Nick Folk

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

Buccaneers Release K Nick Folk

Nick Folk is officially ticketed for free agency. On Thursday, the Buccaneers announced that they have released the kicker. Nick Folk (vertical)

The move doesn’t mean a whole lot for Folk since his one-year, $1.75MM deal was already set to expire this offseason. However, it is an indication that the team will be moving forward with a new place kicker.

Earlier this week, Folk received medical clearance from doctors, allowing him to get back on the practice field. If Folk can demonstrate that he is healthy, he figures to receive attention from teams in search of a veteran leg. In 2016, Folk nailed 27 of 31 field goal attempts and connected on 24 of 26 extra points. He was released by the Jets for cap reasons, which ultimately paved the way for him to join up with the Bucs. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned in Tampa Bay.

Before an undisclosed injury ended his season in October, Folk converted just six-of-eleven field goal attempts and seven-of-nine extra points. In his final game of the 2017 campaign, the 33-year-old missed three field goals as the Patriots went on to win by five points.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FA Kicker Nick Folk Medically Cleared

After spending the majority of the 2017 campaign on injured reserve, pending free agent kicker Nick Folk has been medically cleared to resume kicking, according to Adam Schefter of (Twitter link).Nick Folk (vertical)

The Buccaneers signed the 33-year-old Folk to a one-year, $1.75MM deal last spring after former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo struggled mightily during his rookie season in 2016. Folk handily won the Tampa Bay kicking competition, allowing the Buccaneers to waive Aguayo in mid-August.

However, Folk performed nearly as poorly as Aguayo had, converting only six-of-eleven field goal attempts and seven-of-nine extra points before the Buccaneers replaced him with Patrick Murray. Tampa Bay placed Folk on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury, and he remained there for the rest of the season.

Now healthy, Folk — who has also spent time with the Cowboys and Jets during his 11-year career, will hit the free agent market alongside Adam Vinatieri, Matt Bryant, Graham Gano, and a host of other available kickers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers To Sign Kicker Patrick Murray

The Buccaneers are changing kickers again, as Tampa Bay is currently working out a deal with free agent Patrick Murray, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link).Patrick Murray (vertical)

Tampa Bay is unsurprisingly auditioned kickers following incumbent Nick Folk‘s dreadful performance against the Patriots on Thursday night. Folk missed three field goals in a game the Buccaneers ultimately lost by five points, so Tampa Bay took a look at Andrew FranksJosh LamboMike Nugent, Marshall Koehn, and Cairo Santos on Monday.

The Buccaneers, of course, are no strangers to problems at placekicker. Folk was initially signed to replace Roberto Aguayo, whom general manager Jason Licht & Co. drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft after a trade up. Aguayo struggled through his rookie campaign and the 2017 season before being waived, but Tampa Bay is now making a special teams transition once again.

Murray, 26, will now begin his second stint with the Buccaneers, as he was the club’s kicker during the 2014 campaign. The Fordham product didn’t appear in the NFL in 2015, and managed only two games in Cleveland last season before suffering an injury. For his career, Murray holds an 80.8% field goal conversion rate, and he’s missed only one extra point attempt.

Folk, meanwhile, will be placed on injured reserve with a “minor” designation, per Adam Schefter of (Twitter link). That means Tampa Bay will be forced to release Folk once he’s deemed fully healthy. When that happens, the Buccaneers will eat the rest of Folk’s 2017 salary.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Folk, Hyde, Eagles

Buccaneers kicker Nick Folk missed three field goals in his team’s five-point loss to the Patriots on Thursday night. We’ve already learned that the team will be auditioning several free agent kickers this week, and Folk acknowledged that this is all part of the business.

“You have to be able to evaluate yourself, look at it and improve, learn, see what went wrong, make the corrections and move forward,” he told’s Jenna Laine. “Just go out there and swing. Don’t make it too hard. It’s not real hard when you get down to it.”

After connecting on more than 87-percent of his field goal attempts last season, Tampa Bay opted for the veteran over former second-rounder Roberto Aguayo. So far, Folk has only made six of his 11 attempts, and coach Dirk Koetter told Laine that he’s been surprised about the player’s struggles.

“When we decided on Nick as our kicker — I’ve told you guys this many times — whoever our kicker is, I’ve got total confidence in him,” Koetter said. “I think Nick was kicking very well up until a week ago. He had a rough day against the Giants, he came back, and the one day we kicked in practice [this week] he kicked very, very well. We had no reason to think Nick wasn’t going to kick well last night.

