Countdown to Free Agency: Live Blog, 3/7-3/8
It’s perhaps the most turbulent time in the NFL calendar, fear not for 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 weekend developments)
23:00 RE-SIGNING! Mike Garafolo first reported that the Patriots have re-signed FS Devin McCourty while Ian Rapoport has chimed in with the terms. McCourty was a major offseason priority in New England, with only Darrelle Revis’ contract situation in contention. McCourty has been one of the league’s best free safeties since converting from cornerback in 2012, leading the league with a +14.1 coverage grade in 2013 and posting a +11.2 mark in 2014 including the Super Bowl run.
McCourty defines the name of the position as he rarely gives up big plays and he had the lowest percentage of negatively graded plays among safeties last season. His return to New England allows them to continue their single-high scheme that allows him to play center field while the cornerbacks play man coverage underneath. All eyes are now on Revis as New England takes care of their first offseason hurdle.
22:10: RE-STRUCTURE! According to Adam Caplan, the Chiefs have agreed to re-structure OLB Tamba Hali. With Jeremy Maclin on his way to Kansas City, the move was likely made to free up the necessary cap space. Hali took a step back from a production standpoint in 2014 though he still finished at a respectable +11.2 overall including a +5.8 grade as a pass rusher. While it’s not as flashy as the +22.0 overall and +16.0 pass rush marks of 2013, or his gaudy pass rush grades of +54.5 in 2010 and +27.4 in 2011, Hali is still a productive player and a nice complement to the recently re-signed Justin Houston who mans the opposite outside linebacker spot.
21:40 RE-SIGNING! The Colts have re-signed CB Darius Butler according to Kevin Bowen. Butler finished at -3.2 overall in 2014 including -2.2 in coverage. Despite the grade, Butler did rank seventh in yards/cover snap among slot cornerbacks at 1.18 while allowing a reception every 11.2 cover snaps to rank fifth. He showed similar production in 2013 as he finished at -0.1 in coverage while intercepting four passes and deflecting 10 others. The Colts will now return their top three cornerbacks as our No. 2 CB in coverage, Vontae Davis (+16.5), returns along with Greg Toler.
20:50 As Chris Mortensen reports, the Chiefs may be very close to adding former Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin to their WR corps as he’s expected to re-unite with Andy Reid. Maclin is coming off a strong season in which he caught 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns. He dropped only one pass to lead the league in drop rate, while adding nine catches for 356 yards on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air.
The question now becomes, can the Chiefs actually take advantage of him as a deep threat as quarterback Alex Smith attempted only 5.2 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards, by far the lowest rate in the league. Maclin did pick up 511 yards after the catch, good for seventh among wide receivers, so that after-the-catch ability will be coveted in the Chiefs’ short passing game.
20:25 RE-SIGNING! It doesn’t look like there will be much special teams movement this off-season as another kicker re-signed with their old team. In this case it was Mike Nugent who is returning to the Bengals on a 2 year $4.0m deal according to Mike Garafolo. In 2014 Nugent was just average as a kickoff man. He completed 81.3% of his field goals, and didn’t make a kick beyond 50 yards. The move means 5 of the 7 unrestricted free agent kickers have re-signed with their own team leaving Jay Feely from Chicago and Ryan Succop of the Titans as the only available kickers who played last season.
19:20 RE-SIGNING! The Eagles have made today’s big unofficial signing if the reports are accurate but this one they can make official before Tuesday as Ian Rapoport reports that he will return to Philadelphia on a two year deal. The Eagles’ starter down the stretch Sanchez topped 300 yards four times in eight starts but tossed 11 interceptions and still displayed his old frailties in terms of decision making and accuracy. The split between Sanchez’s work with and without play action after entering the starting lineup in Week 10 was stark: With play action he went 56/85 with seven touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 113.9 (8th in the league), without play action he went 127/202 with five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 77.4 (t-12th worst in the league). Are we set for a Foles vs Sanchez QB battle or will the Eagles add a rookie QB to the mix?
19:15 There have been rumors linking Torrey Smith with a move to San Francisco and the Ravens’ WR has confirmed on his blog that he will not be returning to Baltimore in a heartfelt farewell post. A 1,000 yard receiver in 2013, Smith had a difficult 2014 season but his ability to stretch the field along with hints of a more rounded game were always likely to make him a free agent the cap strapped Ravens couldn’t afford to retain. Smith has been targeted 142 times on deep passes during his career in Baltimore collecting 42 receptions for more than 1,500 yards, converting 15 of those catches into touchdowns.
18:55 When the Jets acquired Brandon Marshall via a trade on Friday it was widely anticipated that the clock was ticking on Percy Harvin‘s brief stint in New York and Pro Football Talk has that clock set run out on Monday. Harvin played 373 snaps in eight games for the Jets and though a solid performer didn’t provide the spark the Jets were hoping for. At his best a dynamic receiver with ball in hand Harvin broke four tackles on 29 receptions averaging only 5.3 yards after the catch per reception, tied for 34th in the league among wide receivers during his brief stay in New York. Harvin’s 563 snaps for the Jets and Seahawks marked the fourth time in six years he has topped 500 snaps in a season but that he has never played more than 700 snaps in a season will once again be the over-riding question as to the lasting impact he can have for a team.
18:05 RE-SIGNING! According to Tom Pelissero, the Vikings have re-signed backup defensive tackle Tom Johnson to a three-year, $7-million deal, including about $3 million guaranteed. Johnson had somewhat of a breakout season in 2014 as he graded at +5.2 on 444 snaps. He rushed the passer 322 times, picking up an impressive six sacks, six QB Hits, and 18 hurries, good for a pass rush grade of +5.0. He spent 77.9% of his snaps at 3-technique, so expect him to provide valuable depth behind starter Sharrif Floyd, while making an impact as a situational pass rusher.
17:30 We’ve got some news that doesn’t center around the Eagles, instead it involves vengeance! A couple of years back the Denver Broncos stole away guard Louis Vasquez from the San Diego Chargers, and it’s taken two years for the Chargers to find their revenge with rumors (courtesy of Michael Gehlken) that Orlando Franklin to San Diego is unofficially done. He’d plug in at right guard on an offensive line that has allowed too much pressure too quickly, promising to add some stability in pass pro and some much needed push in the running game. A team burnt by line injuries last year let’s not forget Franklin is also a pretty capable right tackle and the versatility he offers there will provide extra flexibility if the team is beset by more injuries in 2014. After Bryan Bulaga he’s our top offensive lineman left in free agency and would represent a major coup, not least because they’ll be weakening a division rival in the process. Franklin was our top ranked guard in the AFC West in 2014 with the Chargers home to two of the worst three (Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman).
17:15 More Philadelphia news and this time it’s from Josina Anderson who pretty much confirms what has been reported all along and that is Byron Maxwell is heading to Philadelphia. Our 29th ranked corner in 2014 Maxwell endured a tough end to the season (and rough postseason) where he was less than 100%, but standing at six feet and over 200 pounds has the kind of size teams crave right now. His 2013 season where he scored an impressive +10.5 grade is proof to how capable he is whilst he’s allowed just four career touchdowns (by comparison Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams allowed 14 combined in just 2014) so the Eagles will clearly be expecting a big upgrade.
17:00 It does feel like the Philadelphia Eagles are intent on owning the free agency headlines. They’re one of a number of teams heavily interesting in Devin McCourty, and Jim Wyatt reports that the Titans are joining them (as well as the Giants) in pursuit of him. The safety who can play center field is one of the hardest talents to pick up and Super Bowl winner McCourty has proven to be one of the most able in the league in this regard. His combination of range, reaction and angles make him superb in this regard with no safety coming close to his league low percentage level of negative plays. He’s our second ranked available talent on the free agent market so it’s no surprise teams crave him.
16:30 UPDATE! At 15.45 we talked about the rumor of Frank Gore to the Eagles. Well Adam Schefter reports that Gore has been telling those around him it’s a done deal. It remains an intriguing move and one that will really test the Chip Kelly offensive system. We’d be surprised if this were the only move the Eagles made at the running back position this year, especially with a draft deep on talent.
16:00 RE-SIGNING! The cornerback market took a big hit yesterday with Kareem Jackson staying in Houston and it has just taken another with Adam Schefter reporting that the Chargers and Brandon Flowers have inked terms on a 4-year deal (with Aaron Wilson saying it could be worth as much as $36m over the duration of the deal). Flowers had been superb in Kansas City before a disappointing 2013 season saw him unceremoniously dumped. His response? Go to an AFC West rival and rebuild, ending the year with a +7.1 coverage grade whilst allowing just 56% of passes completed into his coverage. We wait for the arrival of Darrelle Revis to the free agent market but the loss of top talent (as well as it looking increasingly likely that Byron Maxwell will head to the Eagles) mean guys like Chris Culliver could be about to strike it rich big time.
15:45 RUMOR! Consider this an interesting one courtesy of Sheil Kapadia. On the hunt for a running back the Eagles, formerly tied down to the elusive LeSean McCoy, are making a big push for 32 year old Frank Gore, offering the career long 49er a deal with $7m in guarantees. He’s certainly a more disciplined runner than McCoy but with so many miles on the clock and a diminishing talent as a runner (his rushing grade dropped to a +1.8 mark in 2014, down on the +3.1 a year earlier) we’ll begin to see just how much that system is responsible for rushing yardage. The big help being the imposing offensive line of the Eagles, that even with injuries throughout 2014 still finished second overall in our line rankings and led the way with their run blocking. If this deal goes down consider us surprised but with the ultra aggressive, play to win Eagles, who’s to tell?
15:30 Out with the old and all that jazz. The Green Bay Packers have, according to Tom Silverstein, no intention of bringing back Matt Flynn, hot on the heels of their re-signing of Scott Tolzien on a one-year $1.35m deal. Flynn made himself a lot of money on a small sample size filling in for Aaron Rodgers back in 2011, struggling to catch on in both Oakland and Seattle after guaranteed money was put his way. Returning to the green and gold saw him looking a lot sharper but the higher ceiling of Tolzien made the decision easier. The former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin impressed in a cameo at starter between weeks 10 and 12 of the 2013 season, and was then particularly impressive during preseason (+6.6 grade on 118 snaps). He’s in pole position to be the clipboard holder in chief for Green Bay, an important position given the history Aaron Rodgers has with injury.
15:00 You can keep up to date with Free Agency here at PFF as your one stop shop for the news and instant analysis on the moves during the countdown and when the window opens on Tuesday. Keep up to date with all the free agents by team and by position using our Free Agent Tracker. Keep up to date with our Top 75 free agents which we’ll update as we go to give a picture of who the best guys remaining are as signings and re-signings are made. You’ll also find a selection of profiles on the top free agents such as Pernell McPhee who figures to be a hot commodity on Tuesday. You can also dig through our recent depth chart series to give an idea as to how you think signings and re-signings might upgrade the current state of rosters around the league.
14:30 We brought you a headline piece talking about a likely parting of the ways between Torrey Smith and the Baltimore Ravens and now Aaron Wilson gives us some detail on where Smith could be headed next; San Francisco. The 49ers have their own impending free agent at quarterback with Michael Crabtree’s contract up on Tuesday as well but Smith would add some real deep speed to the 49ers’ offensive for Colin Kaepernick. Adam Caplan also notes that the Colts and Texans are interested too but also sees the 49ers as front runners. An under productive 2014 was less than ideal timing for Smith as he hit the open market but he did still tie for fourth in the league among wide receivers with five touchdowns on deep passes last season.
14:00 There have been rumors circulating in the last day or so of the Eagles interest in Frank Gore and now Ian Rapoport reports that the 49ers are resigned to losing their long-time starting running back. Turning 32 in May, Gore is still an effective ball carrier and topped 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season and his eighth time in the last nine years, grading as a top 15 back in our overall rankings in both 2012 and 2013. Gore finished his 2014 season with back to back 100 yard games, earning a +4.1 rushing grade against Arizona in Week 17, breaking a season high seven tackles in a 20-17 49ers win.
13:30 We’re up and running for Day Two of our live blog counting down to the start of free agency and it’s time to get you caught up on some of the news to start the afternoon off right.
Suh Headed for South Beach? The biggest news to kick the day off comes from Chris Mortensen who reports that the Dolphins will snag the biggest free agent when the window opens on Tuesday. Mortensen quotes a headline figure of $116 million dollars with $60 million guaranteed for Ndamukong Suh with those figures beating off competition from seemingly half the league for Suh’s services. Suh has finished in the top 5 in our defensive tackle rankings for each of the last three years and seemingly won’t be hanging around long on the open market.
Jets and Texans in for Hoyer: In spite of the quarterback class being an underwhelming one there have still been plenty of reports about landing spots for Brian Hoyer with multiple reports suggesting that the Jets and the Texans are his two favored landing spots. They represent Hoyer’s best chance to compete for a starting gig with the Texans options wide open and the Jets looking for competition for Geno Smith. Before a disastrous second half of the season that saw him benched for Johnny Manziel, Hoyer had a +2.6 overall grade through Week 10 and was our 15th ranked quarterback at that time. That was Hoyer’s only full season as a starter and the Jets and Texans may yet believe that they can build upon Hoyer’s solid start to 2014.
New Deal Coming for McCoy: Though the trade went through last week we’re also not quite done with LeSean McCoy news apparently either with it widely reported that his representatives and the Bills have agreed on a new 5 year deal worth up to $40 million with at least $26 million guaranteed. It seems that everybody in this deal got what they were looking for; the Eagles got a key piece for their defense and offloaded a big cap number, the Bills got a marquee back and LeSean McCoy got a new contract.
Yesterday’s News: You can also catch up on our news from yesterday by clicking here. The big news of the day was re-signings in Houston and Green Bay that kept two of the bigger impending free agents off the market with Randall Cobb headed back to Green Bay on a 4 year deal and Kareem Jackson headed back to Houston for the same duration.
That’s it for Day 1 of the PFF Countdown to Free Agency Blog, the morning crew will be around shortly to pick things up again. Please check back on Sunday as we share the PFF perspective as the 2015 free agency period unfolds.
23:30 RUMORS The Eagles have been linked to both cornerback Byron Maxwell and safety Devin McCourty as they set out to improve their secondary. While both free agents will receive a ton of attention, it may be too much to ask for a team hoping to land both — which is exactly what Yahoo’s Charles Robinson suggested earlier today when discussing the Eagles’ hopes. Now with reports that the team may be close to an agreement with Maxwell and the note from the Indy Star’s Stephen Holder that the Colts aren’t in on McCourty, perhaps Patriot fans hoping to keep McCourty around are feeling a bit more confident. As for their 2014 numbers, Maxwell gave up a respectable 81.1 passer rating on throws his way with one TD, two picks and seven PDs on 71 targets while McCourty’s +11.6 overall grade was good for eighth among safeties.
23:00 RUMOR Earlier today we had a few offensive tackle re-signings, which is good news for Jermey Parnell. According to Mike Garafolo, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Washington are among the teams interested in him. When Doug Free was injured during the 2014 season, Parnell played arguably better than Free although on a small sample size. In 179 pass blocks he didn’t allow a sack, and allowed just one hit. He also graded out well in the run game. Most of the top free agent offensive tackles are off the market, leaving more teams in need of a right tackle than good right tackles on the market. The three teams Garafolo listed are among the teams most in need of a right tackle. Chances are Parnell will get a big pay day after just a few career starts.
22:30 RE-SIGNING! The biggest re-signing of the day came late Saturday night as the Packers re-signed Randall Cobb to a 4 year, $40m dollar deal per Adam Schefter. In 2014 Cobb was by far the most productive receiver from the slot by raw numbers. He had 1067 receiving yards from the slot alone, while no other receiver had more than 850. Even looking at a rate stat like Yards Per Route Run of 2.13. While the Packers have a few young receivers on the roster, it would have been very difficult to replace that production from the slot. Per Ian Rapoport, Cobb turned down significantly more money from other teams to return to the Packers. He was among the top 10 Free Agents available based on our Top 75 list.
22:00 RUMOR Per Adam Caplan, the 49ers are interested in Wide Receiver Torrey Smith. The 49ers don’t have much cap space, but have a need at wide receiver. Both Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd are free agents, and there were reports of Stevie Johnson’s release. The move would re-unite Smith with his former teammate Anquan Boldin. Smith had a down year in 2014 with a career high 11 drops and only 250 receiving yards on deep passes. Smith is known as a deep threat after finishing in the top 12 in deep receiving yards in each of his first three years in the league.
21:30 RE-SIGNING! Coming into free agency, there were only two punters who were unrestricted free agents. Now there is one. According to Jim Wyatt, the Titans signed Brett Kern to a five year deal. In each of his first four years in the league he rated in the bottom half of the league, but over the past three years he has been in the top half. He was the ninth highest rated punter in 2014 which was his highest rank in his career. The Titans had an average net yards of 41.2 per punt which was sixth best in the league. He also had the longest punt of the year at 79 yards. Now if any team is trying to get a new punter who played in the NFL last year, the only unrestricted free agent is Mat McBriar. He played the last three weeks of the regular season for San Diego.
21:00 VISITS The New York Jets already have one of the best defensive lines in the league, and there is a chance it could get better. Per Rich Cimini, the Jets had a good meeting with former Baltimore Raven Chris Canty. The 11 year veteran was released a week ago and had reportedly been considering retirement. It’s been awhile since Canty was in his prime, but he has been a consistently average to above average player since then. The Jets are in no need of another starter on the line, but backups Leger Douzable and Kenrick Ellis are both unrestricted free agents and are likely looking for more playing time elsewhere. While the report said the meeting went well, because Canty was released he is free to sign with anyone already, so it seems like he left without a deal.
20:45 Free Agent Tracker! While waiting around for more news and rumors to surface, spend some of your FA-watching minutes clicking through the pages of the PFF Free Agency tracker. First page has links to much of our recent free agency content including team-by-team breakdowns, lists and Top-10 articles for each position, and closer-look profiles of some of the best available.
20:30 RE-SIGNING! With cap concerns to deal with, the Saints needed to get a runner under control at the right price. Cutting Pierre Thomas a few days ago helped open up a little room and today they convinced Mark Ingram to stick around — four years and $16m are the early figures. A productive 2014 for Ingram included 539 yards after contact (tied with Jamaal Charles, 13th among runners) and his +4.4 rushing grade had him 12th at the position. And, asked to do it more often than the rest of the Saints’ backs in 2014, Ingram also performed well as a pass blocker, allowing just two total pressures on 50 pass-blocking snaps.
20:00 RUMOR Safety Ron Parker posted a +2.8 coverage grade (29th at the position) on 745 snaps in 2014 and per @Rand_Getlin on Twitter, he’s drawing interest from multiple teams. Parker has already bounced around during his young career, not sticking until he saw scant action as a corner in 2013 and then regular playing time as a safety for the Chiefs last year. In his first shot at significant snaps, Parker’s work in the run game left a lot to be desired (12 missed tackles against the run, ouch), but as a cover man, his pick and five PDs had him among the league’s best at getting hands to the ball.
19:30 RUMOR Mentioned on Twitter by @GoesslingESPN, the Vikings have expressed interest in linebacker A.J. Hawk who was released by the Packers last week. It’s tough to see the positives with Hawk who has ranked among the league’s poorest inside linebackers in run defense grades the past two seasons (-10.1, 54th in 2014, -15.1, 52nd in 2013). With the Vikings already lining up Chad Greenway at the second level (last among 4-3 OLBs in run defense last season, -7.1), putting the pair side by side wouldn’t inspire confidence.
19:00 VISITS While upcoming free agents make the rounds to asses their market players cut by teams last week are making rounds with ability to sign before the free agent window opens on Tuesday. Aaron Wilson updates us on Cary Williams‘ visits with a visit to the Titans on Monday following up on visits with both the Jets and Seahawks. According to Wilson all three teams remain in play for a corner who had his ups and downs in Philadelphia and didn’t live up to his post Super Bowl contract. At 6’1 Williams has the size teams crave and though he has never shone his lowest season grade in coverage since becoming a starter in 2011 is a mere -3.8 in his first year with the Eagles, plenty of teams are doing far worse at starting corner than the kind of performances Williams has produced in the last four seasons.
18:30 RUMORS Double the Chargers news for you, there have been numerous reports with them being busy on Tuesday and here’s some names to look out for them to be after. First up Ian Rapoport brings news that they are pushing hard to wrap up the re-signing of Brandon Flowers but that a deal is not done yet. The Chargers picked Flowers up after he was offloaded by the Chiefs before the 2014 season and he responded with a season that saw him finish the season with a +8.2 overall grade, good for 15th best among corners. After the success in taking Flowers from an AFC West rival Mike Garafolo expects the Chargers to be in for Orlando Franklin should he shake loose from Denver. Bringing the versatility to play both guard and tackle Franklin would give the Chargers options but most importantly a much needed injection of talent on the offensive line, particularly at guard.
18:00 RE-SIGNING! 2013 was a rough season for Major Wright but he rebounded a little after re-uniting with Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay and Ian Rapoport reports that he has agreed terms to continue that relationship. After missing 15 tackles and struggling in both run defense and coverage in 2013, Wright put in a solid 2014 never grading below -1.0 in single game for the Bucs in 520 snap season. Wright’s best season came under Smith’s tutelage in Chicago in 2012 earning a +5.7 overall grade, finishing the season just outside the top 10 safeties in the league with 25 stops.
17:30 RE-SIGNING! Saturday is clearly the day for the Houston Texans to tie down their own free agents with Kareem Jackson joining Derek Newton in re-signing today. Our #2 free agent corner, Jackson rebounded from a tough 2013 season with a year to match his breakout 2012 campaign when he also finished just outside our top 10 corners on overall grade. Targeted 71 times this year Jackson surrendered a passer rating of 74.1 (bettered by only 11 corners who played at least 600 snaps) surrendering a career low three touchdown passes. All three of Jackson’s touchdown passes were allowed from the slot where he surrendered 386 of his 448 passing yards, when he lined up out wide Jackson allowed a passer rating of only 10.2.
17:00 A couple of notes to get you primed for Tuesday. Jason La Canfora reports that the Chiefs are pushing to re-sign Rodney Hudson though he doubts whether they can pull it off with the number of teams interested. Our No. 1 free agent center, Hudson has graded positively as both a run blocker and a pass protector in each of his full seasons as the Chiefs’ starter finishing 2014 as our No. 3 graded center (+13.0). Meanwhile Ian Rapoport anticipates a “competitive market” for Stephen Paea who emerged as one of the league’s better pass rushing defensive tackles this season. Though he is yet to complete a season with a positive run defense grade the disruption Paea offered as a pass rusher this season will be hard for teams to pass up; only seven defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends racked up more than Paea’s 47 pressures (5 Sk, 11 Ht, 31 Hu) in 2014.
16:30 The compensation the Bears got for Brandon Marshall indicated that the market for veteran receivers on big cap numbers was thin but John McClain indicates that the Texans are going to hang on as long as possible to make sure that if they can they get something for Andre Johnson. It makes sense for the Texans, something is better than nothing and though Johnson saw a decline this season but strong outings against Washington, Oakland and Jacksonville suggest that Johnson still has something to offer. In the last two weeks of the 2014 regular season Johnson was targeted 27 times (only Odell Beckham Jr. and Demaryius Thomas saw more), catching 16 passes for 199 yards.
16:00 RE-SIGNING! A reminder that free agency, particularly before Tuesday, isn’t all about big money and long contracts. According to Aaron Wilson one of the Jaguars’ Exclusive Rights Free Agents, Ryan Davis, has signed his tender today allowing Jacksonville to tie up one of their best players. One of the league’s best situational pass rushers last season Davis only played 310 snaps but earned a +19.9 overall grade thanks to his efficiency as a pass rusher. Davis registered 26 pressures (8 Sk, 5 Ht, 13 Hu) and batted two passes on only 234 pass rushes with the Jags managing his snaps so well that he was able to rush the passer on more than 75% of his 310 snaps.
15:30 RELEASE! Adam Schefter is busy again reporting that the Dolphins are to release linebacker Philip Wheeler. Part of their failed plan to get younger and more explosive at linebacker, Wheeler had a terrible first year where his limitations (particularly in coverage) were brutally exposed as his -19.5 grade highlighted. He was never coming back from that and found his every down role gone in 2014, instead limited to early downs where he again struggled in the passing game. The consolation was his work in the run game, which was much improved and highlighted that he still has a role in the NFL. It’s just not the role Miami tried to fit him into.
15:00 RE-SIGNING! Teams continue to move to keep hold of players before the free agent window opens with the Jaguars tying down defensive lineman Tyson Alualu to a two-year deal according to Adam Schefter. The Jaguars’ 2010 first round pick has improved his run defense grade in each of the last four seasons with his -2.9 grade in 2014 the best of his career, recording 14 stops. Moving to a more rotational role this season Alualu played a career low 471 snaps this season so expect to see backup money when figures are announced but the Jaguars are clearly comfortable with what their former top pick can provide in Gus Bradley’s defense.
14:30 RE-SIGNING! One of the biggest stories with the Chiefs going into the off-season was the outside linebacker position, and today they re-signed one of their own players. Per Terez Paylor, the Chiefs have brought back Dezman Moses on a 1 year deal. Moses was scheduled to become a restricted free agent. He was claimed off waivers from the Packers in 2013 and had 59 snaps in his first year with Kansas City resulting in one pressure. He spent the entire 2014 season on injured reserve. The Chiefs current starters are Justin Houston assuming he signs his franchise tender, and Tamba Hali although he could get released if they can’t agree on a restructured contract. 2014 first round pick Dee Ford is the top backup, leaving Moses to battle with Frank Zombo and Josh Martin for one or more roster spots.
14:00 RE-SIGNING! There had been some murmurs that the Washington Redskins were sniffing around Derek Newton, but accordingly to Adam Schefter he’s staying in Texas after re-signing with Houston on a 5-year deal. A former seventh round pick in 2011, it used to be a case of if you wanted to see where we graded the former Arkansas State tackle you’d just look to the bottom of the rankings after two tough years in 2012 and 2013. But his third year starting proved something of an eye opener as Newton took a huge step forward, cutting down on the consistent failings in pass protection and displaying some impressive run blocking that saw no other right tackle grade as highly in that area. Financials will determine the value in the deal but after cutting ties with long time center Chris Myers, the continuity that Newton brings is a bonus for the Texans.
13:45 VISITS! One player who is set to earn himself some air miles is former Philadelphia Eagle Trent Cole. Adam Caplan reports that Cole will have visits with the Bucs, Colts, Cardinals and Browns all done and dusted with teams keen to get the scheme versatile and constantly productive edge rusher on their roster. Long one of the most underrated players in the NFL (Cole spent 2009 to 2011 in the top three of our 4-3 defensive end rankings) he made the transition to outside linebacker and has continued to generate pressure, finishing the year with a +11.3 pass rush grade. He may not be the force he once was but it’s clear he’s still got plenty left in the tank, and thats something teams looking for an every down edge defender will be more than mindful of.
13:30 We’re not short on content to keep you busy while you wait for news to drop. You can check out all our Depth Charts to see where we think your team might need to upgrade, our top 75 free agents to see who the best guys out there are and a number of free agent profiles on the top players available. If you need something a bit more audio then check out our podcasts that we’ll be adding more to as the week goes on.
13:00 It’s been an offseason of change in Atlanta and that change seems like it will see linebacker Sean Weatherspoon leave the team after Ian Rapaport reports he is set to hit the open market. It’s easy to see where the disconnect could be, with Weatherspoon the biggest playmaker Atlanta has had at linebacker for a number of years, yet both increasingly injury prone and maddeningly inconsistent. Talents like him are hard to come by but the question marks over him will limit what he can get over the long term, with Weatherspoon limited to just 399 snaps the past two years. His 2011 breakout season (where he was our 5th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker) seems a long time ago.
12:45 Mike Garafolo at Fox Sports is reporting that a new deal will be reached between the Buffalo Bills and LeSean McCoy before the trade is made official on Tuesday. That should go a long way to appeasing a stunned McCoy who suffered in 2014 as injuries ensured his line didn’t give him the kind of lanes he’d become accustomed to running through. It’s already proved one of the most intriguing transactions of the offseason, with our own Matt Claassen taking a lot at the production of McCoy right here.
12:30 RUMOR! There’s some suggestions out there that the San Diego Chargers are lining up a move for our number one ranked free agent Ndamukong Suh. Reports to the contrary suggest that the Miami Dolphins are setting the pace in that race looking to replace and upgrade on their own free agent Jared Odrick. One thing seems clear and it’s that the market for Suh is going to set a new bar on what defensive players can earn, with the destructive defensive tackle the kind of marquee free agent that all teams would love to parade to their fans. Suh has spent the last three years in the top five of our defensive tackle rankings.
12:00 RE-SIGNING! We’re going to kick up our real time blogging experience updating you on a deal from earlier. Doug Free was a key part of our top ranked offensive line in 2014 and Dallas can boast that they’ll return every starter for the 2015 season after he signed a 3-year, $15m deal with $6m guaranteed. After a disappointing 2012 season it seemed as if Free was done in Dallas but he’s responded with two extremely sound years, establishing himself as one of the most dependable right tackles in the league whether it in pass pro or in the run game. He was our seventh ranked right tackle in 2014 despite missing a quarter of the season injured.