A.J. Klein‘s two-year run with the Bills ended Tuesday. The Bills released the veteran linebacker, creating some cap space in the process.
The Bills, who used Klein as a first- and second-string ‘backer during his tenure, will save just more than $5MM. This bumps Buffalo toward cap compliance, though more moves will be made to ensure the AFC East champions have a bit more breathing room.
One of many ex-Panthers to find a home in Buffalo in under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, Klein rejoined McDermott after three seasons in New Orleans. The Panthers selected Klein in the 2013 fifth round, with both McDermott and Beane still in Carolina, and he has managed a nine-year career thus far.
The team has Matt Milano tied to a long-term deal and Tremaine Edmunds heading into his fifth-year option season. Klein started 11 games in 2020 but only four last season, a healthier Milano campaign. Klein delivered a versatile season in 2020, tallying 78 tackles and adding five sacks to help a limited Bills pass rush. He is going into his age-31 season, should another team make a move for the role player.
The Bills will be without a key piece for tonight’s game against the Patriots. Buffalo has placed A.J. Klein on the reserve/COVID-19 list, reports ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter).
Klein signed a three-year pact with the Bills back in 2020, and he started 11 of his 16 games during his first season in Buffalo, finishing with career-highs in tackles (75), sacks (five), and QB hits (nine). He also started one of his three playoff appearances. The 30-year-old has only started three of his 11 games this season, collecting 30 tackles.
The linebacker has been completed phased out of the defense in six appearances this year, but he’s seen significant roles in his other five appearances. As Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic tweets, tonight could have been one of those games where Klein saw time on defense, as the Bills could have relied on a three-linebacker look against the Patriots’ “fullback heavy approach.”
The Bills also promoted two players from the practice squad for tonight’s game (via Aaron Wilson on Twitter): nose tackle Eli Ankou and linebacker Joe Giles-Harris. Ankou has seen time in 29 career games, including an appearance with Buffalo in Week 12. Giles-Harris got into 14 games with the Jaguars between 2019 and 2020, and he’s spent the majority of the 2021 campaign on Buffalo’s practice squad.
A.J. Klein is heading to Buffalo. The former Saints linebacker is inking a three-year, $18MM deal with the Bills, according to SiriusXM’s Adam Caplan (via Twitter). The deal contains $9.7MM in guaranteed money.
Klein spent the first four seasons of his career with the Panthers, where he worked under current Bills head coach Sean McDermott (who was serving as defensive coordinator at the time). Klein signed a three-year deal with the Saints prior to the 2017 season, and he evolved into a full-time starter during his stint in New Orleans.
The 28-year-old continued to produce during his three seasons with the Saints, including a 2019 campaign where he compiled 69 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interceptions,and one forced fumble.
Earlier today, Caplan had tweeted that the Bills continued to look for a starting linebacker to pair with MattMilano. The team apparently found their target in Klein, meaning they won’t have to dedicate valuable draft assets towards the position.
September 13th, 2018 at 2:14pm CST by Sam Robinson
More details on David Johnson‘s Cardinals contract are emerging. In addition to the fourth-year running back seeing $24MM in full guarantees as part of his three-year, $39MM extension, Johnson will receive a $12MM signing bonus, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). His $5.7MM base salary in 2019 is fully guaranteed. The All-Pro’s 2020 base ($10.2MM) will have $5.1MM guaranteed fully at signing, per Graziano (on Twitter), but the other half of it is guaranteed for injury only. However, Johnson’s full 2020 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Cardinals’ roster by March of 2019.
Each of Johnson’s next three seasons include $750K in per-game roster bonuses. As far as cap numbers go, Johnson now has a $5MM hit this season. The former third-round pick will count $9.45MM against Arizona’s 2019 cap, $13.95MM in 2020 and $11.7MM in 2021, Graziano reports (Twitter link).
Here’s the latest out of the NFC, shifting toward its most important player.
Aaron Rodgers missed Packers practice again on Thursday, but this wasn’t unexpected. However, Mike McCarthy said it’s no layup that his two-time MVP quarterback will play Sunday against the Vikings, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Rodgers and McCarthy said Wednesday he does not need to practice in order to start Sunday.