“There are a couple there that you’re expecting him to make. When I say, ‘We’re disappointed today’ at opportunities that we missed, that’s at a lot of different positions. That’s certainly one.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • 49ers running back Carlos Hyde is on pace to have one of his best NFL seasons, as he currently owns a career-high 4.9-yard-per-carry mark. Michael David Smith of observes that the 27-year-old is having this success on a contract year, and it could lead to a hefty contract. Of course, part of the player’s improvement can be attributed to getting into shape, as general Manager John Lynch said on 95.7 The Game. “He got lighter and in much better shape. It’s showing. It’s paying dividends on the field. So we’re thrilled with the way he’s playing. He’s got to continue to do it,” Lynch said (via Cam Inman of
  • Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood is set to miss tomorrow’s game, which would currently leave the team with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Kenjon Barner. Eliot Shorr-Parks of notes (via Twitter) that none of those players are threats in the passing game, so he wonders if the team could promote Byron Marshall from the practice squad. The Oregon product appeared in three games last season, collecting three receptions for ten yards and 19 carries for 64 yards.
  • In case you missed it, second-round rookie defensive tackle Malik McDowell — who suffered a severe concussion in a July September ATV accident — could potentially return to the Seahawks this season.

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 (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 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.

NFC Notes: Bucs, Norwell, Cowboys

Buccaneers nickel corner Jude Adjei-Barimah will have surgery to repair the patellar fracture in his right knee and will be placed on IR, as Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. When we first learned of the injury, we heard that it could sideline Adjei-Barimah for roughly four months, meaning he would miss most of the 2017 campaign. Stroud’s report suggests that the 25-year-old DB will in fact miss the entire season.

In other bad news for the Bucs, linebacker Devante Bond, who was expected to open the season as the starting strongside linebacker, has a sprained PCL in his right knee, per Jenna Laine of Bond could still be ready for Week 1, but it may be four to six weeks before he plays again. Meanwhile, Laine adds that QB Ryan Griffin has a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder that will take a few weeks to heal. The team is not expected to sign another quarterback, which means that Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely win the backup job.

Now let’s take a look at a few more NFC rumors:

  • Scott Smith of tweets that the Buccaneers are expected to bring in another kicker in the wake of Roberto Aguayo‘s dismissal, but the new signing will be used for camp/preseason reps. That suggests that Nick Folk, and not a new acquisition, will be the team’s starting kicker.
  • Panthers guard Andrew Norwell is playing under a one-year RFA tender worth $2.75MM this year, but he hopes to get a long-term deal before the end of the season, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. Norwell graded out as the league’s No. 11 guard in 2016, per Pro Football Focus, and has started 29 games over the past two seasons, firmly entrenching himself at left guard opposite Trai Turner. Turner, of course, recently received a lucrative extension from Carolina, and Norwell wants in on the action. He has even hired Turner’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to help him get paid.
  • Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot has until Wednesday to appeal his six-game suspension, and Adam Schefter of tweets that Elliott will likely file the necessary paperwork on Tuesday.
  • Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers was hugely impressive in Dallas’ preseason game against the Rams last night, posting four catches and a touchdown. That builds upon the solid showing he had in the team’s first preseason matchup last week, and it is clear that he is the most explosive tight end on the roster. Ian Rapoport of tweets that Gathers has come a long way in a short time — the Cowboys selected Gathers, a collegiate basketball player, in the sixth round of the 2016 draft — and makes the fairly obvious point that Gathers has a legitimate shot to make the team.
  • The Redskins are very thin at outside linebacker following Trent Murphy‘s season-ending ACL tear, so they are moving ILB Pete Robertson outside to give themselves another pass-rusher, as Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post writes. Robertson, a UDFA in 2016 who has yet to play a regular season snap, did lead the Big 12 with 13 sacks as an outside linebacker for Texas Tech in 2014.

Buccaneers Waive Roberto Aguayo

It looks like the Buccaneers’ kicking competition has already been decided. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that the team has waived kicker Roberto Aguayo. Assuming he isn’t claimed, the organization will owe the player $428K (via ESPN’s Field Yates on Twitter).

Roberto Aguayo (vertical)The Buccaneers (in)famously traded up in the second-round of the 2016 draft to select the Florida State product, surrendering a third- and fourth-rounder to make the pick. Aguayo struggled mightily during his rookie campaign, connecting on a league-worst 71-percent of his field goals.

