By BOB McGINN
This is the second of a three-part series in which subscribers will get a look at what the NFL free-agent market was when it opened to teams and how it looks now. Part 1 looked at the players on offense. Today, Part 2 looks at the players on defense. Part 3 will be a look at players on special teams and in restricted free agency.
The signing period began Wednesday, March 14 at 3 p.m. Players that signed or were known to have agreed to terms before that time were not considered in these rankings.
Among the players that were considered were approximately 400 unrestricted free agents, the 78 players with fewer than four accrued seasons who received no qualifying offer or minimum tender from their teams and the approximately 70 respectable players that were released since Feb. 5 and remained unsigned.
Players were ranked in order of attractiveness based on ability, production, age, medical and off-field factors.
Approximately 160 players from these lists already have signed with new teams since the start of the signing period. About 50 others have re-signed with their own teams.
So-called “street” free agents and players without qualifying offers/minimum tenders were denoted by the (ex-) before their most recent teams.
The two “franchise” players, defensive end Ziggy Ansah of Detroit and safety Lamarcus Joyner of the LA Rams, weren’t considered. The one “transition” player, cornerback Kyle Fuller of Chicago, also wasn’t considered. Last week, the Bears retained Fuller by matching a four-year, $56 million ($18M guaranteed) offer sheet from Green Bay.
The guaranteed portion of contracts is denoted by “g.” The ”M” refers to millions of dollars.
DEFENSIVE ENDS (4-3 defense)
1. VINNY CURRY … 29 … 55.9% … ex-Philadelphia … (Tampa Bay).
2. ADRIAN CLAYBORN .. 29 … 52.8% … Atlanta … (New England).
3. DENICO AUTRY … 27 … 57.2% … Oakland … (Indianapolis).
4. CHRIS SMITH … 26 … 35.0% … Cincinnati … (Cleveland).
5. ALEX OKAFOR … 27 … 45.9% … New Orleans … (re-signed).
OTHERS: Robert Ayers, ex-Tampa Bay; Jeremiah Attaochu, LA Chargers (to San Francisco); Willie Young, ex-Chicago; William Hayes, Miami (re-signed); Derrick Shelby, ex-Atlanta (re-signed); Benson Mayowa, ex-Dallas; Kony Ealy, NY Jets.
OVERVIEW: When the Buccaneers lost to the Packers Dec. 3 at Lambeau Field their defensive ends were Ryan Russell, Will Clarke and William Gholston. Robert Ayers, who was injured that afternoon and didn’t play, won’t be back. They were all part of the reason Tampa Bay finished last in sack percentage. When the Eagles couldn’t afford Curry and cut him March 16, the Bucs signed him the next day (3/$23M/$11.5M g). On Thursday, Tampa Bay traded with the Giants for DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Coach Dirk Koetter’s rush might be entirely different in 2018. There was a dropoff after that to Clayborn, the hard-charging RE who went to the Patriots ($2/$10M/$5.5M g). In May 2014, Autry was among the list of undrafted free agents supposedly headed for Green Bay but failed his physical. Three weeks later Autry went to Oakland, where last year he probably rated as the club’s second best defensive lineman behind Khalil Mack. The Colts signed him on the first afternoon of free agency (3/$17.8M/$6.5M g). Smith, an impressive rusher that the Bengals wanted to retain, went to Cleveland (3/$12M/$4.5M g). Coming off a torn Achilles, Okafor went back to the Saints (2/$6M/$1.5M g).
DEFENSIVE ENDS (3-4 defense)
1. DA’QUAN JONES … 26 … 40.1% … Tennessee … (re-signed).
2. MITCH UNREIN … 30 … 36.8% … Chicago … (Tampa Bay).
3. TANK CARRADINE … 28 … 19% … San Francisco … (Oakland).
4. FROSTEE RUCKER … 34 … 57.2% … Arizona … (none).
5. JOSH MAURO … 27 … 31.5% … ex-Arizona … (NY Giants).
OTHERS: Jared Crick, Denver; Jarvis Jenkins, Kansas City (re-signed); Quinton Dial, Green Bay; Ricky Jean Francois, New England (to Detroit); Angelo Blackson, ex-Houston (re-signed).
OVERVIEW: When the Titans re-signed Jones (3/$21M/$14M g), the cupboard became pretty much bare. Unrein is coming off possibly his finest season and so the Bucs signed him, too, presumably to play inside (3/$10.5M/$4M g). Carradine was drafted early in the second round in 2013 as a pass rusher. Despite a series of injuries, he became more of a base end over time and will probably replace Autry in Oakland (1/$1.25M/$1.15M g). People might scoff at Rucker because he’s been around so long (12 years) but he started all year over highly touted Robert Nkemdiche and still loves to play. Detroit considered Dial before signing Jean Francois, another former Packer. He’ll help replace Haloti Ngata. The league announced Friday that Mauro has been suspended for the first four games due to a PED violation. He was signed by the Giants 72 hours earlier.
1. SHELDON RICHARDSON … 27 … 59.6% … Seattle … (Minnesota).
2. STAR LOTULELEI … 28 … 58.8% … Carolina … (Buffalo).
3. NDAMUKONG SUH … 31 … 83.8% … ex-Miami … (none).
4. MUHAMMAD WILKERSON … 28 … 62.6% … ex-NY Jets … (Green Bay).
5. JOHNATHAN HANKINS … 25 … 63.8% … ex-Indianapolis … (none).
OTHERS: Tom Johnson, Minnesota (to Seattle); Haloti Ngata, Detroit (to Philadelphia); Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay (to Denver); Mike Pennel, NY Jets (re-signed); Courtney Upshaw, Atlanta; Karl Klug, ex-Tennessee; Tyrunn Walker, LA Rams; Jay Bromley, NY Giants; Alan Branch, New England; Dominique Easley, LA Rams (re-signed).
OVERVIEW: From 2013-’16, Richardson and Wilkerson anchored one of the NFL’s best defensive lines for the Jets. Today, they’re in the NFC North Division trying to restart their careers. Traded to Seattle Sept. 1, Richardson struggled adjusting to a 4-3 defense and did OK. Wilkerson hasn’t been the same player since the Jets paid him the moon in July 2016 (5/$86M/$53.5M g). Richardson went to Minnesota (1/$8M/$7.8M g) where he will replace aging workhorse Tom Johnson. Wilkerson took a one-year deal for much less ($4.7M/$1.5M g) with Green Bay. As one-year players, both men should be motivated to secure a bigger bite of the apple in 12 months. Lotulelei’s play slipped in the past 2-3 years so the Panthers didn’t lift a finger before watching him leave for Buffalo (5/$50M/$25M g). Suh was a cap casualty after a disappointing three seasons in Miami. He has visited three teams but might delay picking his next home. Neither he nor Hankins, a surprising release after one season in Indianapolis, has a new home yet. The Vikings loved Johnson but, at 33, feared he was nearing the end; on Friday, the Seahawks signed him for a year. Ngata, who suffered a torn biceps in Game 5, likes having the chance to get up the field so he joined defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s one-gap scheme in Philadelphia (1/$2.6M all guaranteed). Pennel, the former Packer, earned a sizeable contract (3/$10.5M/$3.5M g) upon his return to the Jets. He played 27% of the snaps in ’17 as part of a rotation. Branch was an impact middle man for the Patriots in 2016 and the team rewarded him 12 months ago (2/$8.45M/$3M g). With all that money in tow, he played so poorly in 2017 that he was inactive for the last six games.
1. DONTARI POE … 27 … 74.7% … Atlanta … (Carolina).
2. BENNIE LOGAN … 28 … 52% … Kansas City … (none).
3. BEAU ALLEN … 26 … 41.1% … Philadelphia … (Tampa Bay).
4. SHAMAR STEPHEN … 27 … 38.6% … Minnesota … (none).
5. SYLVESTER WILLIAMS … 29 … 32.1% … ex-Tennessee … (Detroit).
OTHERS: Ahtyba Rubin, Atlanta; Pat Sims, Cincinnati; Phil Taylor, Washington.
OVERVIEW: Poe resurrected his career with the Falcons, who didn’t want to pay a nose tackle and watched him depart for Carolina (3/$28M/$13.3M g). Logan was just adequate as Poe’s replacement in Kansas City and hasn’t landed yet. Allen, the former Badger, parlayed four run-stuffing seasons for the Eagles into an eye-popping deal in Tampa Bay ($3/$15M/$7.25M g). The Titans cut Williams after one season, and four days later he joined the Lions (1/$3.5M/$3.4M g).
1. ANTHONY HITCHENS … 25 … 52.3% … Dallas … (Kansas City).
2. AVERY WILLIAMSON … 26 … 60.1% … Tennessee … (NY Jets).
3. DEMARIO DAVIS … 29 … 100% … NY Jets … (New Orleans).
4. ZACH BROWN … 28 … 76.1% … Washington … (re-signed).
5. TODD DAVIS … 25 … 52.6% … Denver … (re-signed).
6. PRESTON BROWN … 25 … 99.1% … Buffalo … (Cincinnati).
7. NAVORRO BOWMAN … 29 … 90.1% … Oakland … (none).
8. JONATHAN CASILLAS … 30 … 41.4% … NY Giants … (none).
9. BRIAN CUSHING … 31 … 15.9% … ex-Houston … (none).
10. KARLOS DANSBY … 36 … 87% … Arizona … (none).
OTHERS: Keenan Robinson, NY Giants; Jon Bostic, Indianapolis (to Pittsburgh); Will Compton, Washington; Corey Nelson, Denver (to Philadelphia); Shea McClellin, ex-New England; Derrick Johnson, Kansas City; Paul Worrilow, Detroit; Lawrence Timmons, ex-Miami; Jelani Jenkins, Houston; Joe Thomas, ex-Green Bay (to Dallas).
OVERVIEW: With the top six players off the board, there’s a lot of experience but not much speed remaining. Hitchens took a back seat to Sean Lee in Dallas but the Chiefs paid him handsomely (5/$45M/$25.1M g) as the replacement for the aging Johnson. Williamson surpassed 100 tackles four straight seasons for the Titans but was removed on many third downs in 2017 because of coverage deficiencies. He went to the Jets (3/$22.5M/$16M g) as the replacement for Demario Davis, who didn’t miss a snap all season. Davis signed with the Saints (3/$24M/$16M g). The productive Zach Brown went back to the Redskins (3/$21M/$10M g) as did Todd Davis, a self-made former free agent, to the Broncos (3/$15M/$6M g). Bowman returned from two serious injuries (knee, Achilles) to forge a strong season in Oakland. Casillas, the former Badger, was the Giants’ defensive captain and leader but played just eight games in his ninth season due to injury. Cushing, once a linchpin of the Texans’ defense, has had injury and suspension issues. Dansby probably didn’t play as well as teammate Josh Bynes in 2017 but remains excited about continuing his career. The Steelers decided to try with Bostic, just 26, to fortify their weakened middle (2/$4M/$1.4M g). Timmons, the old Steeler, certainly didn’t earn his $11M guaranteed money from the two-year deal he signed with Miami 12 months ago and was waived. At 31, he’ll get another shot somewhere.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4-3 defense)
1. TAHIR WHITEHEAD … 27 … 87.3% … Detroit … (Oakland).
2. BROCK COYLE … 27 … 57.4% … San Francisco … (re-signed).
3. DEVON KENNARD … 26 … 49.4% … NY Giants … (Detroit).
4. CHRISTIAN JONES … 27 … 58.9% … Chicago … (Detroit).
5. KEVIN PIERRE-LOUIS … 26 … 22.8% … Kansas City … (none).
OTHERS: Marquis Flowers, New England (re-signed); Josh Keyes, ex-Cleveland (to Houston); Ramon Humber, Buffalo (re-signed); Kyle Wilber, Dallas (to Oakland); Terence Garvin, Seattle; Emmanuel Lamur, Minnesota (to Oakland).
OVERVIEW: Whitehead, a four-year starter, actually took over early in the season as the Lions’ every-down linebacker from rookie Jarrad Davis and had another solid season. New coach Matt Patricia, however, let him walk to Oakland (3/$19M/$12.2M g). There isn’t a reliable starter after Whitehead. The Lions tried to recover by adding Kennard (3/$17.3M/$8.5M g), who is coming off a shaky season for the Giants, and Jones (2/$6.35M/$2.8M g), who played some outside as well as his traditional inside position for the Bears in 2017. Coyle went back to San Francisco (3/$8.4M/$4.1M g), where he made 10 starts last year after being mainly a special-teamer for the Seahawks from 2014-’16. Pierre-Louis and Flowers have the type of speed most teams are seeking.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (3-4 defense)
1. TRENT MURPHY … 27 … 0.0% … Washington … (Buffalo).
2. KAREEM MARTIN … 26 … 43.2% … Arizona … (NY Giants).
3. CONNOR BARWIN … 31 … 61.1% … LA Rams … (none).
4. AARON LYNCH … 25 … 14% … San Francisco … (Chicago).
5. BARKEVIOUS MINGO … 27 … 46.6% … Indianapolis … (Seattle).
OTHERS: Elvis Dumervil, San Francisco; Junior Galette, Washington; James Harrison, New England; Erik Walden, Tennessee; Arthur Moats, Pittsburgh; Lerentee McCray, Jacksonville (re-signed); Ahmad Brooks, Green Bay; Lamarr Houston, Chicago; Pernell McPhee, ex-Chicago; Chris Carter, Washington.
OVERVIEW: The 3-4 teams looking for edge rush might have trouble finding it in free agency and the draft. Murphy, the best free-agent candidate, is coming off a blown knee in mid-August. Aligned behind Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, Murphy walked to Buffalo (3/$22.5M/$10.4M g). James Bettcher, the Giants’ new defensive coordinator, went back to his years in Arizona and signed Martin (3/$15M/$7.25M g). Barwin is a little past his prime but still gave the Rams five sacks in 2017. The multi-talented Lynch, a classic underachiever in San Francisco, will reunite with Vic Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator who held the same post with the 49ers in Lynch’s rookie season. His deal (1/$4M/$1.25M g) limits the Bears’ risk on a risky player. Mingo won’t ever play to his status as the sixth player drafted in 2013 but his solid pass-rush season caught the attention of the Seahawks (2/$6.8M/$3.2M g). Dumervil, Galette, Harrison and Walden, the ex-Packer, all remain useful for 3-4 teams. Far less useful are Brooks, Houston and McPhee, all of whom have been dogged by injury. McCray, who was in the Packers’ camp in the summer of 2016, went back to Jacksonville.
1. TRUMAINE JOHNSON … 28 … 87% … LA Rams … (NY Jets).
2, MALCOLM BUTLER … 28 … 97.8% … New England … (Tennessee).
3. AARON COLVIN … 26 … 67.6% … Jacksonville … (Houston).
4. T.J. CARRIE … 27 … 98.5% … Oakland … (Cleveland).
5. PATRICK ROBINSON … 30 … 68.9% … Philadelphia … (New Orleans).
6. MORRIS CLAIBORNE … 28 … 82.4% … NY Jets … (re-signed).
7. PRINCE AMUKAMARA … 28 … 80.3% … Chicago … (re-signed).
8. BASHAUD BREELAND … 26 … 78% … Washington … (none).
9. RASHAAN MELVIN … 28 … 51.3% … Indianapolis … (Oakland).
10. E.J. GAINES … 25 … 59% … Buffalo … (Cleveland).
OTHERS: Tramon Williams, Arizona (to Green Bay); D.J. Hayden, Detroit (to Jacksonville); Byron Maxwell, Seattle; Dontae Johnson, San Francisco; DeShawn Shead, ex-Seattle (to Detroit); Johnathan Joseph, Houston (re-signed); Orlando Scandrick, ex-Dallas (to Washington); Delvin Breaux, ex-New Orleans; Ross Cockrell, NY Giants (to Carolina); Ladarius Gunter, ex-Carolina; Johnson Bademosi, New England (to Houston); Tramaine Brock, Minnesota (to Denver); Shareece Wright, Buffalo (to Oakland); Davon House, Green Bay; Adam “Pacman” Jones, Cincinnati; Leonard Johnson, Buffalo; Jeremy Lane, ex-Seattle; Marcus Cooper, ex-Chicago; Terence Newman, Minnesota; Pierre Desir, Indianapolis (re-signed).
OVERVIEW: The top 10 players would be off the market if Breeland hadn’t failed his physical (foot) with the Panthers. His deal on March 14 that was voided certainly was substantial (3/$24M/$10.4M g). It figures that within a month he’ll be ready to sign with a team. Trumaine Johnson, who had been franchised twice by the Rams, broke the Jets’ bank (5/$72.5M/$45M g). Twelve months ago, the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore (5/$65M/$40M g), the best player on the 2017 market at cornerback. Therefore, in the end, the Patriots decided there was no money left for Butler, who departed for Tennessee (5/$61.25M/$30M g). Colvin, a deluxe slot in Jacksonville, struck it rich (4/$34M/$18M g) as a full-time player in Houston. Carrie didn’t play to the contract (4/$31M/$15.5M g) that he received from the Browns. Robinson, who has played for four teams in the last four seasons, turned a terrific Super Bowl season as the Eagles’ slot into a lucrative return to New Orleans ($4/$20M/$10M g). Claiborne, who was No. 4 on this list in 2017, re-signed with the Jets (1/$7M/$6.85M g). Before matching the Packers’ hefty offer for No. 1 CB Kyle Fuller, the Bears re-signed No. 2 CB Amukamara (3/$27M/$18M g). The Colts lost Melvin (1/$5.5M/$4.85M g) to the active Raiders. Gaines (5-9 ½, 190) had his best season but the Bills were out of money and he signed with Cleveland Friday. Old pro Tramon Williams, 35, played 63.1% of the snaps when Justin Bethel faltered and was effective. Thus, he found a home back with the Packers. Hayden didn’t excel in Detroit as the No. 3 but received a hefty reward (3/$19M/$9.45M g) to replace Colvin in Jacksonville. The Lions came back to sign Shead ($1/$3.35M/$1.5M g), who had been cut by the Seahawks 48 hours earlier. Joseph, a 12-year veteran, went back to the Texans (2/$10M/$3.9M g). Scandrick, a top-flight slot for years in Dallas, was unemployed for just two days after his release before landing in Washington (2/$7M/$1M g). Gunter, the former Packer, played just two snaps from scrimmage and 51 snaps on special teams after being awarded on waivers to Carolina. The Panthers elected not to tender Gunter, making probably the Packers’ best corner in 2016 a free agent. He has visited the 49ers.
1. ERIC REID … 26 … 65.4% … San Francisco … (none).
2. MORGAN BURNETT … 29 … 68.9% … Green Bay … (Pittsburgh).
3. RON PARKER … 30 … 93.7% … ex-Kansas City … (none).
4. TYRANN MATHIEU … 25 … 99.4% … ex-Arizona … (Houston).
5. KENNY VACCARO … 27 … 65.3% … New Orleans … (none).
6. MARCUS GILCHRIST … 29 … 79.4% … Houston … (Oakland).
7. TRE BOSTON … 25 … 99.3% … LA Chargers … (none).
8. CODY DAVIS … 28 … 26.1% … LA Rams … (Jacksonville).
9. TYVON BRANCH … 31 … 54.7% … Arizona … (none).
10. MIKE MITCHELL … 30 … 69.2% … ex-Pittsburgh … (none).
OTHERS: T.J. Ward, Tampa Bay; Robert Golden, ex-Pittsburgh; Da’Norris Searcy, ex-Tennessee; Corey Graham, Philadelphia; Nate Allen, Miami; Reggie Nelson, Oakland; Keith Tandy, Tampa Bay (re-signed); Lardarius Webb, ex-Baltimore; Michael Thomas, Miami; Adrian Phillips, LA Chargers (re-signed).
OVERVIEW: Reid remains unsigned amid suggestions he’s being frozen out by teams because of his public stance on racial inequality and police brutality. “I would think he’s a top-5, top-10 safety in this league so he deserves to be paid accordingly,” 49ers CB Richard Sherman said. “So there is concern there. I’m praying that he gets picked up. But, if he doesn’t, then I think there will be a conversation with the league office and the union on potential legal action.” Tweeted Reid on March 15: “GMs aren’t the hold up broski. It’s ownership. People who know football know who can play. People who know me, know my character.” In a slow market at the position, the most guaranteed money went to Mathieu (1/$7M/$6.5M g) in Houston. He’ll replace Gilchrist, who left the Texans for Oakland (1/$4/$3.85M g). Meanwhile, Burnett found work in Pittsburgh (3/$14.35/$4.25M g) after the Steelers said good-bye to the slow-footed Mitchell, their 13-game starter at strong safety in ’17. When Burnett signed a four-year, $24.75M extension with the Packers in July 2013, the guaranteed portion of the contract was $8.25M. Parker has turned 30 but remains a solid starter. Blown assignments and injuries led to Vaccaro’s release in New Orleans. Boston has ideal size but isn’t a physical player. The Jaguars signed Davis (2/$5M/$2.5M g) as their No. 3 safety and special-teams leader. Branch might have been playing as well as anyone on the Cardinals’ defense until blowing out his knee in Game 9.