It keeps getting worse for the Panthers. After serious injuries hit Greg Olsen and Daryl Williams in Week 1, Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner is in concussion protocol, David Newton of ESPN.com notes. Both of Carolina’s starting tackles — Williams and Matt Kalil — are already on IR. Both can return after eight weeks, but at this point, it can’t be assumed both will be back. Carolina could lose a more important player to its cause. Only two players can be recalled from IR. Amini Silatolu filled in for Turner last season, but he may have to play right tackle Sunday. However, the Panthers added Chris Clark to potentially do that. In addition to Silatolu, Newton writes Tyler Larsen and rookie UDFA Brendan Mahon will have a chance to start in place of Turner — in the event he can’t go Sunday.
Demario Davis rated as a top-10 Pro Football Focus linebacker last year, doing so for his work as an inside linebacker. It was expected the high-priced free agent would man the middle for the Saints, but they’ve moved him to the weak side, NOLA.com’s Josh Katzenstein notes. Second-year man Alex Anzalone is now stationed as New Orleans’ middle ‘backer, but the team rotated he, Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein as Davis sidekicks in Week 1. Sean Payton said the team’s still determining how it will structure its linebacker usage. Davis played all 66 snaps in the Saints’ loss to the Buccaneers, while Anzalone led the others with 34. Klein functioned in Davis’ role in 2017, playing all of the Saints’ Week 1 snaps in his first game with the team.
December 19th, 2017 at 5:19pm CST by Dallas Robinson
The Saints will be without one of their starting linebackers down the stretch and into the playoffs, as the club announced they’ve placed A.J. Klein on injured reserve. In a corresponding move, New Orleans has signed tight end John Phillips.
Klein, 26, inked a three-year, $15MM with the Saints this offseason, staying in the NFC South after four seasons with the Panthers. While the New Orleans defense has experienced a remarkable turnaround in 2017, Klein hasn’t necessarily been a large part of that effort despite playing roughly three quarters of the club’s defensive snaps. The Saints are still just 23rd in rush defense DVOA, while Klein himself has graded as only the No. 82 linebacker among 92 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.
While the loss of Klein will certainly lead to adjustments along the Saints’ front seven, the team does possess an ample amount of linebacker depth. Veterans such as Manti Te’o, Gerald Hodges, and the recently-signed Jonathan Freeny are all candidates to join the starting lineup opposite Craig Robertson.
Phillips, meanwhile, is now back in New Orleans after appearing in eight games for the club a season ago. An effective blocker but not much of an offensive weapon, the 30-year-old Phillips was with the Saints during training camp before being waived off injured reserve in September.
The Saints are signing linebacker A.J. Klein, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Saints have been prioritizing defensive help this offseason, particularly help in the front seven.
Klein might not be the only defensive pickup the Saints make today if the rumoredMalcolm Butler-for-Brandon Cooks deal is completed.
Klein was said to be seeking a starting job this offseason. He will move on from the Panthers after playing alongside the likes of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and join a Saints team that’s had issues at this position. Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony has not been able to provide clear evidence he’s going to be a long-term answer, and the Saints moved him from middle ‘backer to the strong side in the offseason.
A 25-year-old fifth-year player, Klein will join a linebacking corps that houses Anthony, Dannell Ellerbe and Craig Robertson. Kuechly’s 2016 injury opened the door for more Klein playing time; he made seven starts but only accumulated 29 tackles. As a part-time starter in 2014-15, Klein made 39 and 48 stops, respectively, while vacillating from the middle to the outside in Carolina’s 4-3 scheme. New Orleans pivoted back to a 4-3 look recently, so Klein won’t have as steep of a learning curve as he would going to a 3-4 team.
NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday 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. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.
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 franchised players 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 this offseason:
Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks.
After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.
Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans.
Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.
As usual, the non-rush linebacker market isn’t exactly overflowing with elite talent, and Dont’a Hightower stands as far-and-away the best player among this group. The Patriots already traded away several of their best defenders, including Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, an indication that they view Hightower as the best best to stick around long term. New England didn’t place the franchise nor the transition tag on Hightower, so he’ll have the ability to set the market at linebacker.
