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 actually 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.
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 will likely 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 over $90 million in salary-cap space to potentially use, 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 have also 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 in over $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.
Numbers on new Panthers CB Bashaud Breeland: three years, $24 million, with $11 million in guarantees, sources say.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 13, 2018
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.
Kirk Cousins cashes in with Minnesota
Ex-Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is expected to join the Minnesota Vikings with a three-year, $84 million deal, The Washington Post’s Kimberley A. Martin and Mark Maske report.
The Vikings had three quarterbacks perceived to be franchise-caliber — Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford — to start the offseason and let them all walk for a shot at Cousins.
In Washington, Cousins was a hallmark of consistency. In each of his last three seasons, the Michigan State product threw for more than 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns. He completed 67 percent of his passes.
But by the end of his tenure, it was clear the Redskins front office had moved on. General Manager Bruce Allen called him by the wrong name, “Kurt,” six times in a two-minute span during a radio interview last summer.
Coach Jay Gruden plainly said Cousins “did some good things” in a season in which he was seventh in the league in passing yardage, ahead of the likes of Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Carson Wentz.
Danny Amendola hops from New England to Miami
One of Tom Brady’s top targets is staying in the AFC East, but leaving New England. Danny Amendola is expected to sign a deal to join the Dolphins, NFL Network’s Dan Hellie reported Tuesday afternoon.
Amendola caught 61 passes for 659 yards and two touchdowns during the 2017-18 season, and emerged in the postseason as New England’s most reliable target. He had 26 more receptions for 348 and two more scores in the Patriots’ run to Super Bowl LII.
The deal is for two years and $12 million, according to NFL.com.
Brees and Saints reportedly will stick together
To no one’s surprise, the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees have struck a deal to keep the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer in New Orleans. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the two sides have agreed to a $50 million deal with $27 million guaranteed. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the deal is the equivalent of a two-year contract, though officially it will be a one-year deal with a team option for 2019, plus a no-trade clause, all but ensuring Brees will end his career with the Saints.
Brees was eligible for unrestricted free agency Wednesday, but he has long said that he wanted to remain with the Saints and the team has expressed confidence that it would keep him. Brees has spent the past 12 seasons with the Saints and led the team to a Super Bowl title.
Brees remained productive last season, completing 72 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns, even as the Saints used a more balanced offensive approach with an increased focus on a running game led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. They won the NFC South and beat the Carolina Panthers in a first-round playoff game before losing in dramatic fashion at Minnesota in a conference semifinal.
Although reports indicated that the Vikings have shown interest in Brees, there was little reason to expect that he wasn’t going to stay with the Saints. He and his family love New Orleans and he is the team’s foundation. Besides, he nearly got them into the NFC championship game in January. Why wouldn’t the Saints have him back?
With Brees back in the fold, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer says New Orleans will now work on bringing back tight end Jimmy Graham, who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle but is now a free agent.
Elsewhere, Case Keenum has agreed to a deal with the Broncos that should get the free agent market moving. The Broncos will become Keenum’s fourth NFL team after the Houston Texans, Rams (in both St. Louis and Los Angeles) and Minnesota Vikings. He had a breakthrough 2017 season with the Vikings in which he threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, playing at a near-league-MVP level and helping Minnesota to reach the NFC title game.
As for the Jets, who are out of the running for Cousins:
Jets’ fall-back QB plans, assuming they’re out of the Kirk Cousins chase, seem to involve Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown and the No. 6 pick in the draft.
— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) March 13, 2018
K.C. lands a star target for Patrick Mahomes
Free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, a person familiar with the situation told The Post’s Mark Maske.
Watkins is regarded as one of the top wideouts available in free agency after a 39-catch, 593-yard, eight-touchdown season for the Los Angeles Rams. He is a former 1,000-yard receiver for the Buffalo Bills.
His three-year deal with the Chiefs is expected to average about $16 million per season.
In Kansas City, Watkins joins tailback Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce in an offense being handed over to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs agreed to trade Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins to clear the starting spot for Mahomes, a first-round draft pick who served as Smith’s backup as a rookie.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson, the Bears also made a “strong push” to sign Watkins.
Kansas City also began restocking its defense after either trading away or cutting key components from last year. According to Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, they plan on signing former Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens to a deal worth $9 million per year. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, has started 48 games over his four-year NFL career.
Bears beef up receiving corps with Allen Robinson
The Chicago Bears averaged a league-low 175.7 passing yards per game last season, their quarterbacks throwing only 13 touchdown passes to tie the Colts for the league low. And so the news that, barring a snag, that Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson will sign with the Bears isn’t all surprising (it was first reported early Tuesday by ESPN’s Adam Schefter).
Josina Anderson, Schefter’s ESPN colleague, reports the deal is worth $42 million over three years.
Robinson, who will be 25 when the 2018 season begins, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Jacksonville’s season opener last season and missed the rest of the season, but in the two previous years he had 153 receptions for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had an NFL-best 14 touchdown catches in 2015; no Chicago receiver has ever reached that mark, with Brandon Marshall’s 12 receiving scores in 2013 being the franchise’s recent high-water mark.
The Bears did not have a wide receiver on their roster last season with more than one touchdown catch.
Jacksonville declined to place the franchise or transition tag on Robinson last week, making him a free agent.
Chicago wasn’t done tinkering with its pass-catchers Tuesday, reportedly agreeing to a deal with former Eagles tight end Trey Burton, who famously threw a trick-play touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Schefter says the deal is worth $32 million over four years, making Burton one of the NFL’s highest-paid tight ends.
Burton has caught 63 career passes, with 60 of them coming in the last two years while serving as a capable backup to Zach Ertz. Five of Burton’s six career touchdown catches came in 2017.
Cowboys reportedly sticking with Dez Bryant
Rapoport reports that the Cowboys have met with wideout Dez Bryant and won’t be making any alterations to his contract. Dallas reportedly sniffed around the free agent wide receiver market but decided to stick with Bryant, who is due $12.5 million next season as part of a five-year contract extension he signed in 2015.
According to the Star-Telegram, the Cowboys were perhaps hoping Bryant would take a pay cut but apparently that’s not happening after the team decided that the alternatives were not any better than the 29-year-old, eight-year NFL veteran.
Bills get their Star
Schefter reports that former Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is headed to Buffalo with a five-year contract. Lotulelei, the 14th pick of the 2013 draft, has started nearly every game of his five-year NFL career and has 11.5 career sacks. He played under Bills Coach Sean McDermott from 2013 through 2016 when McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator.
Buffalo had one of the worst defensive lines in football last season after it traded away Marcell Dareus in Week 8 last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bills allowed a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns and an AFC-worst 1,487 rush yards after the Dareus trade. Of those yards, 1,105 were inside the tackles, and opponents’ 4.8 yards per rush inside the tackles was tied for worst in the NFL.
Rapoport says the Bills also are bringing back defensive tackle Kyle Williams on a one-year deal. The four-time Pro Bowler has spent his entire 12-year career in Buffalo.
Jags’ already-good offensive line just got even better
Jacksonville averaged 141.4 rushing yards per game last season, tops in the NFL. The Jaguars also allowed only 24 sacks, a number bested by only the Chargers and Saints.
On Tuesday, a stout offensive line got even stouter with the news that former Panthers guard Andrew Norwell intends to sign with Jacksonville, the Jaguars beating out the Giants, 49ers and Colts for his services.
Per his 5 yr, $66.5M agreement w/ the #Jaguars, Andrew Norwell is set to become the 2nd highest avg. paid OL in football.
Trent Williams: $13.6M
Andrew Norwell: $13.3M
Russell Okung: $13.25Mhttps://t.co/sXvuRIm9zt
— Spotrac (@spotrac) March 13, 2018
According to Pro Football Talk, Norwell has agreed to a five-year, $66 million deal with $30 million in guaranteed money, which sets a new high bar for NFL guards. The first-team all-pro in 2017 was ranked as the league’s No. 12 offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. He was the only guard in the league with at least 200 snaps in pass protection to not allow a quarterback sack or hit, PFF says.
Dolphins to move on from Suh
Ndamukong Suh is expected to hit the free agent market, with reports indicating that the Miami Dolphins will release him on Wednesday. The defensive tackle hints as much Monday when he tweeted a video in which he promised, “there will be some exciting things going on.”
— Ndamukong Suh (@NdamukongSuh) March 12, 2018
Suh has been something of a disappointment in Miami after signing a six-year, $114.4 million contract in 2015. Over the past three years, he has not had more than six sacks in a season. Nevertheless, a host of teams would love to add the 31-year-old to their rosters for 2018.
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