Branch has three seasons with at least 104 tackles, but injuries have kept him on the sideline the past two seasons. He only played two games in 2013 and three games last season.
The Colts are in need of two starting safeties because they released LaRon Landry three weeks ago and Mike Adams and Sergio Brown are free agents. There’s mutual interest between Adams and the Colts in re-signing him.
Branch can play both safety positions, but he spent the majority of time at strong safety with the Raiders. Colts coach Chuck Pagano is big in his safeties being interchangeable in his defensive scheme.
New England’s Devin McCourty will be the best safety available on the free-agent market.
Teams can start talking to the agents of players on March 7. Free agency begins March 10 at 4 p.m. The Colts are able to meet with Branch because he was released.
Why is that significant?
Because Overton, punter/kicker Pat McAfee and veteran field goal Adam Vinatieri give the Colts arguably the best special teams unit in the NFL.
All three of them have made the Pro Bowl over the past two seasons. Overton made it in 2013 and McAfee and Vinatieri represented the team there last season.
McAfee finished third in the league in net punt yards at 42.8 and seventh in punts inside the 20-yard line with 30 last season. Vinatieri was 30-of-31 on field goal attempts last season. His only miss didn't come until Week 17.
@MattOverton_LS Congrats on the deal brother.. Was not looking forward to the idea of another man snapping balls to me.. Welcome back— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) March 4, 2015
Listed at 6-foot-3, 264 pounds last season, Massaquoi was a fifth-round draft pick out of Troy in 2012. In 40 career games and seven starts, he's recorded six sacks and three passes defended.
Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 23 of 59 4-3 defensive ends, with a positive pass-rush rating and a negative run-defense mark.
ESPN.com’s Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure wrote that a carefree attitude cost Massaquoi standing with the franchise.
Massaquoi has talent. He showed flashes of it last season, particularly in games against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. But he rubbed some folks the wrong way with his carefree approach.
One member of the previous staff said Massaquoi was in the doghouse because he skipped treatments on the right foot he injured during a game against the Detroit Lions in London. Massaquoi was tabbed a "good kid who made some poor decisions and needs some structure."
A coach from the fired Falcons staff told McClure that Massaquoi is a “good kid.”
“Needs structure,” the coach said. “Makes some poor decisions at times, but what kid doesn't?”
As the team prepares to shuffle its roster for its second season with Smith as head of the ownership group, he reiterated those themes in an appearance on 3HL on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville.
Regarding the identity of a team that went 2-14 and will draft second overall, Smith said: "I don't think we have one."
Doesn’t the smashmouth idea he touts run counter to coach Ken Whisenhunt’s desire to emphasize a downfield passing offense?
“I think you’re going to see a run game this year,” Smith said. “We didn’t have much of that last year. We lost two of our three tight ends early, we lost O-linemen and so forth. But if you’re going to go down the field you also have to have a run game to compliment it. We have a lot of work to do on that.”
Smith also addressed pass protection, which wasn’t great early and deteriorated as the offensive line injuries mounted.
“Until we protect a quarterback, we can talk about going into the draft or to a free agent or whatever but at the end of the year, we’ve got to keep the man upright for goodness sakes. It’s unfortunate [Zach Mettenberger] got injured.”
Smith said the quarterback is tough and committed, but he would like to have seen more. A shoulder injury kept Mettenberger out of the final three games.
The team needs some quarterback competition for Mettenberger, to at the very least be “safe.”
Draft and free-agent decisions will be made by general manager Ruston Webster and his staff, Smith said.
While he’d prefer to have a franchise built predominantly thorugh the draft, the current roster demands help from all available avenues.
"We're going to be very active in free agency,” Smith said. “We need to be."
A few other items he hit on in the interview:
- After top non-football executive Don MacLachlan was ousted, the team will now have multiple public faces rather than heavy representation by one high-ranking man.
- Smith is sticking with goals he started earlier for the Titans: the playoffs in 2015, the Super Bowl in 2016.
- While the team is returning to navy blue as its primary color, Smith didn’t offer any indication that uniform or logo alterations are in progress.
Andre Johnson is one of four players in NFL history who played for only one franchise and has 1,000 career receptions. The others are Marvin Harrison (1,102 catches for the Colts), Reggie Wayne (1,070, Colts) and Hines Ward (1,000, Steelers). Four players in NFL history joined and played for a new team when they already had 1,000 lifetime receptions: Jerry Rice (Raiders and Seahawks), Cris Carter (Dolphins) Tim Brown (Buccaneers) and Terrell Owens (Bengals).
