Free Agency Recap: "Legal" tampering edition
|Darrelle Revis will have two bitter rivals bidding for his services today. Jim Rogash/Getty Images|
We'll start with our hometown Patriots, who checked off one of their top offseason priorities by agreeing to terms on a 5 year, $47.5 million deal for FS Devin McCourty. McCourty proved to be a commodity on the open market, with the Pats fighting off a strong push from the Eagles, Titans, Jaguars, and Giants. McCourty's combination of range, smarts and coverage ability make him a rare fit for the single high safety alignments that were a staple of last season's Super Bowl defense. Factor in his leadership and durability and this deal becomes a no-brainer, especially with the salary cap set to rise over the next few years.
However, priority number one of the Pats offseason is retaining the services of Darrelle Revis. As expected, the Pats will not exercise Revis' $20 million team option for 2015, allowing the All Pro corner to hit the open market. It's reported that the bidding will come down to the Patriots and Jets, with Revis preferring to stay in New England if the money is comparable.
McCourty's reported $6 million cap hit has the Patriots at $9,556,603 in cap room according to the always reliable Miguel of Patscap.com. The Pats still have to carve out some space to make a realistic offer to Revis, and could be willing to sacrifice Brandon Browner in the process. Browner has reportedly been given the green light by the team to seek his value around the league. With no guaranteed money remaining on his three year deal, trading or releasing Browner will open up $5.5 million in cap space, putting them in the range of Revis' reported $15-16 million per year demands. Mike Reiss has also reported that Danny Amendola is another name to keep an eye on cap-wise, as his trade or release will open up another $2.1 million in room.
Of course, we knew going into the offseason that the Pats wouldn't be able to pay everyone, and it's looking increasingly likely that Shane Vereen will be in a different uniform next season. The Jets and Giants are both reportedly "very interested" and either team can offer more than the Patriots could match. Vereen could be an intriguing fit with the Giants, who already have an impressive collection of weapons (Odell Beckham Jr, Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle, Larry Donnell) in the passing game. The Patriots have reportedly shown interested in Roy Helu as a potential replacement.
As for Amendola, his potential replacement could wind up being Andre Johnson, who was officially released by the Texans yesterday. Nothing substantial has been reported yet on his destination, but the Patriots certainly fit his criteria of "winning team with a good quarterback". At 33, it will be interesting to see what the still effective Johnson can command on the open market. The Patriots will surely wait for the Revis domino to drop before making any other commitments. One of the Pats reported interests at receiver, ex-Dolphin Brian Hartline, has already reached an agreement with his hometown Cleveland Browns.
One final bit of Patriots news is their reported interest in former Browns OLB/DE Jabaal Sheard. A high second round pick (37th overall) from 2011, Sheard flashed big time with 8.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles as a rookie. Since then, he's been streaky but productive as a pass rusher, and has also shown dramatic improvement in the running game. Sheard's versatility would make him a nice fit for the Patriots multiple-front tendencies, but they'll have to fight off the Bengals, Seahawks and Buccaneers to land him.
Speaking off the Seahawks, they reportedly reached agreements with free agent corners Cary Williams and Wil Blackmon. Best known for his open hatred of the Patriots in these parts, Williams had an active market despite an up-and-down season for the Eagles, and will have a chance to replace Byron Maxwell as the starting right corner opposite Richard Sherman. Blackmon, a Rhode Island native, will be in the mix to fill-in for the injured Jeremy Lane in the slot. Seattle also released TE Zach Miller, whose all around game reportedly has him on the Patriots radar.
While the Hawks were active, they did miss out on their biggest free agent target: TE Julius Thomas. Thomas is reportedly heading to Jacksonville, where he'll get paid a record $9 million a year to make life easier for the developing Blake Bortles. The Jaguars also added former Cowboys RT Jermey Parnell to improve Bortles protection, and added versatile ex-Dolphin DL Jared Odrick and former Niners LB Dan Skuta to Gus Bradley's developing defense in a strong start to their offseason.
Of course, Odrick's departure from Miami became inevitable after they reportedly reached a megadeal to land free agency's best player: DT Ndamakong Suh. Already in poor cap space without Suh's deal on the books, the Fins have already carved out some space by releasing the likes of LB Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, with more moves likely on the way.
