One of the first major signings came in Miami, where 29-year-old Branden Albert was finally brought to South Beach. The Dolphins tried to trade for Albert to replace Jake Long last year, but talks with the Chiefs fell apart, leaving the team to turn first to Jonathan Martin and then Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. The Dolphins gave Albert big money — a five-year deal worth $46M with $25M guaranteed – but after last year’s headache, this is probably money well spent.
The Bucs added former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson as soon as free agency opened, luring him with a whopping five-year, $43.75M ($24M guaranteed) deal. Tampa Bay desperately needed to improve the pass rush, and Johnson will team with Gerald McCoy to make the defensive line a strength of the team. And while losing Revis will hurt, Tampa Bay signed Alterraun Verner late in the day to 4-year, $26.5M deal with $14M guaranteed. That’s a pretty reasonable deal: If Verner plays out that contract, Tampa will have saved nearly $40M compared to what they would have paid Revis over that time.
The Browns played a bit of whack-a-mole on Tuesday. Cleveland lost inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to Indianapolis before the start of free agency, and replaced him yesterday with former Cardinal Karlos Dansby (initially reported as four years, $24M, $14M guaranteed). Dansby, as you may recall, was arguably the second best free agent signing of 2013, so this was probably an upgrade (but the Browns got older). More curious was the team’s decision to pass on resigning safety T.J. Ward (who signed a reasonable $5.75M/Yr deal with the Broncos) and sign former 49er Donte Whitner to a four-year deal worth $28M. To replace Whitner, the 49ers signed longtime Colts safety Antoine Bethea.
In other mix-and-match news, Oakland signed ex-Ram Rodger Saffold to an insane 5-year deal worth $42.5M with $21M guaranteed, and the Raiders plan to play him at guard. That’s more money than outgoing Raiders left tackle Raiders Jared Veldheer received from the Cardinals, who will earn $35M on a five-year deal. Arizona fans should be excited about the massive (and necessary) upgrade the left side of the line is getting this year, assuming Jonathan Cooper (the #7 pick in last year’s draft) is healthy. The left tackle market was essentially closed out (with the exception of Anthony Collins) less than an hour into free agency, when Eugene Monroe resigned with the Ravens for $37.5M over five years.
The Colts were active for the second year in a row, signing former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones and reuniting him with Chuck Pagano. A little later, Jim Irsay broke the news that cornerback Vontae Davis was staying in Indianapolis (with no hometown discount).
Tuesday was a good day for free agent defensive linemen. The Bears signed Raiders DE Lamarr Houston to a five-year, $35M deal with $15M guaranteed a few hours before releasing Peppers (what are the Raiders doing with all their cap room?). In defensive tackle news, ex-Giant Linval Joseph is now a (very wealthy) Viking, former Seahawk Clinton McDonald signed with Tampa Bay, and ex-Texan Earl Mitchell went to Miami; Mitchell will replace Paul Soliai, who is now a Falcon.
Soliai and his massive contract will be joined by former Kansas City DE Tyson Jackson and his massive contract, as Atlanta desperately tries to beef up a run defense that was 31st in yards and yards per carry in 2013 (the Falcons also resigned DL Jonathan Babineaux). These moves probably signal a switch to a 3-4 defense under Mike Nolan and also show the influence Scott Pioli appears to have in Atlanta. In addition to Jackson, the Falcons added former Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah in the team’s quest to keep Matt Ryan upright.
It was mostly quiet on the running backs and wide receiver fronts. Washington provided help for Robert Griffin III by re-signing Santana Moss and taking Andre Roberts (4 years, $16M) away from Arizona, Dexter McCluster moved on from Kansas City to Tennessee (3 years, $4.5M guaranteed), and Cleveland signed Bengals restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet. More curiously, the big dominoes (Eric Decker, Golden Tate, Julian Edelman, Hakeem Nicks,, Emmanuel Sanders) have yet to fall, which may be a reflection of the talent at the position in this year’s draft.
With Maurice Jones-Drew a free agent, the Jaguars went out and signed Toby Gerhart to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million with $4.5 million guaranteed (Jacksonville also released Justin Forsett earlier in the day). In Oakland, running back Darren McFadden resigned with the team, while backup Rashad Jennings signed with the Giants. New York also picked up former Seattle outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield for two years and eight million dollars and ex-Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz. In ex-Giants news, Indianapolis resigned running back Ahmad Bradshaw, and in ex-Colts running back news, Donald Brown is now a Charger.
The Jaguars made a splash by throwing big money at ex-Broncos offensive guard Zane Beadles (5 years, $30M) and appear to be trying to resurrect the Seahawks defense in the southeast under Gus Bradley. Before the start of free agency, the Jaguars signed defensive lineman Red Bryant and the team is expected to sign Walter Thurmond today. It’s only a start, but Bradley at least now has some pieces in place for the defense he plays to run in Jacksonville. The Jaguars then redefined addition by subtraction, sending Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth round pick and a conditional 2015 pick. The Gabbert trade was apparently San Francisco’s attempt to lower expectations: a few hours later, San Francisco traded for Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, reuniting the Stanford product with his former head coach, Jim Harbaugh. As of press time, Pete Carroll has not yet signed Richie Incognito.
At cornerback, Davis and Verner weren’t the only players to pen new deals. John Elway may have been the star of day one: after signing T.J. Ward to a relatively cheap deal and moving Denver into the pole position for DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos signed Aqib Talib near midnight on Tuesday. The deal was not necessarily a good one — 6 years, $57M, and an insane $26M guaranteed — but the Broncos are wisely going all in while they still have Peyton Manning. At cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Thurmond, Charles Tillman, and Antonio Cromartie now the cream of the corner crop entering day two (unless/until Revis is released).
The safety market was more active; in addition to the Ward/Whitner/Bethea carousel, both Pennsylvania teams dipped their toes into the market. Former Saint Malcolm Jenkins fills an obvious hole in Philadelphia and was signed to a reasonable deal; meanwhile, Pittsburgh added ex-Panther and Raider Mike Mitchell to a less-reasonable one. Rounding out the safety news, the Bears added former Giant Ryan Mundy, while the Bengals and Chiefs resigned Taylor Mays and Husain Abdullah, respectively.
But the shocking news at the position came later in the evening, when New Orleans somehow emerged with Jairus Byrd inked to a new deal. The Saints are in an ugly cap situation — you know what’s going on with Jimmy Graham, and the team had to release Lance Moore and was looking to release or trade running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas just to get some cap relief. Well those moves will be a formality now, after giving Byrd a six-year, $56M deal with a whopping $28M guaranteed. Byrd will team with Kenny Vaccaro to give the Saints arguably the best safety combo in the league (or at least east of Seattle).
As usual, the first day of free agency was a little bit crazy and a lot bit fun to follow. How often do these free agent signings lead to a championship? Well, that’s another question entirely.