Sheldon Richardson

This Date In Transactions History: NFL Suspends Gates, McClain, Richardson

The days leading up to the Fourth of July aren’t necessarily a hotbed of activity in the NFL. But, sometimes, the league office will use the cover of the holiday weekend to drop some unfavorable news. That’s what the NFL did on July 2, 2015 when it announced the suspensions of three notable players. 

Three years ago today, the league announced suspensions for Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson, and Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain. All three players were banned for the first four games of the season – Gates for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy and McClain and Richardson for substance abuse policy violations.

Gates issued a statement soon after the suspension came down, saying that he tested positive for a substance that he was unaware was on the league’s banned list. At the time, it felt like the ban could signal the end of the Gates era in San Diego and the beginning of the Ladarius Green era. Green had flashed his immense physical tools in the past, but was buried behind Gates on the tight end depth chart. Green was productive in Gates’ absence, but Gates came storming back when he took the field and finished ahead of Green in all major statistical categories. In the following year, Green went on to sign an ill-fated contract with the Steelers and Gates remained as the team’s primary tight end.

Richardson’s suspension, meanwhile, probably hurt his standing with his team. Richardson’s suspension gave rookie Leonard Williams a chance to shine and further reinforced the perception of him as a bad teammate. The former first-round pick turned in the worst season of his career to date and lost upwards of $600K in salary and bonus money as a result of the suspension. The Jets tried hard to trade Richardson throughout the 2016 season, but could not find any takers. Then, just before the start of the ’17 campaign, they shipped him to the Seahawks for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick.

McClain’s suspension was the result of violating the league’s substance abuse policy for a fourth time in his NFL career. In a statement, McClain vowed that he would “not break the rules of [his] profession in the future.” Unfortunately, he was unable to keep that promise. In 2016, McClain was suspended for substance abuse yet again, this time for ten games. He later failed another drug test midway through the season, and the NFL slapped him with an indefinite suspension. McClain has reportedly battled an addiction to “purple drank” (a mixture of codeine-based cold medication and soda) and there has been no word of a potential comeback in some time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Richardson, Steelers, Ravens

The $3MM incentive package for Sheldon Richardson will center on the interior defender’s sack production. Richardson’s one-year, $8MM Vikings deal will include a $667K bump if he reaches six sacks, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes. Should Richardson register eight sacks, that number spikes to $1.3MM. It rises to $2MM for a 10-sack slate. These benchmarks will be difficult to hit. The former first-round pick has only exceeded six sacks once in five seasons (eight in 2014). Richardson can also earn $500K if he makes the Pro Bowl, which he has done once (in that ’14 season). That will increase to $1MM if a first-team All-Pro nod follows the Pro Bowl acclaim, per Goessling.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions.

Contract Details: Richardson, Fluker, Pats

Some details on recent free agent deals:

  • Sheldon Richardson, DT (Vikings): One year, $7MM deal. $7.8MM guaranteed ($5.8MM base + $2MM signing bonus). $200K workout bonus. Incentives up to $3MM, but categorized as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLBTE) for cap purposes (Twitter link via Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune).
  • D.J. Fluker, OL (Seahawks): One year, $1.5MM deal. $300K guaranteed. Cap charge of $1.37MM (Twitter link via Brady Henderson of ESPN.com).
  • Marquis Flowers, LB (Patriots): One year, $2.55MM deal. $1.05MM base salary. $200K signing bonus. Up to $400K in roster bonuses plus $50K workout bonus. Incentives package: $100K for playing 30% of the defensive snaps, $300K for 40%, $550K for 50%, and $800K for 60% (In 2017, Flowers played 26 percent of the defensive snaps) (Twitter link via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com).

Vikings Notes: Johnson, Richardson, Newman

Now that the Vikings have Sheldon Richardson set to add to an already stacked defense, the team is probably going to move on from previous defensive tackle starter Tom Johnson. Rick Spielman does not expect Johnson to return, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (on Twitter). The Vikes were previously open to a Johnson re-up, but that was before Richardson agreed to terms. Johnson turned down a $4MM extension offer last year that would have kept him alongside Linval Joseph on Minnesota’s front in 2018. But now, a menacing-looking Joseph-Richardson setup will be deployed. The Seahawks lost Richardson and now have interest in the 33-year-old likely-to-be former Viking.

Here’s more from the Vikings, courtesy of Tomasson.

