Wright was a standout at the University of Arizona. As a sophomore for the Wildcats, Wright was an absolute monster as he tallied 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Unfortunately, he was slowed by injuries in 2015 and he wound up as a seventh-round pick of the Browns. The Cardinals were happy to scoop him up in December, but he has been pushed out in favor of veteran Josh Bynes and others.
Also of note – fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson has been cut. Johnson struggled in camp and the Cardinals were not willing to use a roster spot on him. I would speculate that he could be a taxi squad candidate.
More than two months following his ankle surgery, the Cardinals have placed linebacker Deone Bucannonon the physically unable to perform list, according to AZCardinals.com’s Darren Urban (via Twitter). The team has also placed linebacker Jarvis Jones on the active non-football-injury list.
The Bucannon news isn’t particularly surprising, although the team was reportedly hoping that the linebacker would avoid the PUP and be healthy by early September.
“Deone is close,” coach Bruce Arians told AZCardinals.com. “He’s getting there. I think he’s a little bit ahead of schedule. We have our fingers crossed. The first game is his due date, so to speak. Hopefully we’ll have him ready to play.”
“I want to start the season,” Bucannon added. “I’m not here to rush anything and I’m not going to put a timetable on it, but at the same time, I want to get out there as quickly as I possibly can. But get out there at 100 percent so I can do the best for the team and not be a liability.”
Following two years at strong safety, the versatile defender spent most of his time at linebacker last season, compiling 89 tackles and one fumble recovery in 13 games. Following his solid campaign, the organization picked up the former first rounder’s fifth-year option, keeping him in Arizona through the 2018 season.
Meanwhile, Jones joined the organization on a one-year deal earlier this offseason. After having lost both Alex Okafor and Calais Campbellthis offseason, Jones was supposed to provide some depth, especially at pass rusher. Of course, the 2013 first-round pick only has six sacks through four NFL seasons, but he did set several career-highs in 2016, including tackles (43) and forced fumbles (two).
We learned earlier this week that Latavius Murray‘s new contract with the Vikings could be voided after one season, making the running back a free agent again in 2018. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that the player essentially has another team option for the third season of the contract. Therefore, Murray’s spot on the Vikings roster will presumably be reevaluated every offseason.
Nose tackle Sylvester Williams‘ deal with the Titans is worth $17.5MM over three years, reports ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky. The deal includes a $3MM signing bonus. In 2017, Williams is due a $2MM base salary and a $2MM roster bonus (which was paid last Monday), and his base salaries will eventually increase to $5MM (2018) and $5.5MM (2019). $2.5MM of his 2018 is now guaranteed for injury.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones‘ one-year contract with the Cardinals includes a $1MM base salary, reports Mike Jurecki of FoxSports910 in Arizona (via Twitter). The former first-rounder, who finished last season with a career-high 42 tackles, can earn additional money via incentives.
Now that free agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe has concluded his visits with the Dolphins, he’ll head home to consider offers, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Poe has met with the Colts, Falcons, and Jaguars in addition to Miami, and will presumably sign with one of the clubs. Poe is PFR’s No. 2 free agent interior defender on the market, just behind Johnathan Hankins.
Here’s more from the free agent period:
Although Adrian Petersonvisited the Seahawks earlier this week, he never entered into negotiations with the club, reports Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Seattle was eyeing a younger back, and it found one in former Packer Eddie Lacy, whom the team signed to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Through six days of free agency, the key story around Peterson has been the number of clubs who aren’t interested in the ex-Vikings RB, who turns 32 next week. The Texans, Patriots, Raiders have all indicated they they’re not in contact with future Hall of Famer.
The Seahawks may have not been all that interested in Peterson, but the club might have a different opinion on free agent linebacker Michael Wilhoite, whom they will host on a visit, tweets NFL reporter Howard Balzer. Wilhoite, 30, was a full-time starter for the 49ers from 2014-15, but only started six games last year (despite appearing in all 16 contests). In that time, Wilhoite put up 46 tackles, a half-sack, and a forced fumble.
Tight end Chris Gragg visited the Jaguars but did not agree to a contract, as Gragg himself announced (Twitter link). Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone was in Buffalo when Gragg was made a seventh-round pick in 2013, so he should have some level of familiarity with the 26-year-old. Gragg missed the entire 2016 campaign with a torn ACL.
The Cardinals have signed linebackerJarvis Jonesto a one-year deal, the club announced today. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported earlier today (Twitter link) that Jones was expected to sign with Arizona.
Jones joins the Cardinals hours after the team lost outside linebacker Alex Okafor to the Saints. Having already seen veteran defender Calais Campbell sign with the Jaguars, Arizona is now seeking to rebuild an edge rush that ranked third in adjusted sack rate in 2016. Chandler Jones (no relation to Jarvis) has already been extended on a hefty contract, and now Jarvis Jones will add another element to the pass rush.
Selected 13th overall in 2013, Jones has only posted six sacks in four NFL seasons. He recorded a career-high 43 tackles in 2016, however, and started nine games for the Steelers, playing on slightly less than half of the club’s defensive snaps. While he’s not a pure pass rusher, Jones is still a solid run defender, and graded as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 49 edge player last year in large part due to his stoutness against opposing rushing attacks.
