PFR Originals

Choose Your 2019 Free Agent Pass Rusher

The 2019 free agent edge rushing class should thank Khalil Mack — by not caving in Oakland and eventually garnering a $23.5MM/year contract from the Bears, Mack reset the market for pass rushers. As Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently noted, $20MM per season for star edge defenders is now the “new norm.” 2019 free agency will bring an excellent crop of available defensive ends/outside linebackers, and while the list of players on the open market will certainly change by next spring thanks to extensions and franchise tags, there should be plenty of talent to go around. If your team needs someone to get after the quarterback, 2019 is the time to attack.

Let’s take a look at the market as a whole, which I’ve sorted into a few different tiers:

Open your checkbook

Each of these players will be a legitimate candidate for the franchise tag in 2019, although the salary amounts would vary. Clark and Flowers would be tendered as defensive ends, which should net them one-year salaries of roughly $17.5MM. Clowney and Ford, however, would likely be tagged as linebackers thanks to the NFL’s archaic franchise system, which differentiates between defensive ends and outside ‘backers. The linebacker franchise tender is expected to be worth approximately $16.325MM, per Corry. Lawrence, meanwhile, would be on his second consecutive franchise tag, meaning his salary would increase by 20% to $20.572MM. The Cowboys star has indicated he won’t play under another tag, but unless he takes the Le’Veon Bell route, he won’t have much of a choice.

Ford, particularly, is incredibly intriguing: while he’s the oldest member of the group at age-27, he’s come out of nowhere to post the most productive campaign of his career. Per Evan McPhillips of Pro Football Focus, Ford currently ranks first in both total pressures and quarterback hits. Will a pass-rush needy club overlook Ford’s spotty track record in the hope that he’s a long-term answer on the edge?

Old, reliable

Graham and Wake should almost get their own category, as they’re (historically) far better than the other three players listed here. Graham has steadily improved throughout his career and currently grades as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 3 edge rusher, but he’ll be 31 years old when next season gets underway. Last time he was a free agent (entering his age-26 campaign), Graham only received a four-year deal with an annual value of $6.5MM. He’ll get more this time around thanks to his production and the rising salary cap, but he may not be able to break the bank. PFR’s Zach Links examined Graham’s case for a contract extension earlier this year.

Wake, too, presents an age concern, as he’s already 36 years old. That hasn’t stopped him from topping double-digit sacks in three of the past four seasons, however, and he tied for sixth in sacks during that time. Wake has been pretty healthy during his career save for an Achilles injury in 2015, but he’s currently sidelined after surgery for a meniscus trim. He’s close to returning to game action, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, and which point Wake will only further his free agent case.

Injured at the wrong time

Injury question marks have dogged Ansah in the past, but he’s already a lock to miss the most games of his career this season, as he hasn’t played since the Lions’ opener while dealing with a shoulder issue. Streaky is the perfect word to define Ansah, especially given that he’s capable of double-digit sack totals in any given year (14.5 in 2015, 12 in 2017) but also posts down seasons (just two sacks in 2016). Age is also working against Ziggy: he entered the league as an older prospect (24) in 2013, and he’ll now be hitting free agency in advance of his age-30 season. A one-year pact, for far less than the $17.143MM franchise tender amount he’s making this season, appears likely.

Something left in the tank?

Will all three of these players be in the NFL in 2019? Matthews certainly will be, but it may not be with the Packers, as at least one recent report indicated the Packers would not seek to re-sign Matthews if the season ended today. Suggs, meanwhile, also appears primed to return next season. In May, Suggs said he plans to spend additional seasons in a Ravens uniform, and he made the Pro Bowl as recently as 2017. Peppers is the true question mark, as he’s already 38 years old and underwent shoulder surgery over the offseason. If Peppers does come back in 2019, it’s hard to imagine him playing anywhere other than Carolina.

Take a chance on me

There are a number of intriguing options in this tier, but I want to focus on the two Smiths. Za’Darius Smith had a coming out party on Sunday against the Titans, posting five tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble in Baltimore’s domination of Tennessee, and was subsequently named the AFC’s defensive player of the week. He’s also tied for eighth in the NFL with 10 quarterback hits, and he’s only played 258 defensive snaps. As Suggs inches close to retirement, Smith has a chance to become the next great Ravens pass rusher. But as Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes, Baltimore has allowed other defenders — Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee — to leave via free agency in the past, so there’s no guarantee Smith will be back in Baltimore.

