Nick Novak

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

Chargers Will Let Nick Novak Test Free Agency

While the Chargers are open to re-signing kicker Nick Novak, they intend to let him hit the free agent market first, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).Nick Novak (Vertical)

As I wrote earlier this month when assessing Los Angeles’ top offseason needs, the Chargers desperately need to upgrade their special teams unit in 2018. LA ranked 31st in special teams DVOA a season ago, and was (by far) the worst kicking team in the league. Not only did the Chargers give up 22.2 points through their paltry field goal/extra point attempts, but the club’s first two losses of the season were direct results of poor kicking efforts.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, what looked to be a robust kicker market has already begun thinning this week. The Titans inked Ryan Succop to a five-year extension, the Colts agreed to a one-year deal with Adam Vinatieri, the Panthers are reportedly considering deploying the franchise tag on Graham Gano, and the Falcons have opened contract talks with Matt Bryant. Other kickers set to hit free agency include Sebastian Janikowski, Kai Forbath, Nick Folk, Blair Walsh, Chandler Catanzaro, and Dustin Hopkins.

Novak, for his part, has enjoyed two separate stints with the Chargers: he first kicked for the club from 20111-14 before reuniting for a nine-game stretch in 2017. One of four kickers to appear in a game for Los Angeles last season, Novak converted only 9-of-13 field goal attempts and also missed an extra point.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers Place Nick Novak On IR

The Chargers won’t go with a two-kicker setup on Sunday, choosing instead to place Nick Novak on IR.

The team announced the move, one that will make room on the roster for practice squad promotion Travis Coons, who begin his Bolts game tenure by kicking against his former team. Coons’ upcoming Browns work will make him the fourth kicker to participate for the Chargers this season, with Novak replacing YoungHoe Koo and punter Drew Kaser stepping in for an injured Novak on Thanksgiving.

Novak aggravated a back injury against the Cowboys, and it will almost certainly end his season. Coons has not kicked in a game since the 2015 season. Novak finished his 13th NFL campaign going 9-for-13 on field goal tries and making 17 of his 18 extra points.

Novak spent training camp with the Texans, with whom the 36-year-old specialist kicked for the previous two seasons. But the Texans cut him. Once Koo’s struggles became too much for the Bolts, they turned to Novak — their kicker from 2011-14.

Chargers Sign K Travis Coons To P-Squad

The Chargers worked out veteran kickers on Tuesday and are planning to sign Travis Coons to their practice squad, Field Yates of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).

This will serve as a Nick Novak insurance policy. Novak is dealing with a back injury, one that caused him to kick through noticeable pain against the Cowboys. Eric Williams of ESPN.com tweets the Chargers believe Novak can kick against the Browns on Sunday, but Coons will be a backup plan.

Williams reported the Bolts were holding a kicker workout, and veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer reports (on Twitter) Sam Ficken, Marshall Koehn and Jason Myers joined Coons for the showcase. The Bolts appeared to have called in a long snapper, Jeff Overbaugh, to work with them as well, per Balzer.

Coons will take his place on the Chargers’ 10-man taxi squad.

He worked out for the Lions earlier this season after spending time with the Rams during training camp. The Raiders also rostered Coons, who last kicked for the 2015 Browns. The 25-year-old served as Cleveland’s kicker for all 16 games that season. He made 28 of 32 field goals as a rookie, but Patrick Murray beat him out for the job during the 2016 preseason.

This workout featured different kickers than the October gathering in L.A., arranged because of a Novak ankle ailment. At that point, the Bolts hosted initial 2017 kicking option Younghoe Koo, along with Andrew Franks. Myers attended both workouts. Former Charger specialist Josh Lambo replaced Myers in Jacksonville.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Gordon, Bolts, Cutler, Steelers

Browns receiver Josh Gordon declared himself ready to go despite having another week before he is ready to be activated, according to ESPN’s Tony Grossi.

It’s been awesome. It’s been a joy. It’s been fun. It’s been exciting,” Gordon said Friday. “I think I knocked that rust off prior to getting back to the building. I think I accomplished that. First day of practice, [I was] able to adjust pretty quickly.

Anyone worried about Gordon needing time to round into shape hasn’t kept up with his comeback. The former All-Pro receiver has been working out constantly and looks ready to go when the team can activate him in Week 13.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • The Chargers did not escape their Thanksgiving Day bout with the Cowboys unscathed. Kicker Nick Novak sustained a back injury and his status has led the team to possibly tryout kickers next week, Eric Williams of ESPN reports (Twitter link).
  • Staying in Los Angeles, the Chargers also expect rookie wideout Mike Williams to miss time, though it has ruled out an ACL injury, Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams writes. Williams was carted off the field with an injury during the game.
  • The Dolphins have ruled out Jay Cutler (concussion) for Week 12 vs. New England, ESPN’s James Walker reports (Twitter link). The team will turn to Matt Moore for the divisional bout.
  • Steelers rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster has been ruled out of the team’s Sunday night matchup with Green Bay, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. (Twitter link). The first-year receiver from USC has been impressive in recent weeks, averaging 17.2 yards per reception and logging five touchdowns on the season. He will miss the game due to a hamstring injury.

West Rumors: Pagano, 49ers, Chargers

The Raiders switched out defensive coordinators in firing Ken Norton Jr. and promoting John Pagano. Jack Del Rio said this week no one should feel comfortable about their statuses, but Pagano may be secure moving into 2018. Del Rio expects Pagano to have a role on the ’18 Raiders, Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal notes (on Twitter). Of course, this would likely hinge on Del Rio being retained for a fourth season. After guiding the team to major improvements in 2015 and last season, Del Rio has overseen the Raiders become arguably the NFL’s most disappointing team this season. But he signed a contract extension earlier this year; that would point to the current HC receiving another year to attempt to make good on this Reggie McKenzie-assembled nucleus. Pagano will inherit a defense that ranks 26th. The Del Rio- and Norton-helmed units of the past two seasons ranked 26th in each.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions on Thanksgiving.

  • For those unable to watch Chargers-Cowboys, Nick Novak suffered a back injury but has returned to the game, limping back onto the field for a 22-yard field goal. Punter Drew Kaser was practicing kicks into a net on the sideline, but the Bolts eschewed a 30-yard field goal for a fourth-and-13 early in the second quarter prior to Novak’s return. Novak returned to the Chargers earlier this year after being cut by the Texans. The Bolts have struggled at kicker this season, with Novak already missing a kick today. This gives Los Angeles a 12-for-19 make ratio — worst in the NFL.
  • The Bolts have announced Mike Williams won’t return to their Thanksgiving game because of a knee injury. Williams now has another malady to surmount after a back ailment dogged him for much of the offseason.
  • The 49ers aren’t planning to part with Joe Staley in the near future. Despite the 11th-year player toiling for a rebuilding team in his age-33 season and being the annual subject of trade rumors, John Lynch said (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) he and right tackle Trent Brown will be cornerstones for the next “couple, few” years. Brown is under contract through 2018 but can be extended after this season. Lynch’s comments appear to point to the team wanting to go that route. Staley’s deal runs through 2019 on incredibly team-friendly cap numbers ($7.7MM in 2018 and ’19).
  • Lynch said Joshua Garnett has changed his “body composition” in order to better function in Kyle Shanahan‘s zone-blocking scheme. Branch notes the 321-pound guard, who was known as a power blocker previously, could have returned from IR this season. Perhaps the 49ers wanted to use this year, once Garnett suffered a preseason injury, as an intentional redshirt for the purposes of the 2016 first-round pick adjusting to the new offense. Lynch said the 49ers encouraged the 6-foot-5 lineman to adjust accordingly, physically speaking, for Shanahan’s scheme, so it appears he will be in the picture in 2018 despite arriving under the Trent Baalke regime. Branch notes he figures to compete for a starting job next season.

AFC Notes: Jackson, Luck, Novak, Dolphins

Hue Jackson‘s record with the Browns is now 1-22, and that has naturally led to questions regarding the head coach’s job security. While Jackson might not have the support of the team’s brass, one of his fellow NFL head coaches believes the team is in good shape.

“Hue is a heck of a football coach,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer (via Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com). “He’s tough. He’s smart. He’s a great competitor. I know that it’s taking him a little bit longer than what he has anticipated, but he’s going to get that thing turned around. That’s the kind of guy he is. He will never stop or relax until he gets it all right.

