The NFL’s free agency period got going this week, as teams began to negotiate with players ahead of Wednesday afternoon, when the league’s 2018 calendar officially begins and contracts can be signed. Here’s a look at who’s going and who’s staying, with the proviso that deals are not official until 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
Dolphins cut Ndamukong Suh; Cardinals cut Tyrann Mathieu
Two of the NFL’s most electrifying defenders juiced the 2018 free agent market even more Wednesday.
The Dolphins cut ties with dominant-yet-controversial defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after three seasons. Suh had 4.5 sacks and 29 tackles last season in Miami, and also forced two fumbles. The Dolphins were searching for a trade partner for Suh, who was due almost $17 million this season, his fourth of a six-year deal. But when no trade materialized, the team was willing to swallow the salary cap hit to be free of Suh, a player who has developed a reputation as a sometimes dirty player.
In a preseason game last year, he grabbed Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallet by the throat during a stoppage in play. In 2010, his rookie season, he famously stomped on Packers’ offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. He’s been fined more than $200,000 by the NFL for disciplinary actions.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, had long sought to work with Mathieu, known as the “Honey Badger,” to restructure his contract, a more polite way of asking him to take a pay cut. Mathieu declined, and Arizona released him Wednesday to save $4.8 million in cap room for the coming season and $18.75 million overall.
Mathieu, as both a defensive back and kick returner, was electric for Arizona last season. He was second on the team in tackles and had two interceptions.
“I’ve never made a secret that Tyrann has always had a special place in my heart and always will,” Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said in a statement. “While we all understand this a part of the business, that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. We all wish Tyrann nothing but continued success in his career and beyond.”
Carlos Hyde goes from 49ers to Browns, Jerrick McKinnon goes from Vikings to 49ers
The Cleveland Browns continued to completely remake their offense Wednesday, agreeing to terms with former San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde on a three-year deal worth more than $15 million, including $6 million in the first year, the NFL Network reports.
Whether the addition of Hyde, considered the top free agent running back available, changes the Browns’ draft thinking on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley remains to be seen. Cleveland has the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the draft and also seems likely to select a quarterback.
Hyde, 27, has been the 49ers’ go-to back the past two seasons, topping 900 rushing yards in each while also catching 86 passes over that span. For now, he’ll be paired with Duke Johnson in the Browns’ backfield; Isaiah Crowell, the team’s leading rusher last season, agreed to free agent terms with the Jets on Tuesday.
The Browns have also traded for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry and Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the past few days.
The 49ers quickly found Hyde’s backfield replacement Wednesday, reportedly agreeing to terms with former Viking Jerick McKinnon. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $30 million over four years. At $7.5 million on average per year, McKinnon will be the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid running back, Spotrac notes.
McKinnon never was the Vikings’ bellcow but was a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield, with 142 receptions over his four-year NFL career, 94 of them over the past two seasons.
Giants get a franchise left tackle
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport and others are reporting that the Giants have agreed to a deal with left tackle Nate Solder, a stalwart on the Patriots’ offensive line since 2011 and likely the best free agent offensive lineman available after Andrew Norwell agreed to a deal with the Jaguars on Tuesday. He will become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL, Rapoport says, after agreeing to a four-year deal worth $62 million, with $35 million guaranteed. His average annual value of $15.5 million is nearly $2 million more than any lineman in history, Jeff P. Howe reports.
The Giants’ offensive line struggled in 2017, with Pro Football Focus ranking it as the 26th-best in the league (a host of injuries didn’t help). It allowed 27 sacks, fourth most in the league.
According to Albert Breer, the Giants beat out the Patriots and Texans for Solder’s services.
Eagles reward defensive leader Nigel Bradham
Coveted by eight to 10 teams in free agency, linebacker Nigel Bradham instead will remain with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, agreeing to terms Wednesday to a deal reportedly worth $40 million over five years.
Bradham, a six-year veteran, called the Eagles’ defensive plays on the field after fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks went down with an Achilles’ injury in October. He had 88 tackles (five for a loss) with a sack and eight passes defended last season.
“Nigel plays with tremendous energy and fire and has made a number of impact plays for us at the linebacker position,” the team said in a statement. “Keeping him here was a priority of ours and we are looking forward to his future here in Philadelphia.”