Preston Smith is interesting simply because of his reliability. He’s started 37 consecutive games since becoming a full-time player in 2016, he’s played more snaps than anyone in this section aside from Za’Darius Smith. Given that other high-upside players such as Fowler and Lynch have dealt with off-field issues, while Fowler and Ray have been hampered by injuries, Smith’s day-in, day-out approach could entice a team to overpay.

The outlier

We won’t blame you if you’re not even sure who Hunt is. The 53rd overall selection in the 2013 draft, Hunt managed only 1.5 sacks over four disappointing seasons with the Bengals before joining the Colts in 2017. Last year was much of the same for the Estonia native, but this year, at the age of 31, Hunt has seemingly figured something out. He’s already posted four sacks on the season, and he’s also tied with the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter for most tackles for loss (9). As Justis Mosqueda of Optimum Scouting details below, Hunt is an all-new player:

If he continues this production for the rest of the season, what kind of contract is Hunt looking at? I’m dubious that most clubs would be willing to give a player with little-to-no track record, who’s entering his age-32 campaign, a multi-year deal. With more than half of the 2018 season left to go, Hunt could potentially fall back to his prior level of performance, but if he doesn’t, it’s possible he could command double-digits next spring.

Poll: Should The Browns Try To Trade Tyrod Taylor?

On Thursday, Browns head coach Hue Jackson told reporters there have been no discussions about trading quarterback Tyrod Taylor before the Oct. 30 deadline. When pressed further, Jackson shrugged off the notion that Taylor would not finish the year in Cleveland. 

“I do [expect him to be with the Browns all season], until someone tells me something differently,” Jackson said. “He is our backup quarterback.”

For his part, Taylor admits that he’s frustrated with his No. 2 QB role, but he refuses to complain to management or demand a trade. It’s not hard to read between the lines and see that Taylor would prefer to be a starter elsewhere rather than Baker Mayfield‘s clipboard holder in Cleveland.

Taylor has just one year to go on his deal, which would make him a logical rental for another club. The Browns would also save a bundle by moving him. Taylor has already collected on his $6MM roster bonus, but a trade would allow them to escape the prorated portion of his $10MM base salary.

The trouble is, there may not be a robust market for Taylor’s services. The Dolphins will be without Ryan Tannehill for an unknown period of time, but they have every reason to stick with Brock Osweiler after last week’s OT victory over the Bears. The Bills, in theory, could use a QB while Josh Allen heals up from a UCL injury, but it’s hard to picture that reunion going down.

If the rest of the league would utilize Taylor as a strong backup quarterback rather than a starter, it’s hard to see the Browns getting much of a return. The Jets got a third-round pick for Teddy Bridgewater in August, but Bridgewater had a first-round pedigree and a much cheaper contract. Moving Taylor might not yield much in the way of draft compensation, and it would mean losing out on one of the more talented backups in the NFL.

With all of that in mind, do you think the Browns should trade Taylor before the deadline? Click below to cast your vote and back up your opinion in the comments. (Link for app users.)

Vested Veteran Salary Guarantees

Tons of veteran players were cut before the start of the season, and while different clubs had different reasons for shuffling their rosters, the looming vested veteran guarantee may have played a part in many of those moves. Vested veterans – players with at least four years of NFL experience – had their 2018 base salary guaranteed for the year by being on an NFL team’s roster for the first game of the season.

That means that if a team decided after Week 1 to part ways with a veteran player with a 2018 base salary of $1MM, the team would still be on the hook for that full $1MM, which would count against the cap. A veteran who has received this form of termination pay in the past wouldn’t be eligible to receive it again, but otherwise the player can put in a claim for his full salary and receive it. Veterans not a Week 1 roster don’t benefit from that provision, however.

If a player is signed during the season, following a team’s first game, and is later released, he’s only entitled to 25% of his full-season salary. For instance, let’s say a team signed a player in Week 2 for a full-year salary of $1.02MM. First, that salary would be prorated for 16 weeks, meaning it’d be worth $960K. If a player is cut shortly after signing, he’d receive 25% of that amount, or $240K. If the player is released within four weeks of signing, he’d only count for $240K against his team’s cap, rather than the amount of his full salary.

Ultimately, the Labor Day weekend numbers crunch is about much more than talent-based decisions. Teams are mindful of expenses and potential dead money hits, particularly when they’re tight against the cap. The smaller vested veteran guarantees may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared to a $177.2MM cap, but every dollar counts for clubs with less than $2MM in breathing room such as the Vikings, Patriots, and Rams.

