Veteran defensive back Michael Thomas was limited to only nine games in 2020 thanks to a pectoral injury, but the former Pro Bowler told Aaron Wilson that he’s been fully cleared by Dr. James Andrews.
“I feel amazing,” Thomas said (via Wilson on Twitter). “The pec is feeling good, my body feels healthy. Texans, whoever, come get me. My agent told me a couple of teams have been poking around. I would love to go back with the Texans. We’ll see.”
Thomas inked a one-year deal with Houston this past offseason, and he collected 16 tackles in nine games before suffering a torn pectoral in late November. The defensive back later underwent season-ending surgery, but it sounds like the 31-year-old is now fully recovered. Teams searching for secondary and/or special teams depth would surely consider adding the veteran to their depth chart.
The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Stanford has put together a very solid NFL career. Following a stint with the 49ers to kick off his professional career, Thomas ended up spending five seasons with the Dolphins, starting 25 of his 56 games. He got a two-year deal from the Giants prior to the 2018 campaign, and he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod that season after compiling 59 tackles, one sack, and two picks.
Texans defensive back Michael Thomas is done for the year. NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that the veteran has a torn pectoral and will undergo season-ending surgery.
The 30-year-old apparently suffered the injury during last week’s loss to the Browns, but he still managed to finish the contest. The former Pro Bowler is set to hit free agency following the 2020 campaign, and Pelissero notes that Thomas should be “healthy in plenty of time for camp.”
The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Stanford has put together a very solid NFL career. Following a stint with the 49ers to kick off his professional career, Thomas ended up spending five seasons with the Dolphins, starting 25 of his 56 games.
He got a two-year deal from the Giants prior to the 2018 campaign, and he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod that season after compiling 59 tackles, one sack, and two picks. Thomas inked a one-year deal with Houston this past offseason.
The Texans are signing veteran safety and special teamer Michael Thomas, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link). It’s a one-year deal, tweets Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com.
Thomas, not to be confused with the Saints receiver of the same name, is widely considered one the best special teams players in the NFL. Throughout his career with the Dolphins and Giants, Thomas has regularly played more than 75% of his team’s ST snaps. In addition, he’s viewed as an excellent locker room presence and was New York’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2018, tweets Raanan.
A Pro Bowler as a special teamer in 2018, Thomas has seen significant action on the defense in the past, as he played more than 45% of his club’s defensive snaps in 2015, 2016, and 2018. However, Houston already has Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson lined up as starters at safety, and the team also signed defensive back Eric Murray to a three-year deal last month. Thus, Thomas will likely spend most of his time on special teams duty.
The Texans have placed an emphasis on special teams in recent years, so the addition of Thomas shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Houston ranked fifth in Football Outsiders‘ special teams metric in each of the past two seasons.
Okung, who unveiled his candidacy earlier this year, was also nominated Monday. Okung, Thomas and Acho are current members of the NFLPA’s executive committee. Tretter serves as the Browns’ third co-alternate union representative.
The NFLPA will elect its next president on Tuesday; the union’s board members are meeting in south Florida this week to discuss key matters. One item obviously overshadows the rest this week. Players now have until 10:59pm CT Saturday to vote on the CBA. The NFLPA voted Monday to delay the deadline for two days.
Eric Winston has served in the role since 2014, but he will cycle out of it after ending his playing career after the 2018 season. The next president may or may not be thrust into a high-stakes situation. If more than 50% of players vote against CBA ratification, the 2020 season will be played under the 2011 CBA. That CBA expires in March 2021. Players voting against the proposal will increase the prospects of a strike or lockout next year.
Of the new members, Okung and Thomas submitted “no” votes on the CBA; Acho voted “yes” on the proposal, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Tretter did not indicate which way he has voted on the owners’ offer, Pelissero adds (via Twitter). Okung has been a hard-liner against the 17-game schedule, so much so he filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the staff of the NFLPA, Ken Belson of the New York Times reports.
Okung’s filing accuses union executive director DeMaurice Smith of forcing a union-wide CBA vote despite objections from the executive committee, Belson adds. The executive committee voted 6-5 in February not to recommend the owners’ CBA proposal, and after the Combine meeting, the executive committee was at 7-4 against recommending the CBA, Belson reports. However, the union’s 32-player board voted to send the proposal for a union-wide vote.
Should the recent Panthers trade acquisition receive the keys after the players vote down a proposal Smith and Winston championed, the league could be set for period of uncertainty over the next several months.
Despite an offseason that included retirement rumors, contract frustration and trade talks, Rob Gronkowski appears to be sufficiently ready to put some of this behind him. The Patriots‘ future Hall of Fame tight end attributed his time away from the team to determining whether he could handle the rigors of a ninth season.
“I am refreshed,” Gronkowski told NFL.com’s Willie McGinest (via NBC Sports Boston). “You know after the season, long seasons, how your body can feel and everything. I just wanted to see where I was at, and see how I can get my body feeling, see if I can handle it, endure it again, and I feel like I’m super ready, man.”
Gronkowski remains without an adjusted contract, despite the sides being rumored to be close to finalizing one. Gronk has not been connected to a training camp holdout just yet, though given his injury history and actions this offseason, one can’t necessarily be ruled out. But the 29-year-old tight end is set to return for the Patriots, which will be even more important than it usually is considering Julian Edelman will miss a second straight September.
Here’s the latest from New England and some other cities whose teams play in Eastern divisions.
After Danielle Hunter‘s extension, Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston identifies Trey Flowers as a prime candidate to cash in. However, Flowers’ Patriots employment may delay a big deal. The Patriots have traded away defenders with higher profiles in recent years, dealing Jamie Collins and future All-Pro Chandler Jones, so Curran warns this situation could be slow-played — particularly because of the Hunter deal — past Flowers’ 2018 contract year. Although, Hunter’s $12MM-AAV extension can be considered a team-friendly pact given his age and potential. Flowers led the AFC champions with 6.5 sacks last season and looks to again be the team’s best edge-rushing presence.
With less than two weeks left until the deadline for teams to sign franchise-tagged players to extensions, might the Cowboys consider letting DeMarcus Lawrence play on the tag? The Cowboys may be somewhat skittish about the defensive end’s injury history, per Jori Epstein of the Dallas Morning News, and would like to see if Lawrence can duplicate his breakout 2017 season. While Lawrence is set to count $17MM-plus toward Dallas’ 2018 cap, the team already finalized an extension with Zack Martin and still has $14.8MM worth of cap space. And the Cowboys did not replace Dez Bryant or Jason Witten with big-money pass-catchers, so they may now be in position to take a wait-and-see approach with Lawrence.
The Giants added backup safety/special-teamer Michael Thomas in late March, before it became clear something was amiss with the safety market. Thomas signed for two years and $4MM, which gave the expected backup a better deal than longtime Chiefs starter Ron Parkerreceived from the Falcons last week. Needless to say, Thomas believes something is up and connects it to Eric Reid‘s status as a free agent. “I was never worried, but collusion is real,” Thomas said about his free agency, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I understand that, but it was a blessing in disguise. The Giants organization was the right situation for me.” Thomas isn’t the first outside of Reid to connect the former 49er’s offseason to the slowed safety market. Reid remains embroiled in a grievance with the NFL over his unemployment, which he connects to his involvement in the racial inequality-themed protests of the past two years.
The Giants have agreed to terms on a two-year deal with free agent safety Michael Thomas, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
Thomas is one of the league’s best special-teamers, as he played more than 70% of the Dolphins’ ST snaps over the past four seasons while leading the NFL in special teams tackles during that time. He should assist a Giants special teams unit that ranked dead last in DVOA a year ago, while he’ll also add a high-character voice in New York’s locker room. Rannan indicated earlier this offseason that Giants general manger Dave Gettleman was intent on altering the club’s culture, and Thomas was specifically mentioned as a viable option for aiding in that effort.
