Vance Walker

Extra Points: Sproles, Patriots, Browns, Snee

Darren Sproles may now be reconsidering retirement. The 13th-year passing-down back said in December that this season was likely going to be his last, but on Monday, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Eagles running back wasn’t quite ready to go that far. “We’re going to see,” Sproles said about retirement (via Zach Berman of Philly.com), adding “right after we make the playoffs, come back and ask me.” Sproles totaled the most carries of his career last year with 94, and he caught 52 passes. The 965 yards were the diminutive runner’s third-most in his career. Philadelphia drafted 2016 Division I-FBS rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round and signed LeGarrette Blount, but the team is likely to cut Ryan Mathews. Berman notes Sproles is still expected to play a big role for the Eagles this season, which is the last year of his contract.

Here’s more from around the league.

  • Vance Walker is expected to be medically cleared by next week and ready for training camp after tearing an ACL during his most recent camp experience, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Walker remains a free agent, but a cleaner bill of health should bring back interest in the 30-year-old interior defender. His last healthy season involved a role as a rotational defensive end on 2015’s Super Bowl champion Broncos defense.
  • Former All-Pro guard Chris Snee will be working with his father-in-law again, with the Jaguars hiring the ex-Giants guard as an area scout, Neil Stratton of Inside the League reports (on Twitter). Snee was Tom Coughlin‘s first Giants draft pick that actually played for the team, with Philip Rivers being the then-coach’s first selection in New York, and the four-time Pro Bowler played 10 years with the Giants. The 35-year-old Snee’s been out of the league since 2014 but will work with the Jags, who hired Coughlin as their executive VP of football operations in January.
  • Desmond Bryant returned to the practice field for the Browns last week after missing the 2016 season with a torn pectoral muscle sustained away from the team’s facilities. Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes the veteran defensive lineman, who also played for Hue Jackson on the 2011 Raiders, will stay at defensive end in Gregg Williams‘ 4-3 after playing end in the Browns’ 3-4 looks previously. The 2017 Browns are in position to have Bryant and Myles Garrett at end, joining 2016 Day 2 picks Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib.
  • Stedman Bailey will undergo an upcoming procedure he believes can increase his chances of returning to football, the former wide receiver told TMZ. The website does not specify what type of procedure the former Rams wideout will undergo, but the 26-year-old Bailey said if it doctors tell him after it’s over that he shouldn’t play football again he will move on in a quest to return to the sport. Sustaining two gunshot wounds to the head in December of 2015 ended Bailey’s Rams run. Bailey returned to his alma mater, West Virginia, as a student assistant in 2016. The Rams officially waived Bailey in April.
  • Bill Belichick will have both of his sons coaching under him this season. The Patriots coach’s youngest son, Brian Belichick, is set to rise from scouting assistant to coaching assistant, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (on Twitter). A 2016 college graduate, Brian Belichick will join older brother — the Patriots’ second-year safeties coach — on the sideline in an as-of-yet unspecified capacity.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

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:

Edge defender:

  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

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.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

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).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

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.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

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.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

Read more

Broncos Notes: Romo, Webster, Peko, OL

Connected to a high-profile quarterback acquisition for the second straight offseason, Broncos GM John Elway didn’t identify the team’s Tony Romo circumstances as being all that different from the ones that had Denver close to adding Colin Kaepernick last year.

Yeah [it’s a similar situation], because we feel good where we are. There are so many things … everything gets ratcheted. I will just tell you this: There’s been a lot of things out there that are not true as far as what’s going with our quarterbacks. So that’s what happens. Everything gets frothed up,” Elway said, via Troy Renck of Denver7.

Renck adds that the latest coming out of Dallas is Romo is growing restless with the Cowboys’ tactics, with the franchise having backtracked on its intention to release him in order to pivot back to trying to trade the 15th-year quarterback. The Broncos remain unlikely to trade for Romo, per Renck, even after the Texans’ cap space-clearing trade of Brock Osweiler. It would be a “major upset” if the Cowboys found a taker for Romo’s contract in a trade, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

The Broncos nearly traded for Kaepernick last year, but the sides couldn’t agree on a restructured deal. Denver then selected Paxton Lynch in the first round but turned the reins over to Trevor Siemian for most of 2016. That competition would continue for a second straight year if the franchise doesn’t acquire Romo. Vance Joseph said the franchise is in good shape with Siemian and Lynch for “the next four or five years,” per James Palmer of NFL.com (Twitter link). Lynch is under Broncos control for four more years, with Siemian’s rookie deal running through 2018.

