Anthony Hitchens

Inside Linebacker Market

There are many inside linebackers waiting patiently on the open market. A wild first week of free agency has come and gone with other positions seeing record deals and big names moving. The market for inside linebackers, however, has been quiet and less than lucrative.

In years past, we’ve seen monster deals to players like C.J. Mosley, whose contract has an average annual value of $17MM and guaranteed him $43MM at signing, and Darius Leonard, whose contract has an average annual value of $19.7MM and guaranteed him $33MM at signing. The largest payout we’ve seen this offseason to an inside linebacker was when the Packers kept De’Vondre Campbell from entering free agency with a five-year, $50MM deal, with a guaranteed $15MM. It’s certainly an impressive deal, and one the esteemed linebacker deserves, but no other deals have come close.

After being cut by the Jaguars, Myles Jack signed a two-year, $16MM deal to become a Steeler. Josey Jewell remained with the Broncos after signing a two-year, $11MM deal. Minnesota’s new inside linebacker, Jordan Hicks, joined the Vikings on a two-year, $10MM contract. Christian Kirksey signed a similar deal to remain with the Texans. We’ve seen a few other small deals like Zaire Franklin signing a three-year, $10MM deal to remain in Indianapolis and Alex Anzalone signing a one-year, $2.25MM contract to play another year with the Lions.

While that may sound pretty active, there are many big names who have yet to find deals. The biggest of these names is Bobby Wagner. Cut after ten outstanding years in Seattle, Wagner was expected to be a highly sought after free agent. While there have been many teams who’ve voiced interest in the eight-time All-Pro, there has been no word of negotiations. Any deal Wagner signs will likely top the numbers posed by Campbell and the Packers, but the fact that he has yet to find a home may hint at the fact that the money he’s looking for isn’t being offered.

There are many other impact names on the open market: Kwon Alexander, Jayon Brown, Jarrad Davis, Dont’a Hightower, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, Reggie Ragland, Joe Schobert, and Danny Trevathan.

Due to the low spending we’ve seen thus far and the plethora of names available, these players will likely have to search for the right fit and accept a decent deal if offered. They may end up having to wait until injuries provide an opportunity for them to fill in on a roster. The exception, of course, is Wagner, who can afford to be patient. Wagner will have the luxury of being able to wait and see how rosters form throughout the league, biding his time until he’s sure he’s joining a contender. Look for the others to give up on looking for a lucrative payday and settle for decent deals from teams with schemes they like.

Cowboys Hopeful To Re-Sign Cedrick Wilson; Could Bring Back Anthony Hitchens?

There are lots of moving parts with the Cowboys’ plans right now. Even with the moves made to shed salary and push some cap charges down the road, finances will be tight for any further deals. As a result, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson is likely to at least hit the open market. 

[RELATED: Cowboys Re-Sign Noah Brown]

The 26-year-old saw a much bigger role in 2021, and certainly took advantage of it. He posted 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns, all career-highs. For that reason, Clarence Hill Jr. of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Cowboys “believe they will be priced out” of his market (Twitter link).

There is still interest on Dallas’ part for a return, however. Calvin Watkins of The Dallas Morning News tweets that the Cowboys want to bring him back, but that they will “want to see” what kind of market develops. With CeeDee Lamb under contract, a new deal with Michael Gallup reportedly close and tight end Dalton Schultz having been franchise tagged earlier today, a core group of pass-catchers is already in place in Dallas.

Watkins also reports that Hitchens “has a desire to return” to Dallas after his four-year stint in Kansas City. The 29-year-old was released by the Chiefs in a cost-cutting move, and a signal of their linebacking corps’ potential. Hitchens still played 60% of defensive snaps last season, more than he did in three of his four years with the Cowboys. His return would give the team an experienced, productive presence in the middle of the defense to pair with Micah Parsons. On the other hand, LB could be a draft target in April.

While much has been taken care of regarding the Cowboys’ big-name priorities in recent days, they face several other important decisions.

Chiefs Release LB Anthony Hitchens

The Chiefs have made a cost-cutting move on defense. Per a team announcement, they are releasing veteran linebacker Anthony Hitchens

When I first became general manager, one of the first moves I wanted to make was to bring in Anthony Hitchens”, said Brett Veach. “We knew how intelligent, hard working and consistent he was as a player, and we knew he’d become a selfless leader. He was that and more. He has all the intangibles and was an integral piece in our franchise winning a Super Bowl title. We appreciate everything he’s done for the organization and wish him the best as he continues his career”.

Head coach Andy Reid added: “I really enjoyed the opportunity to coach Anthony over the last four years. He’s as tough as they come in this league and is a team-first player. I appreciate the way he came to work… but also his willingness to teach the younger guys around him”.

Hitchens was scheduled to have a base salary of $7.8MM in 2022, the final year of his contract. His cap hit, however, would have been just over $12.6MM. The move saves the Chiefs more than $8.4MM, nearly tripling the cap space the team had prior to today.

The 29-year-old signed a five year, $45MM deal with Kansas City in 2018. That came after four seasons in Dallas, who drafted him in the fourth round out of Iowa. He flashed plenty of potential with the Cowboys despite only playing a full season once. His inaugural campaign in Kansas City saw him record a career-best 135 tackles, including seven for a loss, along with two QB hits and one forced fumble. In the proceeding years, he proved to be a consistent presence in the middle of the defense, albeit with a reduced snap count.

With fellow linebacker Ben Niemann a pending free agent, this move opens the door to Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton taking on even more responsibility moving forward. Second round picks from the past two drafts, Bolton in particular has shown he is capable of a larger workload in the future. Linebacker could, of course, also be a position of focus in the coming weeks as well as the draft.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/11/21

Today’s minor transactions:

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/22/20

Here are Tuesday’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Detroit Lions

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

AFC West Notes: Bolts, Gates, Rivers, Chiefs

Despite losing Hunter Henry to yet another serious injury, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn did not seem optimistic on a potential reunion with Antonio Gates, according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN. “I have not been in contact with Antonio,” Lynn said. “I’m not sure what his situation is.”

After Henry’s injury last year, Gates was brought back to the only organization he’s ever known, serving mostly in a backup role. Appearing in all 16 games for the Chargers, Gates totaled 28 receptions for 333 yards, with only two touchdowns.

In the interim, the Chargers seem content with expanding the roles of tight ends Virgil Green and Sean Culkin while Henry recovers from his injury. Green is coming off a lackluster 2018 campaign, where he hauled in 19 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown, while appearing in all 16 games for the Chargers. Despite this, he is expected to start, with Culkin serving in a back up role.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • For the second straight day, wide receiver Mike Williams was absent from Chargers practice, and is not looking good for Sunday’s game against the Lions, according to Eric D. Williams. Lynn has been concerned about the knee of Mike Williams, and another missed practice tomorrow would not bode well for his chances of suiting up this weekend.
  • On the most recent edition of the RapSheet + Friends Podcast, quarterback Philip Rivers spoke with NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport about a number of topics, including his current contract. “I really just feel at peace about that. Tom [Telesco] and I had really good conversations throughout the last couple months. I think it’s sincere, the both of us, really desire I’m still a Charger in 2020,” Rivers told Rapoport. “I think that sincerity will make it all work out. Had it worked out before the regular season got started, I’d have been fine with it, but it didn’t. Shoot, hey let’s just wait and it kinda worked best for both sides to do that. I really feel good about it. I’m in a good place.” Rivers is in the final year of a four-year, $83.25 million contract extension he signed in August 2015.
  • In an effort to create cap space, Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher‘s contract was restructured, which included the conversion of his $9.54MM base salary to a fully guaranteed roster bonus that will be prorated from 2019 to 2021, dropping his 2019 cap hit to about $6.4MM, according to Yahoo Sports’ Terez A. Paylor. Paylor also reports that linebacker Anthony Hitchens‘ restructure, which included the conversion of $5.6MM of his base salary to a fully guaranteed roster bonus that will also be prorated from 2019 to 2022, created roughly $4.2MM in cap room.

Chiefs Create Cap Space

The Chiefs did base salary-to-signing bonus conversions for linebacker Anthony Hitchens & offensive tackle Eric Fisher, Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). With that, they’ve carved out nearly $10.6MM in cap room for this year. 

Between these deals and the cap-smoothing extension for Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are in solid cap position. Of course, they’ll be in better position in general when Hill returns to action, but they have plenty of offensive firepower to keep things moving in the interim.

Hitchens signed a five-year, $45MM deal with the Chiefs in 2018 that made him the league’s seventh-highest paid inside linebacker on an annual basis, at the time of signing. The pact counted for $3.6MM against Kansas City’s salary cap last year, but was set to triple in size for this year. Fun fact: The Chiefs tried to trade for Hitchens in 2017, when he was on the Cowboys. Ultimately, they got their man anyway.

Fisher, 28, is under contract through 2021 thanks to the four-year, $48MM extension he inked in 2016. There’s no guaranteed money in the final year of the contract, but the Chiefs have no plans to ditch him after he earned his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2018.

Chiefs Tried To Trade For Hitchens In 2017

The Chiefs signed former Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens to a five-year contract this offseason, but Kansas City had made attempts to acquire Hitchens previously. According to Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star, the Chiefs actually tried to trade for Hitchens during the summer of 2017.

The Cowboys declined to deal Hitchens — originally a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft — and he went on to play on 500 or more defensive snaps for the fourth consecutive season. In total, 2017 marked one of the best campaigns of Hitchens’ career, as he appeared in 12 games (all starts) and posted 55 tackles, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble, all while grading as the NFL’s No. 18 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.

“We’re sitting there on the free-agency board, and the guy that we made our first call to back in August about his availability, he’s a free agent,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told Worthy. “We knew we were going to go in a different direction with Derrick [Johnson]. It just made sense. We spent a lot of time on him with the work we did back in August. Here we’ve come full circle now. Now, we’re right back where we originally started, which is pursuing Anthony Hitchens.”

Hitchens, 26, ultimately landed a five-year, $45MM deal with the Chiefs that makes him the league’s seventh-highest paid inside linebacker on an annual basis. That pact also contains $21.29MM in fully guaranteed money, second to only Luke Kuechly among inside ‘backers. During the upcoming campaign, Hitchens will collect a base salary of $790K and count for $3.6MM against Kansas City’s salary cap before his cap charge nearly triples in 2019.

With the Chiefs, Hitchens will start next to Reggie Ragland — whom Kansas City acquired from the Bills last year — in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton‘s 3-4 scheme. Johnson, whom the Chiefs opted not to re-sign after he spent 13 seasons with the club, was regularly playing more than 800 defensive snaps per year, so Hitchens will need to increase his playtime percentage as he transitions to a new team.

Chiefs Add LB Anthony Hitchens

The Chiefs have reloaded their linebacker corps, agreeing to a deal with former Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). Hitchens’ deal will span five years for a total of $45MM, per Pelissero (on Twitter), including a $14MM signing bonus and $21.29MM guaranteed at signing. His contract will be worth up to $49.25MM, with incentives included.

Hitchens will help the Chiefs fill the void on defense after cutting ties with longtime middle linebacker Derrick Johnson and pass-rusher Tamba Hali earlier in the offseason. Hitchens said last month that he was seeking $10MM a year on the open market. He’s slated to work alongside Reggie Ragland at middle linebacker for the Chiefs, with Kevin Pierre-Louis set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason. The Chiefs also have Terrance Smith, Ukeme Eligwe and Ramik Wilson on the roster at middle linebacker.

A reunion with the Cowboys seemed unlikely as they ranked No. 28 in the NFL entering Monday with $3.12MM in available cap space. They had placed the franchise tag on linebacker Demarcus Lawrence and have reportedly made extending the fellow linebacker to a long-term deal a priority.

The signing of Hitchens was the second major addition Tuesday for the Chiefs as they also reportedly agreed to a deal with free-agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Hitchens started 12 games for the Cowboys last season and recorded 55 tackles, which were the most since his rookie season in 2014. The Colts were also reportedly interested in Hitchens, as new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus had previously worked as the linebackers coach for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys originally selected Hitchens in the fourth round of the 2014 draft out of Iowa. He had not missed a game leading up to this season, in which he missed four due to a tibia plateau fracture sustained in August.

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