Johnson has been granted permission to seek a trade and has asked to be released if that doesn't work out. The financials would make this a difficult trade. Johnson is one of four receivers owed $11 million or more in 2015, joining Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Dwayne Bowe.
Let's take a look at some potential landing spots for the the soon-to-be former Texan.
The division first, where we'll look at every team:
Titans: A team not close to contending, and one that has another unsettled quarterback situation, might not be of interest to Johnson. Receiver is one of the many areas where the Titans could use help, so they'd likely have interest.
Jaguars: They should be getting Justin Blackmon back and have been stocking up on young receivers in recent seasons, making their need for another receiver low. If Johnson wants to contend for a Super Bowl wherever he goes, this might not be the right fit in the short term.
Now a look around the rest of the league at some possibilities:
Patriots: A team-friendly deal might work here, though if salary is an issue this wouldn't be a likely landing spot. On the other hand, he'd get to play with an elite quarterback in Tom Brady, the kind of luxury he never has had with the Texans.
Bills: Buffalo has the cap space to take him on, but it is set with its top two receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. The Bills need a third receiver, but Johnson believes he's a starter.
Ravens: They're likely to lose Torrey Smith in free agency, creating a need here, and have shown in the past that they aren't afraid of signing older receivers. They signed Derrick Mason at age 35 and Steve Smith at age 34. Cap space is an issue for the Ravens. Without getting into the "is Joe Flacco elite?" discussion, this could be a good situation for Johnson, quarterback-wise.
Browns: A good receiver would be more than welcome here, but if Johnson wants to play for a contender, well ...
Raiders: Johnson's relationship with Derek Carr, plus the fact Carr was the best rookie of last year's quarterback class, could make this an appealing situation for Johnson. On the other hand, the Raiders aren't exactly an immediate contender.
Broncos: A reunion with Gary Kubiak might be appealing to both parties, and catching passes from Peyton Manning would certainly appeal to Johnson. The problem is, the Broncos aren't in need of receivers and don't have a ton of cap space available. If Johnson is seeking another location where he can be a starter, this likely won't be it. It could be a chance to be part of a contending team, though.
Falcons: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was the Texans' receivers coach in 2006, then quarterbacks coach and finally offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009. That connection is a plus, and the Falcons have a good quarterback. But they also have two very talented receivers, leaving little room for Johnson to have the role he wants.
Vikings: A connection that will cause people to talk about this one is that the same agent represents Johnson and Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Johnson is a very quarterback-friendly receiver. Minnesota hasGreg Jennings, but their second-leading receiver was running back Matt Asiata.
Khan was ranked 110th on the recently released Forbes 400, which is an annual list published by the magazine of the wealthiest 400 Americans. Only three other owners of NFL teams were ranked ahead of Khan: Paul Allen (Seattle), Stephen Ross (Miami) and Stan Kroenke (St. Louis).
Khan has a net worth of $4.5 billion. He purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million after making his fortune via his auto parts manufacturer, Flex-N-Gate.
Allen ($17.5 billion) was No. 27 on the Forbes 400. Ross ($6.5 billion) was 83rd and Kroenke ($6.3 billion) was 89th. Khan finished slightly ahead of two other NFL owners: Dallas' Jerry Jones (117th) and New England's Robert Kraft (122nd).
He’s coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Something the Colts don’t have.
And come March 7, when teams can start negotiating with the agents of players, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson will be on the phone with Murray’s representatives.
Will the Colts break the bank for Murray, who last season led the NFL in rushing yards (1,845) and tied Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch for the league lead in touchdowns (13)?
Who knows, but Grigson has no problem going after what he wants, and the Colts have the money to get Murray ($44 million in salary-cap space).
ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer recently wrote that Murray said money will not be a factor in his decision.
Let’s say that Murray really doesn’t care about the money. Grigson still has one of the premier selling points when giving his pitch to free agents: Andrew Luck.
All Luck has done since the Colts drafted him No. 1 overall in 2012 is win. He’s lost back-to-back games in the same season only once, and Indianapolis is coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
Grigson wants to take some of the pressure off Luck.
The Colts, who finished 22nd in the league in rushing last season, haven’t had a player rush for 100 yards in a game since the 2012 season.
The addition of Murray would make the Colts a difficult team to scheme for, because of his running ability and the skill players Luck can throw to on the outside: T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and Donte Moncrief.
The Colts, despite their flaws in the running game, still finished third overall in total offense last season, averaging 406.6 yards a game.
