We’re through Day 1 of the NFL’s free-agent signing period. Tuesday brought us big names signing with new teams, lesser-known names getting big paydays from unexpected suitors and several more veterans being shown the door.
Several big-name free agents, including Wes Welker, Ed Reed, Greg Jennings and Sebastian Vollmer, did not sign their new deals on Day 1. Plenty more to come on these players and more at www.foxsports.com over the next few days.
Here’s our FoxSports BUZZ METER for Day 1’s action:
1. Atlanta Falcons — Though they didn’t bring in any big-name free agents from outside the organization, the Falcons — a team that was up 17-0 in the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game — made two very big moves on Tuesday. They’re keeping the band together!
Or at least some members of it. As first reported by FOXSports.com’s Jay Glazer, Tony Gonzalez is coming back to Atlanta for at least one more run at a Lombardi Trophy in 2013. Late Tuesday night, Alex Marvez broke news that the Falcons are bringing back their starting left tackle, Sam Baker, too.
Baker’s deal is a six-year deal, locking up the 2008 first-round pick for the long-term future. After a rough 2011 season, the former USC star had a fantastic 2012 campaign. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff also re-signed strong safety William Moore last week before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Free-agent cornerback Brent Grimes, still unsigned, is likely next on the priority list.
2. Cleveland Browns — The Browns came out swinging for the fences on Tuesday, signing two young and talented defensive free agents to major contracts.
Paul Kruger, a 27-year-old linebacker who recorded two sacks for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, inked a reported five-year, $41 million deal. He’ll star as an outside linebacker in Ray Horton’s new 3-4 defensive scheme in Cleveland. Kruger was the first “official” addition of the Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi era.
Later on Tuesday, Cleveland inked former Raiders defensive lineman Desmond Bryant to a five-year, $34 million deal. Bryant, also just 27, was one of the few bright spots for the Raiders in 2012. He had four sacks and 35 quarterback pressures. Bryant is expected to play the Darnell Docket spot in Cleveland’s new 3-4. The Browns have a long way to go before being relevant in the loaded AFC North. Tuesday’s two moves were a great start.
3. Miami Dolphins — The Dolphins entered the free-agency signing period with one of the best salary-cap situations in the league. They didn’t waste any time spending big money and making big moves.
Miami signed three prominent unrestricted free agents — former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, former Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and former Raiders linebacker Phillip Wheeler — to lucrative, long-term contracts.
Wallace joins recently re-signed wide receiver Brian Hartline to form one of the more potent 1-2 receiver duos in the NFL. Ellerbe is coming off a breakout 2012 season for the Super Bowl champion Ravens. Wheeler, an underrated talent with the Raiders, was listed as one of my Top 30 available free agents this year.
To make room for these moves, Miami released linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. There may be a few more cap casualties in the coming days. At the very least, Miami made three aggressive moves, perhaps inching the Dolphins a bit closer to the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
4. Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs have been the busiest team this offseason and were one of the most active teams on Tuesday.
The same day their trade with the San Francisco 49ers for Alex Smith was made official, the Chiefs inked a deal with former Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel. I don’t think it’s a given that Smith will be the starter. Daniel, who spent several seasons working with Drew Brees and under Sean Payton in New Orleans, could be a wonderful West Coast offense quarterback in Andy Reid’s system.
The Chiefs also made wise signings in inking deals with reliable blocking tight end Anthony Fasano and tough defensive lineman Mike DeVito. These deals come weeks after GM John Dorsey & Co. re-signed Dwayne Bowe, Branden Albert and punter Dustin Colquitt.
5. Tennessee Titans — A day after Titans guard Steve Hutchinson announced he was retiring after 12 seasons in the NFL, Tennessee signed former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46.8 million deal. Levitre had a very strong 2012 and will now work with Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman and current Titans head coach Mike Munchak in anchoring the Tennessee line.
Tennessee also signed former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker, a player described to me as a “human chess piece” at the NFL Draft Scouting Combine in February, to a four-year deal worth $17.5 million. Walker can play fullback, tight end or split out wide at receiver in Tennessee’s offense. Two moves. Two wise ones.
1. New York Jets — The Jets, hamstrung by an awful salary-cap situation, were unable to land Chase Daniel, a quarterback they reportedly were very interested in.
Darrelle Revis, their All-Pro cornerback, serves as a major roadblock in any moves the Jets can make this offseason. Revis’ deal wasn’t restructured, he wasn’t traded and there was little news out of Florham Park on Tuesday as a result of it.
New York also lost reliable defensive lineman Mike DeVito to the Kansas City Chiefs. David Garrard, a quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL game since 2010, remains the Jets only free-agent signing this year. Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie have agreed to restructure their contracts, but that doesn’t do much for the local fan base.
2. Chicago Bears — Bears fans are happy that GM Phil Emery & Co. came out swinging with a few free-agent deals on Tuesday, but I’m not crazy about one of the moves. I hate being Debbie Downer, but I’m scratching my head on one of the moves.
Chicago, in desperate need of offensive line help, signed former Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod to a $35.965 million, five-year contract. He gets $17.15 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in franchise history. I didn’t have Bushrod rated in the Top 3 on my free-agent offensive tackle list, placing him behind Sebastian Vollmer, Jake Long and Andre Smith. He’s being paid like an elite left tackle.
Phil Emery told the team website it was a “coup” to get him for the money they did. I’m not so sure. Hey, I’ve been wrong plenty of times before. We’ll see. Chicago also signed former Cowboys and Giants tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year, $20 million contract. Bennett showed glimpses of potential stardom in 2012. Again, we’ll see.
3. Oakland Raiders — There were two real bright spots on the Raiders defense in 2012 — Phillip Wheeler and Desmond Bryant. The Raiders failed to re-sign either players. Oakland didn’t sign anyone of note on Tuesday.
4. Baltimore Ravens — Baltimore wasn’t left with much of a choice in the start of the bloodletting from its Super Bowl championship team on Tuesday. Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe signed with opposing AFC teams, Cleveland and Miami, respectively. Baltimore couldn’t match any of the offers either player got from their new teams — a $41 million deal for Kruger, a $35 million deal from Ellerbe.
Anquan Boldin also was traded for a sixth-round pick on Monday. These things happen to championship teams. There will be more players from the 2012 squad leaving in the coming days, including Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed and Cary Williams. Matt Birk and Ray Lewis have already announced their retirements, as well. That’s a lot of talent that won’t be back in 2012, but I’m not sure what else GM Ozzie Newsome could have done. Regardless of the how’s or why’s, they’re trending downward this week.
5. San Francisco 49ers — The 49ers lost a few solid contributors on Tuesday, too. Ricky-Jean Francois signed with the Eagles, Delanie Walker signed with the Titans and multiple reports are linking All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. San Francisco is rich with draft picks — 14 in April’s draft — but it’ll be difficult replacing those three players and quarterback Alex Smith with rookies. Of course, Anquan Boldin certainly helps alleviate the pain.