While his defensive playing time has decreased in each of the past two seasons, Thomas started 13 games for Miami as recently as 2015. A such, he could conceivably be in competition for a starting role with the Giants, as Darian Thompson graded as a bottom-20 safety (per Pro Football Focus) while playing opposite Pro Bowler Landon Collins. Thompson played on 96% of New York’s defensive snaps in 2017, so he won’t be easy to jar loose, but Thomas could be in line for snaps, if only in three-safety looks.
The Steelers hosted safety Michael Thomas on a visit, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic tweets. This is the first known visit for Thomas, who spent five seasons with the Dolphins.
However, Kaboly reports Thomas left Pittsburgh’s facility without a contract. Both sides could be surveying their options, and the Steelers are in need of safety help.
Pittsburgh cut longtime back-line starter Mike Mitchell, though the Steelers are interested in a reunion at a lower rate, and has not seen its second-round investment in Sean Davis pay off just yet. Despite restructuring the deals of several players, the Steelers still have barely $2MM in cap space.
Thomas, who turned 29 over the weekend, served as a part-time starter and full-time special-teamer in Miami. He made 24 starts (12 in 2015) during his tenure with the Dolphins.
Here’s more on the Giants, all courtesy of Raanan:
Teams around the league are viewing Giants free agent Weston Richburg as both a center and a guard, per Raanan. Richburg has played at the pivot for the past three years, but he spend time at guard during his rookie season in 2014. Although injuries limited him to only four games in 2017, Richburg will be the best center available on the open market, leading a positional group that also includes Ryan Jensen, John Sullivan, Russell Bodine, and Travis Swanson, but he could increase his number of suitors by exhibiting versatility.
The Giants could field five new starters along their offensive line in 2018, a source tells Raanan. While that overhaul likely wouldn’t removing Brett Jones, who filled in for Richburg at center last season, but it would still represent a massive overhaul. Notably, changeover at all five positions would mean New York has moved on from former first-round pick, and incumbent left tackle, Ereck Flowers. Panthers guard Andrew Norwell could be part of the renovation, as Giants general manager Dave Gettleman reportedly “loves” the Carolina free agent, Raanan writes in a separate piece.
A number of Giants free agents are unlikely to remain with the club next year, per Raanan. Defensive lineman Jay Bromley and Kerry Wynn aren’t expected to re-sign, as neither is a good fit for new defensive coordinator James Bettcher‘s 3-4 scheme. Bromley, notably, is reportedly looking for a larger role on defense, according to Raanan, as he’s spent the majority of his career as a reserve. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, additionally, doesn’t appear to be on the Giants’ radar, as the club is looking to get younger at the second level of its defense.
Gettleman will likely try to improve the Giants’ locker room culture by inking established veterans on the defensive side of the ball, and Raanan lists incumbent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and Dolphins’ special teams ace Michael Thomas as players New York could sign for their leadership.
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. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.
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 2018:
As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.
Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.
Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.
The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.
Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.
Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.
While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.
Michael Thomas‘ Dolphins contract expires after Week 17, and the fifth-year safety will not be participating in Sunday’s game against the Bills.
The Dolphins announced they placed Thomas on IR. He had been recovering from a PCL injury and missed the previous two Miami games. The Dolphins claimed safety Trae Elston off waivers from the Bills to take Thomas’ roster spot.
Thomas played this season on an RFA tender ($1.797MM). He will be a UFA this coming March. The former UDFA who’s been a part-time starter the past three seasons posted a message to Dolphins fans on Twitter. Thomas played 179 defensive snaps this season, and Pro Football Focus graded those fairly well despite the Stanford product being categorized as a part-time performer.
A 2016 UDFA, Elston played in 13 games for the Bills this season after beginning his season with the Eagles. Elston is under contract for next season, giving the Dolphins a chance at an offseason evaluation for potential safety depth.