Morgan Burnett

North Notes: Mayfield, Steelers, Moore

Browns fans enjoyed the chance to see a matchup between the quarterback most assumed they’d select vs. the one they actually did on Thursday, and Baker Mayfield won the first round between he and Sam Darnold. The USC-developed passer loomed as the frontrunner to go No. 1 overall for months, until Mayfield buzz increased during draft week. However, it wasn’t that tough of a decision for John Dorsey, with Terry Pluto of cleveland.com noting the new Browns GM had a “far higher” grade on Mayfield than Darnold. Both Pluto and cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot write that a return to Tyrod Taylor as the starter doesn’t make sense, with Cabot adding the months-long stance to start Taylor over Mayfield was made by both Dorsey and Hue Jackson. After the Browns’ 21-17 win over the Jets, Dorsey, per Cabot, was overheard saying to owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, “I think I picked the right one,” appearing to reference the controversial Mayfield-over-Darnold selection.

Here’s the latest out of the North divisions:

  • Sterling Moore has a workout scheduled with the Bears for next week, Jane Slater of NFL.com tweets. A former Saints, Cowboys and Buccaneers starter, Moore failed to make the Lions’ 53-man roster out of training camp. The 28-year-old cornerback played six games with the Saints last season, his second stint in New Orleans.
  • The Steelers‘ corner situation will see a boost in a bigger-than-expected spot Monday night. Joe Haden appears set to return for Pittsburgh after missing Week 2, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM Radio tweets. Haden practiced fully on Saturday. Morgan Burnett, however, doesn’t look likely to suit up Monday. The Steelers listed their recently signed safety as doubtful to face the Buccaneers.
  • Pittsburgh’s reeling on its offensive line. David DeCastro will miss his second straight game because of the fractured right hand he suffered in Week 1. Marcus Gilbert is doubtful for Week 3 because of a hamstring malady. The Steelers declared DeCastro out, and the Associated Press notes B.J. Finney will start in his place. Matt Feiler is in line to start at right tackle for Gilbert, per the AP. The Steelers struggled to produce much on the ground in Week 2 without some key pieces, with James Conner being held to 17 rushing yards after a 135-yard debut in Cleveland. Of course, the Chiefs’ 21-0 start forced the Steelers to pass much more often than they would have otherwise done.
  • The Ravens did not make a move to adjust their cornerback situation on Saturday, meaning they’ll be down to four healthy players at this spot against the Broncos on Sunday. Rookie Anthony Averett will miss Week 3, Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun notes. This may force rookie UDFA Darious Williams into action. Although, Baltimore’s still in relatively good shape despite Averett and Jimmy Smith‘s absences. Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young are available.

AFC North Rumors: Steelers, Ravens, Browns

With Le’Veon Bell demanding $17MM per year, less than three weeks could remain for Steelers fans to view the All-Pro running back as a long-term asset. Following the July 16 franchise tag deadline, Bell could be headed toward rental status this season and 2019 free agency. The Steelers are not about to authorize a $17MM-AAV deal for Bell, Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, adding that the only chance of an extension being hammered out is if Bell comes off that price. Judging by the lack of communication between the parties since their pre-draft re-up talks, Zeise notes it’s clear the Steelers are going to hold their line. Bell is optimistic about a deal, but Zeise notes he appears to be the only one. The Steelers may not be able to replace Bell, but the gap between he and either James Conner (or a future successor) may not translate to Pittsburgh paying its running back what he wants. Bell’s $17MM-per-year price is more than twice what current running back salary leader Devonta Freeman makes.

Here’s the latest from Pittsburgh and other AFC North cities.

