Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers still has yet to return to practice and may not return from IR as initially planned, Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News writes. Gathers is still recovering from a head injury and concussion he suffered in mid-August following a helmet-to-helmet collision. Unfortunately, he has still not been cleared to practice and that’s not a good sign for his chances to play this year. In the preseason, Gathers turned some heads by catching seven passes for 106 yards and two scores.
Former Chiefs and Falcons defensive end Tyson Jackson will work out for the Redskins on Wednesday afternoon, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). The Redskins have been looking into front four depth as of late – they also tried outJaye Howard and Cam Thomas in late October.
If signed, Jackson could help to fill in for Redskins defensive lineman Arthur Jones after he dislocated his shoulder. He “could miss time,” coach Jay Gruden says (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s John Keim). Wide receiver Brian Quick, meanwhile, is in the concussion protocol.
Former No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson is visiting the Texans and will work out for them, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com hears (on Twitter). The Texans are in desperate need of defensive line help after losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to season-ending injuries, so Jackson could be a natural fit.
Jackson was cut loose by the Falcons at the outset of free agency. With $8.5MM and two years to go on his deal, it was an easy choice for Atlanta given his disappointing performance in 2016.
Last year, Jackson had just 13 total tackles and two pass deflections in 16 games (seven starts). The advanced statistics at Pro Football Focus rated him as just the No. 67 interior defender in the NFL out of 127 qualified players. His grades for run defense, pass rush, and coverage were all atrocious in his 389 total snaps.
Furthermore, Jackson failed to record a sack in any of his three seasons with the Falcons, but he was an effective player while with the Chiefs. He may not be the world-class player NFL scouts thought he might be in 2009, but he could help to fill a major need in Houston.
The 49ers are in the market for some front seven depth. Former Falcons defensive end Tyson Jackson auditioned for the team on Tuesday, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).
The former No. 3 overall pick was released by Atlanta at the outset of free agency. With $8.5MM and two years to go, it was an easy choice for Atlanta given the way that Jackson played in 2016.
Last year, Jackson finished out with 13 total tackles and two pass deflections in 16 games (seven starts). The advanced statistics at Pro Football Focus rated him as just the No. 67 interior defender in the NFL out of 127 qualified players. His grades for run defense, pass rush, and coverage were all poor in his 389 total snaps.
Jackson failed to record a sack in any of his three seasons with the Falcons, but he was an effective player while with the Chiefs. The Niners are now assessing whether he can be a worthwhile pickup for their team.
Former Chiefs and Falcons defensive end Tyson Jackson is working out today for the Rams, a source tells ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). This marks Jackson’s first known workout of the offseason.
Jackson was cut loose by Atlanta at the start of free agency, terminating his deal with two years and $8.5MM left on his contract. The defensive tackle signed a lucrative five-year, $25MM deal with Atlanta heading into 2014, but he was viewed as a likely cap casualty after weak production last year.
In 2016, Jackson finished out with 13 total tackles and two pass deflections in 16 games (seven starts). The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus rated him as just the No. 67 interior defender in the NFL out of 127 qualified players. His grades for run defense, pass rush, and coverage were all poor in his 389 total snaps.
Still, Jackson offers some promise as a former No. 3 overall pick. And, in the wake of Dominique Easley‘s season-ending knee injury, he could help provide some badly needed depth at nose tackle.
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.
The Falcons are releasing defensive tackle Tyson Jackson, a league source tells ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure. Jackson had two years and $8.5MM left on his contract. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that Jackson will be cut with the post-June 1st designation.
By cutting Jackson, Atlanta will save $2.65MM against this year’s cap. The defensive lineman originally signed a five-year, $25MM deal with the Falcons in 2014. The move was expected given Jackson’s iffy production as of late.
Last year, Jackson finished out with 13 total tackles and two pass deflections in 16 games (seven starts). The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus rated him as just the No. 67 interior defender in the NFL out of 127 qualified players. His grades for run defense, pass rush, and coverage were all poor in his 389 total snaps. The Falcons are expected to prioritize the pass rush this offseason.
Jackson had started 28 games for the Falcons during his first two years in the organization. During his time in Atlanta, the lineman failed to produce as he had with the Chiefs. The 30-year-old failed to record a sack in any of his three seasons with the team.
February 21st, 2017 at 8:14pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Having already fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, the Falcons are expected to use free agency and the draft in order to bolster their defensive line, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
Free agent defensive lineman Earl Mitchell is expected to meet with Atlanta on Thursday and Friday, and if signed would be the first step in the Falcons’ remaking of their front four. Courtney Upshaw, who signed a one-year pact with Atlanta last spring, is expected to re-signed, as the the Falcons value his ability to play both linebacker and defensive end, per McClure. Fourth-year defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, meanwhile, has “won over” Atlanta’s coaching staff and figures to see his role increase going forward, while free agent tackle Terrell McClain is a “name to keep an eye on” for the Falcons this offseason, reports McClure.
