Countdown to Free Agency: Live Blog, 3/9
It’s perhaps the most turbulent time in the NFL calendar, however fear not as PFF is here to help you through. NFL free agency is rapidly approaching where deals will be signed and players will be cut as NFL front offices dance a graceful number that sees them work the cap to improve their future fortunes.
As ever at PFF we’re going to be commenting on all the transactions, the visits and much more as we give you the most comprehensive service you’ll see anywhere. Before the main event on Tuesday stick with us for the Pre-Free Agency blog that has us reacting to all the news the legal tampering period brings about.
(We’ll be updating every 30 minutes so keep coming back to see our take on the developments before free agency officially opens.)
06:30 Possible signing ahoy in New York Jets as they are set, according to Mike Garafolo, to sign Seahawks guard James Carpenter. Something of a disappointment since being a first round bit, Carpenter initially struggled at right tackle in his rookie year before switching to left guard and continuing to do so. He has improved but not to the level you’d expect out of a first round pick and it’s not hard to see why Seattle have let Carpenter reach the open market. He was our 47th ranked guard in 2014.
06:00 VISIT! This one sees, courtesy of Mike Garafolo, the Bills hosting Charles Clay. Clay was given the transition tag so Miami has the right to match any offer, but it’s always interesting when a divisional rival brings in a player. Last year we saw a similar situation with Andrew Hawkins joining the Browns after getting tendered so it’s not impossible the Bills walk away with one of the top playmakers in Miami. Clay is coming off a year where he was 14th overall in our tight end rankings and would prove a versatile weapon.
05:30 RELEASE! The Receiver market added a couple of players yesterday and one of those was Stevie Johnson who was cut by the 49ers. The enigmatic Johnson has given some of the best receivers in the game plenty of trouble but has failed to deliver consistently in recent years since his big 2012 where he ended with six touchdowns and 1,046 yards. But he flashed his ability last year in a limited role, turning just 305 snaps into a healthy +6.0 grade. We’d be keen for him to land somewhere that will throw more than 49 balls his way, and with a 2.13 yards per route run number (16th best of all receivers) we wouldn’t be surprised if he delivered.
05:00 Some catch up news from yesterday and it appears that the Cardinals are going to sign Mike Iupati to a long term deal. The premier run blocker available in free agency, the hope is he can kick start a line that finished 23rd in our run blocking rankings last year. Perennially one of the worst offensive lines out there, this marks the third year in a row the team have made big moves on the line (drafting Jonathan Cooper and paying Jared Veldheer) as they try to slow down the ferocious defenses in the NFC West. Iupati had the highest run blocking score of any left guard but is far from as impressive in pass protection, where his -7.5 grade was 24th worst of all guards (out of 78). Still he represents a huge upgrade at the position and comes with the added benefit of weakening a division rival.
04:42 The PFF team got themselves an early night sleep, extra excited about this Christmas like Free Agency (even if it feels we opened a lot of our presents already). But we’re going to be with you all day to go catch up on the overnight developments and analyze all the developments as they occur. You can click here for what went down yesterday.
23:00 SIGNING! As Aaron Wilson reports, it appears that former Philadelphia Eagles CB Cary Williams will join the Seattle Seahawks, essentially trading places with former Seahawk and free agent CB Byron Maxwell. Williams has graded around average for much of his career, finishing at +0.9 last season to go with a -1.0 overall. He was targeted 99 times, surrendering 56 catches for 757 yards and 5 touchdowns to go with two interceptions and five passes defensed.
Williams will likely man Maxwell’s vacated right cornerback position, the same role he played in Philadelphia. This switch of cornerbacks will be a fun scheme test as Maxwell has graded better than Williams over a two-year period, but we may get some insight as to how much Seattle’s surrounding talent in the secondary, and on the defensive line, helps their cornerbacks.
22: 30 Mike Garafolo reports that former Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters will sign with the Arizona Cardinals once free agency opens tomorrow. Peters has become a solid run defender in recent years, grading at +3.3 in 2013 and +2.3 in 2014. He’s never posted a positive pass rush grade in his five-year career, but he’ll likely be added to the early down run stopping mix in Arizona. He lined up all over the defense last year for the Falcons, playing 158 snaps at 3-technique (outside shade of guard), 86 snaps at 2i (inside shade of guard), and 144 snaps at nose tackle, whether head up or with a shade. That versatility should be vital as Peters heads west.
22:00 The Jaguars are back in the news with the reported signing of OLB Dan Skuta per Adam Caplan. Skuta comes over from the 49ers where he had a strong showing in 2013 in particular when he graded at +8.8 overall including two sacks, four QB Hits, and 14 hurries on just 106 rushes. He had a stellar pass rushing effort last season as well in a part-time role, grading at +2.7 with two sacks, a hit and eight hurries on 113 rushes. Skuta also has experience dropping into coverage (-1.8 last two years) while tacking on 13 solo tackles on special teams the last two years.
21:30 Jacksonville took another step in improving the offense by likely adding Julius Thomas per Ian Rapoport. The young tight end had a breakout season in 2013 with 12 touchdowns and 11 players missing tackles on him. In 2014 he missed most of the year due to injury, but still led all tight ends in touchdowns with 12. Marcedes Lewis has been the Jaguars top tight end for the past eight years, but has missed time in each of the last two while also being less effective while on the field. All of the Jacksonville tight ends saw a combined 69 targets last year, which is a number that is bound to go up for this upcoming season. If you want more detail on Thomas, you can find it here in his Free Agent Profile.
20:00 SIGNING! With their receiving corps perennially in flux, the Cleveland Browns – per Dustin Fox on Twitter – have made a stab at securing another option as news suggests they’ll be landing free agent Brian Hartline. Hartline was released by Miami a week ago and made a handful of visits before the “legal tampering” period opened and others were able to engage in open talks. His first trip was to Cleveland and it appears that’s where he’s now settled. With Josh Gordon suspended for at least a year and Miles Austin a free agent, excellent slot man Andrew Hawkins was left as the lone plus threat. As for what Hartline brings to the table, his Yards per Route Run figure has dwindled over the past three seasons (2.08, 18th in 2012; 1.63, 42nd in 2013; 0.99, 83rd in 2014) and his targets, well over 100 in each of 2012 and 2013, fell off to just 62 in 2014. Not a splash signing in the end, but with the Browns’ QB questions lingering it’s not easy to see the addition of any receiver generating that much excitement.
19:20 RELEASE! A bit of a catch up on the last hour with a number of veterans hitting the open market. First up the Patriots have reportedly (though not officially yet) declined the option for Darrelle Revis releasing arguably the league’s best corner to the open market once again. Revis has played the NFL’s contract game as well as he’s played receivers in the past and now has a Super Bowl ring to add to his résumé after a stellar season with the Patriots. Our number four graded corner this season (+17.7 overall) the Patriots figure to be in the running to regain Revis’ services but other teams in the AFC East are rumored to be in for him as well.
RELEASES! Meanwhile in St. Louis, the Rams have cut loose a pair of veteran linemen signed in consecutive offseasons. Acquired in 2013 to man their blind side the Rams got one good season from Jake Long before injuries caught up with Long again. After the Rams acquired Greg Robinson with the number two overall pick last season Long’s days in St Louis were always likely to be numbered. Still, after impressing them with a solid 2013 season (+22.5 overall) in the first year of his contract the Rams will reportedly keep in touch with Long through his rehab with a view to potentially bring him back. Joining Long on the outs in St Louis is Scott Wells who didn’t earn a positive grade in his three seasons with the Rams and hits the open market after finishing the 2014 season as our lowest graded center (-29.7 overall).
18:00 Not an awful lot going on right now so why not listen to the soothing tones of some of our analysts as they break down the free agency developments via podcast.
17:30 SIGNING! Field Yates is at it again, informing us all that the Seahawks are bringing back Will Blackmon, who last played for them during the 2013 preseason. At that stage they were loaded with cornerbacks but the loss of Walter Thurmond last year and impending one of Byron Maxwell this year, means there’s a spot there, especially for someone like Blackmon who can play the slot and contribute on special teams. The concern is that the 30-year-old Blackmon had a year to forget in Jacksonville with a -6.9 grade over his 361 snaps that saw the team cut ties with him. He’ll have a camp and preseason to prove himself worth a roster spot.