Here’s more from the Mile High City.

  • Meanwhile, Elway said his understanding is Kayvon Webster wants to play more (Twitter link via Cameron Wolfe of The Denver Post). Webster has been public about his desire to have a larger defensive role and he won’t get that opportunity in Denver, being blocked on the cornerback depth chart. Webster, who made our list of this year’s Top 50 Free Agents, has long been expected to leave. The fifth-year corner has served as one of the Broncos’ top special-teamers, but after a rookie season in which fewer obstacles resided in between Webster and a defensive role, the Broncos’ 2014 additions of Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby effectively buried him on the depth chart for the ensuing three seasons. Now employing his previous defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, the Rams are hosting Webster on a visit today.
  • Domata Peko also received interest from the Bengals, Vikings and Eagles prior to signing his two-year Broncos accord, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post tweets. Peko had obvious connections to the Bengals and the Mike Zimmer-coached Vikings but chose to join the Broncos.
  • Elway said the team’s starting left tackle might not be on the roster presently, per Renck, but noted recent right tackle signings Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson are options there. Watson served as an emergency left tackle after injuries ravaged the Raiders’ tackle corps at a point last season, but Oakland primarily utilized him on the right edge. Stephenson began the 2015 season as the Chiefs’ starting left tackle, when he took Eric Fisher‘s spot, but Andy Reid reversed course and placed Fisher back there. Stephenson didn’t get a starting job back and signed with Denver, where he struggled as the team’s primary right tackle starter.
  • Denver still has interest in re-signing backup outside linebacker Dekoda Watson, according to 9News’ Mike Klis, who confirms the team’s interest in bringing back Vance Walker (Twitter link).
  • Newly signed Kasim Edebali will likely compete for work behind Von Miller and Shane Ray at outside linebacker, Wolfe writes. He played defensive end in the Saints’ 4-3 scheme and 58.7 percent of New Orleans’ special teams snaps in 2016. The Broncos also have Shaquil Barrett as their top backup at outside ‘backer.

Zach Links contributed to this report.

Bears Host Vance Walker On Visit

UFA interior defender Vance Walker paid a visit to Chicago for a Bears summit, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Broncos are still interested in retaining Walker, per Fowler, but the key factor here is how Walker recovers from the ACL tear he sustained last August.

The Broncos signed both Zach Kerr and Domata Peko to help fortify a defensive line that saw both Walker’s and Sylvester Williams‘ contracts come off the books and one that didn’t possess much depth compared to its Super Bowl championship season. Denver was interested in retaining Walker, who was slated to start at right defensive end opposite Derek Wolfe last season prior to the knee injury, in February as well.

Walker spent two seasons in Denver, serving as a backup behind Wolfe and Malik Jackson in 2015 and watching Jared Crick function as a starter in ’16. The Bears could use some depth at their end spot, with Akiem Hicks fronting a somewhat thin unit presently.

Formerly with the Falcons, Raiders and Chiefs, Walker made 32 tackles and recorded two sacks during his most recent healthy season. He turns 30 in April.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Broncos’ Offseason Plans

The Broncos will attempt to address their defensive line during the free agent period, according to Mike Klis of 9NEWS. Former Dolphin Earl Mitchell is one candidate to join Denver’s front, and Klis reports Mitchell will meet with the Broncos on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Mitchell has a busy schedule, as he’ll visit the Seahawks on Monday/Tuesday, the 49ers on Tuesday/Wednesday, and the Falcons on Thursday/Friday.Earl Mitchell (Vertical)

[RELATED: Broncos Working To Re-Sign Kayvon Webster]

If Denver is able to sign Mitchell (who would play end in the Broncos’ 3-4 scheme), it will then focus on securing a replacement for nose tackle Sylvester Williams, per Klis. Williams, a former first-round pick, is expected to test the free agent waters on March 9. The Broncos are also interested in retaining defensive lineman Vance Walker, who missed the entirety of the 2016 after tearing his ACL, according to Klis.

