March 2015


When the struggling New York Giants blew a 21-point and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, co-owner John Mara felt like firing everyone on the team. The Giants got a glimpse of linebacker J.T. Thomas. Thomas was one of five players New York signed in this opening week of free agency. The NFC East team confirmed the signings of Thomas, fellow linebacker Jonathan Casillas, running back Shane Vereen, return man/receiver Dwayne Harris, and offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse late Wednesday night.
The free agency frenzy, trading outbreak and stunning retirements of the first day of the NFL's business year gave way to one headliner Wednesday: Ndamukong Suh. Miami signed the All-Pro defensive tackle and top prize in this year's free agent crop to a $114 million, six-year contract. It made Suh the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, surpassing J.J. Watt's $100 million, six-year deal with Houston. At the same time our quarterback is going to be a cornerstone, Ryan Tannehill, who I have a lot of respect for: No. 1 because he has taken my hits.'' They played each other last season, a 20-16 Detroit victory.
The New York Giants are bringing back a couple of role players, signing linebacker Mark Herzlich and fullback Henry Hynoski to two-year contracts. Those five - running back Shane Vereen, linebackers Jonathan Casillas and J.T. Thomas, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse and returner-receiver Dwayne Harris - signed the deals Wednesday. The Giants also announced Wednesday that they re-signed running back Chris Ogbonnaya and waived tackle Rogers Gaines and cornerback Travis Howard.
Ryan Mathews is first in line to replace LeSean McCoy. Two people familiar with the decision said the Philadelphia Eagles agreed to a three-year contract with the former Pro Bowl running back on Wednesday. Both sources spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal is pending Mathews having a physical. Despite the move, there's speculation the Eagles are still pursuing All-Pro running back DeMarco Murray.
The Philadelphia Eagles have agreed on a one-year contract with free-agent cornerback Walter Thurmond III and re-signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a two-year deal. Thurmond is the latest former Oregon player to join the Eagles since coach Chip Kelly left the Ducks two years ago. He spent his first four seasons with Seattle and played two games for the New York Giants last year before a torn pectoral ended his season. The 27-year-old Thurmond has started nine games in his five-year career.
Whatever has caused the NFL to become more trade happy, thank goodness for it. The NFL is more fun when general managers are wheeling and dealing like their Major League Baseball counterparts. We’ve seen a lot of trades including picks for picks or picks for players, but we don’t see a ton of deals that are basically player for player. The LeSean McCoy-Kiko Alonso trade just turned out to be a precursor of things to come. There were three major trades on Tuesday, as free agency began. With most of the real suspense taken out of free agency by teams and agents agreeing to deals long before the signing period began, the trades took center stage. We pick winners and losers in this spot, so let’s see who won Tuesday’s deals (and for my winner of the McCoy-Alonso trade, check it out here ): The big quarterback deal Wow, this was your basic fantasy football trade. The Philadelphia Eagles traded Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford. Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn’t afraid to make a move. I just think he should have been afraid to make this move, because I don't get it at all. In the deal, the Eagles also sent a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 and a second-round pick in 2016 to the Rams. The Eagles get the Rams' fifth-round pick in 2015. There’s also a conditional pick, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch . If Bradford, who is coming off a second ACL tear, misses the entire 2015 season, the Eagles get a third-round pick in 2016. If he plays less than 50 percent of the snaps, they get a 2016 fourth-rounder. There’s no conditional pick if he plays more than 50 percent of the downs. I feel like I'm missing something with this deal, because I don't see any benefit for the Eagles. Foles has been the more productive NFL quarterback. Bradford doesn't seem to fit what Kelly does on offense, especially after two major knee injuries. Bradford's base salary in 2015 is a bit less than $13 million , while Foles makes about $1.52 million , according to OverTheCap.com. So the Eagles might not be getting the best quarterback in the deal (even if you prefer Bradford, it's a lot harder to sell that when Bradford is recovering from a second straight ACL surgery), have to pay Bradford more than eight times what Foles will make, and on top of that they're giving up better picks than the Rams did. Huh? Bradford has never shown more than glimpses of brief promise; he has not been an above-average NFL quarterback for any extended period of time. Maybe there's a subsequent deal that will clear all this up. If the Eagles somehow draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota as a part of this deal, then fine, though I'm not sure I see the path to that via this trade. But as it stands now, it's confusing.  