Trumaine Johnson

Reaction To Brandin Cooks Trade

A year after acquiring him from the Saints, the Patriots shipped wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for first- and sixth-round picks. Let’s take a look at some of the reaction to and fallout from the blockbuster deal:

  • Before trading him to Los Angeles, the Patriots engaged in extension talks with Cooks, reports Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. However, those discussions stalled as the two sides were simply too far apart. Cooks is scheduled to earn $8.459MM in 2018 under the terms of his fifth-year option, but he’s likely looking for at least $14MM annually on a new deal. The Rams, for their part, have reportedly already expressed interest in extending Cooks’ contract, and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that Los Angeles is “intent” on doing so. Florio, however, indicates there is as of yet no timeline for a long-term pact to get done.
  • The Rams and Patriots had discussed a possible Cooks trade for more than a month, well before Los Angeles ever contacted the Giants regarding fellow wideout Odell Beckham Jr., according to Schefter (Twitter link). Los Angeles preferred Cooks, and the price tag — New York is reportedly looking for at least two first-round picks in exchange for OBJ — likely played a role in that stance. Talks between the Patriots and Rams heated up on Monday when head coaches Bill Belichick and Sean McVay worked at the same coaching clinic, and those talks ultimately led to a trade on Tuesday, per Schefter (Twitter link).
  • Los Angeles finally acquired Cooks on Tuesday after attempting to land him from the Saints last year, as Rams general manager Les Snead tells Peter King of TheMMQB.com. The Rams did not hold a first-round pick a season ago while the Patriots did, allowing New England to make the better offer for Cooks. Los Angeles, meanwhile, discussed a deal involving then-franchise-tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson, but the talks never gained traction. For what it’s worth, the Rams actually tried to trade Johnson twice in 2017: once for Cooks, and once in exchange for a second-round pick, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
  • The Patriots never viewed Cooks as a true No. 1 wide receiver, per Rapoport (Twitter link), and quarterback Tom Brady is “not sad” about the trade. While Cooks topped 1,000 yards receiving in his lone New England campaign, he wasn’t a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense, says Rapoport. Theoretically, New England could shift back to a more horizontal offense based around incumbent receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan now that Cooks is no longer in town.
  • Although the Rams have now eschewed a hypothetical Beckham trade in favor of acquiring Cooks, the “frenzy” surrounding the mercurial Giants receiver doesn’t figure to subside, as Ralph Vacchiano of SNY writes. Still, a Beckham deal remains “highly unlikely,” as Los Angeles’ payment for Cooks doesn’t come anywhere close to what New York would want in exchange for Beckham.

Extra Points: Panthers, Broncos, Cravens, Jets, Titans

Labeled as a frontrunner in the bidding to become the new Panthers owner, businessman Ben Navarro will make a visit to the team’s facilities next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (Twitter link). Person also notes another suitor, Alan Kestenbaum, was in on Wednesday.

A vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated. The last franchise that was sold, the Bills in 2014, went for $1.4 billion.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Navarro is already being vetted by the NFL. The South Carolina businessman is the founder of Sherman Financial, but some owners have had concerns about how Navarro made his money.

Navarro and Kestenbaum are joined by Steelers minority owner and hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the perceived top contenders to acquire the franchise. The reported sale price has already helped one potential suitor, Michael Rubin, withdraw his name from the running. Rubin’s group reportedly included Sean “Diddy” Combs and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Thanks to a video produced by Sports Illustrated, we have some insights into the offers received by cornerback Malcolm Butler before he agreed to sign with the Titans. Early on, the Bears pitched him on a three-year, $30MM deal while the Texans offered a one-year contract (value unknown). It seems that Tennessee greatly outbid the other suitors after signing him to a five-year, $61.25MM deal with $24MM fully guaranteed.
  • For their offseason so far, the Jets have received a grade of B- from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Considering the team whiffed in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, that’s not a bad grade to receive. Cimini cites, among other things, the team’s addition of Trumaine Johnson as the team’s most significant offseason signing so far.
  • Su’a Cravens, who was acquired by the Broncos from the Redskins earlier this week, told Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post he wanted to play for a team that wanted him. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team,” he said. Cravens sat out the entire 2017 season as a member of the Redskins. “I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins. It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.

AFC Contract Details: Butler, Johnson, Bridgewater

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

Contract Details: Brees, Butler, T. Johnson

Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless otherwise noted:

Jets To Sign Trumaine Johnson

The Jets have agreed to sign free agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The deal is estimated to be worth $15MM a year, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter).

Plenty of teams had interest in the former Rams cornerback, including the Browns, Cowboys, and Raiders. It’s not all that surprising that Johnson was such a popular name, as the 28-year-old was listed as the top cornerback (No. 8 overall) in PFR’s ranking of the top-50 free agents. While the Jets hadn’t been directly connected to Johnson, previous reports indicated that the organization was looking to add two starting cornerbacks this offseason.

The 2012 third-round pick had spent his entire six-year career with the Rams organization. Johnson had another productive campaign in 2017, compiling 65 tackles, 14 passes defended, and two interceptions in 16 games (five starts). Pro Football Focus was underwhelmed by the performance last season, ranking him 68th among 120 eligible cornerbacks. However, Johnson was graded as a top cornerback in both 2015 and 2016.

Johnson will presumably slide atop the Jets cornerback depth chart, and he’s slated to start opposite Buster Skrine. The organization will have to make a decision on some of their cornerbacks, as they’re currently rostering eight other players at the position, including Darryl RobertsJuston Burris, Derrick Jones, and Rashard Robinson.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Interested In Several Big-Name FAs

The Browns took on some more salary last week by adding Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor, but the team is still loaded with cap space. And the John Dorsey-led operation plans to be active this week.

Nate Solder is on the Browns’ radar as a possible Joe Thomas replacement, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. While Thomas hasn’t announced his retirement, a decision on whether he will return in 2018 is expected soon.

Additionally, the trade for Damarious Randall won’t preclude Cleveland from seeking top-end cornerback talent. The Browns will pursue Bashaud Breeland, Cabot reports, and a Trumaine Johnson/Gregg Williams reunion could well be something the team considers.

The Browns are targeting big-name corners not just because they have a need for younger talent there but because they are going to play Randall as a free safety, per Cabot. Randall has not played safety yet in the NFL, but the Browns evidently view that as a worthwhile adjustment for their new defensive back.

Terrelle Pryor remains on the Browns’ radar, per Cabot. They’ve been linked to him this offseason and tried to reacquire him from the Redskins at the trade deadline last year. Hue Jackson remains a Pryor backer. Pryor’s market may not be what it was a year ago, however, after a rough season in Washington. Cabot adds that agent Drew Rosenhaus didn’t think it was wise for Pryor to be tied down at $8.5-$9.5MM per year. It would be incredibly surprising if Pryor signs for around that amount this year.

Cabot adds the Browns will likely go after Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins as well. Robinson is a top Browns target, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Interested In CB Trumaine Johnson

The Cowboys are among the clubs with interest in free agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com.

Johnson is the premier cornerback scheduled to hit the open market next week, and he’s arguably the best defensive free agent on the board overall. Therefore, it should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old is able to land $12-13MM annually on his next contract, and that figure could a be problem for Dallas. The Cowboys currently project to have just $697K in cap space when free agency opens on March 14, and while they could increase that total by cutting veterans such as wide receiver Dez Bryant, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and tight end James Hanna, or by working out an extension for guard Zack Martin, Johnson would likely be a tight squeeze.

Dallas fielded a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2017, as the club ranked eighth in yards per attempt allowed, 21st in passing DVOA, and 28th in passer rating allowed. After allowing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to walk during last year’s free agent period, and subsequently releasing their own signee in Nolan Carroll, the Cowboys allowed youth to take over in their secondary. Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Chidobe Awuzie are each age-24 or younger and played at least 300 defensive snaps a year ago.

Johnson would give the Cowboys a true No. 1 corner, but not only will he be expensive, he’ll garner interest from a number of clubs. The Rams don’t figure to re-sign Johnson after acquiring fellow cornerback Marcus Peters from the Chiefs last month, but the Raiders and 49ers have already been mentioned as possible free agent suitors.

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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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

Latest On Free Agent Cornerback Market

Here’s a quick look at the 2018 free agent cornerback market:

  • Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson is expected to be the Raiders‘ No. 1 free agent target, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.net. Johnson is not expected to be retained by Los Angeles after it acquired fellow defensive back Marcus Peters from the Chiefs last month. After receiving the franchise tag in each of the past two seasons, the 28-year-old Johnson will finally hit the open market as one of the league’s top free agent corners. Oakland, meanwhile, is looking for a veteran corner to pair with 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley, who barely played during his rookie campaign. The Raiders have already released one starting member of their secondary in David Amerson, and figure to do the same with Sean Smith.
  • While the Raiders have interest in Johnson, another Bay Area team — the 49ers — is also expected to pursue the free agent corner, as Pauline reports in a separate piece. San Francisco ranked just 28th in pass defense DVOA a season ago, and are not expected to re-sign its top cornerback in Dontae Johnson. Thus, the 49ers not only have a clear need atop their secondary depth chart, but have gobs of cap space: at nearly $70MM, San Francisco currently ranks fifth in available cap room.
  • If the Raiders miss out on Johnson, they could turn their attention to Eagles free agent CB Patrick Robinson, per Pauline. Robinson has played outside corner in the past, but posted arguably the best season of his career as Philadelphia’s slot cornerback in 2017. T.J. Carrie, who saw the majority of the slot action for the Raiders last year, is an unrestricted free agent, so the 31-year-old Robinson would make for a ready-made replacement. The Eagles, notably, have interest in re-signing Robinson, while Pauline reports the Cardinals could also make a bid.
  • The Jets hope to acquire two starting cornerbacks this offseason, but they’re “not close” to re-signing internal option Morris Claiborne, reports Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. Gang Green also has interest in Johnson, but most in league circles believe he will end up with Oakland or San Francisco, per Pauline.