PFR Originals: 10/7/18 – 10/14/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • With nearly a third of the 2018 regular season in the books, I asked PFR readers which embattled team will be picking first overall in the 2019 draft. Using Football Outsiders’ playoff/draft orders odds, I listed the Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Raiders, Giants, and Falcons as six clubs that could conceivably be on the clock when the season ends. More than a quarter of respondents believe the Giants will end up with the No. 1 pick, while the Cardinals came in second.
  • The Cardinals are performing like one of the NFL’s worst teams through five weeks, leading to speculation that Arizona could trade a number of veteran players, including running back David Johnson, linebackers Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon, and cornerback Patrick Peterson. While Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has downplayed those rumors, it’s still fair to look at whether such deals would make sense. With that in mind, Andrew Ortenberg asked PFR readers if the Cardinals should trade Johnson.
  • Back in July, Zach Links asked readers which NFL head coach would the the first to be fired in 2018, and the Buccaneers’ Dirk Koetter took the cake at that time. Koetter may have bought himself some with given Tampa Bay’s hot start, but other coaches are surely in danger of losing their jobs. When Zach once again queried PFR readers on the topic this week, the Broncos’ Vance Joseph and the Cowboys’ Jason Garrett took the top two slots.

Poll: Who Will Be The First Coach To Get Fired?

The NFL is not a patient league, and there are several head coaches who could be in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they do not turn things around quickly.

One could argue that Vance Joseph could be on the hottest seat of all after the Broncos lost to the Jets 34-16 last weekend. The season is far from over and the Broncos are far from done at 2-3, but Joseph might not have much time to turn things around after he was already given a reprieve this offseason. CEO Joe Ellis is saying all of the right things in support of Joseph, but the Broncos have some tough games ahead including Sunday against the Rams and Oct. 28 against the red-hot Chiefs. 

However, you may be surprised to learn that online oddsmakers do not view Joseph’s seat as the hottest. That dubious distinction goes to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, whose decision to punt on 4th-and-1 against the Texans wound up costing Dallas the game. The Cowboys are now 2-3 – putting them above only the lowly Giants in the NFC East – and it’s fair to wonder how much patient owner Jerry Jones will be this year. Jones recently endorsed Garrett by saying that he is the “real deal,” but another questionable loss or two could change his opinion.

When we gauged PFR readers on this topic in July, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was one of the leading vote-getters. Despite some early-season Fitzmagic working in his favor, the rumblings are starting up again after an ugly blowout loss to the Bears. Questions persist about Jameis Winston’s effectiveness and the Bucs’ defense has allowed a league-high 34.8 points to opponents on average this year, so things will have to change radically in order for Koetter to have some sense of stability.

A few short weeks ago, Texans coach Bill O’Brien was a contender to get the first axe, but he did receive an extension in the offseason and his seat looks a lot cooler after consecutive overtime wins. Hue Jackson is also coming off of an OT win and the Browns are hovering near the .500 mark, so he looking a little bit safer than he was at the start of the season. If you were a betting man considering coaches with longer odds to get canned, you might also look at Adam Gase (Dolphins), Dan Quinn (Falcons), Jay Gruden (Redskins), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Sean McDermott (Bills), and Todd Bowles (Jets).

Click below to make your pick for who will be the first to get a pink slip. Then, you can head to the comment section to back up your choice.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

POLL: Should the Cardinals Explore A David Johnson Trade?

As the Cardinals have started the season 1-4 and are in the midst of a rebuild, there’s been a lot of trade rumors surrounding the team. Arizona is reportedly shopping former first-rounders Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, and now a more surprising name has emerged as a potential trade candidate. 

Over the course of the week, David Johnson‘s name has been a frequent subject of internet discussion, with many speculating the team could look to deal him as they aren’t in win-now mode. The Eagles, who have also been linked to Le’Veon Bell after Jay Ajayi‘s ACL tear, have been suggested as a possible destination for Johnson.

Johnson has been having a down-year by his standards, and Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has taken a lot of flack for not getting Johnson involved more. Johnson thrived in now-retired coach Bruce Arians’ system, where he was often utilized as a receiver. McCoy’s scheme has turned him into more of a between-the-tackles runner, and it hasn’t been a great fit.

Despite the scheme issues, it would still be shocking if Johnson was dealt. Just last month, the team signed him to a huge three-year extension worth $39MM. As former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry points out, it wouldn’t make much sense for the team to pay Johnson a massive $12MM signing bonus then deal him months later (Twitter link).