Teddy Bridgewater joins the Jets, who also land linebacker Avery Williamson
Having struck out in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, the Jets wasted little time Tuesday coming to terms with two strong candidates to be the team’s starting quarterback this season, including Teddy Bridgewater. The 25-year-old former Viking was lured to New York on a one-year deal, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Jets brought back last year’s starter, Josh McCown, also on a one-year deal reported to be worth around $10 million. McCown has reportedly been told that he will return to his place atop the team’s depth chart, although Bridgewater likely will be given an opportunity to unseat him in training camp and the Jets could also spend their No. 6 overall pick on a quarterback.
Having suffered a devastating knee injury just before the 2016 season began, Bridgewater missed almost all of the past two seasons, making a brief appearance in December for Minnesota, which was led last year by Case Keenum but let him go to the Broncos as it acquired Cousins. The 32nd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Bridgewater showed promise in his first two seasons, going 17-11 as a starter with a 64.7 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, an 86.3 rating and a Pro Bowl appearance.
The Jets, who entered the free agency period armed with more than $90 million in salary-cap space, stayed busy by landing inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The former Titan could replace Demario Davis, who played well last season after returning to the Jets in a trade from the Browns, and line up alongside 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee.
Williamson, 26, was a fifth-round pick in 2014 who has started 59 games in his four seasons and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the third-best inside linebacker in 2017, behind only Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. On a busy day, the Jets also have been reported to have reeled in highly regarded cornerback Trumaine Johnson, formerly of the Rams, and ex-Browns running back Isaiah Crowell.
Dion Lewis leaves Patriots for Titans
The player regarded by many as the top running back on the market is leaving New England for Nashville. Dion Lewis, per multiple reports, will sign a four-year deal with the Titans, making him the second player to defect to the team from the Patriots on Tuesday, following cornerback Macolm Butler.
Lewis has had major problems staying healthy in his career, but when available to play, he has proven to be a dynamic runner with toughness and receiving skills. Last season was his best in the NFL, as the 27-year-old rushed for 896 yards and six touchdowns, with an impressive 5.0 average, adding 32 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
Lewis is expected to share time with the bruising Derrick Henry in something of a “Thunder and Lightning” tandem for new Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, a former Patriot in his own right. The Titans released veteran running back DeMarco Murray on Thursday.
Muhammad Wilkerson picks the Packers
Green Bay bulked up its defensive line by adding Muhammad Wilkerson, on a reported one-year deal worth $5 million, plus an additional $3 million in incentives. Wilkerson had recently spent time with Redskins officials, following meetings with the Saints and Chiefs.
Wilkerson’s first stop, though, after getting released by the Jets was with the Packers, and apparently their sales pitch was effective, not to mention the fact that their new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, wrung excellent play from the defensive end while in New York. A first-round pick by the Jets in 2011 who made the 2015 Pro Bowl, Wilkerson was a disappointment for the team after it signed him to a five-year, $85 million contract in 2016, and he will look to return to form in Green Bay.
Jets land cornerback Trumaine Johnson
Another coveted cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, has found a home, following Malcolm Butler’s reported agreement with the Titans. The 28-year-old Johnson will be joining the Jets, per multiple reports, as the team begins to check items off its lengthy shopping list.
Johnson was allowed to walk by the Rams, who opted to trade for a pair of well-regarded cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but he was the top player available at his position in a number of free agency previews, and he fills a huge hole for New York. In each of the past two seasons, the Rams had placed the franchise tag on Johnson, but they used it on another member of their secondary, safety LaMarcus Joyner, this year.
In New York, Johnson joins a pair of safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who were drafted in the first and second rounds last year, respectively. A tall player for his position at 6-2, Johnson will earn $15 million annually from the Jets (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport), who entered the free agency period with one of the league’s largest war chests of more than $90 million to spend under the salary cap.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Jets reportedly brought back last year’s starting quarterback, Josh McCown, and engaged heavily in talks with Teddy Bridgewater. New York is also believed to be adding former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, but it could still use help at cornerback, as well as offensive line, tight end, linebacker and in pass-rushing.
New England exodus continues; Malcolm Butler to Tennessee
The author of arguably the most important play in Super Bowl history is leaving the team he won it for. Malcolm Butler is set to leave the New England Patriots for the Tennessee Titans in a five-year deal worth $61 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Butler intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal New England’s win in Super Bowl XLIX in 2014 against Seattle. In Super Bowl LII, though, Butler was benched on defense and played only special teams. After the game, the fourth-year pro said the team “gave up on me.”
