Rams outside linebacker Dominique Easley underwent meniscus surgery on Monday, coach Sean McVay told reporters. The injury will land Easley on IR, according to the coach, and it’s not clear whether he’ll be available to return later this year.
This marks the fourth major knee surgery of Easley’s career. This marks the fourth major knee surgery of Easley’s career. The Florida product tore the ACL in his left knee as a college sophomore, the ACL and meniscus of his right knee as a senior. Last year, he tore his right ACL yet again, and this latest injury occurred in the same knee. It seems unlikely that Easley will suit up again in 2018 and it’s fair to wonder about his overall football future, even though he won’t turn 27 until February.
For his career, the former first round pick has 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception in 41 career games. This year, he started in the first three games of the season L.A. and had four tackles to his credit.
The Seahawks have indeed fined safety Earl Thomas, who missed practice for non-injury reasons for the second consecutive week. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that the Seahawks — who were considering imposing a substantial fine on Thomas last Sunday — fined the star defender for missing practice and for “other things.” Rapoport adds that “communication should increase going forward,” but it is presently unclear as to whether he is referring to communication between Thomas and Seattle or between Seattle and other clubs who may want to trade for Thomas. We heard earlier today that the Steelers were interested in Thomas, but there has been no communication between Seattle and Pittsburgh at this point.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds that the Seahawks are still asking for a second-round pick for Thomas, and that the Chiefs remain interested (though Kansas City does not want to give up a second-rounder). The Cowboys, of course, offered a second-round pick to Seattle earlier this year, but the Seahawks wanted more from Dallas at the time since the two teams were set to play each other last week. Now that the Cowboys-Seahawks matchup has taken place, perhaps the Seahawks will be more willing to consider the Cowboys’ offer, but Rapoport indicates (video link) that the Seahawks want two second round picks in exchange for Thomas, which seems like an especially lofty asking price.
Now for more from the NFC:
Sam Bradford is now the Cardinals‘ No. 3 quarterback, per Schefter, who says that going forward, rookie Josh Rosen will be the starter and will be backed up by Mike Glennon (Twitter link). That means that Bradford will generally be inactive on game days and will miss out on his active roster bonuses of $312,500 per game, a situation we explored in more detail last week.
Another tough blow for Rams outside linebacker Dominique Easley. Per the team’s official website, Easley, who has suffered three torn ACLs since 2011, may be heading for his fourth surgery in the last seven years. Head coach Sean McVay said that Easley, who converted to outside linebacker during training camp, is suffering complications from his previous injuries.
Prior to signing him a few days ago, the Panthers did not ask new safety Eric Reid about his anthem protests or his collusion case against the league, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. GM Marty Hurney said team ownership was not involved in the signing, and that it was a purely football move.
Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery will make his 2018 debut today, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (via Twitter). Rapoport (video link) reports that Jeffery’s status for this week was up in the air because of a virus that made him seriously ill, but that his shoulder is good to go.
As Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes, the Eagles have four prominent starters playing out the final year of their respective contracts: Jordan Hicks, Ronald Darby, Jay Ajayi, and Brandon Graham. Even if the Eagles wait until after the 2019 season to give quarterback Carson Wentz what will surely be a massive extension, Philadelphia has to plan for that contract now, which means the club will have some difficult decisions to make with respect to its impending free agents. McLane posits that Hicks is the most likely of the above-named players to be retained, and he examines the futures of all four players in detail.
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reports that Cowboys WR Terrance Williams will be inactive today, and that the recently re-signed Brice Butlerwill be leaned upon more heavily as a result (Twitter link). Williams, the most expensive receiver on Dallas’ roster, may be facing a suspension stemming from his May arrest and recently missed practice, though that absence was reportedly an excused one and was unrelated to the possible suspension. Williams, though, has just two catches for 18 yards this season, and the team wants to give someone else a shot.
Tyrone Crawford spent his 2017 season at defensive end, but the veteran Cowboys lineman’s been known to move around. The team is asking him to do so again. The Cowboys are shifting Crawford back to defensive tackle, a role he mostly played from 2014-15 before being largely stationed at end the past two seasons. Injuries to inside players, David Irving‘s suspension and the team having amassed more depth at end prompted the move, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes. Crawford’s working as a starter alongside nose tackle Antwaun Woods.
This move has opened the door for an interesting setup at end. Hill adds Randy Gregory is now working with the first team across from DeMarcus Lawrence. Recently fully reinstated, Gregory has never started an NFL game and has only played in two contests since the 2015 season. Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong are serving as Dallas’ backup ends presently, per Hill. While it’s not a lock Gregory will be a starter in Week 1, it could well be headed that way. Irving’s return from suspension would give the Cowboys the kind of depth they haven’t possessed up front in years.
Here’s the latest from Dallas, along with a couple of other NFC cities as these teams prepare for their dress-rehearsal preseason games.
The most likely scenario for Travis Frederick is a stay on injured reserve to start the season, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News writes. He would then be eligible to return for the final eight games of the season, in the event he’s able to do so. The Cowboys are not ready to concede that their All-Pro center will be IR-bound yet, and Moore adds they’re likely unwilling to face the reality Frederick likely won’t be at his best if/when he does return in 2018. Joe Looney is now Dallas’ starting center, and the Cowboys will need to determine soon if they are going to look for outside help at the position. There isn’t much center help of note available, however.
