December 24th, 2017 at 4:26pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Edge rusher Trent Cole, who spent time with the Eagles and Colts during a 12-year NFL career, has announced his retirement from the league, per a press release from Philadelphia.
“As a person playing ball, I’ll never be satisfied,” said Cole. “I’m going to move on to the next thing. It was a great career, but it just doesn’t stop there. Being successful is never going to stop me. I’m not going to stop being successful. I’m going to go on to the next thing and try to be successful.”
A fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2005, Cole started seven games as a rookie and never looked back, proceeding to make 147 more starts and appear in 176 total games over the course of his career. Cole, who recently turned 35 years old, earned a Pro Bowl nod in both 2007 and 2009, and topped 10 sacks four times. While he was the 146th player chosen back in 2005, Cole produced the ninth-most approximate value (Pro Football Reference’s catch-all metric) of any player in that draft.
Cole left the Eagles prior to the 2015 season, inking a two-year deal to join the Colts. While he initially planned to continue playing once that contract expired, Cole never generated any known interest this offseason. He’ll now enter the next phase of his life, which includes co-hosting an outdoor television program titled Blitz TV. PFR extends its best wishes to Cole in retirement.
The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.
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 2017:
The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.
Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).
Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.
The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.
While players at other defensive positions have flown off the board, there’s been almost no movement among off-ball linebackers. Only five of PFR’s original top-15 free agent linebackers have signed new contracts, a group that includes Dont’a Hightower, our previous No. 1 ‘backer who re-signed with the Patriots today. Zach Brown, who now holds that honor, broke out in his fifth NFL campaign and played especially well in coverage, a skill that should lead to a handsome reward. Brown, 27, met with the Raiders today, while the Dolphins also hope to schedule a visit.
The Bengals, specifically, are in the linebackermarket, as they’ve met with both Kevin Minter and Keenan Robinson in recent days. But the rest of the players on this list aren’t drawing much interest as of yet, a fact that speaks to the devaluation of the linebacker position. Teams will pay up for a three-down linebacker like Hightower, but if a player can be formation-ed off the field, he’s not going to land a hefty deal.
One linebacker who did prove he could stay on the field on third down was Perry Riley, who played 370 coverage snaps for the Raiders last season. Riley is still only 28 years old, but posted awful marks from Pro Football Focus during his previous campaigns with Washington. Whether it was Oakland’s scheme (including its talented pass rushers) that allowed Riley to flourish, or a true breakout coming in the middle of a career, Riley could help a number of clubs. The Raiders are reportedly working to bring him back.
The top two corners still on the open market are both former Cowboys, and Brandon Carr looks like the surer bet to return to Dallas at this point. Morris Claiborne, meanwhile, has drawn interest from the Ravens, and most opposing clubs believe he’ll end up signing with Baltimore. Clairborne, 27, appeared to be a prime overpay candidate heading into the offseason, but if the Ravens can land him on a short-term deal, they’d be making a wise investment.
Now that all charges have been dropped against Darrelle Revis, he’ll make for an interesting test case in free agency. Clearly, Revis is not the shutdown corner he once was, and may even be mulling a move to safety as he closes his career. But clubs in the market for secondary help could do worse than Revis, and he should be on a roster when the regular season rolls around.
Most of the safeties on this list are in-the-box types — that’s thanks to the fact that center field-esque safeties are more rare and thus more expensive. Recently-released veterans such as Jairus Byrd, Lardarius Webb, and Corey Graham, however, offer coverage ability and would make for decent signings on short pacts. T.J. McDonald and Bradley McDougald, on other hand, are big hitters that will patrol near the line of scrimmage. McDougald, specifically, will take a visit with the Seahawks this week.
Chris Prosinski is just a special teamer, but he’s a great special teamer. While he only played 173 defensive snaps in 2016, he saw time on more than 80% of the Bears’ special teams plays, and was listed as one of the season’s best special teams players by Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders ranked the Cardinals, Jets, and Texans as the bottom-three teams in special teams DVOA, and any of those clubs would benefit from adding Prosinski.
Demand is not high for placekickers at the moment, as only the Giants and Bengals stand out as clubs that immediately need a kicker. Injuries and ineffectiveness are sure to strike the position, however, at which point the specialists on this list will surely receive calls. Dan Carpenter and Mike Nugent missed a combined 11 extra points in 2016, and given that he topped both Carpenter and Nugent in field goal percentage, Nick Folk should be the first kicker on clubs’ emergency list.
February 24th, 2017 at 9:45am CST by Zachary Links
Back in January, Trent Colehinted on Instagram that he would continue playing in 2017. Roughly six weeks later, we’re getting some mixed messages. Cole told SiriusXM (Twitter link) that he will retire if he is not offered enough money on his next deal. However, he took to Twitter minutes later to say “no retirement happening here.”
The Colts linebacker is scheduled to hit free agency this March. For many years, Cole was a starter for the Eagles, but he has been slowed somewhat by injuries and age since joining Indianapolis. In seven games last year, Cole amassed 17 tackles and two sacks. In the year prior, he totaled 32 tackles and three sacks. His Pro Football Focus scores have been in the 70s over the last two years, framing him as a slightly above-average linebacker rather than the force that he was in his Philly prime.
Cole, 35 in October, has two Pro Bowl nods and eight playoff appearances on his resume.
As we await the start of playoff football, let’s check out some assorted notes from around the NFL…
Bears coach JohnFox has another hole to fill on his coaching staff. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that outside linebackers coach ClintHurtt recently declined a contract extension. The former Louisville coach is leaving the organization to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Hurtt previously coached the Bears’ defensive line during Marc Trestman‘s tenure in Chicago.
35-year-oldTrent Cole recently indicated on Twitter that he wants to play in 2017. The veteran was solid in his seven games with the Colts this season, compiling 17 tackles and two sacks. The long-time Eagles standout is set to be a free agent this winter, and Kevin Bowen of Colts.com says the team’s desire to get younger may prevent Cole from returning to Indy.
Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan announced that he is declaring for the NFL Draft, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). The junior finished the 2016 campaign with 102 tackles, two sacks, and five passes defended. A recent mock draft by Yahoo’s Eric Edholm had McMillan going 56th overall to the Raiders.
Players who are signed to reserve/future contracts rarely get any guaranteed money, but Deon Lacey is apparently an exception. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the Dolphins linebacker received a $200K signing bonus when inking his contract.
Trent Cole returned to practice today, and the Colts are paving a path for the veteran pass-rusher to return from IR. The team designated Cole as its IR-return candidate, Howard Balzer of All22.com reports (via Twitter).
The Colts placed Cole on IR in September with a back injury, and he underwent surgery soon after. Indianapolis will have 21 days to determine whether or not Cole will return to game action after using him in practice Monday. That puts his return in the early- to mid-December range, should this process unfold to the organization’s liking.
Cole is in the second season of a two-year, $14MM deal. Although, he accepted a significant pay cut to reduce his 2016 salary to $7.125MM to $4.875MM. At 34, the former Eagles stalwart end’s career is coming to a close. However, the Colts do not have a plethora of edge-rushing contributors.
Erik Walden leads the team with eight sacks, with 35-year-old veteran Robert Mathis having recorded three — second on the team. Indianapolis also lost Kendall Langford for the season earlier this month. The Colts sit 20th in the league with 22 sacks.
However, no other prominent Colts reside on the team’s IR, so a Cole return is logical. He’s yet to notch a sack this season and matched his career low with three in 2015, but the 12th-year player has 88.5 in his career.
November 17th, 2016 at 11:33am CST by Zachary Links
The Colts have yet to use their IR-DTR spot this season but there is some reason to believe that Trent Cole could be their one player to come back. Cole was spotted at practice today working with the team’s rehab staff, a first for the season (Twitter link via Stephen Holder of the Indy Star). It’s not immediately clear whether Cole can play again this year, but it is a promising sign.
