Patrick Murray

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

Buccaneers To Sign Kicker Patrick Murray

The Buccaneers are changing kickers again, as Tampa Bay is currently working out a deal with free agent Patrick Murray, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link).Patrick Murray (vertical)

Tampa Bay is unsurprisingly auditioned kickers following incumbent Nick Folk‘s dreadful performance against the Patriots on Thursday night. Folk missed three field goals in a game the Buccaneers ultimately lost by five points, so Tampa Bay took a look at Andrew FranksJosh LamboMike Nugent, Marshall Koehn, and Cairo Santos on Monday.

The Buccaneers, of course, are no strangers to problems at placekicker. Folk was initially signed to replace Roberto Aguayo, whom general manager Jason Licht & Co. drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft after a trade up. Aguayo struggled through his rookie campaign and the 2017 season before being waived, but Tampa Bay is now making a special teams transition once again.

Murray, 26, will now begin his second stint with the Buccaneers, as he was the club’s kicker during the 2014 campaign. The Fordham product didn’t appear in the NFL in 2015, and managed only two games in Cleveland last season before suffering an injury. For his career, Murray holds an 80.8% field goal conversion rate, and he’s missed only one extra point attempt.

Folk, meanwhile, will be placed on injured reserve with a “minor” designation, per Adam Schefter of (Twitter link). That means Tampa Bay will be forced to release Folk once he’s deemed fully healthy. When that happens, the Buccaneers will eat the rest of Folk’s 2017 salary.

Buccaneers Working Out DL Lamarr Houston

The Buccaneers are working out free agent defensive end Lamarr Houston, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link). Tampa Bay has also added two kickers to its audition list in the forms of Patrick Murray and Marshall Koehn, reports Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.Lamarr Houston (Vertical)

Houston, 30, was never able to stay fully healthy after inking a five-year, $35MM contract with Chicago prior to the 2014 campaign. In three seasons with the Bears, the 30-year-old Houston appeared in just 26 of a possible 48 games and made only 10 starts. He managed nine total sacks in Chicago, but eight of those came in 2015, his only healthy year with the Bears.

Chicago placed Houston on injured reserve (and subsequently released him) earlier this year, but the veteran pass rusher reportedly doesn’t have any structural knee dame. The Buccaneers likely want to confirm that, and see if the seven-year pro could help improve a defensive line which will be without reserve Ryan Russell for the next several weeks. Since parting ways with the Bears, Houston has worked out for the Saints and Patriots.

Murray and Koehn, meanwhile, will join a tryout group of kickers that also includes Mike Nugent, Josh Lambo, and Andrew Franks (Cairo Santos will also be in town for a physical). Incumbent Nick Folk missed three field goals last Thursday night, and has failed to convert five total attempts on the season.

Jaguars To Work Out K Dan Carpenter

The Jaguars are bringing in free agent kicker Dan Carpenter to work out and potentially compete with incumbent Jason Myers, a source tells Ian Rapoport of (on Twitter). Free agent kicker Patrick Murray, most recently of the Saints, is also working out for Jacksonville."<strong

[RELATED: Jaguars Unhappy With Blake Bortles; Open Up QB Competition]

Carpenter served as Buffalo’s kicker from 2013-16, but the Bills let him go in March rather than carry him at a $2.937MM cap number for 2017. In his first year with Buffalo, he nailed 92% of his field goal attempts. However, his numbers have been slipping in recent years. In 2015, he missed six of the recently-elongated extra points and bricked five more in 2016. Last year, Carpenter made only 76% of his field goal tries.

Over the last two years, Myers has made 82.8% of field goal attempts and 85.9% of his extra point tries. The Jaguars aren’t completely satisfied with the way he’s looked this summer, so they’ll evaluate Carpenter and potentially open up a kicking competition.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/13/17

Today’s minor moves:

Chicago Bears

Green Bay Packers

  • Claimed off waivers: DL Shaneil Jenkins
  • Waived/injured: TE Beau Sandland

Houston Texans

Los Angeles Chargers

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

  • Waived: OL Richard Levy

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Redskins

Saints Sign K Patrick Murray

The Saints have signed kicker Patrick Murray, per Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link). Rapoport says Murray will compete with incumbent Wil Lutz, but Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune tweets that Lutz has looked great in camp, so New Orleans may have signed Murray simply to allow Lutz to save his leg. Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate, meanwhile, says there is a kicking competition, though he still thinks Lutz is pretty safe (Twitter links).