Change up front also means several defenders could be leaving, and veteran tackle Jonathan Babineaux could be among them, as the Falcons could choose to part ways with the unrestricted free agent even if he opts not to retire. Tyson Jackson, too, could be gone, as McClure writes the 30-year-old is expected to be released or asked to accept a cut to his $3.5MM base salary.
Eagles running back Darren Sproles took to Twitter on Wednesday to shoot down the notion that he’s holding out for a long-term contract (linkshere). “Totally false,” he claimed in one of the tweets. As of earlier this week, the soon-to-be 33-year-old was reportedly staying away from Eagles workouts amid trade rumors, but head coach Doug Pederson responded by calling Sproles “a big part of this team.” Sproles, who’s entering a contract year, will count $4.6MM against the Eagles’ cap this season.
More regarding Philly and a pair of other NFC clubs:
Whether Pederson can actually develop quarterbacks remains an open question, opines Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sielski points to 2011, the year Pederson was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach and when Michael Vick declined significantly from the prior campaign, as a reason for skepticism. Pederson also failed to tap into former first-round pick Vince Young‘s talent, adds Sielski, who writes that the beleaguered Chip Kelly did manage to get production from Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford during his oft-criticized run in Philadelphia. While Alex Smith played well during Pederson’s three-year reign as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his career was revived by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman – not Pederson – as Sielski offers.
Lions safety Glover Quin believes teammate Darius Slay is one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the NFL, but there’s one thing missing from his game. “Everybody is going to say it from now until the end of time — he’s a great, great, great cover guy. The only thing that he can do to take it to the next level is intercept the ball. I mean, that’s it,” Quin said Wednesday (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). Slay has just four interceptions during his three-year career – all of which came during the previous two campaigns – but Pro Football Focus graded him as the second-best corner in the league last season (111 qualifiers). Thanks to his reputation as a shutdown corner, Slay should land a sizable raise between now and the expiration of his contract after next season. A deal could be in the works, as Slay’s agent – Drew Rosenhaus – was at Lions practice Thursday.
The Falcons are making a few changes to their defensive alignment, including shifting Vic Beasley to strongside linebacker. The eighth pick in last year’s draft, Beasley spent his rookie campaign as a LEO pass rusher, as Kevin Patra of NFL.com notes, and totaled four sacks while playing in all 16 of the team’s games. The ex-Clemson star had a difficult time against the run, writes Patra, which would explain the switch. Beasley will now fill the role that former Seahawk Bruce Irvin occupied when Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2014. Patra, however, is skeptical of the decision because it’ll lead to fewer pass-rushing opportunities for Beasley.
In addition to moving Beasley, the Falcons will give Ra’Shede Hageman a look at defensive end and try DE Tyson Jackson at D-tackle, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Hageman, a second-round pick in 2014, spent his first two seasons at tackle, amassing 43 tackles and two sacks in 32 games (11 starts). On playing end, the former Minnesota standout said, “It’s something I did in college. It’s a nice little move for me.” The Falcons believe the change will give the 310-pound Hageman a better opportunity to take advantage of his size and strength.
As is often the case on Mondays during the NFL season, there have already been multiple reports of season-ending injuries to key players for contending teams, with the Patriots losing running back Dion Lewis to a torn ACL, and the Colts placing defensive lineman Henry Anderson on IR due to the same injury. Here are a few more of Monday’s latest noteworthy injury updates from around the NFL:
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin confirmed today that defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins will undergo surgery for a torn pectoral, ending his season, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (Twitter link). While New York’s defensive line got a boost this weekend with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul, Hankins’ season-ending injury is another step back.
Jets kicker Nick Folk has a quadriceps strain, and isn’t expected to play this Thursday against the Bills, a league source tells Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Connor Hughes of the Journal Inquirer tweets that Billy Cundiff will be among the kickers getting a workout from the Jets as they seek a short-term replacement for Folk.
The Eagles‘ preliminary diagnosis of the pectoral injury suffered by Jordan Hicks suggests the linebacker should only miss two to four weeks, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The team is awaiting the MRI results to confirm that diagnosis.
The Falcons also got good news regarding defensive tackle Tyson Jackson, whose rib injury is a contusion, rather than a fracture, according to Rapoport (via Twitter).
After re-aggravating his back injury, Broncos pass rusher DeMarcus Ware is expected to miss the next two to four weeks or so, tweets Rapoport.
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams is expected to miss the team’s next two games, a league source tells Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (Twitter link).
The Ravensannounced today that second-year defensive end Brent Urban has been cleared to return to practice. Urban, who began the season on injured reserve with the designation to return, can now be activated within the next three weeks to avoid landing on season-ending IR.
Several teams considered the possibility of signing Terrell Owens but decided against it, tweets Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. The 40-year-old recently said in an interview that he believed he was still capable of playing.
Before he signed with the Falcons, defensive end Tyson Jackson drew interest from the Dolphins, Browns, and Redskins, Jackson said today (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure).