Mike Nugent

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

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:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

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 defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

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

NFL Workout Updates: 12/4/17

Here’s today’s workout news from around the NFL:

Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

 

 

Bears Place Cairo Santos On IR, Expected To Sign Mike Nugent

Chicago has already gone through two kickers this season and will now add one more to the list in Week 14. The team has placed current kicker Cairo Santos on injured reserve thanks to a groin injury, reports Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Biggs adds in another tweet that the Bears are expected to replace him with veteran Mike Nugent.

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Santos, 26, was signed by the team two weeks ago to replace Connor Barth. In that time, the former Kansas City placekicker converted just one of his two field goal tries to make him 4-5 on the year if you include his first three games of the season as a member of the Chiefs.

The 26-year-old had a decent three-year run in Kansas City before he was eventually replaced by Harrison Butker when Santos consequently suffered another groin injury earlier in the season.

In Nugent, Chicago brings in a kicker with a lot of experience. The 35-year-old is now playing in his 14th year in the NFL after most recently filling in for Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey for four games while Bailey was recovering from an injury of his own. However, Nugent was not steady during his short stint with Dallas, as he missed three of the seven kicks he tried. In his career, Nugent has converted just over 80% of his field goals, with his longest make coming from 55 yards out.

Chicago has not seemed to be able to get their kicking game right since the team moved on from its long-time kicker Robbie Gould after the 2015-16 season. They’ll likely be looking for a new full-time option to lock down the spot as they head into the offseason in a few weeks.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Players Frustrated, Team To Make Several Moves

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link), while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has publicly supported head coach Jason Garrett and his staff, the players themselves are not so supportive. Last year’s NFC East champions are just 5-6 and are mired in a three-game losing streak during which they have looked lethargic and mediocre, and the players are frustrated that the coaching staff has not made proper adjustments to help resolve their issues.

Jason Garrett (Vertical)

For instance, Rapoport says players are angry that the coaching staff did not provide Chaz Green with enough blocking support when he filled in for injured left tackle Tyron Smith, and they are generally frustrated with the vanilla schemes on both sides of the football.

Some changes, though, are being made. We learned earlier today that the team elected to waive running back Darren McFadden, and Rapoport say Dallas also plans to bench cornerback Anthony Brown.

The team also plans to bolster its defensive line by signing veteran Datone Jones, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com writes. Jones, who was recently cut by the 49ers, is expected to ink a two-year deal with the Cowboys tomorrow. Jones is a former first-round selection who has already been a part of three organizations this year (the Vikings, Lions, and 49ers), though he only saw game action with San Francisco. He recorded six tackles in three games and offers help as a rotational piece.

Archer also reports that the Cowboys will release kicker Mike Nugent and will promote running back Trey Williams from the practice squad to take McFadden’s place on the roster.

The above transactions, however, are minor moves that are not likely to ease the tension that Rapoport says permeates the locker room. Indeed, as Clarence Hill, Jr. of the Star-Telegram tweets, the team is not making any play-calling or coaching changes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys To Sign K Mike Nugent

The Cowboys are signing kicker Mike Nugent, as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Nugent will step in for the injured Dan BaileyMike Nugent (Vertical)

A groin injury took Bailey out of action on Sunday, forcing Dallas to use defensive back Jeff Heath as their placekicker. Of course, that wasn’t sustainable, so Dallas auditioned Nugent, Jason Myers, Sam Irwin-Hill, and Younghoe Koo for the role. Nugent came out on top, and he’ll be the team’s stand in starting with Sunday’s game against the Redskins.

There is no timetable for Bailey’s return – all we know right now is that he is expected to miss several weeks of action. The 29-year-old has nailed 89.9% of his field goals, so the bar will be set pretty high for Nugent.