Patrick Murray (vertical)

Regardless, Murray is more accomplished than a camp fodder kicker that is often brought in just to spell the presumptive starter before the regular season begins. In 2014, Murray was the Buccaneers’ kicker and converted 20 of 24 field goals. He spent all of 2015 on IR before winning the Browns’ kicking competition last summer. Unfortunately, he played in only two games for Cleveland before landing on IR for the second consecutive year. He made one of his two field goal attempts and three of his four extra point opportunities.

Lutz originally signed with the Ravens as a UDFA last year, but he never had a chance to beat out Justin Tucker and was cut in late August. He caught on with the Saints a week later and spent the entire year as the club’s kicker, connecting on 28 of 34 field goal attempts and 49 of 50 extra points. He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 6 and Week 8.

Saints Working Out LB Mike Morgan, DT Tony McDaniel

The Saints are are auditioning linebacker Mike Morgan and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel during their minicamp, according to Herbie Teope of and Joel Erickson of the Advocate (Twitter link).Mike Morgan

Morgan, 29, was nominally the Seahawks’ starting strongside linebacker in 2016, but because Seattle spent so much time in nickel, Morgan’s defensive snaps were limited. Morgan’s contributions were further restricted by injury last year, as he spent eight weeks on injured reserve while dealing with a sports hernia. All told, Morgan played only 138 defensive snaps and posted just 10 tackles. His only other known interest this offseason came from the Jaguars, for whom he auditioned last month.

New Orleans has already augmented its linebacking corps this offseason, as the club signed free agents Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein while using a third-round pick on Florida’s Alex Anzalone. Those three ‘backers will add to an already crowded unit that also includes Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony, and Nathan Stupar.

Like Morgan, McDaniel also spent the 2016 campaign with Seattle, and has in fact played for the Seahawks in three of the past four years. The 32-year-old McDaniel played on 45% of Seattle’s defensive snaps a season ago, racking up 43 tackles and grading as the league’s No. 52 interior defender in the process, per Pro Football Focus. McDaniel could have a path to playing time in New Orleans alongside Sheldon Rankins, especially if Nick Fairley‘s heart condition restricts his ability.

Other notable players working out for the Saints this week include offensive lineman Chris Watt, kicker Patrick Murray, and long snapper Thomas Gafford, per Teope.

Browns Sign Cody Parkey

The Browns have found a kicker to replace the injured Patrick Murray. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter), the team has signed former Pro Bowler Cody Parkey. The reporter notes that the team also placed Murray on the injured reserve, Cody Parkeypresumably ending his season.

There were whispers yesterday that the Browns were likely to sign Parkey after Murray went down with an injury during practice. The 24-year-old made a Pro Bowl as rookie in 2014, but a groin injury soon derailed his career with the Eagles. The kicker was released by Philadelphia back in early September after he lost his job to Caleb Sturgis. In 19 career games, Parkey has converted 87.5-percent of his field goals and all of his extra point attempts.

Murray, meanwhile, was playing his first season with the Browns following two years in Tampa Bay. In 16 games for the Buccaneers, the 25-year-old converted 83.3-percent of his kicks. In two games with the Browns this season, Murray made one of his two field goal attempts and three of his four extra point opportunities.

Browns Cut Paul Kruger, Others

The Browns have released linebacker Paul Kruger, as Mary Kay Cabot of writes. Also in this wave of cuts were kicker Travis Coons, quarterback Austin Davis and tight end E.J. BibbsPaul Kruger (vertical)

Kruger recorded 11.0 sacks in 2014, but last season he saw his sack count drop to 2.5. Over the summer, Kruger didn’t perform as well as the team had hoped and today he became a roster casualty as the club focuses more on its young players. According to Cabot, Friday night’s preseason game against the Bucs was Kruger’s last chance to make a strong impression on the team but he failed to do that as he didn’t get close to sacking starter Jameis Winston.

Kruger came to the Browns in 2013 when he inked a five-year free agent deal worth $40.5MM, including $13MM guaranteed. He was under contract through next season at $6.5MM this year and $7MM next year. Now, the Browns will save millions by cutting him loose.

Meanwhile, the release of Coons means that former Bucs kicker Patrick Murray has won the Browns’ kicking job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.