  • Terence Newman has expressed interest in returning for an age-40 season, and Tomasson tweets he would like that to be with the Vikings. However, he wonders if Newman — who counted nearly $4MM toward Minnesota’s 2017 cap — would be a fit at that price now that major dollars have been allocated for big-name talent this offseason. The Vikings still have nearly $20MM in cap space but also have several key extension candidates entering contract years.
  • Spielman is confident Richardson has left his off-field trouble in the past. The former defensive rookie of the year encountered legal trouble while with the Jets, resulting in suspensions in 2015 and ’16 — the former a four-game ban. “We did a lot of research on that. That was maybe 2 1/2, 3 years ago,” Spielman said, via Tomasson (on Twitter). “We talked to a ton of people about it. … I felt very confident with him coming into this culture into our locker room that he’ll fit right in.’’
  • The Vikings cut Jarius Wright after six seasons on Friday. The team kept him in the loop throughout this process. The 28-year-old pass-catcher added the Vikings alerted him a cap-casualty cut was a possibility. “They had come to me and let me know that it was a possibly with some of the contracts they were looking at,” Wright said, via Tomasson (on Twitter). “They kept me updated.” It’s possible Wright, who was set to make $3.64MM in base salary next season, could be brought back at a lower rate.

Vikings Sign Sheldon Richardson

The Vikings have now landed premier free agents on both sides of the ball. Sheldon Richardson has agreed to a one-year deal with Minnesota, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Richardson’s deal includes an $8MM base salary and $3MM more in available incentives.

The Vikings were the only team known to have met with Richardson and it didn’t take long for a deal to come together. The Vikings wined and dined Richardson a bit on Friday and pitched him with new quarterback Kirk Cousins in tow.

The Vikings used much of their cap space on Cousins, but they still had enough left to sign one of the most talented defensive linemen in this year’s free agent crop, thanks in part to the restructuring of Latavius Murray‘s deal. The 27-year-old (28 in November) had just one sack last season, but the advanced metrics showed that he was still starting caliber, even in a down year.

Richardson did his best work with the Jets, particularly in 2014 when he racked up eight sacks. His production was a bit up-and-down as he was moved at times from defensive tackle to the outside and even to linebacker, but he was a consistent threat.

Richardson, presumably, was after a multi-year deal, but the one-year pact with Minnesota will give him a chance to rebuild his value and potentially cash in next March. He joins an already stacked Vikings D and will pair with Linval Joseph in the middle. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen will serve as the starting bookends with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Ben Gedeon filling out the front seven.

The Seahawks have now lost two high-profile defensive linemen in Richardson and Michael Bennett (via trade with the Eagles), but Richardson’s departure should at least net them some return in compensatory picks.

[RELATED: Vikings Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Price Range Emerges For Sheldon Richardson?

As the Vikings bring Sheldon Richardson in for a visit on Thursday, a price range may be forming.

Richardson may be eyeing a deal in the $11-$15MM-per-year range, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

While Garafolo was quoted as saying during an NFL Network appearance (Twitter link) that the Seahawks have offered Richardson $11MM per year, they have not made any proposals just yet.

A $15MM deal would place him toward the top of that position’s salary spectrum. Five defenders — Fletcher Cox, Kawann Short, Marcell Dareus, Gerald McCoy and Jurrell Casey — earn more than $15MM annually. Four other 4-3 defensive tackles earn at least $11MM AAV.

Considering Richardson’s status as a top-tier free agent, he appears set to try and place himself on that top tier. The former defensive rookie of the year has been a 3-4 defensive end for most of his career, but the 27-year-old talent — who has encountered legal trouble — at his best is one of the top interior defenders in the game.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sheldon Richardson To Visit Vikings

The Vikings’ reported Sheldon Richardson interest turned out to be very real. They are bringing the UFA defensive lineman in for a visit on Thursday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports (on Twitter).

This is the first known visit for Richardson, who is one of the best players still on the market. And the Vikings have a need at defensive tackle. Linval Joseph‘s 2017 running mate, Tom Johnson, is also a free agent and will be 34 this year.

Richardson, 27, is entering his sixth year and should be a costly free agent. The 2013 defensive rookie of the year graded as the No. 27 interior defender, per Pro Football Focus, last season. He wasn’t able to make the kind of statistical impact in Seattle that he did during some of his best Jets seasons, registering just one sack, but he would stand to be an upgrade for a Vikings team that’s shown it’s ready to make the payments necessary to put itself in top Super Bowl position.

Minnesota technically still has $50MM in cap space, but once the expected Kirk Cousins deal is finalized, that number will shrink dramatically. But the Vikings did not have many needs coming into this offseason. And adding Cousins and Richardson would stand to improve one of the league’s best rosters.

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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Vikings Exploring Sheldon Richardson Add

While the Vikings have already made their big splash, and one of the defining moves of the NFL’s free agency era, they may not be done looking into big-name talent.

Minnesota has inquired about a possible Sheldon Richardson signing, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Richardson is one of the top free agents still unattached.

However, the Seahawks are still interesting in bringing Richardson back and would prefer to retain the sixth-year defensive lineman, per Pelissero.

Richardson assimilated into a 4-3 scheme last season and would obviously do the same in Minnesota. The Vikings have a bit of a hole at defensive tackle alongside Linval Joseph. Tom Johnson is a free agent. Richardson, though, would cost much more than Johnson. He is, however, just 27 and should have a few prime years remaining despite not quite being as dominant in Seattle as he was at his Jets peak.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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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