September 24th, 2018 at 10:53am CST by Zachary Links
Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes is out for the season, coach Adam Gase told reporters on Monday morning. Hayes suffered a torn ACL while sacking Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
“He was trying to not put his body weight on the quarterback and that happened,” Gase said.
Hayes was traded to Miami in the 2017 offseason following five years with the Rams organization. The 33-year-old proceeded to play in ten games for the Dolphins, compiling 19 tackles and a single sack. This was a far cry from his performance with the Rams, as Hayes collected at least four sacks each season between 2012 and 2016. Despite the underwhelming numbers, Pro Football Focus was fond of his performance in 2017.
This year, Hayes was off to a productive start with two sacks through three games in a part-time role. Unfortunately, he’ll be shelved for the rest of the year before hitting free agency in March.
WilliamHayes is headed back to Miami. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports (via Twitter) that the defensive end is signing a one-year deal with the Dolphins.
The veteran lineman was traded to Miami last offseason following five seasons with the Rams organization. The 32-year-old proceeded to play in 10 games for the Dolphins, compiling 19 tackles and a single sack. This was a far cry from his performance with the Rams, as Hayes collected at least four sacks each season between 2012 and 2016.
Despite the underwhelming numbers, Pro Football Focus was fond of his performance in 2017. Hayes played only 271 snaps, so he wasn’t eligible for the site’s ranking. However, his grade would have earned him a spot among the top-20 edge defenders. The site had also ranked Hayes favorably in each of the five previous seasons. The veteran was ranked second among edge defenders in our free agent positional rankings.
With the lineman back in the picture, the Dolphins seem to be set at defensive end. Hayes will likely compete with AndreBranch for snaps behind RobertQuinn and CameronWake.
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.
November 27th, 2017 at 12:09pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Dolphins defensive end William Hayes will miss the remainder of the 2017 campaign after suffering a hamstring injury, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who adds Hayes will likely undergo surgery.
Miami acquired Hayes on the cheap this spring, picking up the veteran lineman from the Rams in exchange for moving down from pick No. 206 to No. 223. The results have been excellent, as while Hayes has posted only one sack while playing 43% of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps, he’s been outstanding against the run. All told, the 32-year-old Hayes ranks as the NFL’s No. 15 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus.
Hayes’ absence will certainly be felt, but Miami does have other options available to step in at defensive end. Rookie first-round pick Charles Harris, notably, could see his playtime percentage increase down the stretch of what has become a lost Dolphins season, while Terrence Fede might also get more snaps.
The Dolphins reworked Hayes’ contract after acquiring him earlier this year, deleting his 2018 season in exchange for a pay reduction in 2017. While the concession will allow Hayes to hit the open market next spring, he’ll now be doing so entering his age-33 campaign and coming off a season-ending injury.
The Dolphins have “deleted” the 2018 season in newly-acquired defensive end William Hayes‘ contract, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. He is now scheduled to become a free agent next offseason. In exchange for this concession, Hayes has agreed to trim $750K from his 2017 salary (via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald).
Late last week, the Dolphins acquired Hayes in a trade with the Rams which saw Miami give up a sixth-round pick and get back a seventh-round selection. It was a great trade for the Dolphins as they got a quality player in exchange for moving down 17 spots late in the draft.
Hayes signed a three year, $17.5MM contract with the Rams last offseason which called for him to carry a $5.5MM cap number in 2017 and a $5MM number in 2018. Given the way pass rushers have been getting paid as of late, Hayes could stand to profit from the alteration this time next year.
Hayes, 32 this spring, appeared in 14 games (all starts) for the Rams last season and racked up five sacks and 43 total tackles. Since joining the Rams in 2012, he has never had less than four sacks per season and has averaged five sacks per campaign. Last year, he was Pro Football Focus’ No. 17 edge defender in the NFL, thanks largely to his favorable run defense grade. He was ranked higher than a lot of big names, including Nick Perry, Bruce Irvin, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tamba Hali.
Trades, apparently, are all the rage in the NFL now. Early Friday morning, the Rams and Dolphins agreed on a trade that will send defensive end William Hayes and a seventh-round pick (No. 223 overall) to Miami. In exchange, the Dolphins will send back their sixth-round selection (No. 206).
“Will has been an integral member of our defense since he became a Ram in 2012,” said Rams GM Les Snead in a statement. “His passion set the tone for our defense and served as an example for his teammates. Off the field, he showed compassion as he was a major contributor to the St. Louis and Los Angeles communities, working to improve the plight of the homeless. We wish Will and his family the best of luck in all of his future endeavors.”
The move clears a bit of room for the Rams but it’s likely that this was driven by football reasons. Hayes’ three year, $17.5MM contract signed last year is looking extremely reasonable as lesser pass rushers get showered with money this offseason. Ultimately, the team probably felt that Hayes wasn’t a good fit as they transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips.
Hayes’ deal called for him collect on a $2MM roster bonus on Saturday while $1MM of his $3.5MM base salary also becomes guaranteed, Tom Pelissero of USA Today tweets. The Dolphins are happy to pay out that salary as they add a tremendous defensive end to back up starters Cameron Wake and Andre Branch. The Dolphins run a 4-3 scheme and Hayes should thrive under new DC Matt Burke.
Hayes, 32 this spring, appeared in 14 games (all starts) for the Rams last season and racked up five sacks and 43 total tackles. Since joining the Rams in 2012, he has never had less than four sacks per season and has averaged five sacks per campaign. Pro Football Focus has always been fond of his work in St. Louis/Los Angeles and last year he received a 83.4 overall score. That placed him as the No. 17 edge defender in the NFL (thanks largely to his favorable run defense grade) and put him ahead of big names like Nick Perry (who just signed a monster deal with the Packers), Bruce Irvin, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tamba Hali.
Tyvon Branch, S (Cardinals): Two years, $8MM. $1MM signing bonus. $1.75MM roster bonus in 2016, $1MM roster bonus in 2017 (Twitter link).
Tim Barnes, C (Rams): Two years, $5.6MM. $2.5MM guaranteed. $1.25MM roster bonus due in four days. $750K roster bonus due on third day of 2017 league year guaranteed for injury, skill; becomes fully guaranteed if on roster June 17. Up to $1MM in annual playing-time incentives. $250K annual Pro Bowl incentive (allTwitterlinks).
Brian Quick, WR (Rams): One year, $1.75MM. $1.5MM guaranteed ($1.25MM bas salary, $250K roster bonus due on March 15). $2MM stats incentive (Twitter link).
The Rams have agreed to re-sign William Hayes, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It’s a three-year deal, per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The deal will pay him a max of $21MM over that three year stretch, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (on Twitter).
A few teams were in on Hayes before he re-upped with Los Angeles, including the Dolphins, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweets. Having played alongside guys like Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn on the Rams’ defensive line, Hayes was somewhat overlooked in recent seasons, but he garnered some attention for himself in his contract year. The veteran end, who turns 31 this May, has picked up between four and seven sacks in each of his four years with the Rams. Multiple teams in need of pass-rushing help were in on the bidding for Hayes, but he ultimately decided to join the Rams for their 2016 season in L.A.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has a decent chance of returning to the Browns, Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer tweets. Schwartz’s deal could fall in the neighborhood of $7.5MM, she adds. Meanwhile, Michael Silver of NFL.com (on Twitter) hears that Schwartz likely won’t return to the Browns.
While we wait to see how Schwartz’s free agency plays out, check out this roundup of the latest free agent rumors:
There’s not much momentum between the Steelers and Brandon Boykin, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Falcons, however, are among the teams with interest in the cornerback.
Defensive end Chris Clemons is on his way to visit the Seahawks, Albert Breer of NFL.com tweets. If things go well, he could sign and make his return to Seattle.
Defensive end William Hayes is in play for the Dolphins, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tweets. Hayes, along with new acquisition Mario Williams, would boost the defensive line if Olivier Vernon leaves in free agency as expected.
Chiefs free agent wide receiver Jason Avant says that he isn’t done yet and wants to continue his career, as Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star writes. Avant caught 15 passes for 119 yards during the regular season. In the Chiefs’ 27-20 AFC divisional-round loss to the Patriots, Avant caught four passes for 69 yards.
Left tackle Donald Penn has talked with the Seahawks, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times tweets.
The Cowboys and Seahawks are among the teams interested in defensive lineman Cedric Thornton, Rand Getlin of NFL.com tweets.
Mike Harris is now considering a one-year deal with the Vikings, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press tweets. Harris could battle with Brandon Fusco at right guard, Tomasson adds.