It also wouldn’t seem to make much sense for the Cardinals to trade away the offense’s best weapon as they seek to develop Josh Rosen. Trading away Johnson would take away Rosen’s safety blanket and make life much tougher for the promising rookie.

But as long as the Cardinals continue to lose and until McCoy succeeds in getting Johnson more involved, rumors will likely continue to swirl. It’s likely the Cardinals would seek high draft picks if they did decide to flip him, and it’s unclear if any team would even be willing to play the necessary price.

What do you think? With the team not winning anything this year, should the Cardinals at least listen to offers on Johnson? Vote in the poll below and weigh in down in the comments!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Will Pick First Overall In The 2019 NFL Draft?

With nearly a third of the 2018 regular season in the books, it’s fair to start looking ahead to the 2019 draft, especially if you’re a fan of a team that’s not looking like a playoff team this year. Using Football Outsiders’ DVOA On the Clock report, let’s take a look at a few teams who could secure the No. 1 overall selection in 2019:

Arizona Cardinals (19.6% chance of No. 1 pick, 61.5% chance of top-five pick)

The Cardinals allowed the Sam Bradford experiment to last for the better part of three games before turning things over to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who has appeared competent thus far. David Johnson is an All-Pro talent at running back, but Arizona hasn’t been very creative in its use of him, and he’s faced eight or more defenders in the box on 33.78% of his attempts, 10th-most in the league. The Cardinals are still as a top-10 defense in terms of DVOA (meaning they’re efficient) despite ranking as a bottom-10 unit in both yards allowed and scoring, so continued success on that side of the ball could move Arizona away from the top overall pick.

San Francisco 49ers (18.6%, 59.8%)

The 49ers’ top quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), running back (Jerick McKinnon) and wide receiver (Marquise Goodwin) have all been injured this year, and each health issue helped push the 49ers’ chances of earning the No. 1 pick upward. With C.J. Beathard now leading San Francisco’s offense, and Alfred Morris taking over in the backfield for the time being while Matt Breida deals with an ankle injury, it’s unclear how many points the 49ers will be able to muster the rest of the way. Pair those offensive problems with a defense that ranks just 26th in adjusted sack rate, and San Francisco could be in the market for a top-five selection in 2019.

Buffalo Bills (13.2%, 56%)

While rookie signal-caller Josh Allen perhaps hasn’t looked as poor as many believed he would, he still ranks second-to-last among quarterbacks in adjusted net yards per attempt. His performance, as well as that of Buffalo’s porous offensive line, has contributed to the Bills ranking dead last in both yards per drive and points per drive. A surprisingly strong defense (and a full-effort approach that speaks well of head coach Sean McDermott) could help push the Bills towards the end of the top-10 picks, but their offense is going to hold them back.

Oakland Raiders (9.3%, 41.7%)

It’s a good thing Jon Gruden landed a 10-year contract because his first season with the Raiders isn’t going as planned. Oakland’s defense is the slowest in the NFL (which perhaps isn’t a surprise given that the Raiders are fielding the league’s oldest roster), and the club’s offense has been hit-or-miss. After trading superstar Khalil Mack, Oakland ranks dead last in sacks and second-to-last in adjusted sack rate. And, as a bonus, the Raiders get to face Patrick Mahomes twice a year for the next decade.

New York Giants (8.1%, 37.1%)

The Giants are the only team in the NFL that has at least a 5% chance of securing the No. 1 overall pick and at least a 10% chance of making the postseason, per Football Outsiders. That’s largely due to the lackluster quality of the NFC East, where no team is over the .500 mark, and New York’s remaining schedule, which ranks as the easiest in the league. On the other hand, FiveThirtyEight currently projects the Giants to finish with the NFL’s worst record, so until the NFC East clarifies itself, New York’s outlook is ¯_(ツ)_/ÂŻ.

Atlanta Falcons (8%, 35.3%)

The one team on this list that would have been a complete surprise coming into 2018, the Falcons have been decimated on the defensive side of the ball. Starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, plus linebacker Deion Jones, are all out for the season after suffering injuries, and Atlanta’s defense has responded in kind, giving up the second-most points in the league on a per-game basis. Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons’ offense can still win shootouts, but Atlanta could be in line to pick within the top-five for the first time since 2008.

So, what do you think? Will one of these teams land the No. 1 overall pick in 2019? Vote below!

