A five-year veteran, Ihenacho spent the previous three seasons as a member of one of the Giants’ NFC East rivals, the Redskins, with whom he appeared in 19 games and started 11. The majority of those appearances (15) and starts (10) came in 2016 for the 27-year-old Ihenacho, who amassed 60 tackles and ranked 78th in performance among Pro Football Focus’ 90 qualified safeties.
The Giants have one of the premier strong safeties in the NFL, Landon Collins, as well as a prospective starter at free safety in Darian Thompson. With Thompson on the shelf for the majority of 2016, his rookie year, on account of a Lisfranc injury, Andrew Adams started in 13 games and graded as PFF’s 39th-best safety. Now, he and Ihenacho figure to serve as the Giants’ top reserves at the back of their defense.
We heard earlier this month that the Buccaneers have “loose plans” for Doug Martin, which seemed to substantiate a prior report that the team was considering retaining their long-time running back. Martin, who will be suspended for the first three games of next season as part of a four-game ban he received in 2016 for violating the league’s PED policy, recently completed a voluntary rehab stint and met with head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht a week before the scouting combine. Koetter and Licht both had nice things to say about Martin, but they were still vague on his future with the club.
As Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times writes, there are a number of factors working against Martin’s return, including his injury history, the above-referenced suspension, and the fact that his salary is no longer guaranteed as a result of the suspension. Cummings believes the team would be wise to select a running back from the deep class of RBs in the 2017 draft, and if the Bucs land one of this year’s top prospects, that might spell the end of Martin’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
Now for more from the NFC. We took a swing around the AFC earlier today:
Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders says that the Buccaneers‘ recent signing of Nick Folk suggests that the team is prepared to move on from Roberto Aguayo, though Tampa Bay could carry two kickers next season if need be and have Aguayo serve as a kickoff specialist if he cannot beat out Folk for full-time duties. Folk recorded just 39 touchbacks in 2016, the third-worst mark in the league, though he and Aguayo averaged the same distance average on kickoffs.
The Saints need to bolster their pass rush in 2017, and after signing Alex Okafor earlier this week, they are now meeting with one of the better pass-rushing prospects in this year’s draft class. As Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune writes, the club is meeting with Kansas State DE Jordan Willis today. Willis is considered a second- or third-round prospect, and New Orleans has been monitoring him in recent months.
Free agent safety Duke Ihenacho will apparently not return to the Redskins in 2017. As Peter Hailey of CSNMidAtlantic.com writes, Ihenacho fired off several cryptic tweets over the past couple of days indicating that his time with Washington is over. Given that the Redskins recently acquired D.J. Swearinger and plan to move Su’a Cravens back to safety, Ihenacho’s departure makes sense.
The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.
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 2017:
The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.
Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).
Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.
The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.
While players at other defensive positions have flown off the board, there’s been almost no movement among off-ball linebackers. Only five of PFR’s original top-15 free agent linebackers have signed new contracts, a group that includes Dont’a Hightower, our previous No. 1 ‘backer who re-signed with the Patriots today. Zach Brown, who now holds that honor, broke out in his fifth NFL campaign and played especially well in coverage, a skill that should lead to a handsome reward. Brown, 27, met with the Raiders today, while the Dolphins also hope to schedule a visit.
The Bengals, specifically, are in the linebackermarket, as they’ve met with both Kevin Minter and Keenan Robinson in recent days. But the rest of the players on this list aren’t drawing much interest as of yet, a fact that speaks to the devaluation of the linebacker position. Teams will pay up for a three-down linebacker like Hightower, but if a player can be formation-ed off the field, he’s not going to land a hefty deal.
One linebacker who did prove he could stay on the field on third down was Perry Riley, who played 370 coverage snaps for the Raiders last season. Riley is still only 28 years old, but posted awful marks from Pro Football Focus during his previous campaigns with Washington. Whether it was Oakland’s scheme (including its talented pass rushers) that allowed Riley to flourish, or a true breakout coming in the middle of a career, Riley could help a number of clubs. The Raiders are reportedly working to bring him back.
The top two corners still on the open market are both former Cowboys, and Brandon Carr looks like the surer bet to return to Dallas at this point. Morris Claiborne, meanwhile, has drawn interest from the Ravens, and most opposing clubs believe he’ll end up signing with Baltimore. Clairborne, 27, appeared to be a prime overpay candidate heading into the offseason, but if the Ravens can land him on a short-term deal, they’d be making a wise investment.
Now that all charges have been dropped against Darrelle Revis, he’ll make for an interesting test case in free agency. Clearly, Revis is not the shutdown corner he once was, and may even be mulling a move to safety as he closes his career. But clubs in the market for secondary help could do worse than Revis, and he should be on a roster when the regular season rolls around.
Most of the safeties on this list are in-the-box types — that’s thanks to the fact that center field-esque safeties are more rare and thus more expensive. Recently-released veterans such as Jairus Byrd, Lardarius Webb, and Corey Graham, however, offer coverage ability and would make for decent signings on short pacts. T.J. McDonald and Bradley McDougald, on other hand, are big hitters that will patrol near the line of scrimmage. McDougald, specifically, will take a visit with the Seahawks this week.
Chris Prosinski is just a special teamer, but he’s a great special teamer. While he only played 173 defensive snaps in 2016, he saw time on more than 80% of the Bears’ special teams plays, and was listed as one of the season’s best special teams players by Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders ranked the Cardinals, Jets, and Texans as the bottom-three teams in special teams DVOA, and any of those clubs would benefit from adding Prosinski.
Demand is not high for placekickers at the moment, as only the Giants and Bengals stand out as clubs that immediately need a kicker. Injuries and ineffectiveness are sure to strike the position, however, at which point the specialists on this list will surely receive calls. Dan Carpenter and Mike Nugent missed a combined 11 extra points in 2016, and given that he topped both Carpenter and Nugent in field goal percentage, Nick Folk should be the first kicker on clubs’ emergency list.
7:44am: Washington and quarterback Colt McCoy have agreed on a new deal, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). McCoy, of course, will serve as the backup to Kirk Cousins in 2016. McCoy’s deal is for three years, but can void to two, a source tells John Keim of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The new pact gives him a little more security than he had on his last deal.
In other Washington news, the club has reached a new deal with nose tackle Kedric Golston, Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle tweets. The deal will be worth $1MM with a $985K base. He’ll get a $20K irst game roster bonus with up to $60K in incentives that are tied to playing time.
When teams assign first- or second-round tenders to their restricted free agents, or when those RFAs accept the tender, we’ll devote full news stories to those moves. For news concerning everyone else getting the lower tenders, we’ll round it up in the space below, with the latest updates added to the top of the list throughout the day….
Fullback James Develin announced that he is returning to the Patriots on a one-year deal, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com tweets. The Patriots did not plan to tender Develin an offer at $1.6MM, so the two sides worked out a reduced one-year pact (link).
Defensive tackle Stefan Charles will not be tendered an offer by the Bills, per John Kryk of The Toronto Sun (on Twitter). Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, wide receiver Chris Hogan, and tackle Jordan Mills were tendered offers, however. There could be some teams interested in Hogan, Tyler Dunne of The Buffalo News tweets, and that low tender might not ward of interested clubs.
Washington has tendered a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Duke Ihenacho, a source tells John Keim of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
Fullback Jorvorskie Lane will not be getting a tender from the Buccaneers, Greg Auman of The Tampa Bay Times tweets.
The Panthers will not tender defensive end Frank Alexander an offer or re-sign him, a source tells Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (on Twitter). Alexander must sit out until November thanks to his third drug suspension.