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Penn State football: Breaking down the Nittany Lions’ 10 free agents in the NFL offseason

NFL free agency officially starts in one month — on March 13 — so we thought now was the perfect time to check in on Penn State alumni this offseason.

Ten Nittany Lions are set to become free agents this offseason, and several could be in line for some big paydays. So we decided to go through each free agent, breaking down his potential landing spot(s) and offseason outlook.

We included both unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents, in which the player’s current team can match another team’s offer. But we did not include exclusive-rights free agents — LB Jason Cabinda, LB Garrett Sickels, S Malik Golden — who have no negotiating power.

Take a look:

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New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan, left, races into the end zone following a pass reception from quarterback Tom Brady during second quarter action vs the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Friday, August 26, 2016.

Jeff Siner

WR Chris Hogan (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: New England Patriots/$3,500,000

2018 NFL stats: 35 catches, 532 yards, 3 TDs

Potential 2019 landing spots: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills

The skinny: ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss doesn’t think the Patriots will re-sign Hogan and, based on a nonscientific fan poll, Pats fans tend to overwhelmingly agree with that sentiment. (The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin also thinks the Pats should let Hogan walk.)

There’s quite a bit of speculation that Hogan will stay in the AFC East. Bleacher Report projects him to Miami, ESPN thinks New York is a prime destination, and even The Buffalo News hinted at a possible reunion. But, again, there are plenty of teams that wouldn’t mind adding an experienced WR for the right price.

Hogan is a bit of a wild card this offseason. Although he never developed into a star at New England — and Pro Football Focus ranked him as one of the offseason’s top-5 “buyer beware” free agents — he can still line up at multiple positions and brings along a veteran presence. He could be paid handsomely, if he finds the right team. He is 30 years old.

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Steelers tight end Jesse James talks to head coach Mike Tomlin during training camp on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at Saint Vincent College.

Abby Drey

TE Jesse James (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Pittsburgh Steelers/$1,959,228

2018 NFL stats: 30 catches, 423 yards, 2 TDs

Potential 2019 landing spots: Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals

The skinny: Pittsburgh would like to re-sign James, and James might even be willing to offer the team a hometown discount. But — and this is key — the Steelers have much more pressing needs than tight end, and they already have money tied up in fellow TE Vance McDonald. Plus, with James’ improved blocking and his penchant for downfield catches in 2018, he could command a nice raise this offseason from other clubs with such a small pool of quality free-agent tight ends.

Houston would be an intriguing destination because it’s lacking a true No. 1 tight end. It also doesn’t hurt that both Bill O’Brien and new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly worked at Penn State with James.


Kansas City Chiefs tight end Ross Travis (88) reached and recovered a loose ball over Houston Texans inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) in the third quarter in NFL action on Sunday night, October 8, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

David Eulitt

TE Ross Travis (RFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Indianapolis Colts/$630,000

2018 NFL stats: None (Injured reserve)

Potential 2019 landing spots: Expected to return to Colts

The skinny: Travis is a restricted free agent, and he’s not exactly in high demand — especially not after suffering a torn ACL last preseason.

With Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle firmly entrenched as starters, Travis will likely only compete for time as a backup. The former Penn State men’s basketball player has 10 career catches for 91 yards.


Offensive lineman Donovan Smith runs the 40-yard-dash. Penn State University held Pro Day Thursday, March 19, 2015, in University Park, Pa., to give former football players a chance to workout for NFL team scouts.

Nabil K. Mark CDT photo

LT Donovan Smith (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Tampa Bay Buccaneers/$1,931,000

2018 NFL stats: 16 games started, 6 penalties, 5.5 sacks allowed, 49 pressures allowed

Potential 2019 landing spots: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals

The skinny: Smith’s effort is sometimes questioned, and he’s allowed more QB pressures since 2015 than just about any other offensive lineman in the NFL. But he’s also started in 64 straight games, and he’s shown clear progress each year he’s been in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the fifth-best offensive tackle in free agency. And, according to just about everyone, he’s about to get paid overpaid this offseason — considering just how difficult it is to find a competent left tackle in the NFL.

Most speculation has Smith sticking with the Bucs. (The latest report Wednesday indicates the Bucs might franchise-tag Smith if they can’t come to an agreement.) But, no matter what, he’ll be in line for a big payday.


Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) puts pressure on Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) in the first quarter of Sunday’s game.


DE Cameron Wake (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Miami Dolphins/$9,625,000

2018 NFL stats: 36 tackles (21 solo, 15 assist), 6 sacks, 1 deflection

Potential 2019 landing spots: Miami Dolphins, Retirement

The skinny: Wake, now 37 years old, said in December he’d like to return to the Dolphins to finish out his career. And he appears to still have some gas left in the tank.

The only question is whether the Dolphins, who are in rebuilding mode, will offer Wake enough money for one final season. That could be a sticking point. Other teams will certainly come calling to Wake for one final campaign — he played 30-plus snaps a game in 2018 — but Wake hasn’t been shy about sharing his preference in staying with Miami.

He’s still a good defensive end, one who’s just two sacks from reaching 100 for his career.


Former State High standout Nate Stupar watches his alma mater in 2016 at Memorial Field. Stupar was signed by the New York Giants on Wednesday to continue his seven-year NFL career.

Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

LB Nate Stupar (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: New York Giants/$1,000,000

2018 NFL stats: 16 games played, 14 tackles

Potential 2019 landing spots: New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints

The skinny: It’s difficult to get a read on Stupar’s market value. A primary special-teams player, many of those roster spots are typically sorted out after the draft, when late-round and undrafted prospects are assessed.

However, Stupar playing all 16 games in 2018 is a boost for his stock. A torn ACL forced him to miss all but four games in 2017. The Saints later cut him to make room for running back Mike Gillislee.

Stupar was a favorite in New Orleans, so a return wouldn’t be out of the question. It just might take some time before his situation is figured out.


Seahawks running back Chris Carson is tackled by Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick and Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hodges on a run in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. The Seattle Seahawks played the Arizona Cardinals in a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash., on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018.

Joshua Bessex

LB Gerald Hodges (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Arizona Cardinals/$790,000

2018 NFL stats: Six starts, 55 tackles, 44 solo

Potential 2019 landing spots: Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks

The skinny: There haven’t been any rumblings as to which teams have looked at Hodges, but there ought to be more interest in him than last offseason.

Hodges had three tackles in 2017 and quietly signed with the Cardinals in August 2018. But as injuries piled up, the 28-year-old stepped up. Hodges made 10 tackles in a Week 12 loss to the Chargers, tallied 13 stops a week later against the Packers and finished the season with six starts and 55 tackles.

The Cardinals could bring him back, but new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph might want to pick out some fresh faces. The Bengals, Browns and Chargers could all use linebacker depth.


Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Jordan Lucas ran into Seattle Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski on a failed field goal attempt in the third quarter and was called for roughing the kicker during Sunday’s football game on December 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

John Sleezer

S Jordan Lucas (RFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Kansas City Chiefs/$630,000

2018 NFL stats: Four starts, 32 tackles, one INT, one sack

Potential 2019 landing spots: Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks

The skinny: The Chiefs’ secondary is seen as the biggest concern entering 2019, and after firing defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, it’s possible that Kansas City cleans house in the back-end.

But Lucas, who unexpectedly impressed in the Chiefs’ run to the AFC title game, is a restricted free agent and could be kept for cheap. CBS Sports’ Joel Corry, a former agent, wrote that Lucas — not linebacker Terrence Smith, the Chiefs’ other RFA — is likely to receive the lowest restricted free agent tender from Kansas City. His salary would be in the $2.05 million range.

For a guy who started and became a fan favorite — and for a team like the Chiefs with serious cap concerns — that would be a bargain.

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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) gets hit by Chicago Bears free safety Adrian Amos (38) in the second quarter of an NFL game at AT&T Stadium Sunday, Sept, 24, 2016.

Richard W. Rodriguez

S Adrian Amos (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: Chicago Bears/$1,965,070

2018 NFL stats: 16 starts, 73 tackles, 59 solo, two INTs, one sack

Potential 2019 landing spots: Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, New York Giants

The skinny: Amos’ rookie contract is up, and the former fifth-round pick in 2015 has outplayed his draft grade significantly, starting 56 games for Chicago over the last four years. He received Pro Football Focus grades of 90.9 and 82.7 in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and played the highest percentage of snaps (97.7) of anyone on Chicago’s defense last year.

Chicago general manager Ryan Pace is in a predicament: Does he shell out the necessary money to keep Amos around, or find a cheap replacement and spend that money on slot corner Bryce Callahan?

JJ Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago wrote, “If the Bears’ internal grades mimicked those of PFF, Amos probably would’ve been signed to an extension.” The fact that he didn’t — and fellow 2015 draftee Eddie Goldman did in the preseason — might be telling.”

If the Bears don’t bring back Amos, he’ll be an attractive option elsewhere. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco ranked Amos as the second-best strong safety available in free agency, behind only New York’s Landon Collins. If Collins leaves, the Giants could be in on Amos. The Broncos are now coached by former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who might also be able to get the best out of the 25-year-old.

Amos’ future destination at this point is unclear. But plenty of eyes will be on his situation in Chicago.


San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould (9) kicks the winning field goal in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks during a game at the Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 2018 in Santa Clara.

Paul Kitagaki Jr.

K Robbie Gould (UFA)

2018 NFL team/NFL salary + bonus: San Francisco 49ers/$2,250,000

2018 NFL stats: 33 of 34 field goals made (97.1 percent)

Potential 2019 landing spots: San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears

The skinny: General manager John Lynch and the 49ers have made it clear that they want to bring back Gould. Lynch said in late January that they’re working to get a new contract done with Gould. And why wouldn’t they?

The 36-year-old has connected on 72 of 75 field goals with a perfect 6 for 6 mark from beyond 50 yards in his last two seasons in the Bay Area.

Those numbers should give him a significant pay bump. Five NFL kickers — Graham Gano, Chris Boswell, Justin Tucker, Mason Crosby and Ryan Succop — have averaged more than $4 million per year over the last two seasons, and Gould has been more accurate than all of them.

Will the 49ers pay Gould? Or will he return to Chicago? The Jersey Shore native spent 10 seasons with the Bears, and Matt Nagy’s squad will surely be looking for a new kicker after Cody Parkey’s infamous double-doink in the playoffs.

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