  • The Steelers do not believe Morgan Burnett is the same player he was at his Packers apex, and they don’t plan on asking him to perform like it, according to Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Keith Butler is planning for the 29-year-old safety to assume some of the responsibility Ryan Shazier used to, working as a quality run-stopper and patrolling the middle of the field on passing downs. However, the plan is for Burnett to play strong safety and for the likes of Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds to have deep-middle responsibilities at free safety, per Benz. Edmunds played a hybrid-type role late in his Virginia Tech career, which would appear to overlap with Burnett’s job description, but it appears the Steelers are confident the first-rounder will be able to grow into a true free safety.
  • It’s going to take a sizable Browns improvement for Hue Jackson to keep his job, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com said (video link), adding that the third-year HC knows this. Cabot envisions a major Browns step forward this season and does expect Jackson, 1-31 Cleveland record notwithstanding, to keep his job for 2019. She estimates six wins may be enough to convince John Dorsey to retain Jackson. The Browns have won six games just once in the past 10 years.
  • The Ravens have moved 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa around a bit since he entered the league. Beginning his career at outside linebacker, the Boise State product was shuttled to an inside spot in 2017. However, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun notes Correa’s been moved back to the outside this offseason. Correa recorded 19 sacks during his final two college seasons but has yet to register one as a pro. He’ll be in the mix as one of Terrell Suggs‘ supporting-casters this year, it appears.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Okorafor, Bengals

Rumored to be a potential option to succeed Joe Thomas at left tackle, Joel Bitonio‘s heard an important voice that doesn’t believe this is a good idea. As a result, the Browns‘ post-Thomas battle is likely to come down to third-year player Shon Coleman, last season’s full-time right tackle, second-round pick Austin Corbett and possibly former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson.

He is an elite guard, one of the top 4-5 in the league,” Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie said of Bitonio, via Terry Pluto of cleveland.com. “You put him at tackle and he becomes … what … just a tackle.”

Although Corbett succeeded Bitonio as Nevada’s left tackle and started for four years, he’s a bit behind Coleman for the job at present, Wylie said. The Browns, though, also signed Robinson this week and view him as a reclamation project. Not unlike other teams who have taken chances on underwhelming high draft picks, the Browns believe Robinson has “freakish” athletic ability and believe with proper coaching he can grow into a solid blocker, Pluto notes. In 395 snaps with the Lions last season, the former Auburn standout graded as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-worst full-time tackle.

Here’s the latest from some of the Browns’ top rivals.

  • The Bengals are set on the left side of their offensive line, with Cordy Glenn, Clint Boling and Billy Price entrenched as starters. With 2015 high draft picks Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi, along with Giants castoff Bobby Hart, involved in the right tackle competition, Cincinnati perhaps has less certainty about who will play right guard. Former UDFAs Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond, and 2016 fifth-rounder Christian Westerman, are going to vie for that spot, Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes. PFF’s No. 41 tackle in 2017, Hopkins is the incumbent, playing 707 snaps last season and starting 12 games.
  • Continuing this afternoon’s theme of AFC North offensive lines, the Steelers appear to be close to slotting Chukwuma Okorafor as the swing tackle behind Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert. The Steelers may be leaning toward placing Matt Feiler in as a backup interior lineman, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. A third-round pick, Okorafor would then be in line to replace Chris Hubbard, the new Browns right tackle, in that swing job. “Chuks, we drafted that guy for that reason,” Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. “Now the young guy gets a chance kind of like Al a few years ago. And last year, Chris Hubbard got the opportunity with Marcus out. We’ve got a lot of time to work with him. Right now, that’s our guy going forward.” Gilbert’s contract expires after the 2019 season, and although Ben Roethlisberger would prefer he be re-signed in advance of his walk year, the high-end right tackle has dealt with injuries and a suspension in recent years and will be 31 in February.
  • While it’s unlikely Jordan Dangerfield will be able to keep first-round pick Terrell Edmunds off the field, he exited the Steelers’ offseason program as a first-string safety, per Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review. Morgan Burnett missed minicamp because of an injury Mike Tomlin deemed minor. Edmunds ran with the second-team defense but is expected to get looks at safety and linebacker for a Steelers team that was deficient at those spots at the end of last season. Dangerfield is a fifth-year player who hasn’t seen action since 2016.