Tennessee signed a new coach, former Patriots linebacker and Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, in January, even as former coach Mike Mularkey led the team the second round of the playoffs.
Jets bring back Josh McCown, add Isaiah Crowell
It remains unclear how far along the Jets are with free agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the team has reeled in last year’s starting signal-caller, Josh McCown. According to multiple reports Tuesday, McCown has agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Reports have also indicated that McCown, who turns 39 in July, has been told he will be the Jets’ starter this season, which could complicate negotiations with Bridgewater. New York is also considered to be very likely to use its No. 6 overall pick in next month’s draft on a quarterback, or even trade up higher to land its preferred target.
In his first season with the Jets, McCown played well, setting career highs in completion percentage and touchdowns while leading the team to a surprisingly competitive start. However, McCown suffered a serious injury, as he so often has in his career, in Week 14 and failed to complete the season.
The Jets also still have last year’s backup quarterbacks, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, on the roster, but both could be released before the start of the upcoming season. Having apparently lost out to the Vikings in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, New York pivoted quickly to sign McCown, who has earned praise for his veteran leadership, and go after Bridgewater.
The Jets are also adding former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, per reports. The 25 year-old Crowell ran for 853 yards and two touchdowns last season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, while catching 28 passes for 182 yards.
Crowell joins Bilal Powell, the leading rusher for the Jets last season, and Elijah McGuire in New York’s backfield. The team also had Matt Forte for the past two seasons, but the veteran running back retired early in the offseason.
Panthers sign ex-Redskin Bashaud Breeland
Less than a week after Carolina traded away one of its cornerbacks, it restocked Wednesday with former Redskin Bashaud Breeland, who is expected to sign a three-year, $24 million deal, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
Washington used Breeland as its second cornerback the past two seasons as he played alongside Josh Norman. And when Norman missed three starts due to injury, Breeland shifted into the top role, one he relished and thought he was deserved on a full-time basis.
“I feel like I’m a top corner in this league,” he said in Dec. 2016. “It hasn’t been shown, I haven’t gotten that publicity, but I feel like with my confidence level and how I believe in myself, I feel like I’m a top corner in this league. I’m just not one of those players that’s flashy, that’s going to make the flashy play that you want to see, you know what I’m saying? Really, what I do, I bring a lot more to the table — physicality, tackling. I’m a tackling corner. And I play my guy. I make plays.”
Packers ink tight end Jimmy Graham, cut Jordy Nelson
Free agent tight end Jimmy Graham intends to sign with the Green Bay Packers after the free agent market officially opens Wednesday, according to a person close to the situation.
Graham will leave the Seattle Seahawks and chose not to return to the New Orleans Saints, who also were interested in him.
He provides a potentially productive pass-catcher at tight end for quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay as the Packers take a more aggressive approach to free agency under new general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Graham had 57 catches for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns last season for Seattle. He was a two-time 1,200-yard receiver during his five seasons with the Saints before he was traded to the Seahawks. He spent three seasons in Seattle.
Moments after the Graham deal came to fruition, the team also announced it would cut wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who is third all time in receptions in Packer history.
“We cannot thank Jordy enough for all that he has given the Green Bay Packers and our community for the past 10 years,” Gutekunst said in a statement. “He has been an exemplary professional and teammate and greatly contributed to our success. Jordy will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.”
Sam Bradford makes a deal with the Cardinals
The starting quarterback market is quickly drying up after a raucous first day of free agency. Sam Bradford and the Arizona Cardinals have reportedly agreed to a one-year $20 million deal with an option for a second year.
Bradford will replace the retired Carson Palmer under center for Arizona, which finished a disappointing 8-8 last season and out of the playoffs.
The move leaves Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown and A.J. McCarron as the most sought-after quarterbacks still available on the free agent market. Case Keenum, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins all agreed to deals with Denver, New Orleans and Minnesota, respectively, earlier in the day.
Bradford suffered through another injury-plagued season in 2017 with the Vikings, and was supplanted as Minnesota’s starter by Keenum when he returned to the lineup. Bradford hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012 in St. Louis.
In 2016, his last year a full-time starter, he played 15 games and threw for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
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