Morris Claiborne

Spring Practice Notes: Jets, Darby, Ebron

Now that mandatory minicamps have wrapped up around the league and players have returned home for a few weeks, the NFL will experience something of a lull until we get closer to the start of training camp in July. In the past couple of days, however, beat writers have shared some lessons learned during spring practices, offered some insight as to what OTAs and minicamp revealed about the upcoming season, and discussed some questions that remain unanswered. So let’s dive right in:

  • Terrelle Pryor‘s injury concerns have been well-documented, but as Darryl Slater of NJ.com observes, the Jets are also dealing with injuries to CB Morris Claiborne and OLB Jordan Jenkins. Both Claiborne and Jenkins are expected to be ready for the start of training camp, while the status of Pryor and starting free safety Marcus Maye is still up in the air. Slater also wonders who will start at OLB alongside Jenkins. David Bass and Josh Martin are candidates, as is Lorenzo Mauldin, though Slater suggests Mauldin is on the roster bubble.
  • Slater also indicates that Henry Anderson may have the leg up in the battle for the Jets‘ starting defensive end position opposite Leonard Williams — New York desperately needs someone to take double teams away from Williams — and that Andre Roberts appears to be leading the competition for Gang Green’s punt returner job. He adds that wideout Chad Hansen has impressed this spring after being a non-factor in his rookie campaign last year.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPN.com also likes what he sees from Hansen, and he says TE Neal Sterling and RB Elijah McGuire are other under-the-radar players to impress for the Jets this spring. Sam Darnold, meanwhile, is very much on the radar, and Cimini says Darnold has done nothing to suggest he cannot be a quality starter in the NFL.
  • The most important lesson learned during the Eagles‘ spring practices, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Carson Wentz is progressing in his recovery from an ACL tear and could be ready to go in Week 1. However, as Berman points out, the defending champs have plenty of injury concerns outside of Wentz, though no key players appear at risk of missing any regular season time at this point.
  • Berman also writes that Jay Ajayi is the Eagles’ unquestioned No. 1 running back — in stark contrast to the summer of 2017, when the team was emphasizing a committee approach to the offensive backfield — and he names De’vante Bausby, Nate Gerry, and Dallas Goedert as young talents who have stood out in the spring. Gerry, a 2017 fifth-rounder who converted from collegiate safety to professional linebacker, could compete for a starting LB job this year, Berman says.
  • Speaking of Bausby, Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com is also impressed with the 25-year-old’s work this spring, which may be enough to allow the Eagles to trade Ronald Darby.
  • Seahawks‘ 2018 seventh-round pick Alex McGough stood out this spring and has a legitimate chance to be Russell Wilson‘s backup this year, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Condotta also notes that Seattle’s first-round choice, Rashaad Penny, has looked the part and has also shown improvement in his pass-blocking technique, which will help him see more of the field this year.
  • TE Eric Ebron has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer for the Colts this spring, per Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, who also says 2018 fourth-rounder Nyheim Hines was the most exciting rookie to watch. Hines, a running back from NC State, has the explosiveness and versatility to thrive in new head coach Frank Reich‘s scheme.
  • Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com says Harold Landry, the Titans‘ second-round draft choice this year, is living up to his draft pedigree and that, while he may have a hard time unseating veterans Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo as a starting OLB, he should see plenty of action as a situational pass rusher to begin his career. Wyatt also says Tennessee’s cornerbacks have been the most impressive position group of the spring.

Jets Re-Sign CB Morris Claiborne

The Jets have re-signed cornerback Morris Claiborne to a one-year, $7MM deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Gang Green entered the free agent period hoping to acquire two starting corners, and the club has now accomplished that goal. General manager Mike Maccagnan inked Trumaine Johnson to a five-year deal on Wednesday, and he’ll now retain Claiborne, whose first season in New York was considered a success.

Claiborne is a former top-10 draft pick, and although he’s generally been effective when on the field, injuries have been an issue. During the first five seasons of his career, all of which came with the Cowboys, Claiborne managed to play in more than 12 games only once, and that was during his rookie campaign.

Things were different in 2017, however, as Claiborne managed to stay healthy for 15 contests. During that time, he served as the Jets’ No. 1 cornerback, managing eight passes defensed and one interception. Pro Football Focus wasn’t fond of Claiborne’s work, though, as he graded as a bottom-20 corner among 121 qualifiers.

Entering free agency, PFR ranked Claiborne as the fifth-best available corner. Of the four CBs that placed above Claiborne, only E.J. Gaines has yet to land a new deal.

