March 04, 2015

2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings: Ndamukong Suh tops list of free agents

With the start of the 2015 NFL free-agency period set to begin on Tuesday, I posted my top-50 2015 NFL free-agency rankings as well as my positional rankings earlier today.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I will continue to make daily updates to our free-agent rankings as players are released, signed, etc.

Here are our 2015 NFL free-agent rankings of available players (Sept. 1st age in parenthesis):

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions (28)

Selected as a First-Team AP All-Pro in each of the past two seasons, Suh is a disruptive interior pass-rusher with 36.0 career sacks over his five seasons. In addition, he graded out as PFF's second-best defensive tackle against the run last year. It's rare for a player with Suh's ability to hit the free-agent market in the prime of his career.

2. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers (25)

Cobb, who turns 25 in August, posted career numbers across the board last season with 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reports are that Cobb is seeking $12 million per year. Cobb is a versatile and dynamic player, but his best fit would be to re-sign with the Packers.

3. Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots (28)

Only 27 years old, the converted cornerback is one of the best coverage safeties in the league, but it's unclear whether he'll reach the free-agent market on March 10th. With the Patriots using their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it's possible that they are close to a long-term deal with McCourty. Provided the Pats don't re-sign before March 10th, demand for McCourty's services will be high.

4. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos (27)

Not a great blocker (how many tight ends are these days?) and durability has been an issue (has missed multiple games each season), Thomas has the athleticism to create mismatches.

5. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (27)

Not only did Murray lead the NFL in rushing, but he had nearly 500 more rushing yards than Le'Veon Bell, who finished second in the league. The Offensive Player of the Year, Murray broke Emmitt Smith's single-season rushing record and has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over his four-year career. It was his first full 16-game season, however, and Murray had 497 touches including the playoffs last season.

6. Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo Bills (27)

With Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul getting the franchise tag, Hughes is the top edge rusher to hit the open market (assuming that he doesn't agree to a long-term deal with the Bills before March 10th). Struggling in his first three seasons with the Colts, Hughes has posted 9.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons.

7. Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks (27)

With Richard Sherman on the other side, Maxwell saw plenty of action his way and played well. The Seahawks would certainly like to re-sign the 6-foot corner that recently turned 27 years old, but he will have plenty of suitors, which should drive up his price tag to roughly $10 million per season.

8. Pernell McPhee, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens (26)

Playing only 48.8 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season, the versatile McPhee had 7.5 sacks and 64 quarterback pressures. The Baltimore Sun described McPhee as a "luxury item the Ravens probably can't afford" and expect McPhee to fetch up to $10 million per year on the free market.

9. Jason Worilds, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers (27)

Worilds, who turned 27 at the beginning of the month, has a total of 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is one of the best pass-rushers to hit the open market. Worilds also tied for third among 3-4 OLBs in run-stop percentage (7.1) per PFF.

10. Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers (27)

It will be interesting to see what happens with Hardy on the free market. Over the past three seasons, Hardy has 27.0 sacks in 32 games and will turn 27 years old this summer. That said, he played in only one game last season and remains on the commissioner's exempt list and could be facing league discipline in 2015 from domestic-violence charges that have since been dropped.

11. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (27)

After tearing his ACL in 2013, Maclin signed a one-year prove-it type of contract and he posted career-high numbers of 85 catches and 1,318 yards with 10 touchdowns.

12. Brandon Flowers, CB, San Diego Chargers (29)

Signing a one-year deal with the Chargers in 2014, Flowers had a bounce-back season. Flowers may lack size at 5-foot-9, but he has the versatility to play both inside and outside.

-> Continue to our full Top-50 2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings

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Saints cut running back Pierre Thomas

The Saints have released running back Pierre Thomas earlier today.

Thomas, who turns 31 in December, carried the ball only 45 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns and added 45 receptions for 378 yards and a touchdown in 11 games last season. In 2013, however, he had a running back-high 77 receptions.

In addition to Thomas, the Saints backfield will be without Mark Ingram, who is coming off a career-best season and ranked second among running backs in our 2015 NFL free-agency rankings.

Based on the backs currently on the roster, Khiry Robinson should handle the bulk of early-down carries and Travaris Cadet should be the primary third-down back.

Given the team's salary-cap situation, the Saints will need to make more cuts to get under the cap before the league year begins on Tuesday.

Report: Peyton Manning agrees to $4M pay cut

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is "close to an agreement" to take a $4 million pay cut for the 2015 season, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

The Broncos could use the additional cap space as tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton will be unrestricted free agents on Tuesday and they used their franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

[Related: Our 2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings]

Manning threw for 4,727 yards, the second-highest of his career, with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, but he struggled down the stretch with more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) in the final five games of the season counting the team's one-and-done playoff appearance.

While his late-season cold(er)-weather struggles have occurred before, at least part of his drop in production at the tail end of the 2014 season was due to a thigh injury.

Manning, a five-time league MVP, ranks first all-time in passing touchdowns (530) and is second in passing yards (69,691) behind Brett Favre (71,838).

While passing records and league awards make Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, a large part of his legacy will be connected to his postseason success (or shortcomings). Based on odds from Sportsbook.ag, the Broncos (12/1) have the fourth-lowest odds to win the Super Bowl behind the Patriots (13/2), Packers (15/2) and Seahawks (15/2).

Bills acquire quarterback Matt Cassel from Vikings via trade

One day after making a blockbuster trade for running back LeSean McCoy, the Buffalo Bills have traded with the Vikings for backup quarterback Matt Cassel.

The Bills will also get the Vikings sixth-round pick this year and send their 2015 fifth-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick to Minnesota.

There's a fairly strong chance that Cassel will win the starting job one year after the team signed street free agent Kyle Orton to start over E.J. Manuel, the team's first-round pick in 2013.

Buffalo will be Cassel's fourth team after spending the past two seasons with the Vikings.

With nine starts in his 12 appearances over those two seasons, Cassel has completed 59.7 percent of his pass attempts for 6.9 Y/A with a roughly even 14:13 TD-to-INT ratio. Cassel has had a couple of solid seasons -- 2008 replacing an injured Tom Brady and a Pro Bowl 2010 season -- but he has started only 26 games over the past four seasons combined.

Regardless of whether Manuel or Cassel begins the season as the starter, the Bills will use a heavy ground-and-pound approach with McCoy, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown.

March 03, 2015

Eagles trade LeSean McCoy to Bills for Kiko Alonso

There has been plenty of speculation recently that running back LeSean McCoy would be moved at some point in the offseason.

With the majority of the speculation related to a potential trade-up scenario to select Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft, Chip Kelly and the Eagles have traded McCoy to get a different Oregon Duck (via Buffalo).

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Eagles have traded McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

In his two seasons in Chip Kelly's offense, McCoy has rushed for 2,926 yards with 80 receptions for 694 yards and a total of 16 touchdowns. With the acquisition of Darren Sproles last offseason, however, McCoy set a career low in 2014 with 28 receptions for 155 yards. In addition, he lost goal-line opportunities more frequently down the stretch to Chris Polk.

Over the past five seasons, no player has more rushing yards than McCoy (6,155). Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (6,094) and Houston's Arian Foster (6,052) are the only other running backs with at least 6,000 rushing yards during that span.

Given the Bills quarterback situation and Rex Ryan's ground-and-pound philosophy, McCoy could potentially lead the NFL in touches in 2015. With C.J. Spiller entering free agency and Fred Jackson turning 34 last month, it seemed as though Bryce Brown, who was also acquired via trade with the Eagles, was poised for an expanded role in 2015. That obviously won't happen now.

Alonso missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but he was one of the most productive inside linebackers in the league during his rookie 2013 season. Not only did Alonso rank third among all players in tackles (159) behind Vontaze Burfict (171) and Paul Posluszny (161) that season, but he ranked first among 35 qualified inside linebackers in yards per cover snap (0.43) via PFF.

In addition to acquiring Alonso, the Eagles made some other moves on defense earlier today by releasing starters Cary Williams and Trent Cole as well.

March 02, 2015

Texans grant Andre Johnson permission to seek a trade

Andre Johnson has played all 12 years of his career in Houston, but it is unclear where he will play his football in 2015. It appears though that the one place that it won't be is Houston.

Johnson, who turns 34 in July, has two years remaining on his existing contract and is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. Averaging 11.0 yards per reception and 62.4 yards per game, both of which were nine-year lows, Johnson finished the season with 85 catches for 936 yards and three touchdowns.

One of the challenges last year (and in previous seasons) was poor quarterback play. After all, the Texans had four different quarterbacks -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum and Tom Savage -- throw at least 19 pass attempts in a game last season.

That said, second-year wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins saw a big jump in his production to 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns.

Johnson ranks ninth all-time in receptions (1,012) and 12th all-time in receiving yards (13,597). In addition, he has had five 100-reception seasons (tied for NFL-most with Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall) and four 1,400-yard seasons (only Jerry Rice has more).

At his age, it's natural for him to be on the downward slope of his career, but he can still be a 1,000-yard receiver for another year or two. More importantly, I hope he gets an opportunity to play for a title contender as his career winds down.

Dolphins use transition tag on TE Charles Clay

The Miami Dolphins have used their transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

With the transition tag, any of the other 31 NFL teams can sign Clay to an offer sheet, but the Dolphins would have seven days to match the offer.

Numbers for the versatile tight end dropped in 2014 (58/605/3) from 2013 (69/759/6), but he got off to a slow start -- average of 3.4 receptions for 29.2 yards in the first five games of the season.

Beginning in Week 7, however, Clay averaged 4.56 catches for 51.0 yards per game and scored all three of his touchdowns. From Week 7 to 17, Clay ranked fifth among tight ends in fantasy points per game (7.1). Only Rob Gronkowski (14.0), Coby Fleener (9.2), Antonio Gates (8.8) and Jimmy Graham (8.3) averaged more during that span.

Note: We have tracked all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Patriots use franchise tag on Stephen Gostkowski -- not Devin McCourty

Although free safety Devin McCourty is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Patriots have decided to use their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

It's the third time in the past five seasons that the Patriots have used their franchise tag. They also used the tag on Wes Welker in 2012 and Logan Mankins in 2011.

Gostkowski has led the NFL in field goals made in each of the past two seasons with 38 and 35 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and he made a career-high 94.6 percent of his attempts last season. His previous career high in FG% was 92.7 percent in 2013.

The Patriots and Gostkowski have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term contract. If the Patriots don't agree to a long-term deal with McCourty by March 10th, he will become an unrestricted free agent. If he reaches the open market, he'll be one of the most sought-after free agents.

Note: We are tracking all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Giants use franchise tag on DE Jason Pierre-Paul

The Giants used their franchise tag today on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, per NY Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano.

Both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal, but if the two sides can't agree to one by then, Pierre-Paul would play out the 2015 for a fully-guaranteed salary of $14.813 million once he signs his tender.

After posting a career-low 2.0 sacks and missing five games in 2013, JPP bounced back with 12.5 sacks in 2014 and forced a career-high three fumbles.

The 12.5 sacks that JPP had in 2014 were the second-most of his career after the 16.5 he had in 2011 and he ranked eighth in the NFL in sacks last season. Kansas City's Justin Houston, who led the league with 22.0 sacks, was also franchise tagged today.

Note: We are tracking all players designated with the franchise tag here.

The Cowboys designate WR Dez Bryant with franchise tag

With the team recently saying they would use the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, it's no surprise -- but official -- that the team has used the franchise tag on Bryant today, per Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo.

By designating Bryant with the franchise tag, both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal. If both sides can't reach a long-term deal, Bryant would otherwise play under a fully-guaranteed $12.823 million salary once he signs his tender.

The Cowboys may have some reservations about giving Bryant a lot of guaranteed money given some off-the-field concerns, but Bryant has been absolutely dominant on the field.

In each of the past three seasons, Bryant has had at least 88 receptions, 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Not only did Bryant lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns (16) last season, but no player has more over the five years since Bryant was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Over the past five seasons, only four players have 50-plus touchdown receptions: Bryant (56), Rob Gronkowski (54), Calvin Johnson (53) and Jimmy Graham (51).

Note: We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.

The Lions announce they won't use franchise tag on DT Ndamukong Suh

With the prohibitive cost of $26.9 million, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh won't be designated with the franchise tag today.

Both sides have until March 10th to negotiate a long-term deal, otherwise Suh will become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

As Tim Twentyman of the team's website notes, Suh will count $9.7 on the team's 2015 salary cap even if he signs a free-agent deal elsewhere based on a sixth-year option in the contract and some previous contract restructures.

Suh's next contract is expected to be in the $100 million range as J.J. Watt recently signed a six-year and $100 million contract while Gerald McCoy received a $95.2 million deal.

Named to the 2014 AP All-Pro First Team, Suh led the Lions with 8.5 sacks and 37 quarterback hurries last season.

Note: We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Broncos will designate WR Demaryius Thomas with the franchise tag before today's deadline

The Chiefs were the first team to designate a player with the franchise tag this morning by making certain that Justin Houston wouldn't hit the free-agent market.

Another player that won't become a free agent this offseason is Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who will be designated with the franchise tag before today's 4 p.m. deadline, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal, otherwise Thomas would play out the season on a guaranteed salary expected to be $12.8 million.

The Broncos have a couple of other key free agents, such as tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, but it's possible that both reach free agency.

In the three seasons since signing Peyton Manning, Demaryius has more than 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns every year.

During that three-year span, he has a total of 297 receptions, 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns. Only Calvin Johnson has more yards (4,533) and only Dez Bryant has more touchdowns (41) during that span.