Coming off a disappointing four-year run with the Titans in 2016, Zach Brown was last year forced to sign a one-year deal with the Bills for less than $1.5MM. That won’t be the case this spring, as Brown finally lived up to his second-round draft status by grading as one of the league’s best ‘backers. Brown especially excelled in pass coverage by using his speed to chase pass-catchers around the field, and in today’s NFL, that’s a skill-set that equals a hefty paycheck.
The Texans are didn’t use the franchise tag on A.J. Bouye, a decision which sets up the young corner to be the single-most intriguing player on the 2017 free agent market. Only 25 years old, Bouye came out of nowhere to grade as PFF’s No. 3 corner in 2016. But the former undrafted free agent played on less than 900 defensive snaps over the first three years of his career, so he’s going to get paid on essentially one season of production. Bouye earned less than $3MM total during his time with Houston — his next contract could contain five times that amount…annually.
The cornerback market stands as one of the best free agent positional groups this offseason, as strong players permeate the list from top-to-bottom. Stephon Gilmore is a more high-profile name than Logan Ryan, but Ryan has simply played better over the last few campaigns, and offers a more dependable output. The Bears are expected to make a run at Gilmore, while the Bengals have already been linked to Ryan.
Morris Claiborne is a former first-round pick but didn’t play like it until last season. Dre Kirkpatrick is a former first-round pick but has never played like it. The rest of the cornerback list has warts, as well: Prince Amukamara has dealt with injury, Kayvon Webster has only two career starts, Terence Newman is entering his age-39 season, and Sam Shields is coming off multiple concussions. All of these players offer upside, but they are all undoubtedly attached to risk.
Tony Jefferson is expected to hit free agency, and could be in for a contract that nears the $8-9MM range. Jefferson did reach the free agent market in 2016 as a restricted free agent, but he didn’t come with draft compensation attached. Any club could have signed him to an offer sheet, and if the Cardinals declined to match, would have acquired Jefferson scot-free. No team did so, which could be an indication that Jefferson’s 2016 market could be less robust than expected.
Also working against Jefferson is the fact that he plays close to the line of scrimmage, a role that’s relatively easy to fill, as Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus explained on a recent podcast. Duron Harmon, on the other hand, has demonstrated an ability to play deep safety, and thus could be in for a surprisingly high salary. The Cowboys’ Barry Church is “solid at everything, great at nothing,” tweets Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated, while Jonathan Cyprien and T.J. McDonald are primarily run defenders. Darius Butler may be the most fascinating case among this list of safeties, as the former corner should theoretically offer above-average coverage skills.
Micah Hyde could have been listed among the free agent corners, as the do-it-all defensive back is capable of playing multiple roles. His versatility is central to the Packers’ defense, and D.J. Swearinger provides the same sort of flexibility to the Cardinals. If Jefferson defects via the open market, Arizona will likely hone in on re-signing Swearinger as his full-time replacement. Jairus Byrd is a late addition to the safety market after being released by the Saints, and it’s possible another will hope he can rebound to his All Pro days as he enters his age-30 season.
The Seahawks don’t figure to re-signSteven Hauschka after bringing in fellow kicker Blair Walsh, but the longtime Seattle placekicker should be able to quickly find a new home in free agency. Nick Novak attempted the second-most field goals in the NFL last season after many Texans’ drives stalled, while Robbie Gould filled in admirably for the Giants after they released Josh Brown, converting of all ten of his field goal attempts.
Nick Folk was released as a cap casualty, and still has the talent to become another club’s kicker, while Mike Nugent — cut by the Bengals at midseason — may be nearing the end of the road after missing six extra points. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Phil Dawson come back for a fifth season with the 49ers, but Greg Zuerlein could move on from the Rams after the club threatened to bring in competition last offseason.
Jeff Locke, 27, managed to pin opposing clubs inside the 20-yard line 34 times in 2016, good for fifth in the league. Now 40 years old, Shane Lechler is a seven-time Pro Bowler, but the Texans lost 12.7 points of field position on punts last season, meaning Houston could go in another direction at punter.