PFR Originals: 9/30/18 – 10/7/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • In the latest entry in our This Date in Transactions History series, Zach Links examined the 2010 trade that sent running back Marshawn Lynch from the Bills to the Seahawks for the price of a 2011 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2012 selection. Lynch, of course, went on to post four consecutive campaigns with at least 1,200 yards rushing and double-digit touchdowns, winning a Super Bowl in the process.
  • A number of key players have already been lost for the season due to injury, leading Zach to explain the concept of injured reserve. IR rules have changed in recent years, as teams are now allowed to bring a maximum of two players off injured reserve following an eight-week absence. Our PFR Glossary post on IR also describes how teams and players reach injury settlements that allow the player to reach free agency.
  • As a reminder, you can follow Pro Football Rumors on social media and specifically filter for news on your favorite team. Here are links to our Facebook, Twitter, and RSS pages and feeds for all 32 teams.

This Date In NFL Transactions History: Bills Trade Marshawn Lynch To Seahawks

On this date in 2010, the Bills and Seahawks pulled off a blockbuster midseason trade. For the price of a 2011 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2012 draft pick, the Bills said farewell to Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch’s tenure in Buffalo altered between jaw-dropping and headache-inducing for the front office. The running back topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons and earned his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2008. Meanwhile, his off-the-field trouble was cause for concern. In the summer of 2008, Lynch admitted to striking a female pedestrian with his car and leaving the scene. In the following spring, Los Angeles cops found a semiautomatic handgun in his car.

The former first-round pick seemed to be back on track early in the 2010 season, having just wrestled the starting job back from Fred Jackson. Still, the phone lines were open in Buffalo, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll pounced on the opportunity to add him to the backfield.

We’re going to bring him in to play a lot,” Carroll said (via the Associated Press). “We’ll wait and see when we get him here, but we’re bringing him in here to play a bunch.” The decision to trade for Lynch ended up working out incredibly well for the Seahawks, as Lynch took his game to a new level in Seattle and became the engine of the offense for their Super Bowl winning team. He went to four Pro Bowls with the Seahawks and was twice named an All-Pro

Lynch ended up announcing his retirement after the 2015 season, but after a year away from the game decided to return. The Seahawks promptly traded him to the Raiders, where Lynch currently plays.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Glossary: Injured Reserve

Already this season, we’ve seen several key players moved to teams’ injured reserve lists. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Packers defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead are among the players who landed on the IR recently, opening up a spot on their clubs’ active rosters for their teams to replace them. 

The injured reserve designation is generally used for players who will be out for the season. That’s not the case for every player who lands on injured reserve though. Particularly during the preseason, we see players who weren’t part of their teams’ long-term plans hit the IR list, only to be cut several days later. Generally, these cases involve players who aren’t suffering from season-ending injuries, and receive injury settlements from their respective clubs in order to release those clubs from any liability.

For instance, let’s say a player is injured during the final week of the preseason with a high ankle sprain, and the player and team both agree that the injury will sideline him for three weeks. The club could place that player on injured reserve, then cut him with a two-week regular-season injury settlement (since the final preseason week is also taken into account). That would allow the player to receive 2/17ths of his season salary, and allow him to look for work with a new club when he gets healthy. If the club were to keep the player on injured reserve rather than removing him with a settlement, it would be required to cut him when he gets healthy.

Teams who release a player from IR with a settlement are eligible to re-sign that player later in the season, if they so choose. But they must wait three weeks, on top of the time of the initial settlement. In that previous example then, a club would have to wait until after Week 8 to re-sign the player with the high ankle sprain.

Players who remain on their clubs’ injured reserve lists all season continue to receive their full salary, which also counts against their teams’ salary caps. The 49ers, for example, have tons of traditional dead money on the books thanks to the contracts of NaVorro Bowman, Vance McDonald, and Jonathan Cooper. But, they’re also effectively carrying dead money for Garoppolo, who carries a $37MM cap number in the first year of his lucrative extension.

In some instances, players agree to “split contracts” when they sign with a club, which means that the player will receive a smaller salary if he lands on injured reserve. Split contracts, which are worth less than the active roster minimum salaries, are fairly rare, and are primarily signed by undrafted rookies or veterans with injury histories.

One additional quirk related to the injured reserve list is the option each team has to bring two players back from the IR list. The rule has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Previously, the rule stipulated that a team had to designate one specific player for return later on in the season. The IR-DTR spot was later nixed to allow teams to bring one player back from IR without any previous designation, but starting in 2017, teams were permitted to return two players from IR. The only hitch is that a player must be on IR for a minimum of six weeks before practicing and can return to game action after a total of eight weeks.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry, modified from an earlier post by PFR editor emeritus Luke Adams. Our glossary posts explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.