The one thing Murray has going against him -- besides his three lost fumbles last season -- is that history says he’ll have a decline in production next season. It would be nice for the Colts to have a running back rush for almost 1,900 yards, but they don't need Murray to do that. Luck will carry his fair share of the offense. That's why it wouldn't be the end of the world if Murray experienced a slight slippage in production from 1,845 yards rushing.
A closer look at how the previous 41 players with 400-plus touches fared the next season:
Johnson has been given permission to seek a trade and has asked to be released if that does not work out. The Texans wanted him to accept a smaller role, but he believes he's still a starter.
When the longest tenured and best offensive player in franchise history moves on after more than a decade, emotions bubble. It's never an easy situation in part because of the memories.
I asked: What are your favorite Andre Johnson memories? Twitter answered:
@taniaganguli when he put a beating on C.Finnegan =ª=J— CHASO (@H_Txns_Chaso) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli td catch against Arizona where he got hit several times including big hit in back and willed his way into endzone— Patrick Sinclair (@PatSinclair119) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli first playoff TD catch with Yates under center. I was at the stadium and got emotional seeing it happen and his reaction— weworemasks (@weworemasks) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli Monday night against colts 3 TDs!— Jonathan Vahalik (@jjvahalik50) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli Andre walking off the field after having words with Schaub in 2013. He did what all the fans wanted to do— TyMo (@TyMo214) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli pinning the ball to Yeremiah Bell's helmet to convert 4th down on game winning drive vs MIA...OT catch against WAS.— Grayson Skweres (@squaresy9) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli Andre Johnson's game winning OT TD catch on a bubble screen 2 seasons ago vs JAX— Gerry Guerra (@1KingWizard) March 3, 2015
@taniaganguli Every Christmas when AJ hosted the low-income children at Toys R Us. Truly an unselfish man and player.— Gary Howell (@LonghornGary) March 3, 2015
HOUSTON -- He often, good naturedly, revived the digs.
You guys said I'd lost a step.
You guys didn't think I had it anymore.
You guys thought I was done.
Even after what may have been his final game with the Houston Texans, Andre Johnson said he didn't feel like that was the end for him on the only NFL franchise he's been part of.
On Monday we learned that Johnson has asked to be traded or cut, rather than accept a smaller role with the team. The Texans have given him permission to seek a trade and he said goodbye to Houston fans on Instagram. His departure will end an era and it comes from the same confidence that elicited those smiling barbs mentioned above.
During his rookie season, following an offseason practice just after he got drafted, Johnson watched the starters huddle. He watched them until a coach yelled to ask what the heck he was doing. His place, even in his first NFL practice, was with the starters. From there, in his 12 NFL seasons, Johnson became one of the best receivers in NFL history.
He is undoubtedly the best offensive player in Texans history.
Johnson's milestones were a near-weekly event. He has more 100-yard receiving games than any active player in the NFL, and ranks fourth in NFL history. He ranks ninth all-time in receptions, having passed Hines Ward and Randy Moss last season. He ranks 12th all-time in receiving yards, having passed Torry Holt last season.
Age catches up with everyone, even one so accomplished and talented as Johnson. He adjusted, but the shift was clear. Second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins was passing him, passing him while watching the veteran for tips on how to succeed, and succeed for so long.
Johnson still believes he is a starter. The Texans are ready for a transition. That impasse led to this. A release could even serve Johnson well, allowing him to join a team with the kind of established quarterback situation he has never had in his career.
In the time I've covered him, Johnson has never been one who enjoys conducting interviews. He accepts the responsibility, and follows through professionally, if not happily. But in that final postgame news conference of 2014, there was a lightness to Johnson's demeanor.
He chuckled and laughed at various questions. He shared that a teammate had wondered if this would be his last game with the Texans, and offered that he expected to return.
"When I woke up this morning, that was the first thing that I said," Johnson said. "I said, 'I’m going to go out here and enjoy every moment that I’m out here on this field,' and that’s what I did. I didn’t worry about anything."
In that game, Johnson caught 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.
"Every year you get older, you guys say I lose it," Johnson said. "It is what it is. It’s part of the game. But like I said, I can still play the game. I know that. Whatever is meant to happen will happen and I’ll cross that bridge when I get there."
He's approaching that bridge now and on the other side of it is a future so many players learn to accept.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There was one surprise in the last dash to use the franchise or transition tags before 4 p.m. ET Monday, and it’s one that’s potentially very good for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The New England Patriots tagged kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which means free safety Devin McCourty will become a free agent unless the sides work out a new contract between now and 4 p.m. ET March 10. If that doesn’t happen and McCourty does hit the open market, he should be the Jaguars’ No. 1 priority.
That’s not the case at free safety. It’s not a particularly good crop in free agency, and the draft pool isn’t considered very good, either. So if the Jaguars are going to fix the biggest issue on defense in 2015 they must go after McCourty.
For Gus Bradley’s defense to perform at its best it must have a physical strong safety who can play near the line of scrimmage and a free safety with the range and athleticism to cover the width of the entire field. Bradley likes to play single high safety a lot, and right now he doesn’t have one that can do that.
Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick in 2013, has started 24 games at the spot but has no interceptions, no forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and just two pass breakups. The 6-foot, 205-pounder also has had issues with tackling, though he improved significantly in that area as the 2014 season progressed and was the Jaguars' third-leading tackler (90) in his second season.
McCourty is a perfect fit. He’s big enough (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), fast enough (he’s a converted cornerback), and smart enough to complete what is turning out to be, at worst, a very solid secondary. It would be a young secondary, too. McCourty is 27, which would make him tied for the oldest among players in the secondary that are under contract for 2015.
McCourty also has the trait that has been missing from the Jaguars’ secondary for a long time: he makes plays. He has 17 interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and 58 pass breakups in his first five seasons, which averages out to 3.4 interceptions, 1.6 forced fumbles, and 11.6 pass breakups per season. The Jaguars’ entire group of defensive backs had three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 26 pass breakups in 2014.
McCourty is unquestionably the top free safety on the market. He’s certainly not going to command Suh money, but the Jaguars might have to spend the kind of money that San Diego did on Eric Weddle (five years, $40 million) and Seattle did on Earl Thomas (four years, $40 million).
They should do it without hesitation.
Now comes the part of this that goes beyond happy and hopeful declarations.
There's been a lot of talk about Brian Hoyer and the Texans. With the Cleveland Browns signing Josh McCown last week, Hoyer will hit the free-agent market next week, too. He spent three seasons with the New England Patriots, all of them while O'Brien was on the staff. His familiarity with O'Brien would make this an attractive landing spot from Hoyer's perspective.
Would he be a better fit for the Texans than Mallett or Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started most of last season for Houston and still has one year left on his contract?
That's hard to say. Fitzpatrick had a marginally better total QBR than Hoyer did last season, by about 12 points. Fitzpatrick's passer rating was significantly better, while Hoyer's 76.5 passer rating ranked 31st in the league. Part of that is likely the quality of the players around each quarterback. Total QBR accounts for situations, so, for example, the quarterback doesn't get credit for the 80 yards run after catch. An interception that results in no points the other way is less costly than one that results in a touchdown.
As for Mallett, he has arm strength the former two don't have, that much we know. He won the battle of the former Brady backups when the Texans played the Browns in Cleveland. Hoyer's QBR in that game was 24 to Mallett's 82, and the Texans won 23-7. Mallett played the next game with a torn right pectoral muscle, so we really only have a one-game gauge on his ability. That isn't enough to draw conclusions.
What the Texans got out of the quarterback position last season isn't what they want.
For now, the status quo remains for the Texans' quarterback situation.
His strength coach from Nebraska is now at Vanderbilt, and I was told Suh plans on spending even more time this offseason with James Dobson.
His Nashville trip, however, had nothing to do with the Tennessee Titans. Any interaction with the city's NFL entry would have been tampering.
With the Lions deciding not to place the franchise tag on Suh, he's now in line to become a free agent March 10. As of March 7, teams can begin to negotiate with agents for players in advance of their free agency.
The Titans are desperate for difference-makers.
Suh is a major difference-maker, perhaps second only to J.J. Watt among NFL defenders. End, tackle, whatever. They would shape their front to suit him. He would make everyone better. He would give a faceless team a jolt.
Suh is going to get a ridiculous contract. Watt got a six-year, $100 million deal in 2014, and it came with $51.8 million guaranteed.
Suh has a long history of player-safety issues on the field, which are well outlined by ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein.
Is that stuff worth the trade-off? If you believe he's going to play hard for you and want to prove he's worth a massive contract, the Titans have to say yes to that.
While I generally fear huge deals for veterans, as we've seen so many blow up, it's hard to look at Suh and the Titans and say anything other than this: Tennessee should aggressively pursue him.
And I think they will.
Three straight 11-win seasons. Three straight playoff appearances. A step further in the playoffs in each of those seasons, including reaching the AFC Championship Game last season.
The same can’t be said about Grigson’s free-agent signing record. He hasn't been as successful in that area.
Grigson has a chance to improve his success rate when free agency opens March 10. The Colts will have about $40 million in salary-cap space to try to find a running back, pass-rusher, two safeties, defensive linemen and a receiver.
Here’s a look at the free-agent moves Grigson made in his first three offseasons:
DL Art Jones, WR Hakeem Nicks, S Colt Anderson, S Mike Adams
Note: Adams, whom the Colts didn’t sign until the middle of June, was the best player of this group last season. He was the Colts’ second-best defensive player behind cornerback Vontae Davis, tying for the NFL lead in takeaways with seven. He also made his first Pro Bowl. The Colts were better at stopping the run when Jones was on the field, but a high ankle sprain caused him to miss seven games. Nicks never found his role as the Colts' No. 3 receiver, which led to the worst season of his six-year career.
OT Gosder Cherilus, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Ricky Jean Francois, S LaRon Landry, LB Lawrence Sidbury, G Donald Thomas, CB Greg Toler, LB Erik Walden
Note: Injuries and disappointing play were the themes of the 2013 free-agent class. Francois and Landry were both released in the past three weeks. Landry was the bigger disappointment. The Colts gave him a four-year, $24 million contract hoping he would be an enforcer at safety. Landry didn’t come close to those expectations. He was suspended for four games for using performance-enhancing drugs last season, and it took until the end of the season for him to get his starting job back. Thomas has played only two games in his two seasons with the team because of injuries. Cherilus spent the majority of last season trying to play through injuries, which ended up impacting his production. Toler, when healthy, gives the Colts a nice duo at cornerback with Davis. Toler played in 15 games last season after playing in only nine during his first season with the team. Walden finished second on the team in sacks with 6.0 last season.
WR Donnie Avery, OL Mike McGlynn, DT Brandon McKinney, DL Cory Redding, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski.
Note: Satele made it only two seasons as quarterback Andrew Luck's center. Avery, who spent just one season with Indianapolis, was third on the Colts in receiving yards (781) and receptions (60) in 2012. Redding, who is considering retirement, started all 16 games and finished with 3.5 sacks last season. He was also one of the Colts’ locker room leaders.
ESPN’s Adam Caplan recently gave us a rundown of his most likely salary-cap cuts. One of them, running back Reggie Bush, has already been released.
The Titans showed interest in Jones a year ago before he signed with the Colts.
I asked ESPN resident scout Matt Williamson about those four and how each could fit in Tennessee.
“All make sense and are scheme-fits,” he said. “Hali and Cole are similar and both have played very well in a 3-4 as an OLB. Dick LeBeau also has a history of having shorter, leverage-type OLBs, which suits both, but especially Cole. Although Cole’s best days were as a 4-3 end. Still, both bring something off the edge and are far from done.
“I like Jones as well. Tough guy that would be a defensive end for Tennessee, but can be moved around the line a bit. He’s a run-stuffer, but can also push the pocket. I would think LeBeau would be quite fond of him.”
“Collins was a great third tackle for the Bengals and did really well when he got in as a starter due to injuries, but like the rest of Tampa Bay’s offensive line last year, he really struggled as an every-week starting left tackle. He can play either side but is a little frightening. Guess it depends on cost with him. I would be afraid to overpay.”
There is a going to be a huge push to add edge rushers. Top players in free agency, such as the Chiefs' Justin Houston, are bound to get tagged and not make it to market.
The more out there, the better, of course.
ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay posted his third mock draft on Thursday. And for the second time in three mocks, McShay has the Colts selecting LSU offensive lineman La’el Collins with the No. 29 overall pick.
The Colts can go a number of different ways with their pick because they have an assortment of needs on their roster -- from offensive line to safety to pass-rusher to defensive line to running back.
Philadelphia, according to McShay, will select Alabama's Landon Collins, the best safety in the draft, at No. 20. Georgia running back Todd Gurley is still on McShay’s board when the Colts select, but he has them passing on him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because Gurley is working his way back from a torn ACL, which happened last November. The Colts also like the running back depth in this draft.
Collins can play guard or tackle. Both of those positions are areas of concern for the Colts.
“Lots of teams have told me I am their favorite offensive lineman,” Collins said at the combine last week. “Lots of teams told me they asked me if I could slide to the right side and then in two years maybe come over the left. Could I come in right now and play left? I feel very confident in what I do, so for me it wouldn’t be a problem.”