[RELATED: Jets Depth Chart]

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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Jets Still Interested In Re-Signing Morris Clairborne

Even after landing the top corner on the market in Trumaine Johnson, the Jets are still open to re-signing fellow defensive back Morris Claiborne, Calvin Watkins of Newsday reports (Twitter link).

Gang Green entered the offeason hoping to acquire two starting cornerbacks, and they’ve already signed one in Johnson, who inked a five-year, $72.5MM deal with the Jets on Tuesday. With Johnson now on board, Claiborne would slot in as New York’s No. 2 corner if he’s retained.

Typically an injury risk, Clairborne stayed healthy for 15 games a season ago and posted one interception. He entered the free agent period ranked as PFR’s No. 5 cornerback and No. 30 free agent overall.

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

Latest On Free Agent Cornerback Market

Here’s a quick look at the 2018 free agent cornerback market:

  • Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson is expected to be the Raiders‘ No. 1 free agent target, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.net. Johnson is not expected to be retained by Los Angeles after it acquired fellow defensive back Marcus Peters from the Chiefs last month. After receiving the franchise tag in each of the past two seasons, the 28-year-old Johnson will finally hit the open market as one of the league’s top free agent corners. Oakland, meanwhile, is looking for a veteran corner to pair with 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley, who barely played during his rookie campaign. The Raiders have already released one starting member of their secondary in David Amerson, and figure to do the same with Sean Smith.
  • While the Raiders have interest in Johnson, another Bay Area team — the 49ers — is also expected to pursue the free agent corner, as Pauline reports in a separate piece. San Francisco ranked just 28th in pass defense DVOA a season ago, and are not expected to re-sign its top cornerback in Dontae Johnson. Thus, the 49ers not only have a clear need atop their secondary depth chart, but have gobs of cap space: at nearly $70MM, San Francisco currently ranks fifth in available cap room.
  • If the Raiders miss out on Johnson, they could turn their attention to Eagles free agent CB Patrick Robinson, per Pauline. Robinson has played outside corner in the past, but posted arguably the best season of his career as Philadelphia’s slot cornerback in 2017. T.J. Carrie, who saw the majority of the slot action for the Raiders last year, is an unrestricted free agent, so the 31-year-old Robinson would make for a ready-made replacement. The Eagles, notably, have interest in re-signing Robinson, while Pauline reports the Cardinals could also make a bid.
  • The Jets hope to acquire two starting cornerbacks this offseason, but they’re “not close” to re-signing internal option Morris Claiborne, reports Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. Gang Green also has interest in Johnson, but most in league circles believe he will end up with Oakland or San Francisco, per Pauline.

Jets Hoping To Acquire Two Starting CBs

The Jets are going to be active on the cornerback market this offseason, and their goal will be to land two starting corners.

Gang Green wants to keep Morris Claiborne, and the parties have already begun negotiations, and pair him with a “true No. 1 cornerback,” Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports.

Mehta expects the Jets to be interested in Malcolm Butler, who will surely draw extensive attention as a UFA. Given a first-round tender in 2017, Butler resided as one of the game’s top corners in 2015 and ’16 prior to a down contract year that culminated with the ignominious DNP-CD in Super Bowl LII. Butler, Trumaine Johnson and Kyle Fuller are three of the top names that the Jets — expected to hold $90MM-plus in cap space — could pursue. Second-tier types David Amerson, Prince Amukamara and Byron Maxwell are either available already (Amerson) or UFAs-to-be.

Claiborne functioned as the Jets’ de facto No. 1 corner this season on a one-year, $5MM deal and expressed interest in returning. The Jets did not receive Claiborne’s best season, but he did suit up for 15 games for just the second time in his career. And Mehta writes the team would “love” to bring him back as a No. 2 corner.

The Jets have a few young corners under contract and will face a decision on Buster Skrine. The experienced slot man will enter the final season of his four-year contract — signed during the same offseason that brought Darrelle Revis over from New England — but would produce $6MM in cap space if the Jets released him. Having made many similar cost-cutting moves last year, the Jets figure to consider this. But the team does not have an established corner under contract. So, that could work in the 28-year-old Skrine’s favor.