ADVANTAGE: Rams Jimmy Graham gets dealt Now this was a shocker. Tight end Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints battled over his franchise tag status last year, but that was just business. Graham is one of the best pass-catching tight ends ever. He’s one of the NFL’s most unique players as a matchup nightmare for defenses. He was a face of their franchise. And just like that, he was gone. The Seattle Seahawks, who are in need of a No. 1 target for Russell Wilson to throw to, got creative. They sent center Max Unger and a first-round pick (31 st overall) to the Saints for Graham and a fourth-round pick. The Saints have made a mess of their salary cap, so trading Graham and his massive deal makes sense from that aspect (although it’s just a $2 million savings on Graham this season, according to Spotrac ). They did get a very good center and a late first-round pick back. But, Jimmy Graham. He doesn’t seem to fit with the Seahawks’ offense because it is built on the running game and Graham isn’t exactly an enthusiastic blocker. But they’ll make it work. Graham is incredible in the passing game and the Seahawks desperately needed that. The Seahawks got a lot better. And there’s no way the Saints can just replace someone like Graham in the passing game. ADVANTAGE: Seahawks Lions replace Suh with Ngata This is a more typical NFL trade, with late picks for a player, but still an interesting one. Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler, was shipped to the Lions along with a seventh-round pick for a fourth- and fifth-round pick. On the surface it’s easy, right? A huge defensive tackle for a couple of mid-round picks, Lions win. Especially since they're losing Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins. But it’s not that simple. Ngata isn’t cheap. His base salary this year is $8.5 million, which is the amount the Ravens cleared off the cap by trading him. The Ravens also found out last year when Ngata served a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that they could get by without him, or at least figured out that he wasn’t worth what he was costing anymore at his age. Ngata just turned 31. Big tackles like him don’t always age well. The Lions weren’t wrong to go get Ngata, though if they lose Nick Fairley it's a tougher sell. It would be a huge loss for the Lions to lose Suh and Fairley and get only a 31-year-old Ngata back. The Lions needed someone in the middle. but it seems like the Ravens made a prudent move. ADVANTAGE: Ravens, barely Here are some non-trade winners and losers from the first day of free agency, which somehow turned out even more anticlimactic than anyone figured: WINNERS Indianapolis Colts: I'm trying to not be a sucker for big names past their prime here, but what the Colts are doing is intriguing. They caught running back Frank Gore after his heel turn on the Eagles, signing the 49ers' all-time leading rusher. They landed a pass rusher in Trent Cole, who was cut by Philadelphia. And reports indicate they're the favorites to land receiver Andre Johnson, who was released by AFC South rival Houston. If they can pull off the Johnson signing, that's a lot of hungry veteran talent on a team that seems close to pushing through to a Super Bowl. Gore upgrades a bad running back situation. Johnson isn't going to be the Hall of Fame talent he once was, but he seems to fit well alongside T.Y. Hilton, especially with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. Cole is still an effective pass rusher. There's no excuse for a team like the Colts, with a star quarterback and a team that is on an upward path, to not be aggressive in their pursuit of a title. They're closer now than they were before free agency, especially if Johnson comes aboard.  Green Bay Packers: Once upon a time, Green Bay was the place nobody wanted to play. Now, nobody wants to leave. I'm not sure what mind tricks general manager Ted Thompson used on offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and receiver Randall Cobb, but he somehow re-signed both at less than what they probably would have gotten on the open market. And again, this is to stay in Green Bay, not Miami or San Diego. Yes, I know playing with Aaron Rodgers with a chance at a championship helps. Cobb signed early for $10 million per year. The Packers, using their loads of cap space, front-loaded contract with $15.1 million in the first year, USA Today's Tom Pelissero said . That structure will pay off down the line. Bulaga looked sure to hit the open market, but right before free agency began the Packers re-signed Bulaga for a five-year deal worth a little less than $35 million according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. That's a good investment. The way Cobb's deal was structured means that Thompson is less likely to make a big signing, but that isn't his style anyway (although I still maintain he should be more aggressive in free agency during Rodgers' prime, but whatever). At least the Packers will keep their two top-tier free agents after being so close to going to a Super Bowl last season. LOSERS New York Giants: There wasn’t much action on Day 1, but the Giants were very active. It’s just that they were very active making some peculiar moves. Receiver Dwayne Harris got a $17.5 million contract over five years with $7.1 million guaranteed . Let’s just say that won’t be appearing under any “best value” lists for this free agency period. Harris had 33 catches for 418 yards in four seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, so he’s not going to make that money in the passing game. He’s a solid returner but probably no better than Jacoby Jones, who got $5.5 million over two years from the San Diego Chargers. Harris is a good coverage player on special teams. Still, the amount of the contract for what he’ll provide is baffling. He got roughly the same as Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, who got $16 million over four years with $7.6 million guaranteed. The Giants got Shane Vereen, a nice running back who will excel as a receiver out of the backfield. But then tackle Marshall Newhouse (who washed out with the Packers and Bengals), linebackers Jonathan Casillas and J.T. Thomas, a trio of players who play nice roles but aren't exciting early additions. The five signees got a total of $55 million and there’s not a sure starter among them, as Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News pointed out. The Giants added to their depth, but it definitely came at a price. The NFL: The league wants the first day of free agency to own the sporting landscape. And it did. But all the around-the-clock shows on ESPN and NFL Network seemed silly for most of the day. Trades made up most of the intrigue. There was not one signing in the first few hours that made a major headline … because we knew all the key signings already. The first huge new signing was cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Jets , nearly five hours into free agency (and yes, of course the Jets were winners on Tuesday). The NFL has screwed up one of its key offseason events with the contact period between agents and teams, then doubled down on its mistake by getting mad when the deals were reported . The agents and teams weren’t talking about the weather, and the NFL knows that. Now the league is telling teams to hold onto their phone records because the league will investigate the deals that were made before technically allowed, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter . Whatever. The NFL is upset that it screwed up the first day of free agency (although the league benefited from owning the sports headlines for the three days before it started), and now it’s going to start enforcing rules it has never come close to enforcing before. Kudos. - - - - - - - Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab
A person with knowledge of the moves who requested anonymity because the Giants had not confirmed the agreements said the team also signed former Green Bay and Cincinnati offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, Cowboys return specialist/receiver Dwayne Harris, and Jacksonville linebacker J.T. Thomas. Vereen's contract is for three years and slightly more than $12 million. Casillas got a three-year $10.5 million deal, and Harris' deal is worth $17.5 million over five years, with $7.1 million is guaranteed. Newhouse's contract was for two years for a little more than $3 million.
John Elway spent the last three years luring the likes of Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and DeMarcus Ware to Denver. His annual attraction of superstar power to the Mile High City assured he'd ''win the offseason.'' With fewer holes and shallower pockets this time around, Elway watched big names leaving Denver for a change - Julius Thomas to Jacksonville, Orlando Franklin to San Diego - in the frenzied opening hours of free agency Tuesday. Meanwhile, Elway hashed out three-year deals with tight ends Owen Daniels ($12 million) and Virgil Green ($7.5 million) and signed backup linebacker Steven Johnson to a one-year, $785,000 contract. Green is the first of Elway's draft picks to re-sign with the Broncos.
Last season he ranked 10th in the NFL in punt return average (9.2) and 13th in kickoff return average (24.7).
Brian Hartline's outlook wasn't exactly positive before he visited the Browns as a free agent. Hartline liked what he saw and heard. ''At some point, your gut is just kind of there and it was one place that I was definitely interested in being.'' A dependable pass catcher for six seasons in Miami, Hartline signed a two-year, $6 million contract on Tuesday with the Browns, giving the team a rangy target to help offset the indefinite loss of Josh Gordon. The 28-year-old grew up in Canton, played at Ohio State and is very familiar with the Browns' storied and stained tradition.

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