The Eagles have been in the news throughout the offseason, and yesterday was no exception. Fresh off of losing WR Jeremy Maclin to the Chiefs and missing out on McCourty, the Eagles responded by landing former Seahawk CB Byron Maxwell and re-signing pass rusher Brandon Graham and QB Mark Sanchez. However, the biggest news in Philly was the reports that RB Frank Gore, previously reported to be a "done deal" to the Eagles, has now gotten cold feet and is reconsidering his options. The Colts are supposedly his preferred destination now, where he'd get a chance to compliment Andrew Luck's explosive passing game.
Speaking of Gore, no team had a worse day than his former 49ers. Already unlikely to keep Gore, they lost two more stalwarts from their recent run with the retirements of DL Justin Smith and LB Patrick Willis. They're also set to lose OG Mike Iupati to the division rival Cardinals, and saw FB Bruce Miller arrested for spousal battery. Hard to say landing WR Torrey Smith as a deep threat for Colin Kaepernick makes up for that kind of day.
As for Arizona, they had an active day. Iupati will be a massive improvement to an offensive line that has been the weak spot of their team, and they'll also add a pair of former Falcons to reinforce their defense. DT Corey Peters will help fill the void left by Darnell Dockett, while LB Sean Weatherspoon is an excellent, athletic playmaker when healthy. The Cards are also in the mix for talented but injury prone OLB Brian Orakpo, along with the Colts and Redskins (NOT the Falcons, as had been previously reported).
Meanwhile, their NFC West rival Rams made the news by cutting two oft-injured starters from their offensive line. C Scott Wells will receive little interest as a starter, but LT Jake Long could get a look from a team in need of OL reinforcements if he proves to be ahead of schedule with his ACL rehab. The Rams have reportedly looked into former Raiders C Stefan Wisniewski as a potential replacement and upgrade from Wells.
Elsewhere in the NFC, the Bears landed former Raven Parnell McPhee as a versatile chess piece for their new 3-4 defense. McPhee will be a better fit for that scheme than Stephen Paea, who will be teaming up with Jason Hatcher on the interior of Washington's defensive line. The Bears will attempt to continue their transition to the 3-4 by landing NT Terrance Knighton, although they'll have to battle the Raiders, Colts and Redskins in a bidding war for the man they call "Pot Roast". The Bears are also attempting to pry promising TE Virgil Green from the Broncos, rumored to be interested in Niners QB Colin Kaepernick should he become available via trade, and frontrunners to land S Antrel Rolle.
Oakland, meanwhile, finally found someone willing to take their money, former Chiefs C Rodney Hudson. While making Hudson the highest paid center in football was certainly an overpay, the Raiders have cash to burn and improved their protection for Derek Carr with the move. Despite striking out on several bigger name targets (Randall Cobb, Julius Thomas, Ndamakong Suh, Mike Iupati), the Raiders are expected to be active in the coming days, with TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Dan Williams, LB Brooks Reed and S Da'Norris Searcy amongst their potential targets.
Elsewhere in the AFC West, the Chargers have had themselves a nice little offseason so far. After re-signing CB Brandon Flowers and LT King Dunlap along with adding return specialist/WR Jacoby Jones, they bolstered their offensive line and got a little revenge by poaching OL Orlando Franklin from the Broncos. Franklin will be a massive improvement on the interior of the Bolts OL, and provides a little revenge against the team that took Louis Vasquez from the Chargers via free agency.
The Texans are really starting to become New England Southwest. They'll re-sign former Pats backup QB Ryan Mallett, and are trying to bring in another former Brady backup, Bryan Hoyer, to compete with him for the starting job, although Hoyer has also received significant interest from the Jets. The Texans are also a rumored destination for Vince Wilfork, where he'd fill a major need at nose tackle, be reunited with Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel, and get the chance to finish his career playing alongside JJ Watt. Houston has already assured the return of RT Derek Newton and CB Kareem Jackson this offseason.
Finally, in the AFC East, the Bills were surprisingly able to keep DE Jerry Hughes, giving Rex Ryan another dangerous pass rusher to work with. Buffalo is also reportedly interested in Dolphins TE Charles Clay, who is currently signed under the transition tag, and the Bills could take advantage of the Fins cap situation to pry him lose should they choose so. The Bills are also looking to keep RB Fred Jackson, though he'll likely have to take a pay cut after the Lesean McCoy trade. They've also tried to update their offensive line, and are still pursuing Iupati and Packers OT Bryan Bulaga.