A defensive lineman throughout his career, Dominique Easley is now working as a standup outside linebacker for the Rams. Wade Phillips confirmed the move, one made shortly after the team activated the fifth-year defender off the PUP list Monday. This doesn’t look to be an experiment, either. “I think this gives him a little more freedom to utilize his abilities. We even played Mario Williams at outside ‘backer,” Phillips said, via Rams.com, of his former Houston pupil. “(Easley is) is a real strong player can play that position and, again, not have as much wear and tear.” Easley’s suffered three ACL tears, the most recent shelving him last season. The former first-round pick’s move to outside linebacker also adds a higher-profile player to a Rams position group that doesn’t feature many big names.
A.Q. Shipley‘s Cardinalsextension won’t include much new money. The veteran center can make $2MM in 2019, including incentives, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Shipley’s making $1.5MM in base salary this season. These figures are fairly modest for a player who’s started all 32 Cards games since the beginning of the 2016 season, but Shipley will be 33 next year and just tore an ACL.
Defensive tackle Dominique Easley passed his physical and has been removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, the Rams announced on Monday. It’s a tremendous development for Easley, who has suffered three torn ACLs since 2011 and has not seen the field since the 2016 season.
When healthy, Easley has been extremely effective. He earned positive marks from Pro Football Focus in both 2015 and 2016, and was expected to see an uptick in playing time last year. In 2016, his last NFL season, he played in all 16 games and recorded 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.
Dontari Poe, DT (Panthers): Three years, $28MM. $13.3MM guaranteed, $10MM signing bonus. Poe’s 2020 season doubles as an $8.5MM Panthers option (per veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer). $600K (2018), $900K (2019), $900K (2020) workout bonuses, with another $500K for four weigh-ins a year (via Balzer).
KirkCousins (Vikings): three years, $84MM. $6MM in incentives, including $500K for Super Bowl victory, $1MM for Super Bowl and top-five in points scored, $1.5MM for Super Bowl and top-three in points, $2MM for Super Bowl MVP and top-eight in points (via Albert Breer of The MMQB).
The Rams are re-signing defensive tackle Dominique Easley on a one-year deal, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Terms of the deal are not yet known.
Easley, 26, is a former first-round pick of the Patriots. So far, his career has not gone according to plan due to health issues. He has suffered three torn ACLs since 2011 and has not seen the field since the 2016 season.
The Rams are working on a deal to re-sign free agent defensive lineman Dominique Easley, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link).
Easley hasn’t generated any known interest since free agency opened last Wednesday, and that’s likely due to his health questions. Although he’s only 26 years old, Easley has suffered three torn ACLs since 2011, and he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with the same ailment.
When healthy, however, Easley has been extremely effective. He earned positive marks from Pro Football Focus in both 2015 and 2016, and had been expected to see an increase in playing time in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips‘ 3-4 scheme. A prototypical 3-4 defensive end, Easley has been able to generate pressure from the interior, and posted 5.5 sacks from 2015-16.
The Rams, for their part, have made a number of additions via both free agency and trade, but have yet to address their defensive line, perhaps in the hope that they could re-sign Easley. If he’s brought back, Easley — a first-round pick of the Patriots in the 2014 draft — would likely take over as Los Angeles’ starting defensive end opposite Aaron Donald.
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.
Easley was carted off the field during practice on Tuesday and a Wednesday morning MRI has confirmed the team’s worst fears. It’s an awful blow for Easley on a personal level as he had seasons cut short in both 2011 and 2013 after suffering torn ACLs. It’s typically challenging to come back from one ACL tear. Returning after three separate ACL tears will be a trying feat for the 25-year-old.
Waived after only two seasons with the Patriots, Easley found a home with the Rams last year. He turned in a strong 2016 as he recorded 3.5 sacks and finished out as the league’s No. 30 interior defender among 125 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus. This year, the Rams were planning to give him an increased workload. Now, they’ll have to look elsewhere for reinforcements on the defensive line.
Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley was carted off the field during practice today and likely suffered a “serious” knee injury, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). He’ll undergo an MRI tonight, tweets Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Despite being one of the more productive collegiate interior pass rushers in recent memory, Easley fell to the bottom of the first round 2014 due to a pair of knee injuries. The Florida product had seasons cut short in both 2011 and 2013 after suffering torn ACLs, so if that’s the diagnosis for Easley this time around, it would mark the third such injury for the 25-year-old.
Waived after only two seasons with the Patriots, Easley has found a home with the Rams. In 2016, Easley was exceptional, as he played 470 defensive snaps while posting 3.5 sacks and grading the league’s No. 30 interior defender among 125 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus. He had been expected to play starter’s snaps during the upcoming season, especially given that he already has experience in a 3-4 scheme, which new Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is installing.
A potential Easley loss is even more debilitating given standout defensive lineman Aaron Donald‘s holdout. Donald, who is seeking a new contract, isn’t attending training camp, and while he may yet report before the regular season gets underway, the Rams could now be without two of their top three interior players for the majority of the preseason.
Easley, who was tendered at the original round level as a restricted free agent, is scheduled to hit the open market in 2018. If he has torn an ACL yet again, Easley’s stock as a free agent will clearly be negatively affected next spring.