17:20 RE-SIGNING! It’s gone a little quiet so we head to Tampa Bay for news from Aaron Wilson that they have re-signed defensive end Laurence Sidbury. He’s bounced around the league since being a fourth round pick in Atlanta, managing just 383 snaps during his entire career that is involved stops in Indianapolis and Houston. He’ll compete for a roster spot but you wouldn’t bank on him getting it.
17:00 RE-SIGNING! It’s been a day to forget for 49ers fans but Field Yates has some better news, as he reports you’re bringing back Craig Dahl. The former Giant has managed 275 defensive snaps since the team signed him, filling in as a backup safety. His bigger contribution has been on special teams where’s he logged 663 teams snap during the regular season, making 14 tackles in the process. That’s a core special teamer.
16:45 RE-SIGNING! Ross Jones of FoxSports reports the Cardinals have announced they’re bringing back Alameda Ta’amu on a one-year deal. With Dan Williams likely leaving he’ll have a chance to battle for the starting nose tackle spot, with his success likely coming down to how well his recovery from injury goes. The former fourth round pick managed just 24 snaps in 2014 as he battled his way back from a 2013 ACL tear. Before that he’d earned a +4.3 grade for his work in the run game in his 226 2013 snaps and fits in for a small role in the Cardinals base defense.
16:40 TENDERING! The Browns have been busying tendering their restricted free agents with both Tashaun Gipson and Craig Robertson getting second round tenders. Gipson has a breakout year before his season ended early, making plays left, right and center as he finished with six picks and allowed just 141 yards into his coverage. He’ll return to Cleveland and try to prove himself worth a deal similar to that Devin McCourty just received. Robertson, who was poor in 2013, lost his every down role status and responded with much improved performance (+2.2) and is the kind of player who will compete for playing time whether as a starter or situational player.
16:30 RELEASE! One from earlier and it’s Curtis Lofton being released by the Saints. His play fell off a cliff in 2014, missing way too many tackles (22 of them) and struggling to make plays in the running game as the team had a year to forget. Never the best linebacker in coverage, fans of his and whoever signs him will hope 2014 was an abberation and he can return to being a solid middle linebacker.
16:25 RELEASE! The end of an era in Houston as Adam Schefter announces the team have cut the greatest player in their history, Andre Johnson. He wasn’t happy with a reduced role and the team wasn’t happy with how much they were paying him, so something had to change and it’s the nuclear option. A shame given his time with the team but completely understandable, the next question becomes where Johnson lands. After a down year for Johnson it’s easy to write him off, but we’ve seen players (especially with something to prove) bounce back and you wouldn’t put that past Johnson who as recently as 2013 had the sixth highest receiving grades of all wideouts and was ninth in the league with 2.3 yards per route run. How his market develops will be very interesting to watch.
16:15 RE-SIGNING! Tim McManus reports that the Eagles have locked down one of their own in the shape of extremely productive pass rusher, Brandon Graham. It looked like both parties were heading in different directions but the release of Trent Cole and a 4-year contract offer at $6.5m a year were enough to convince the edge rusher it was worth staying in Philadelphia. We’ve written a lot about Graham and understandably so, with only playing time limited his production has been incredibly impressive so we’re very excited to see what he can do playing more than 524 snaps. He had the highest Pass Rushing Productivity score (17.7) of all edge rushers in 2014, turning 225 pass rushing attempts into 51 combined sacks, hits and hurries.
16:00 RELEASE! Could this be the end of the Steelers long term relationship with Brett Keisel? Adam Caplan has announced the perennially cap challenged Terrible Towels are saying goodbye to the former seventh round pick. Keisel logged 451 snaps for the team last year, finishing the season particularly well with a +6.5 grade in his last two games. Retirement might seem the likeliest option for Keisel at 35 years of age but we wouldn’t be overly surprised if a reunion with Pittsburgh went down at some point in the time it the next 365 days.
15:45 According to Pro Football Talk the Chiefs have convinced DL Mike DeVito to take a pay cut, creating $2,5m in cap space. The Chiefs were one of the few teams over the projected cap staring down the barrel of free agency so any moves they can make in this area will be welcome ones. DeVito played just 28 snaps before injury this year, but the season before notched a +16.4 grade against the run, and has been a consistently strong defender in that area throughout his career.
15:30 Brandon Graham reportedly is seeking $30m over four years, or $7.5m per year, which is not an outrageous sum for one of the best pure pass rushers around, even if there are question marks around whether he can step up to a full-time workload having never had the opportunity to in the past.
15:15 RE-SIGNING! Per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the Steelers have re-signed TE Matt Spaeth. As you might expect at 6’7 and north of 270lbs, Spaeth is a pretty good blocking tight end, notching a +4.0 grade in 2014. He was thrown at only four times all season, and more than once in a game on just one occasion, but he did catch three of those passes for 46 yards and a score.
15:00 Per Tim Graham things in Buffalo have taken a new course with RB Fred Jackson. The team has now approached him about restructuring his contract but want him to stay, a departure from earlier reports that had claimed he was on his way out as they re-ordered their depth chart.
14:45 The New England Patriots are reportedly allowing CB Brandon Browner to “explore his value around the league” according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. Browner is due a $2m roster bonus on Tuesday, and the Patriots are apparently not too keen on paying it given the money they have committed elsewhere or are trying to free up in order to keep Darrelle Revis around. Browner played 591 snaps in 2014 and though he was occasionally suspect in coverage he did bring a certain physical presence to the defense, one that reflected in 15 penalties across just nine games (19 in 12 including the playoffs)
RE-SIGNING! The Carolina Panthers have announced that the team has re-signed QB/WR Joe Webb to a one-year contract. Webb played a grand total of 28 snaps in 2014 across five games, including five in the divisional playoff defeat to Seattle.
14:30 According to Dianna Marie Russini of NBC the Atlanta Falcons are frontrunners for Brian Orakpo. One of the league’s most impressive pass-rushers when healthy, Orakpo has now missed significant time in two of the past three seasons. In 2013, his last full, healthy season he notched 11 sacks, 11 hits and 37 hurries from his outside linebacker position. Definitely a talented player, but his value will be one that the medical staff has their say on.
14:15 Such is the nature of the quarterback starved NFL, Shaun Hill has multiple suitors. Jim Thomas of the St Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that the Raiders and Cowboys are in the market for his services. Hill has long been one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks, but it was such a long time between being thrown in to start that his time may have come and gone without anybody knowing about it. When he was forced to start for the Rams in 2014 he posted a disastrous -9.1 grade on 468 snaps and looked no better than Austin Davis.
14:00 RE-SIGNING! You can’t beat breaking news that comes from the best source possible – the horse’s mouth, and in this case Steelers LB Arthur Moats tweeted that he will be staying in Pittsburgh. He signs a new 3-year deal. Moats has always been an underrated player who never seems to quite get the ink he deserves and in 344 snaps this past season he earned a +7.3 grade thanks to 15 hurries, three hits and four sacks from 155 pass rushing snaps.
13:45 The venerable sportswriter John McClain is reporting that interest in OLB Brooks Reed is heating up with the Jets, Falcons, Bears, Cardinals and Raiders all in the chase. Reed is a player that interests many here at PFF Towers. He has struggled as an edge rusher (22nd in Pass Rushing Productivity at the position with just 34 total pressures), but some feel he could be converted into a much better player inside, something the Texans themselves were reportedly mulling before injury to Clowney kept him on the edge.
Ian Rapaport is also reporting that the 49ers extended TE Derek Carrier to a 2-year deal, can be worth up to $3.3M (as Matt Maiocco said). Has played just 236 career snaps, but graded reasonably well in them.
13:30 Benjamin Allbright is reporting that the Rams are in for Nick Foles and have upped their offer from their opening salvo. Foles may represent a more healthy quarterback option for the Rams, but not necessarily one that will perform any better than Sam Bradford. Foles had a -7.4 grade this season before Sanchez took over, throwing ten 10 picks and 13 TDs.
13:15 In a rare quiet moment during the madness before the madness of free agency the only news over the last few minutes is that Vince Young will not be attending the NFL’s inaugural veterans combine later this month.
13:00 The Jaguars haven’t landed Ndamukong Suh but reports suggest they may get the next best thing. Jared Odrick is exactly the kind of versatile chess piece that Gus Bradley will love getting his hands on, with experience at end and tackle in the Dolphins 4-3 and end when they ran a 3-4. At this stage it’s hard to know where he’ll land on that line but we can expect a significant role in their sub package defense, teaming up on the inside with Sen’Derrick Marks to cause havoc. Odrick didn’t finish the year particularly strong but still finished the year with the 16th highest pass rushing grade for a defensive tackle after logging 28 quarterback disruptions and five batted passes.
12:45 SIGNING! After being cut by the Arizona Cardinals Ted Ginn was free to officially sign with anyone he deemed suitable, and with that freedom he’s made the choice to go back to Carolina. Ginn remains an explosive returner and an underwhelming receiver, but seemed to take a step back in both regards last year as he dropped from fifth in our returner rankings to a best of 15th in his punt returning while posting a negative receiving grade. Here’s hoping for his sake that a return to Carolina will bring out the best in him.
12:30 RE-SIGNING! Not much confirmed news out of Cleveland so far but they have re-signed offensive lineman Ryan Seymour via the team website. Seymour was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Seahawks but in Seattle that’s never a guarantee of sticking on the roster for long. He spent the 2014 preseason playing for the 49ers before injuries and poor performance saw Cleveland call him up to be their starting center for 179 snaps at the backend of the season. This wasn’t without its isuses as his -5.1 grade showed but he was an upgrade on Nick McDonald.
12:15 RE-SIGNING! The Panthers have ditched one running back this season but they are bringing one back in the shape of Fozzy Whittaker. He’s signed a two-year deal after playing 98 snaps for the team during the 2014 season where he was largely impressive. He should have a chance to fight for a backup spot to the fragile Jonathan Stewart while contributing on special teams where he featured 134times last year.
12:00 After two injury plagued years we’re hoping that wherever Tyvon Branch ends up, he remains healthy. He’s got visits with the Jets and Chiefs scheduled and will likely settle for a prove it deal. It wasn’t so long ago he was viewed as one of the best safeties in the league, capable of laying the hammer down in the run game and talented enough to cover slot receivers. A healthy Branch is an upgrade for nearly every team but 261 snaps over two years is the kind of snap count return that will scare more than one team away.
11:45 While reports suggest the Dolphins and Titans aren’t the frontrunners for the services of Brandon Graham there’s a new report emerging from Derek Gunn that says the Giants are going to make the soon to be former Eagle an offer he can’t refuse. Graham was the subject of a podcast from our good selves last week and is perhaps the premier pass rusher left on the market, with only his playing time really going against him. He’s proven addicted to generating pressure whether it be in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme earning a quite ridiculous 17.7 pass rushing productivity rating that was the best in the league in 2014. He’s put up a monster +49.0 pass rushing grading over the past three years and figures to get better the more he plays.
11:30 It’s not even noon and it’s already been a frantic morning. We’ve had retirements, re-signings and unofficial signings that have us curious to see what becomes of free agency at 4pm tomorrow. Take your mind off that for a second and get a handle on all the fantastic content we’re producing at PFF. We’ve got the free agent tracker, our top 75 free agents, a host of podcasts and much more!
11:15 RETIREMENT! While it remains to be seen if Patrick Willis does retire, one 49er who is calling it a day is Justin Smith. The former Bengal made the move to San Francisco in 2008 and has flourished ever since and will no doubt earn strong consideration when the Pro Football Focus Hall of Fame becomes a reality. He was a lynchpin for the dominant Niners defense, peaking with his second place overall finish in our 2011 Top 101 Players in the NFL. A fearsome pass rush he was formidable against the run, rarely coming off the field and always seeming to wear down offensive linemen. He retiresafter a strong 2014 season where he was particularly good against the run.
11:00 News coming in from Ian Rapoport who says that Jermey Parnell has informed him he’ll be heading to Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been trying to retool their offensive line the past two years and they clearly see Parnell as a player who can add a bit of toughness and grit after a long time in Dallas playing the role of sixth lineman. It’s something of a gamble considering Parnell had just eight career starts at tackle during his time as a Cowboy, but the upside is there given how well he played when replacing an injured Doug Free in 2014. He ended the year with a healthy +8.7 grade and never looked a liability in pass protection. Still more will be expected out of him now and he wouldn’t be the first tackle to look good in a limited sample size only to collapse under the weight of a 16 game schedule.
10:45 RETIREMENT? This one comes out of left field with Rand Gettin reporting that Patrick Willis is set to retire. We would presume injuries play a part in this and respect a man for leaving on his own terms, but it’s still desperately disappointing news for any football fan out there. Willis has been the best linebacker in the league for the past eight years proving a once in a generation type talent, consistently grading out superbly and being a joy to watch. He was putting forth a Hall of Fame type caliber career but it remains to be seen if eight years will be enough for his legacy to be cemented in Canton. If this is to be the end then it’s worth pointing out his first seven years in the league saw him finish in the top three of our inside linebacker rankings every time. Stunning consistency that is rarely achieved.
10:30 One from earlier and it appears Rodney Hudson will be staying in the AFC West. Only it won’t be with the Chiefs, instead it will be with the Raiders who are going to pay him $44.5m over five years per Jason La Canfora. Hudson is a talented player, finishing third overall in our center rankings in 2014, but as good as he’s been this year it seems somewhat over the top to make him the highest paid center in the league. There’s argument he deserves extra credit for playing on a bad line, but is he so good that you’d pay him more than guys like Nick Mangold, Alex Mack or John Sullivan? Regardless the Raiders have really shaken up their line these past two years, allowing their two most talented players (Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski) to leave and bringing in a number of bodies.
10:15 RE-SIGNING! Rinse and repeat on that last update as the Texans have re-signed another player, this time it’s Ryan Mallett per Mike Garafolo. For more details John McClain reports it’s $7m for him over two years for the team to get an extended look at him and see if he is the answer to their quarterback problems. Mallet won’t be handed the starting job (with reports suggesting Brian Hoyer is going to be joining) and it’s easy to see why given his lack of experience. He’s up to 182 career snaps since being a third round pick in 2011 and his most notable accomplishment is playing through a serious pectoral muscle injury against Cincinnati (even if he did stink it up it showed some courage). Consider us intrigued by what the Texans do at the QB position in 2015.
10:00 RE-SIGNING! The Texans are continuing to look after their own even if their latest move isn’t anywhere near as flashy as re-signing Derek Newton and Kareem Jackson. That’s because they’ve re-signed restricted free agent Damaris Johnson on a one-year deal for $1m. Johnson played 586 snaps for the Texans in 2014 and was something of a non-factor as he earned the second lowest receiving grade of all wideouts (-10.4). He didn’t help his cause with a fumble and six drops but did show some shiftiness after the catch forcing eight missed tackles on his 31 receptions. He’ll return to compete for a slot receiver position after running 290 of his 338 routes from their last year. He’ll hope to be more successful after averaging just 1 yard per slot route run, a number that ranked 40th out of 50.
9:45 CATCH UP! It’s been an extremely busy morning already with Jerry Hughes re-signing in Buffalo (you can get more on that here) while perhaps in bigger news the Bears look primed to land the versatile Pernell McPhee on a five-year $40m deal. It’s the first significant free agent move for rookie General Manager Ryan Pace after trading away Brandon Marshall and on the surface it’s a good one. He’s landed a defender who has a knack for generating pressure wherever you line him up. He delivered in a big way in 2014 finishing behind only Justin Houston in our pass rushing productivity scores for 3-4 outside linebackers after delivering 64 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 372 pass rushing snaps.
Yesterday’s News: You can also catch up on our news from yesterday by clicking here. The Philadelphia Eagles were incredibly busy getting agreements in principle hashed out, Ndamukong Suh seemed to find a home and Devin McCourty signed on for five more years in New England