On the offensive side of the the ball, the Broncos will target at least one lineman in free agency, reports Klis. Denver holds an expensive option on left tackle Russell Okung, right tackle Donald Stephenson is expected to be released, and the Broncos’ guards could also be upgraded. Denver’s offensive line ranked as just the league’s No. 24 unit in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus’ year-end rankings.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos’ Vance Walker Done For Season

The Broncos announced today that an MRI revealed defensive end Vance Walker has suffered a torn ACL and is expected to miss the entirety of the 2016 season.Vance Walker (vertical)

[RELATED: Safety Shiloh Keo suspended two games]

Walker’s injury is a serious blow for a Denver defense that has already lost some of its star power through the free agent process. After Malik Jackson landed a massive deal with the Jaguars, Walker was expected to start in Jackson’s place, providing the club’s defense with some level of stability following Jackson’s defection. Instead, former Texan Jared Crick, who signed a two-year deal this offseason, and second-round rookie Adam Gotsis, will form a rotation in an attempt to replace Jackson.

In 15 games last season, the 29-year-old Walker posted two sacks in a limited role, but could have expected to see those numbers grow in 2016. Walker signed a two-year, $5MM deal with Denver prior to last season, and has a $2.25MM cap charge for the upcoming season. That figure will stay on the Broncos’ books despite the fact that Walker won’t be providing any production.

If Denver opts to look to the free agent market in order to add a reinforcement, it could show interest in 3-4 defensive ends such as Chris Canty, Stephen Bowen, and Antonio Smith, the latter of whom played for the Broncos last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Cousins, Broncos, Texans

Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com is fully aware of the recent report indicating that Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins will not sign a long-term deal with Washington prior to the July 15 deadline, which means that he will play the 2016 season under the franchise tag. However, Tandler is not ruling out the possibility of a multi-year contract just yet. As he observes, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, who reported that the Cousins-Redskins impasse would not be resolved this week, said more or less the same thing about the Demaryius Thomas negotiations last year, only to see Thomas sign a five-year contract with Denver right before the deadline.

Florio, though, is not the only one to report that Cousins would play out the 2016 season on his franchise tender. ESPN’s Adam Schefter, for instance, has said the same thing for at least a month. But as Tandler notes, deadlines drive deals, and both Cousins and the Redskins still have plenty of incentive to get a deal done in the next couple of days.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from around the league, beginning with another franchise-tagged player:

  • Jason Cole of Bleacher Report has a non-update update on Von Miller, tweeting that there is no news of any kind to pass along on the negotiations between the Broncos star and the club today. Mike Klis of 9News.com, though, reports that there is a reason for that lack of news. Klis says that the two parties are expected to think about where they are in negotiations today, but not necessarily talk about it. Talks are expected to resume tomorrow, as neither side wants to jeopardize the progress that has been made in recent days.
  • We heard several days ago that contract talks between the Broncos and wideout Emmanuel Sanders have been put on hold, and Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post opines that although Sanders deserves top dollar, he will probably have to leave Denver as a free agent after the 2016 season to find it. As Kiszla writes, the Broncos’ way of doing business doesn’t seem to be quite as generous now that Pat Bowlen is no longer in charge of day-to-day operations.
  • Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com looks at how the Broncos might go about replacing Malik Jackson, and Mason writes that the Broncos will likely turn to a committee approach, with Vance Walker at the head of the committee.
  • Texans superstar J.J. Watt‘s six-year, $100MM deal was “handled perfectly” in 2014, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com writes. Fitzgerald goes on to explain how Houston got away with “highway robbery” in that contract, perhaps exploiting Watt’s desire to be a $100MM player to gain a favorable contractual structure. As such, Fitzgerald believes Watt’s deal is the best one on the Texans’ books, whereas new quarterback Brock Osweiler‘s much-ballyhooed contract is the worst.

West Notes: Relocation, Seahawks, Walker

Last week, Rams fans in St. Louis received a bit of good news when league commissioner Roger Goodell noted that the efforts to keep the Rams in the Gateway City by building a new stadium on the riverfront had made “tremendous progress.” Although financing plans still need to be worked out, a number of football scribes, like Ben Volin of The Boston Globe and Bernie Miklasz of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wonder how Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the league itself could justify moving the Rams to Los Angeles if St. Louis comes through with funding for a new stadium before the team’s current lease with the Edward Jones Dome expires.

