 9-7 in their second seasons. A coach has been fired after a Week 4 London loss the past two seasons. The Raiders jettisoned Dennis Allen after his team fell to 0-4 in a Wembley Stadium defeat to the Dolphins, who a year later canned Joe Philbin after his team lost its Week 4 England tilt.
  • The Jets‘ four-quarterback setup deprives the team of a fullback, and Todd Bowles doesn’t see the team making a move at that spot. “We’re good,” Bowles said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, when asked about a fullback-less roster. As Cimini notes, only 17 teams have fullbacks. The Jets cut Julian Howsare earlier this week and promoted tight end Braedon Bowman.

Sunday Roundup: Ray, Eagles, Chargers

Let’s take a look a a few notes from around the league:

  • Shane Ray‘s draft stock took a hit because of a citation for marijuana possession and a toe injury, but the Missouri product was still selected in the first round, as the Broncos traded up to nab the high-ceiling pass rusher. As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk writes, Denver hopes that Ray, who missed rookie minicamp as a result of the toe injury, will be able to participate in some capacity when the team resumes work tomorrow. As Alper points out, though, Ray’s work is likely to be limited, especially since the Broncos just lost third-round tight end Jeff Heuerman to a torn ACL at minicamp.
  • Of all the eyebrow-raising moves that Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has made during his brief tenure with the club, his decisions relating to Philadelphia’s wide receiving corps may be the most curious. But as David Murphy of The Philadelphia Daily News writes, with the addition of Nelson Agholor–a physical clone of Jeremy Maclin–the expected improvement from Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews, and the team’s ability to shift Darren Sproles to more of a pass-catching role now that DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are in the fold, the Eagles may actually have a more dynamic set of receivers than they had in 2014.
  • Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano says rookie Denzel Perryman will compete for time at inside linebacker with projected starters Manti Te’o and Donald Butler, but that ultimately everybody will see time on the field, ESPN’s Eric D. Williams writes. Pagano complimented his talent not only at the linebacker position, but also on special teams.
  • The Chargers don’t have a true fullback on their roster, but San Diego State product Chad Young hopes to change that, Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes. Young has experience on his side, having been in training camp last year with the Jets. But like other fullbacks, he has seen his position fade across the NFL over the past several years.
  • Former Maryland standout Andre Monroe tried out for the Chargers during the team’s rookie minicamp, writes Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. Monroe set Maryland’s school record with 25 career sacks, 20 of which came in his last 26 games. But at 5’10” and 294 pounds, Monroe is a bit undersized for an NFL defensive lineman, and he was not immediately offered a contract by San Diego.
  • Longtime Ravens scout Joe Douglas has accepted a job with the Bears, according to a press release from the Ravens. Douglas will be Chicago’s new director of college scouting.
  • The Steelers have hired veteran NFL personnel man Rick Reiprish to join their player personnel department, writes Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reiprish, who has over 30 years of experience in player personnel, was the Saints’ director of college scouting for 11 years until he was released in a front-office shakeup earlier this year.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Returning Impact Players For Contenders

The NFL’s second half is getting underway this week, and it’s not too early to point to specific games as crucial for playoff positioning, as teams jockey for divisions and Wild Card openings. Last night’s contest between the Saints and Panthers, for instance, could ultimately have a real impact on which team wins the NFC South.

As we near the home stretch of the 2014 season, several teams could get a boost from returning players who have been sidelined for most or all of the year. These players won’t necessarily swing playoff races, but their teams will certainly welcome them back with open arms as a way of fortifying rosters that may be plagued by various injuries and ailments.

Listed below are a handful of players worth keeping an eye on during the season’s second half. These players are on track to return from longer-term injuries or suspensions, and could have an impact down the stretch, perhaps helping to buoy their respective teams into postseason berths. While the returns of other players, like Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, will also obviously be massive for their respective teams, shorter-term absences like Green’s aren’t noted here.

Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert (TE)
Green’s return may have a more significant impact on the Bengals’ offense, but Eifert shouldn’t be overlooked. The young tight end was expected to take on a larger role this season, and had already caught three balls in the team’s Week 1 contest before he suffered a dislocated elbow. Since he received the designation to return when he was placed on IR, Eifert is eligible to practice now and is expected to be activated for the club’s Week 11 game against the Saints.

Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon (WR)
The Browns currently sit in last place in the competitive AFC North, so it’s fair to question whether they’re a legit contender. Still, at 4-3, they’re right on the heels of the division-leading 4-2-1 Bengals, and with a soft schedule and the 2013’s leading receiver due back soon, there’s reason for optimism in Cleveland. Taking into account the Browns’ bye, Gordon’s 10-game ban means he’s eligible to return for Week 12, and it’ll be interesting to see what Brian Hoyer – or, perhaps, Johnny Manziel – can do during the season’s final six weeks with a weapon like Gordon at his disposal.

Dallas Cowboys: Demarcus Lawrence (DE/OLB)
We’ve yet to see what Lawrence is capable of at the NFL level, since the first half of his rookie season has been wiped out by a broken foot. But this is a player for whom the Cowboys traded up to No. 34 in May’s draft, and the team is looking forward to getting him back this weekend. Dallas’ defense has been surprisingly effective so far, but it certainly hasn’t been infallible, and a player like Lawrence will help fortify the team’s pass rush. It’s also worth monitoring defensive tackle Josh Brent, whose 10-game ban will soon expire — Brent may not see a ton of snaps right away, but the fact that the Cowboys have stuck with him indicates he remains very much in the team’s plans.

Detroit Lions: Kyle Van Noy (LB)
Like Lawrence, Van Noy is an early second-round pick who we’ve yet to see play in a regular season game. Of course, the Lions’ defense has been so effective that the team can afford to ease Van Noy in slowly if it so chooses, but this is a player who was initially penciled in as a three-down starter during the preseason. While he may not receive that kind of workload when he returns this weekend, I expect he’ll become a bigger part of Detroit’s D by December.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Kelce (C), Evan Mathis (G)
Eagles fans and LeSean McCoy‘s fantasy owners alike will welcome the return of this standout duo of interior offensive linemen. Kelce appears ready to return to action this weekend, while Mathis is expected to be activated for the following week, which is great news for an offensive line that has been shorthanded virtually all season. Assuming Kelce and Mathis are both healthy and remain as effective as ever, McCoy should start finding a few more holes and Nick Foles may be a little more comfortable in the pocket.

San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram (LB), Ryan Mathews (RB), Manti Te’o (LB)
Few – if any – teams have been hit harder this season by injuries than the Chargers, but reinforcements are on the way. In addition to players like Brandon Flowers and Jeremiah Attaochu being on the mend, the trio noted here is recovering well from longer-term injuries. Ingram, Mathews, and Te’o have each been sidelined since at least Week 3, but if all goes well, all three players could be back in action again following the club’s Week 10 bye.

San Francisco 49ers: NaVorro Bowman (LB), Aldon Smith (LB)
Heading into the season, many pundits viewed the Niners as a candidate to fall out of the postseason this year in large part due to the extended absences of Bowman and Smith. The team has hung in there so far though, and should finally be getting their standout linebackers back in November. Even if Smith’s nine-game ban isn’t reduced by a game or two, a rumor which appears increasingly unlikely, he’ll be eligible to return for the Niners’ Week 11 contest against the Giants, and I’d expect Bowman to be back a week or two after that. With December showdowns against the Seahawks, Chargers, and Cardinals on tap, San Francisco could be getting two of its best defenders back just in time to affect the playoff picture.

Chargers To Promote Cordarro Law

With two open roster spots to fill after placing Danny Woodhead and Melvin Ingram on IR, the Chargers will promote a player who has spent the season on their practice squad. According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, linebacker Cordarro Law will be added to the team’s 53-man roster.

Law, 25, drew NFL interest last winter after a standout 2013 season with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, in which the outside linebacker racked up 14 sacks. Before he signed with the Chargers, the Jaguars, Patriots, and Ravens were among the teams who auditioned Law or at least had some interest in him, according to various reports. The former Southern Miss standout went undrafted in 2012 and was picked up by the Seahawks before being cut and heading north to the CFL.

For San Diego, Law will help reinforce a linebacking corps that has been depleted by injuries in recent weeks. Ingram is on injured reserved with the designation to return, meaning he won’t be eligible to return to game action for another seven weeks. According to Gehklen, Manti Te’o is also expected to miss significant time after suffering a foot fracture during Sunday’s game against the Bills. Te’o likely won’t land on injured reserve, but figures to miss multiple contests.

Once the Law promotion becomes official, the Chargers will still have one opening on their 53-man roster to fill. Presumably, that spot is earmarked for a running back.