However, productive slot stoppers Patrick Robinson and Nickell Robey-Coleman are one month from unrestricted free agency. It’s possible Gang Green could look to upgrade here as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

New York Notes: Claiborne, Mayfield, Giants

Morris Claiborne said shortly after the Jets‘ season concluded he would like to be back in New York. The sides will have to negotiate another contract, since Claiborne finished up a one-year deal, but Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets the Jets have begun negotiations with the UFA corner. Claiborne signed a $5MM deal with the Jets last season, and Gang Green will enter this offseason with far more cap room that it had a year ago. While a sizable chunk of that space could be used to chase Kirk Cousins, the Jets will have opportunities to build their roster they haven’t had in recent years. Pro Football Focus graded Claiborne poorly in 2017, but he played in the most games (15) he has since his 2012 rookie season and will only be 28 next season. He should generate some interest on the market. The Jets could save $6MM by cutting Buster Skrine, whom PFF did not rate much higher than Claiborne, and they will be in the market for corners this offseason regardless of how they proceed with Claiborne.

Here’s the latest out of the Big Apple:

  • Baker Mayfield met with the Jets at the Senior Bowl and had a summit scheduled with the Giants, but that meeting never occurred, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post reports. Although Mayfield has not been mocked to the Giants much early in the pre-draft process, he would be on board with a develop-behind-Eli Manning scenario. “Throwing the ball to (Evan) Engram, Shep and Odell Beckham wouldn’t be too bad, there’s some studs right there,’’ said Mayfield, a college teammate of Sterling Shepard‘s. “Being there, it’s a big-time franchise and in the spotlight. I think I thrive on that. That would be an ideal situation.” The Giants are expected to take a quarterback at No. 2 overall but have made it clear this offseason they intend to keep Manning.
  • The Jets are almost certainly going to pursue Cousins, but they also hold the draft’s No. 6 selection. If the Broncos land Cousins and pick a non-quarterback at 5, New York could be set to snag a passer. That could play into Josh McCown‘s hands, as a player who wants to be back with the team, since the Jets may opt to keep him as a bridge option. “Yeah, it’s hard to say, ‘Hey I want to go somewhere else,’ after you had the best year of your career,” McCown said, via Calvin Watkins of Newsday. “I like being there, and I love the organization and the guys and the locker room. I think it was a good foundation laid, something special, something that can be built.” The Jets could hold more than $90MM in cap room after pre-free agency cuts, making McCown — who played for $6.5MM in 2017 — more affordable.
  • On the subject of players who want to stay in New York, count Devon Kennard as a fan of new Giants DC James Bettcher. Mostly a base-set linebacker in 2017, Kennard is a UFA. He started 35 games in four seasons with the Giants and calls Bettcher’s possible 3-4 conversion “advantageous” to his skill set. “It’s multiple and he likes versatile linebackers. That sounds right up my alley,” Kennard said, via Newsday’s Tom Rock. “… I expect to hear from (the Giants) in the next few weeks now that the coaching staff is established. Maybe then, but you never know. I don’t know what they’re thinking because it’s a new GM and head coach.” Kennard recorded four sacks last season despite playing as a non-rush ‘backer — the second four-plus-sack slate of his career.
  • Talk of a Sheldon Richardson/Jets reunion surfaced recently, but with Cimini envisions it taking eight figures per year to sign him. He doesn’t see the Jets going for that (Twitter link).

New York Notes: Kearse, Claiborne, Pugh

The Jets entered Week 17 without much to play for, but the team’s players still had plenty to gain. One such player was Jermaine Kearse, who earned an extra $550,000 in incentives in the team’s loss to New England, ESPN’s Rich Cimini reports.

With his fifth and final catch of the day, Kearse brought his season total to 65 grabs which earned him an extra $300,000. He finished the season 810 receiving yards, helping him garner another $250,000. That’s not a bad haul for the veteran receiver, who was signed to a $2.2 MM base salary in 2017.

Kearse enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2017, posting career highs in receptions, yards and tying his personal best with five touchdowns. He will be back with the Jets in 2018 for the final year on his contract, which he is set to earn $5 MM in base salary.

Here is more from around New York:

  • Cornerback Morris Claiborne is hoping to return to the Jets in 2018, Cimini writes. The free agent said, “Why leave and pick up (and go) somewhere else if you’ve got everything here?” A first-round pick in 2012, Claiborne has just five interceptions during his six NFL seasons split between the Jets and Cowboys. After signing a one-year deal for $2.5MM in the offseason, Claiborne started all 15 games he played in.
  • Giants center Weston Richburg said he has been medically cleared from a concussion for about a month, Dan Duggan of NJ Advanced Media writes. Richburg said he wanted to return to the field but was unable to due to being placed on injured reserve. He suffered the concussion in Week 4 and missed the next three games before being placed on IR. Richburg is set to be a free agent in 2018.
  • Also a free agent in 2018, Giants guard Justin Pugh hopes it works out and he can return to the team, ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan writes. Pugh suffered a season-ending back injury in December but it is expected to be healed in a month without surgery.