That question becomes particularly relevant if the Carson plan, in which the Raiders and Chargers would share a stadium in LA, continues to gain momentum. As Miklasz points out, the Carson proposal would allow the league to solve its “California problem” inside California without having to move a franchise from another region. Furthermore, the Chargers and Raiders have been waiting for a new stadium for years, while the Edward Jones Dome is comparatively new.

But Miklasz is keeping his optimism in check, because the NFL has refused to confirm that a new stadium will assure St. Louis of a place in the league. The city has gone to great lengths to keep the Rams in St Louis, as they have committed to constructing a new, $985MM stadium while still paying off the cost of building the Edward Jones Dome, and the league has repeatedly stated that it strongly prefers to keep each team in its current market. And yet, without the NFL’s public commitment that the riverfront project, if successful, would keep the Rams in place, Miklasz writes that the whole ordeal becomes a question of honor. And honor is one department in which the league sometimes falls short.

Now let’s take a look at a few more links from the league’s West divisions:

  • Albert Breer of the NFL Network tweets that there will not be three teams in Southern California until the Chargers‘ stadium situation is resolved in some way. As Breer notes (via Twitter), it is possible that, if the Chargers reach a deal to stay in San Diego, the Raiders and Rams could share the Inglewood stadium, which is designed to house two teams.
  • On a less serious note, Chargers superfan Dan Juaregui, otherwise known as the costumed “Boltman,” has contacted an attorney about the possibility of filing an antitrust suit against the NFL on behalf of Chargers fans if the Chargers should relocate to Los Angeles. While the attorney himself noted that such a suit would be feasible, Kristina Davis of The San Diego Union-Tribune, citing Chargers counsel Mark Fabiani, says the city gave up its right to sue the league over relocation in its stadium lease.
  • Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times summarizes former agent Joel Corry’s analysis of Russell Wilson‘s contract negotiations with the Seahawks. Our Luke Adams wrote a piece on Corry’s original article several days ago.
  • Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times describes the difficulty opposing defenses will have to face when confronted with the Seahawks‘ triple threat of Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and one of the biggest prizes of the offseason, Jimmy Graham.
  • Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post looks at the value and versatility that newly-acquired defensive tackle Vance Walker, who was used sparingly with division rival Kansas City, brings to the Broncos.

 

Broncos Sign Vance Walker

Defensive lineman Vance Walker has jumped from one AFC West team to another. Less than a week after being cut by the Chiefs, Walker has signed with the Broncos on a two-year deal worth $5MM, according to agent Thomas Sims (via Twitter). Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com tweets that the pact is worth $4MM, so there may be a gap between the base value and the max value.

Walker, who started 15 games for the Raiders in 2013, never became a regular contributor for the Chiefs, playing just 238 defensive snaps after appearing in nearly 800 in Oakland a year earlier. Kansas City released him only a year after signing him to a three-year, $10MM contract in free agency last offseason.

In Denver, Walker will help create depth on a defensive line that figures to be without Terrance Knighton in 2015.

AFC Notes: Houston, Wallace, Broncos

Some assorted notes from around the AFC…

  • The Chiefs haven’t spoken to linebacker Justin Houston‘s representatives since slapping him with the nonexclusive franchise tag in early March, according to Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star. However, general manager John Dorsey said the lack of progress on a longterm contract isn’t a reason to panic. “It’s an ongoing process, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “These things with players of this magnitude, it’s gonna take a while.”
  • The Dolphins have seen plenty of roster turnover recently, but it sounds like the team is hoping to keep two potential cap casualties. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says the team is working to restructure the contracts of wideout Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Salguero notes that the status of these negotiations could determine whether the duo sticks around for next season.
  • The Broncos are seeking reinforcement in their secondary, and ESPN’s Adam Caplan tweets that the team will meet with safety Darian Stewart on Thursday. Meanwhile, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun says that both sides will instead meet this evening, and he notes that the Giants are also interested.
  • Defensive end Vance Walker will meet with the Broncos later this week, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post. The 28-year-old spent last season with the Chiefs.