The Titans have secured their first big free agent, both literally and figuratively. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that Tennessee is signing 6-foot-6 defensive tackle Denico Autry. It’s a three-year deal worth $21.5MM, including $9MM guaranteed.
Despite going undrafted out of Mississippi State in 2014, Autry has managed to put together a seven-year career. The defensive tackle spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders, including a 2017 campaign where he finished with five sacks. That performance earned him a three-year, $17.8MM deal with the Colts, and he’s been a consistent presence on their defensive line ever since.
Autry ultimately appeared in 40 games (38 starts) during his three seasons in Indy, compiling 102 tackles, 20 sacks, and three forced fumbles. The 30-year-old also got into three postseason games for the Colts, compiling 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Prior to this move, we hadn’t heard much from the Titans today. The team was armed with around $18MM in cap space heading into the offseason.
October 19th, 2018 at 9:36pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
The final injury reports for Week 7 came out earlier today, and there was a lot of news. Lots of key players will be missing their team’s games, while others will be returning after extended absence. One notable rule-out was the Patriots declaring that starting right tackle Marcus Cannon would miss their game against the Bears. It’s a big loss for New England, especially in a week where they have to go up against Khalil Mack. Mack will now be lining up across from a backup tackle, and could end up making life miserable for Tom Brady.
Here are more injury updates from around the league:
The Colts have been the most injured team in recent memory the past few weeks, but are finally getting some good news. Star receiver T.Y. Hilton has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, but is ready to make his return this week. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, they’ll still be without tight end Jack Doyle and receiver Ryan Grant as well as several key contributors on defense like safety Clayton Geathers and defensive tackle Denico Autry.
The Lions will be without running back Theo Riddick, who went down during the team’s win over the Packers. Riddick has been operating as the Lions’ third down back, and rookie Kerryon Johnson should get more run with him out of the way. On the bright side, the team looks like it could be getting back pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah, who hasn’t played since Detroit’s Week 1 loss. Ansah is listed as questionable but practiced all three days this week.
September 21st, 2018 at 9:41pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
Marcus Mariota‘s injury remains a mystery. It hasn’t been disclosed exactly what he’s dealing with although it has reportedly caused him to lose some feeling in his hand. Blaine Gabbert started, and won, for the Titans last week, and it’s possible he’s asked to do so again this week against the Jaguars.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters that he would make the decision between Gabbert and Mariota within the next “24 hours” and that he would let them know then according to Jim Wyatt of the Titans’ official website (Twitter link). If Mariota can’t go it would be a huge blow for Tennessee against the league’s top defense. One thing that could make their matchup a bit easier is that Jalen Ramsey was added to the injury report Friday with an ankle injury, although it’s unclear if he’s in any danger of missing the game.
Here’s more injury updates from around the league:
The Falcons just can’t seem to catch a break. It was already known they’d be without Devonta Freeman and several other starters, but it was announced today that they’d also be without talented pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley. McKinley is currently dealing with a groin injury.
The Colts will be quite shorthanded for their trip to Philadelphia as the team ruled out tight end Jack Doyle, running back Marlon Mack, defensive tackle Denico Autry, and right tackle Anthony Castonzo. Doyle’s injury is a big blow, as he formed an effective tight end duo with Eric Ebron through the first two games.
The Eagles will also be significantly shorthanded on offense, with their backfield being particularly banged up. Running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles have been ruled out, while Corey Clement is questionable. If Clement isn’t able to go, the running back situation would be dire. Alshon Jeffery is questionable, but reporters have written that he’s very unlikely to play.
As expected, the Titans placed Jack Conklin on the PUP list at the outset of training camp. The third-year right tackle tore an ACL in Tennessee’s divisional-round loss to New England in mid-January. Given that barely six months have passed, this could be expected. Mike Vrabel said this was a possibility as his team concluded minicamp, and Conklin confirmed this was a methodical process.
Here’s the latest from the Titans, along with some of their top rivals.
Tennessee also placed tight end Phillip Supernaw on the PUP list while also slotting second-round pick Rashaan Evans and free agent wideout addition Michael Campanaro on the non-football illness list. The Titans’ rookies and quarterbacks opened camp Sunday, and each of these players is eligible to be reinstated for full work by the time full practices begin Thursday.