Steelers To Sign Morgan Burnett

The Steelers will sign defensive back Morgan Burnett, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). It’s a three-year deal worth close to $14.5MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Burnett just wrapped up a four-year, $24.75MM deal with the Packers and he was said to be seeking a deal worth more than $8.5MM per year at one point. He fell short of that goal, but he still did well considering how stagnant the free agent safety market has been this year.

In eight years with the Packers, Burnett logged snaps at cornerback, free safety, and even linebacker. Heading into free agency, the Bears and Browns had some interest, but it’s not clear if they ever made offers to him. Ultimately, Burnett chose the Steelers because he wanted the chance to play for two historic franchises that also value veteran leadership, Fowler hears (on Twitter).

With the Steelers, Burnett seems likely to take over at one of the starting safety spots in place of Mike Mitchell. He’ll also help fill in some gaps at cornerback and free safety now that Will Gay is out of the picture.

Burnett, 29, has been an effective and versatile player throughout his career, but injuries have been an issue. He has not played a full season since 2012 and he has missed ten regular season games over the past three seasons.

News of Burnett signing with the Steelers was first reported by former Packer James Jones (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

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Bears, Browns Expected To Pursue Morgan Burnett

While many of the top free agents on this year’s market have agreed to terms with teams, the safety contingent still has some high-end options unattached. One of those players has drawn interest from two cash-rich suitors.

Both the Bears and Browns are expected to make pitches to longtime Packers safety Morgan Burnett, Ryan Wood of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The Packers did have conversations at the Combine about what it would take to retain Burnett, and they’ve learned they could be priced out of the race. Burnett’s asking price is believed to be a deal north of $8.5MM per year. This would be the 29-year-old defender’s third NFL contract; he just wrapped up a four-year, $24.75MM deal.

Burnett has started all 102 games he’s played in Green Bay since being a 2010 third-rounder. The Browns already have acquired a Packers defensive back, and they’re planning to play Damarious Randall as a safety. They drafted Jabrill Peppers last year. Burnett obviously has far more experience than both of them. The Bears received top-flight play from Adrian Amos last year and have intriguing second-year talent Eddie Jackson on their back line as well, so their interest is somewhat curious.

Wood reports, however, that the Packers aren’t going to bow out of this without exploring a retention scenario. This is partially due to HaHa Clinton-Dix’s 2017 struggles. But Burnett could well follow Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward out of Green Bay soon, with the Browns and Bears holding the second- and seventh-most cap space as of Wednesday morning.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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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

Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams Will Play Sunday

The Packers could be near full strength on Sunday as they face the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, as wide receivers Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle), and Geronimo Allison (hamstring), as well as safety Morgan Burnett (thigh), are expected to be available to play, according to Tim Silverstein and Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.Jordy Nelson (vertical)

[RELATED: Trent Baalke Could Join Packers Front Office]

Green Bay will need all its weapons in order to compete with a high-powered Atlanta offense in a playoff contest where the over/under is north of 60 points. With Nelson sidelined last week against the Cowboys, the Packers were able to lean on tight end Jared Cook — and the magic of Aaron Rodgers — as they won their eighth straight game. Adams and Allison were both available for that game, however, and attempting to defeat the Falcons without three of their top four receivers would have been difficult.

The Packers did make a move to improve their wide receiver depth, promoting pass-catcher Max McCaffrey from the practice squad to the active roster earlier today. Other receivers on Green Bay’s depth chart include Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis, and Trevor Davis, all of whom could be asked to take on a larger than average role if Nelson, Adams, or Allison aren’t at full speed on Sunday.

Burnett’s presence is also important as the Packers try to slow down Atlanta’s No. 1-ranked DVOA offense. In 15 games this season, Burnett has racked up two interceptions and nine passes defensed while ranking as the league’s No. 14 safety, per Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Links: Packers, Vikings, Bears

The Lions have a lot going on as they prepare to face the Jets this Sunday, but the rest of the NFC North teams are not just waiting for their games. The Packers and Bears have a huge divisional matchup coming up, and the Vikings are ready to usher in a new era, with Teddy Bridgewater‘s first start against the Falcons.

Here are some links to some stories from NFC North teams: