Preston Brown

Contract Details: Amos, Patterson, Carpenter, Brown

Let’s take a look at the details of a few freshly-signed contracts:

Bengals To Bring Back LB Preston Brown

Despite Preston Brown‘s initial Bengals season ending prematurely, the veteran middle linebacker will stay in Cincinnati.

Brown and the Bengals agreed to terms on another contract Tuesday, Diana Russini of ESPN.com tweets. Brown joined the Bengals on a one-year, $4MM pact last offseason, though he had hoped for a multi-year deal from his original club, the Bills. Buffalo drafted him in the third round of the 2014 draft, and he had a strong season in 2017, leading the league in tackles while playing the third-most defensive snaps (1,180) of any linebacker in the NFL.

But he did not have much success on the open market in 2018, and he chose to join his hometown Bengals on a modest deal. Prior to signing with Cincinnati, he had never missed a game due to injury, and he started 62 of a possible 64 games during his tenure with the Bills.

However, he was limited by injury in 2018, and he was placed on IR in November. Brown is currently penciled in as the Bengals’ middle linebacker, though as Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com writes, his signing does not preclude the team from trying to upgrade the position.

Rory Parks contributed to this post.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bengals Place Preston Brown On IR

The Bengals placed linebacker Preston Brown on injured reserve, per a team announcement. To fill his spot, the club signed defensive end Kasim Edebali

Brown missed the club’s Week 11 game against the Ravens with a leg injury and it turned out to be a season-ender. The 26-year-old will finish out the year with 42 tackles, two sacks, and four passes defensed in seven starts.

Brown led the league in tackles in 2017 while playing the third-most defensive snaps (1,180) of any linebacker in the NFL. Despite his success with the Bills and a near-perfect attendance record, he wound up settling for a one-year free agent deal with the Bengals in March. Brown was hoping to use that deal as a platform to a big payday in the 2019 offseason, but he’s back to square one after an underwhelming year in Cincinnati.

Edebali, a fifth-year pro, spent the first three seasons of his career with the Saints, before bouncing around between the Broncos, Lions, Rams, and the Saints once again in 2017. He has 61 career games and eight sacks to his credit.

The Bengals’ defense has not lived up to expectations this year and ranks just 27th in defensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Brown wasn’t setting the world on fire before his injury, but losing him surely will not help matters.

The 5-5 Bengals will face the Browns without Brown on Sunday afternoon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tyler Kroft Has Broken Bone In Foot; Latest On Preston Brown

The news keeps getting worse for the Bengals and their tight ends. After losing Tyler Eifert for the season due to a broken ankle, Cincinnati will be without Tyler Kroft for at least the next several weeks, if not the entire season, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

Kroft left the team’s Week 5 win over the Dolphins with a right foot injury, and as it turns out, he has a broken bone in his foot. Schefter reports that Kroft will meet with a specialist within the next several weeks to determine whether he can play through the injury or if he will need season-ending surgery.

It’s a tough blow for Kroft, who emerged during Eifert’s absence last season to post 42 catches for 404 yards and seven scores. That performance even had Kroft, who is in the last year of his rookie contract, thinking about a lucrative multi-year extension, which is probably not in the cards at this point. Before his injury, Kroft had managed just four catches for 36 yards in 2018, and he was being considerably out-snapped by C.J. Uzomah (who, like Kroft, was a 2015 draft choice). It appears that Uzomah will remain Andy Dalton‘s top tight end for the rest of the season, even if Kroft is able to come back, though Cincinnati added some depth to the position earlier this week by plucking Matt Lengel off the Texans’ practice squad.

Meanwhile, Bengals linebacker Preston Brown is dealing with a painful injury of his own. An ankle injury forced him to miss two games earlier this year — the first games he ever missed during his five-year career — and he re-aggravated that injury during last week’s Dolphins game. Paul Dehner Jr. and Fletcher Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer report that Brown will not be completely healed for some time, but he will attempt to battle through the next three games before the team’s Week 9 bye, which he is very much looking forward to.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Contract Details: Crabtree, Williamson

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Bengals Sign LB Preston Brown

The Bengals have signed linebacker Preston Brown, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a one-year deal for the Cincinnati native. 

Brown was hoping to re-sign with the Bills on a multi-year deal, Jim Owczarski of the Enquirer writes, but that never materialized. Earlier this month, we heard that the Patriots had interest in Brown, but it’s not clear if that ever came close to happening.

Brown, 26 in October, led the league in tackles in 2017 while playing the third-most defensive snaps (1,180) of any linebacker in the NFL. The former third-round pick has started nearly every possible game (62 of 64) during his four-year career and has never missed a contest due to injury. I had Brown ranked as one of the 50 best free agents available heading into this week.

Brown projects to start at middle linebacker, which will allow Vontaze Burfict to remain at outside linebacker.

The Bengals haven’t had the flashiest offseason in the NFL, but they’ve made some moves of note. This week, they traded for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and re-signed tight end Tyler Eifert.

[RELATED: Bengals Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

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PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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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

Interest Between Patriots, Preston Brown

The Patriots are “believed” to be among the clubs interested in Bills free agent linebacker Preston Brown, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. Brown, in turn, seems to be open to an offer from New England.Preston Brown (Vertical)

“I think I can definitely help the young guys they have,” Brown said. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know (David) Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, (Kyle) Van Noy and (Elandon Roberts) played well. They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better.”

As Brown alludes to elsewhere in Howe’s piece, the Patriots have made a habit of poaching Bills players over the past few seasons. In 2016, New England inked restricted free agent wideout Chris Hogan to an offer sheet that Buffalo failed to match, and last year, the Pats signed unrestricted free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore and RFA running back Mike Gillislee.

The Patriots could certainly use help at the second level of their defense, as the unit ranked 31st in run defense DVOA and allowed the second-most adjusted line yards in the league a season ago. New England also struggled covering opposing running backs in the passing game (22nd in DVOA, per Football Outsiders), and none of the club’s primary ‘backers ranked among the top-50 in Pro Football Focus‘ positional grades. Stalwart Dont’a Hightower will return from injury in 2018, but the Patriots could still stand to add another linebacker.

Brown, 25, led the NFL in tackles last year while playing the third-most defensive snaps (1,180) of any linebacker in the league. The former third-round pick has started nearly every possible game (62 of 64) during his four-year career, and has never missed a contest due to injury. Per Howe, the Patriots would likely be interested in Brown at a $5MM annual price point. If his cost jumps into the $8MM per year range, New England would be expected to bow out.

“Anytime you can play for one of the best franchises in NFL history, it’s obviously going to be an option,” Brown said. “They definitely have great players. I met with the coaching staff coming out of college. I have some familiarity with those guys, and they definitely do a great job each and every year of continuing to win.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.