Cole was placed on injured reserve in September with a back injury and he had surgery soon after. Typically, back surgery is the type of procedure that would knock a player out for an entire season. However, it’s possible that Cole’s recovery is ahead of schedule and at 4-5, the season is still alive for Indianapolis.
The 34-year-old signed a two-year, $14MM contract with the Colts in March of 2015. In his first year with the team, Cole had just three sacks. This offseason, he accepted a pay cut that trimmed his cap hit for 2016 from $7.125MM to $4.875M, which is perhaps more in line with his ability at this stage. Eligible for free agency in the spring, a return this season could be Cole’s only chance at keeping his paycheck at the same level.
September 27th, 2016 at 10:29am CST by Zachary Links
The Colts announced that they have placed defensive end/linebacker Trent Cole on injured reserve. It’s not immediately clear why Cole is being shut down, but he has been dealing with a back injury early on this season.
Cole, 33, signed a two-year, $14MM contract with the Colts in March of 2015. In his first year in blue and white, Cole didn’t have the kind of impact the team was hoping for. While his Pro Football Focus grade was respectable – he placed 34th out of 110 edge defenders – Cole recorded just three sacks, matching a career low. This offseason, he accepted a significant pay cut that trimmed his cap hit for 2016 from $7.125MM to $4.875MM.
During his ten years in Philadelphia, Cole played 155 games (145 starts), racking up 85.5 sacks, 569 tackles, and 19 forced fumbles. But, after posting six consecutive seasons with eight or more sacks from 2006 to 2011, Cole’s production fell off starting in 2012. Cole hopes to get back to his old form, but he’ll have to get healthy first and that likely won’t happen until 2017. Soon to be 34, Cole will be a free agent in the spring.
8:31am: According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today (via Twitter), Cole got a $1MM roster bonus guaranteed in exchange for accepting a pay cut, and the move saved a total of about $1.5MM in space for the Colts.
7:47am: Colts outside linebacker Trent Cole appears set to remain in Indianapolis for 2016 after the club reworked the final year of his contract to lower his base salary. According to Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link), Cole accepted a salary reduction from $4.25MM to $2MM.
Cole, 33, signed a two-year, $14MM contract with the Colts last March that would have paid him $4.25MM this year, along with $1MM in prorated bonus money and up to $2MM in per-game roster bonuses. Assuming the other aspects of the deal remain unchanged, his 2016 cap hit will be trimmed from $7.125MM to $4.875MM.
In his first year as a Colt, Cole didn’t have quite the impact the team had been hoping for. While his Pro Football Focus grade was respectable – he placed 34th out of 110 edge defenders – Cole recorded just three sacks, matching a career low.
The club could have cleared more than $6MM from its cap by releasing Cole, but it seems Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, and the rest of the Colts’ decision-makers saw enough from the veteran pass rusher to want to keep him around. Instead of saving $6MM+, the club creates $2.25MM in cap savings by reducing Cole’s pay.
After noting the Jets prefer the skill set of currently troubled 2013 defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson to Wilkerson, Mehta speculates whether Wilkerson’s contract-year campaign could still benefit the Jets down the road by allowing them to keep the defensive end around for trade purposes. Using the Chiefs’ 2008 trade of Jared Allen to the Vikings as an example, Mehta proposes the Jets use a non-exclusive franchise tag on Wilkerson after this season and dangle him in trade talks, as Kansas City did seven years ago.
He continues in saying the only way the Jets could keep both of their star ends is one agreeing to take far less than their value, which will not happen. Of course, this talk of trading Wilkerson is contingent on Richardson re-routing his career, which is far from a certainty at this point.
Here is some other news from around the league.
Jimmy Graham‘s level of happiness with the Seahawks has been one of the key points of discussion in the NFL this week, and the sixth-year tight end might not experience a morale uptick, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk offers. While noting satisfaction could come in time as Graham and Russell Wilson increase their rapport, Florio suggests Graham is not a fit for what the Seahawks do. Graham’s begun to lobby for Wilson to not shy away from throwing his way, even if he’s covered. “Obviously, Drew (Brees) wasn’t running the read options, Graham told media. If (Wilson) is in trouble, he was going to read me, and I was the option. … I tell Russ every day, it don’t matter (if coverage is tight) and sometimes just throw it because sometimes it just doesn’t matter.”
Sufficiently recovered from a high-ankle sprain, Eric Fisher will return to the Chiefs‘ starting lineup against the Packers, doing so at right tackle now, after sitting behind waiver pickup Jah Reid in the first two games, reports Kevin Patra of NFL.com. Although Andy Reid denied the speculation Fisher delayed his recovery in order to not have to face J.J. Watt in the Chiefs’ opener, Fisher hasn’t remotely lived up to expectations as a No. 1 pick and will begin a critical campaign in hopes of rescuing his career.
Nick Toon‘s workout itinerary now includes a stop in St. Louis, as the Rams examined the former Saints backup, per Florio. The Rams also worked out wideouts Issac Blakeney, Kain Colter, DaVaris Daniels, Jordan Leslie, Tyler Rutenbeck and Taylor Washington. Florio opines that the Rams, who carry six healthy receivers presently, are sending a message to some in the unimpressive group. Toon also worked out for the Cowboys and Titans this month after being waived by the Saints.
After news emerged on the timeline for the Tom Brady case, Michael Coyne of the Massachusetts School of Law explains to CSNNE.com how that will affect the 38-year-old quarterback’s season, should the Patriots return to the playoffs as expected. While distractions are inevitable given how this has unfolded, Coyne points out Brady will not have to be present for the appeal hearings.
Johnny Manziel fumbling twice in each of the Browns‘ first two games was the driving force behind them opting to relegate him back to the bench in favor of Josh McCown, Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com writes. The Browns lost possession on both mishaps against the Jets and recovered each loose ball against the Titans. “The No. 1 thing when you play quarterback is you have to protect the football,” Browns OC John DeFilippo told media. “. . . If you don’t protect the football, then you’re not giving yourself the best chance to win.”
A knee injury this week during practice will keep Trent Cole from traveling with the Colts to Nashville, Tenn., for their Week 3 tilt with the Titans, reports Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star (on Twitter). Robert Mathis‘ workload will increase as a result, Holder reports.
While the Titans had planned to hire a new president/CEO, that search has been put on hold, and interim president Steve Underwood will continue to hold the position through the 2015 season, writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
“We had applications from a number of people that I have known for many years who have been presidents of NFL clubs, who were highly qualified, and they’d be good leaders,” Underwood said. “But we didn’t interview any of them; we never got that far along in the process. I just think our ownership group, as the weeks went by, they got a better and better comfort level in the direction we’re heading and they decided they’d rather put that off if I would decide to stay and get us through the season.“
As the Titans’ ownership group and front office has done repeatedly in recent months and years, Underwood also reiterated today that the franchise is not for sale, according to Wyatt.
“There is no talk of selling. The owners haven’t entertained it,” Underwood said. “The people who suggest a sale are guessing and I don’t have to guess — I know there is not a sale underway. They are not entertaining offers for a sale. There is no ‘for sale’ sign in our yard.“
Here’s more from out of the AFC South:
Shonn Greene wasn’t cut today by the Titans because he was out of shape or injured — according to head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the running back passed a physical before he was released, tweets Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
Mike Chappell of Indy Sports Central looks at T.Y. Hilton‘s resume in an attempt to assess his value, noting that it’s far from a given that Hilton will get an extension. Colts owner Jim Irsay has rarely signed any player to an extension, including Peyton Manning, who played out his contracts before signing new ones. The Colts also have rookie Phillip Dorsett in the fold, which could give them a fallback option if Hilton is not retained in the long term.
Trent Cole‘s best years are almost certainly behind him, but he told reporters this week, including Mike Wells of ESPN.com, that he feels “rejuvenated” after joining the Colts this offseason.