2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 NFL free agency prediction series!  Today, I’ll be sharing my predictions for where the best linebackers and defensive backs end up signing.  Where will Justin Houston, C.J. Mosley, LaMarcus Joyner and other top defensive free agents end up?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and you check out my tentative schedule for the entire series below with links to previous articles.

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2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions

Series Schedule

Monday, March 4: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Sunday, March 10: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 2: Linemen

Monday, March 11: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

 

Note: Predictions as of March 10, 2019.

Linebacker Predictions

OLB

Top Tier OLB

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Matthews may not be the best defender in the game anymore, but he is still a high tier talent at linebacker who will sign a multi-year deal.  I have him going to Buffalo, who has a huge hole at outside linebacker.  After being released by the Chiefs, Houston will head to another LB needy team – Detroit.  Look for Suggs, Bucannon, and Barr to resign with their former teams, who will end up with similar holes without their star linebackers.  McPhee will head to San Francisco, playing next to Malcolm Smith and providing experience to a young defense.

Cheaper OLB Options

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Kendricks and Wright will leave a crowded Seahawks front seven, with Kendricks providing depth in Green Bay and Wright playing across from second year star Darius Leonard in Indy.  Morgan will head to Miami to help out the pass rush in Wake’s absensce.  DE Charles Harris and Morgan could lead their 2019 pass rush.  Smith will serve as a veteran presence on a young Jets defense similar to McPhee in San Fran, while Worrilow returns to Philly for another year despite missing much of 2018.  Ray will fill a lingering need at linebacker for the Pats.

ILB

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Mosley and Alexander will wind up back with their 2018 teams despite interest from many others.   But Barron, who was just released, and Williamson will leave their former teams – with Williamson replacing Barron in LA and Barron heading to Philly as additional LB depth.  Te’o will also leave his 2018 team, heading to Arizona, close to his first NFL home in San Diego.  Brown will return to the Bengals after maintaining a starting job there in 2018.

Defensive Backs

Cornerbacks

CB1s

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There aren’t any top tier corners on the open market, but there are a handful that will score 2-3 year deals.  Claiborne will head to Cleveland after one year on the Jets for 3 years, and Scandrick will resign with Kansas City for 3 years after getting settled there in 2018.  Verrett may have missed 2018 with a torn ACL, but prior to that, he was a star on the rise, and he may benefit from a fresh start with the Colts.  Grimes will replace Jimmie Ward in San Fran on a 2-year deal.  Roby has established himself as a trustworthy starter in Denver, so I see him returning.  Darby, on the other hand, got hurt during his stint in Philly.  He underperformed leading up to that, but he could thrive in Tennessee as an upgrade over some of their current CBs.

CB2-Nickel Options

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Johnson and the young Shaquill Griffin could make for a good CB duo in Seattle.  I have J-Mac and Ward replacing him in Houston.  Gaines will head to Miami and battle against Minkah Fitzpatrick for the #2 CB job, while Skrine and Lippett will return to their New York teams for the same purpose.

Safeties

Top Tier S

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Honey Badger will head to San Francisco, filling a hole the Niners have had at safety since Eric Reid’s departure.  I originally thought Joyner would return to LA joining Mathieu on the west coast, but the Rams signed Eric Weddle recently.  That probably implies that Joyner’s moving on.  Hopefully, the young Packers secondary can follow by his example.  Bethea is not what he used to be, but should still score a one year deal with a safety-needy team.  Thomas may be injury prone, but the Cowboys have been linked to him and should give him a try in 2019.  Iloka can replace Thomas in Seattle, even though they were fine with Thomas on the sidelines in 2018.  Collins will return to New York after other teams don’t want to invest too much in him.

Cheaper S Options

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Amos will return to Chicago, maintaining a dynamic safety duo alongside Eddie Jackson.  Clinton-Dix will join J-Mac and Ward in a changing Houston secondary.  Vaccaro will head to Jacksonville after a year in Tennessee, while an aging Corey Graham provides depth to a strong Ravens secondary.  Exum will play alongside Eric Berry in Kansas City, and Nelson will return to Oakland as they give him one more chance to prove himself despite a decline during his time in Oakland.

That’s all for my NFL free agency predictions.  Stay tuned for more NFL coverage after free agency settles down.

Patriots Training Camp with Bob Socci

Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci.  I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year.  (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).

Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.

Before Practice Began:  “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience

I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.

First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan.  She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.

After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year.  He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.

Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields.  My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.

They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile.  Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.

Training Camp Profile Card

There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.

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Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day

Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium.  I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.

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We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there.  After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.

My press pass from training camp

All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.

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On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:

  1. Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
  2. Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position.  The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on.  For the regular season they receive new numbers.
  3. During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue.  On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.

Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members.  We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.

Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible.  The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.

Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride.  I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp.   I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.

Watching Practice from the Media Tent

Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent.  During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra.  They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent.  Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.

The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups.  The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around.  Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.

Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice.  This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place.  Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws.  During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals.  Here is some of my video coverage.

After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued.  The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly.  Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling.  The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.

The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB .  Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field.  Then, for most of the team, practice ended.  A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.

Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp

Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister

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WR Phillip Dorsett (#13) after catching a ball from the coach during positional drills

I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett.  Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through.  Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.

Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season

Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today.  Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel.  Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.

After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald.  Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.

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Meredith Gorman, who now works for patriots.com, interviewing rookie RB Sony Michel after practice

Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field

I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI.  Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win.   Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews.  Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan.  Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.

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Super Bowl LI “the catch” by Edelman

Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections

I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer.  Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.

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QBs Hoyer (2) and Etling (58) during practice
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Brian Hoyer after practice

 

Don’t Discount New England secondary

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Stephon Gilmore being interviewed after practice

Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary.  For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady.  Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.

Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead

Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head.  In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice.  Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list.  However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups.  According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.

After Practice: Media Session and Tour

After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone.  I watched some of the interviews.  Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day.  Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:

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Bob Socci and Megan O’Brien Day 4 Recap

James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed.  Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower.  I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field.  I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.

Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday.  This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

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The empty podium at practice today

In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com.   I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.

After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area.  He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired.  The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around.  Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door.  We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.

In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots.  In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view.  It was truly incredible and surreal at times.

I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me.  I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.