Nugent has been up and down over the course of his career with the Jets and Bengals, but he does have experience with 153 appearances over his 12-year NFL career. The former second-round pick has been looking for work all fall after losing the Giants’ kicking competition to Aldrick Rosas in the summer. He has made 80.8% of his field goals and 96.9% of his extra points since entering the league in 2005. The 35-year-old seemingly took a step back in 2016, making only 79.3% of field goals and a career-low 79.3% of XPs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Working Out Kickers

The Cowboys had to resort to using defensive back Jeff Heath as their placekicker on Sunday after incumbent Dan Bailey went down with a groin injury, but the club won’t ask Heath to play the role of kicker any longer. Dallas is working out free agent kickers Mike Nugent, Jason Myers, Sam Irwin-Hill, and Younghoe Koo, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link).Younghoe Koo (Vertical)

Bailey is expected to miss several weeks after sustaining a groin strain, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Replacing the 29-year-old certainly won’t be easy, as Bailey owns a 89.9% field goal success rate for his career, and hasn’t missed a field goal or an extra point this season. The Cowboys have garnered 4.1 points of field position from Bailey’s work on field goals and extra points, good for seventh in the NFL per Football Outsiders.

Nugent is — by far — the most experienced of the kickers Dallas is working out, as he’s appeared in 153 games during his 12-year NFL career. He lost out to Aldrick Rosas in the Giants’ kicking battle this summer. Myers and Koo, meanwhile, were released this season after struggling with the Jaguars and Chargers, respectively. Irwin-Hill has never appeared in an NFL game, but he did spend the summer in Cowboys’ camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins K Dustin Hopkins Placed On IR

Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins is being placed on injured reserve with a strained rotator muscle in his right hip, a source tells JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington (on Twitter). Dustin Hopkins (vertical)

With Hopkins out, the Redskins are auditioning replacements. Andrew Franks, Marshall Koehn, Mike Nugent, and Nick Rose all showed their stuff in D.C. on Tuesday, Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link) reports. Franks, Koehn, and Nugent are well acquainted after they all participated in the Buccaneers’ workout last week.

Hopkins connected on 9 of 11 field goal attempts this season. In Sunday’s game against the Niners, he connected on tries from 21 and 48 yards, though he missed one extra point try.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bucs Could Potentially Stick With Nick Folk

As expected, the Buccaneers are looking into making a change at kicker. However, it’s not a sure thing that they will move on from Nick Folk, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). "<strong

Initially, the Bucs were hoping to have a handful of kickers audition early next week, but the team is not enamored with the options presently available, Rapoport hears. That’s why, at the moment, only Mike Nugent and Andrew Franks are slated to for the tryout. If more names aren’t added to the list and neither Nugent nor Franks performs well, the Bucs could wind up sticking with Folk.

It has been a rough two games for Folk. On Sunday, he struggled against the Giants before nailing the game-winning field goal at the end. Then, on Thursday, he bricked all three FG tries, costing the Bucs a win over the defending champs.

Folk has missed five field goals already this season, but he missed only four during his entire 2016 campaign with the Jets (27 for 31). The Buccaneers, understandably, want to get this right given what they went through last season with Roberto Aguayo . As Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter) points out, the team has converted on just 28 of 42 field goal attempts (66%) since the beginning of the 2016 season. That marks the lowest percentage of any team in the league over that span.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers To Audition Kickers

Well, you knew this was coming. After Nick Folk‘s dreadful performance on Thursday night, the Buccaneers will work out kickers, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets"<strong

The audition will include Andrew Franks, Mike Nugent, and potentially two or three other kickers, Rapoport tweets. The kicker tryout is likely to take place next week rather than this weekend as the list is finalized, Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times adds (on Twitter).

Folk went 0-for-3 on field goals against the Patriots, representing more than the difference between a Bucs win and loss. The Pats won by a score of 19-14 when Jameis Winston‘s end-of-the-game drive fell short.

Folk took full responsibility for Tampa Bay’s loss after the game, but his mea culpa will do little to help preserve his job. There’s no word on this yet, but Folk may not even get the opportunity to kick alongside the other hopefuls during the audition.

[It has been a [bad week],’’ Folk said on Thursday (via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times). “It started last Sunday and today. Bad week. “I left points out there. We should’ve won 20-19. This one is on me.’’

Two of Folk’s misses came in the fourth quarter, one from 49 yards out and one 31-yarder. He also missed a long 56-yard try at the end of the first half. This came on the heels of Sunday’s performance against the Giants in which he missed an extra point and two field goals before kicking the game-winner on the final play.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Workout Updates: 9/13/17

Today’s workout updates, with nearly all links going to veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer’s Twitter account:

Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears

Green Bay Packers

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Tennessee Titans

Washington Redskins