The Colts added multiple veterans up front this offseason, with Matt Slauson and Austin Howard now in the mix for starting roles as stopgaps. Indianapolis boasts some depth at guard now with Slauson, the recently re-signed Jack Mewhort and No. 6 overall pick Quenton Nelson on the roster. Mewhort’s re-up and the Slauson addition, though, did not deter the Colts from selecting Braden Smith in the second round. The franchise’s goal is for Smith, an Auburn alum, to be the long-term starter at right guard opposite Nelson, Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star notes. Though, Holder cautions his development figures to take longer than Nelson’s. Once entrenched as a Colts guard starter and a candidate for a long-term extension, Mewhort suffered significant injury setbacks in 2016 and ’17 to limit him to a one-year, $1.5MM deal with just $300K guaranteed. Slauson is signed for one year and $2.5MM. One member of this tandem could begin the season in an unfamiliar backup role.
It looks like Denico Autry has a path toward either a full-time starting role or a prominent backup job with the Colts. Chris Ballard raved about the defensive end/tackle’s skill set this weekend. “Let me tell you the one you need to watch: It’s Autry,” Ballard said. “Denico Autry is legitimate. He’s long; he’s strong; he’s passionate. I am really excited to watch him play. He’s made up of all the right stuff.” Autry (career-high five sacks last season) served as a rotational player with the Raiders, lining up as an end and a tackle during his four-year run in Oakland.
A host of players are vying to replace Andrew Norwell on the Panthers‘ starting line. Amini Silatolu, Taylor Moton and former Viking Jeremiah Sirles are among them, with Jordan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer noting Ron Rivera has expressed optimism about the prospect Silatolu can man the first-string post opposite Trai Turner. Silatolu started 15 Panthers games as a rookie in 2012 but hasn’t been a first-stringer on more than three occasions in a season since 2014. Rodrigue adds that Moton may be the top challenger but may also be used as a tackle and be in line to succeed Daryl Williams in the event he follows Norwell’s path as a UFA defection in 2019.
The Colts have been relatively quiet this offseason. The team did acquire a haul when they traded off the third-overall pick, but they haven’t made many big splashes via free agency.
However, the team has added four notable unrestricted free agents, and head coach FrankReich and general manager ChrisBallard talked with Stephen Holder of IndyStar.com about the transactions. We’ve highlighted some of the notable soundbites below:
Reich: “I did a little homework on him even after we signed him and talked to a couple coaches who coached him and guys who played with him. I talked to one guy who had definite inside information. He said, ‘This guy will run every inside route at full speed, no matter what. He works his butt off in practice.’ That’s the kind of player we’re looking for.”
On tight end Eric Ebron, who signed a two-year deal after being let go by the Lions:
Reich: “There is a lot of man coverage in this league — the league is going more and more man coverage — so, now you put an elite tight end on the backside, it’s like clearing it out for LeBron (James), or something, in basketball. Just get everybody on one side of the court and get this guy one-on-one. Well, that’s the analogy here. So, in football, get all the receivers on one side, get the back on the other side, and then just put the tight end back here and see what (the defense) does. And some teams will double him. And then (if) you get a linebacker, you get a safety, and if you get a tight end like Ebron — and even when they have a corner on him, you feel like it’s still a winning matchup, because of his size and catch radius.”
Ballard: “We want our fans to know that we’re serious. Signing Matt Slauson was a good one for us. He’s a 32-year old. And his presence and what he’s going to bring to the O-line room, I don’t think you can put a price on. He’s the ultimate pro and he’s going to bring a level of toughness to that room that I think is going to be really good for everybody in it.”
On defensive lineman Denico Autry, who signed a three-year, $17.8MM deal ($6.5MM guaranteed):
Ballard: “I’d seen him (when I worked) in Kansas City. He’s a good player and he’s going to help our front. What you see is the defensive line is going to be one of the engines that drives us going forward. You need seven or eight guys that can get that done. And Autry is a good example. We think we got a good player at a fair market value for the player.”
The Colts have an agreement with free agent defensive lineman Denico Autry, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). It’s a three-year deal worth $17.8MM in total and contains $6.5MM guaranteed.
Indianapolis and general manager Chris Ballard have shown a willingness to invest in its defensive line over the past two years. In 2017, the Colts brought in free agents Johnathan Hankins and Jabal Sheard, and now they’ll add Autry to the mix.
While Autry may not be a household name, he’s been an underrated player for the Raiders over the past four seasons. Last year, the 27-year-old appeared in all 16 games (three starts) and posted 23 tackles and three sacks. For that effort, Pro Football Focus graded Autry as the No. 56 interior defender among 122 qualifiers.
The Colts haven’t made any other free agent moves this week, but they are clearly interested in defensive lineman, as they are reportedly targeting Benson Mayowa and Adrian Clayborn.
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:
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 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
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.