T.J. Lang saw the Lions change his mind at the last minute and possibly changing the fortunes of the team that beat Detroit in the wild-card round. The ninth-year guard was “99 percent” sure he was going to sign with the Seahawks after the sides’ Saturday summit. But the Lions improved their offer and ended up signing the Michigan native to a three-year, $28.5MM deal.
“I didn’t know Detroit was coming back with a counter-offer,” Lang said in an interview with 97.1-FM (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press). “When I left Seattle I was about 99 percent sure I was flying back there to sign a contract and Detroit stepped up and things changed pretty quick.”
Lang’s former team did not offer him as much as the Lions did. The Packers proposed a three-year deal worth $21.5MM. While the Lions pact includes $19MM in guarantees, the Packers’ offer housed just $6.5MM guaranteed. Opining on the Packers’ usual free agency-phobic tendencies, Lang said Green Bay’s offer made this decision easier.
“I think just throughout the years they were able to get some guys back in town because they used the whole, we’re good, we’re competitive, we compete for championships every year. Do you want to play with the best quarterback in the NFL-type thing, you’re going to have to take a little less money, and I think it just kind of wore some guys out the last couple years and watching guys leave,” Lang said during the radio interview.
UFA tackle Byron Bell visited the 49ers this weekend, ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets. He did not play during the 2016 after dislocating his ankle on the first day of Titans OTAs last summer. Bell proved versatile for the 2015 Titans, however, starting 16 games but at three different spots — eight at right tackle, seven at left guard and one at left tackle. The 28-year-old Bell has been a career-long starter, serving as the Panthers’ primary left tackle from 2011-14.
Kyle Juszczyk received an even better offer than the fullback-record deal (four years, $21MM) he signed with the 49ers, Peter King of TheMMQB.com reports. The fifth-year fullback’s agent told King one team would have paid Juszczyk more than what the 49ers offered. The Bills, Browns, Eagles and Jets were also in on this competition.
The Seahawks‘ Jared Cook visit will create questions regarding Jimmy Graham‘s long-term spot with the team, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes. Graham is already 30, having turned 25 during his rookie year. However, Cook is less than six months younger. Graham will be a UFA in 2018, and the Seahawks have potential third contracts for Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor to consider. Both have observed other safeties surpass their second Seattle contracts in terms of value in recent years. Pete Carroll said at the Combine there is no reason to doubt Graham’s status on the 2017 Seahawks. He will count $10MM against Seattle’s cap this year.
After meeting with the Cardinals today, UFA linebacker Jarvis Jones will pay a visit to Los Angeles to meet with the Rams, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports (on Twitter).
The Rams are “very intrigued” by the fifth-year pass-rusher, La Canfora notes. Jones played for four seasons in the Steelers’ 3-4 and would be an obvious fit for a Rams team transitioning to such an alignment under new DC Wade Phillips.
Jones was believed to have a healthy market at free agency’s outset but is now one of the notable edge defenders unsigned as the player-movement period ventures to second-wave performers. A former first-round pick, Jones did not live up to his draft status, and Pittsburgh didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. But the Rams don’t possess a ton of depth behind now-outside linebacker Robert Quinn at that position. The team brought the now-retiredDeMarcus Ware in for a visit recently.
The former Georgia edge player registered just six sacks in four seasons. He made a career-high 43 tackles in 2016, starting nine games for a Steelers team loaded with former first-round linebackers. Two of those players could be gone, with Jones trekking to NFC West locales and Lawrence Timmons signing with the Dolphins.
Steelers free agent linebacker Jarvis Jones is visiting today with the Cardinals, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The Steelers remain interested, however, and the two sides are still in discussions. We had Jones ranked as one of the fifteen best edge defenders heading into the opening of free agency last week. The former first-round pick hasn’t justified his high selection in the draft, but he has been pretty solid against the run.
The Bills are holding free agent visits with former Green Bay linebacker Jayrone Elliott and former Bolts wide receiver Jeremy Butler, according to a team announcement. Both players were non-tendered by their respective former clubs. Butler appeared in four games last season and caught two passes for eleven yards. In eleven games with Green Bay last year, Elliott had one sack and 12 total tackles.
The Broncos have interest in Saints free agent defensive end Kasim Edebali, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. Edebali could provide depth and special teams experience for Denver. He was non-tendered by New Orleans last week.
Cardinals free agent outside linebacker Alex Okafor is visiting the Saints today, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Okafor played through a painful torn bicep injury last season.
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.
“Would you like to have him stay? Absolutely,” general manager Kevin Colbert said in regards to Timmons last month. “Does it all fit? We can make it work, but at what cost? He’s never been a free agent. I’d like to see him finish his career here and he would too.”
Although Jarvis Jones has disappointed since going in the first round of the 2013 draft, having totaled only six sacks in 50 appearances, he’s likely to encounter a favorable market, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).
As is the case with Timmons, Colbert has indicated he’d like to have Landry Jones stick around, though it might behoove the four-year veteran to look for a clearer path to playing time someplace else. Jones appeared in a combined 15 games the past two seasons, but barring retirement, Ben Roethlisberger is entrenched as the Steelers’ starting signal-caller.
As for Bell, the Steelers aren’t in any rush to start talks on a long-term deal with the franchise-tagged running back, per Dulac. That runs contrary to a Thursday report from NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, who relayed that the two sides are “heavy into negotiations.” The Steelers have until July 15 to lock up Bell.