Those struggles continued during the team’s first preseason game on Friday night. Aguayo did connect on one field goal, but he also missed a 47-yard attempt and an extra point. After the game, coach Dirk Koetter sounded like his patience was wearing thin.

“You know, I keep saying it, I can’t say it anymore. If you’re a kicker, you’ve got to make your kicks,” Koetter said (via Michael David Smith of

Aguayo is only 23-years-old, so there’s still a chance that he could develop into a competent kicker. As’s Albert Breer pointed out (via Twitter), former second-rounder Mike Nugent struggled mightily before ultimately finding his own in Cincinnati.

As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times cleverly noted on Twitter, the Buccaneers are now all but assuring that they’ll have a new primary kicker for the sixth straight season. The team will be turning to veteran Nick Folk, who joined the organization back in March. The veteran spent the past seven years with the Jets, and he set a franchise record with a 81.3 career field goal percentage (he also ranks second in franchise history in total points).

While the 32-year-old struggled earlier in his career, he’s been rather consistent over the past few years, connecting on at least 80-percent of his field goals over the past four seasons. Folk is also extremely reliable on extra point attempts, as the veteran has only missed a pair of his 337 career attempts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Folk, Eagles, Lions, Vick

Despite spending the entirety of the 2010s thus far with the Jets and being that franchise’s most accurate kicker, Nick Folk wasn’t especially surprised by his early-offseason release. The 32-year-old kicker is now with the Buccaneers, which would be surprising given their recent investment history at this position. Roberto Aguayo‘s struggles have opened the door to an ongoing competition, but Folk doesn’t believe he has to win it to be kicking in the NFL this season.

If I kick well, I’ll be kicking here or somewhere else,” Folk said, via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. “I can’t worry about things I can’t control. If I kick the best I can, I’ll be just fine.”

Folk signed a one-year, $1.75MM deal with $750K guaranteed. Aguayo went 22-for-31 on field goals last season, putting the former second-round pick’s future in question. Auman offers that Folk’s experience as an 11th-year veteran could give him the edge if this competition is close, Aguayo’s status as a rare Day 2 kicker pick notwithstanding. As Auman points out, Folk winning the job would make it six straight years the Bucs will have deployed a different kicker.

Here’s the latest from the NFC.

  • Despite Michael Vick seeming to indicate he was in the process of coming to an agreement with Falcons management on a one-day retirement contract, the former Falcons Pro Bowler said Sunday he hasn’t spoken with anyone with the team about doing this yet. But he has it on the agenda. “I haven’t talked to anybody about it specifically,” Vick said, via Vaughn McClure of “It’s something that I’ve really been thinking about trying to get done. I was asked the question the other day is that what I want, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ … When I spoke to [Falcons owner] Arthur [Blank], we talked about various other things,” Vick said. “Like I said, [retiring as a Falcon] is something that can happen down the road, and I think we both know that.” Vick told McClure he still has a good relationship with Blank despite one of the most notorious exits from a team in league history. Blank did invite Vick and other former Falcon greats to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Day for a celebratory ceremony. The 36-year-old added that the Falcons are where his “identity lies as a player.”
  • A hamstring injury limited Teez Tabor this week at Lions OTAs, Michael Rothstein of reports. Tabor is not expected to start this year, Rothstein points out, but the second-round pick missing time during his developmental stage would bring a sharper learning curve. The Lions have 16-game starter Nevin Lawson as the likely frontrunner to open the season opposite Darius Slay, and they signed D.J. Hayden to a one-year deal.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham‘s Eagles roster spot is in trouble, Dave Zangaro of opines. After the Eagles outfitted Jordan Matthews with outside hired guns in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, Zangaro expects Green-Beckham to fail to make the 53-man roster. Philadelphia’s wide receiver group also houses Nelson Agholor and rookie fourth-rounder Mack Hollins. The 24-year-old Beckham, once the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school, played extensively for the Eagles last season but didn’t stand out. The former second-round Titans pick caught a career-high 36 passes but saw his yards-per-catch figure drop drastically, from 17.2 as a rookie to 10.9 in 2016. That said, Matthews, Jeffery and Smith could all be free agents after 2017 — Smith’s deal has option years — so retaining a formerly coveted player with two years left on his contract might be prudent from a long-term perspective.