“Really, they are not that far away. They are really good on defense, and they just turn the ball over offensively.”

Jackson and Zimmer previously coached together in Cincinnati, and they served as the coordinators for the 2007 Falcons. The Browns will be seeking their first win of the season when they play the Vikings tomorrow in London.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…

  • If Andrew Luck is ultimately cleared to play, he should be taking the field for the Colts, opines Stephen Holder of the Indy Star. The writer understands that there’s some risk to playing a previously-injured franchise quarterback when the team is already out of the playoff hunt. However, Holder believes there are several benefits to having Luck take over under center. If the quarterback misses the entire season, he’ll end up going 20 months without playing in an NFL game. Inserting Luck into the lineup would also allow him to get “reacclimated” with the system and his teammates, which could be instrumental if the team hopes to compete in 2018.
  • Nick Novak is currently dealing with an ankle injury, and the Chargers worked out three kickers yesterday. However, ESPN.com’s Eric Williams tweets that the veteran is expected to play this weekend. The 36-year-old has appeared in three games this season, converting three of his four field goal attempts.
  • Dolphins practice squad quarterback Brandon Doughty wasn’t promoted to the active roster this week. However, ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets that the former seventh-rounder did get a pay raise, as his weekly salary was bumped from $7,200 to $15,200.

Chargers Sign K Nick Novak

The Chargers are bringing Nick Novak back. He’ll replace Younghoe Koo, who has been waived.

Koo won the Bolts’ kicking competition over Josh Lambo this offseason. The undrafted rookie had some hiccups in Week 2, however, and the team didn’t test him much after he missed two of three tries against Miami. The Chargers, now 0-4, lost that game by two points.
Nick Novak (Vertical)

Novak was released by Houston when he was edged out by second-year pro Ka’imi Fairbairn for the kicking job. He re-upped with the Texans on a one-year, $1.15MM deal this offseason, but had to settle for just the $250K signing bonus in the contract.

In 2016, Novak nailed 85.4% of his attempts last season, a tick above his career average. He was the Chargers’ full-time kicker from 2011 to 2014, making 101 of his 117 field goal attempts (86.3%) during his time in San Diego, including 11 of 17 from 50+ yards.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Release Nick Novak

Despite reaching an agreement to re-sign Nick Novak in March, the Texans will move on from the veteran kicker. Houston released Novak on Saturday, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets.

Novak kicked for the Texans for both of their past two AFC South-winning teams, but it appears the franchise will opt for second-year specialist Ka’imi Fairbairn. The Texans signed Fairbairn as a UDFA out of UCLA in 2016, but Novak won last summer’s kicking competition. A year later, the 23-year-old Fairbairn looks to have prevailed in the rematch after spending a season on IR.

The 36-year-old Novak signed a one-year, $1.15MM deal with a $250K signing bonus. The former longtime Chargers kicker hit 85.4 percent of his attempts last season, a tick above his career average.

Novak figures to receive interest in free agency after being a regular kicker for the past six seasons.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Stills, Siemian, Revis, Texans

Kenny Stills may have had another contract proposal from at least one other club before re-signing with the Dolphins, tweets Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. The Bears and Eagles were the two known teams with interest in Stills, but it’s entirely possible other clubs also pursued him. Ultimately, Stills re-upped with Miami at a cost of $32MM over four years.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • If the Broncos end up signing the recently-released Tony Romo, they could end up discussing a Trevor Siemian trade with the Jets, opines Tom Pelissero of USA Today (Twitter link). To be clear, this is only speculation on the part of Pelissero, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine potential destinations for Siemian if Romo lands in Denver. Siemian isn’t the only semi-starting quarterback that could be affected by a Romo pursuit: if the Texans ink Romo, some executives think Houston will trade Tom Savage to the 49ers.
  • Former Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis showed evident signs of decline last season, and a developing legal issue led to the Jets ultimately cutting the veteran. One general manager recently told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News he wouldn’t pursue the veteran cornerback even if he was willing to play “for free.” Another executive told Mehta that “you respect the body of work throughout his career, but all good things come to an end.”
  • The Texans re-signed kicker Nick Novak last night, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) has the details on the new pact. Novak’s one-year deal is worth $1.15MM and includes a $250K signing bonus.

Zach Links contributed to this post.