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2021 NFL free agency news: Bud Dupree to Titans; Carl Lawson to Jets as edge rushers fly off the board – The Athletic

By March 15, 2021 Entertainment News

NFL free agency is off to a fast start with the legal tampering period beginning Monday, even as new deals can’t be signed until Wednesday when the new league year starts. Some recent updates include Bud Dupree to the Titans, Corey Davis to the Jets, Yannick Ngakoue to the Raiders and Rob Gronkowski (back) with the Buccaneers. With the salary cap now down to $182.5 million for the upcoming season, there is clearly a race to get in and get paid before the pool dries up.

Follow along here as we’ll track where the NFL’s biggest names are headed.

The Athletic’s free agency resources
Big board of best available players
Sheil Kapadia’s grades
Free agency predictions
Team-by-team needs
Salary cap space

Monday, March 15

Titans, Bud Dupree agree on 3-year deal

The Titans had just 19 sacks in 2020, the third-lowest total in the league, but they took a major step toward improving that Monday, agreeing to terms with free-agent pass-rusher Bud Dupree on a three-year deal reportedly worth $49.5 million.

Dupree, 28, had eight sacks in 11 games last year, after getting a career-best 11.5 sacks with four forced fumbles in 2019. His season ended in December with a torn ACL.

The Titans were led by Harold Landry’s 5.5 sacks last year, so Dupree brings a much-needed boost to their pass rush. Dupree’s deal looks to be the second-highest among NFL pass-rushers Monday, just behind the Bucs’ Shaq Barrett at $17 million a year and ahead of the Rams’ Leonard Floyd at $16 million a year.

Tennessee gets a big addition, after losing tight end Jonnu Smith to the Patriots and receiver Corey Davis to the Jets on Monday.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B-

Jameis Winston returning to Saints

The Saints have brought back Jameis Winston to compete for their starting quarterback job in 2021, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal Monday night.

Winston, 27, threw only 11 passes for New Orleans in 2020, adding a 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in the playoffs. He’ll compete with Taysom Hill, who stepped in for an injured Drew Brees this past season and also is back under contract.

Winston is only a year removed from leading the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in 2019, finishing a five-year run as the Bucs’ starter. He threw a then team-record 33 touchdowns as well, but also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. He signed with the Saints and now will have a chance to replace a legend in the retired Brees.

Carl Lawson headed to Jets on 3-year deal

Many top pass rushers came off the board on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period, including edge rusher Carl Lawson, who is joining the Jets on a three-year deal reportedly worth up to $47.4 million.

Lawson ranked 19th on The Athletic’s free agency big board entering Monday. He was the sixth-ranked edge rusher. He finished 2020 with just 5.5 sacks, but his 32 QB hits ranked second to only T.J. Watt. He’s never played more than 68 percent of defensive snaps, but considering the money the Jets have invested in him, that could change in New York.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B

Jets find top receiver, reach deal with Corey Davis

The Jets have made their first splash signing of free agency, landing former Titans receiver Corey Davis on a three-year contract reportedly worth $37.5 million. He was the No. 9 available free agent at any position in the latest rankings by The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia.

The fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Davis, 26, has fallen short of such high expectations. He set career highs in 2020 with 984 receiving yards and five touchdowns and is in good position to be the Jets’ No. 1 receiver after a down year at that position. New York also signed former Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis on a one-year, $7 million deal.

Davis is the second big departure from the Titans’ offense, as tight end Jonnu Smith also left as a free agent for a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B

Chargers add more to OL, reach deal with Matt Feiler

The Chargers continue to work on their offensive line, agreeing to terms with former Steelers starter Matt Feiler on a three-year deal reportedly worth $21 million.

Feiler, 28, has played tackle and guard for Pittsburgh with a combined 39 starts over the past three seasons. With Los Angeles, he likely will move permanently inside to guard, where he can start alongside new center Corey Linsley, who also agreed to terms Monday after he was lured away from Green Bay.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C

Patriots, DE Henry Anderson agree on 2-year deal

The Patriots’ free-agency frenzy isn’t over.

The seventh outside signing of Monday’s opening day of free agency has New England agreeing to terms with former Jets defensive end Henry Anderson on a two-year deal reportedly worth $7 million.

Anderson, 29, is 0-6 for his career against the Patriots, but now he’s on their roster at a fraction of what he was making with the Jets. He had seven sacks with New York in 2018 but totaled just 1.5 in the past two seasons.

Anderson joins a busy cast of Patriots newcomers, with pass-rusher Matt Judon, tight end Jonnu Smith, receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, cornerback Jalen Mills and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux all agreeing to new deals. The Patriots also re-signed defensive end Deatrich Wise on Monday.

Titans, Denico Autry agree to terms on 3-year deal

Defensive tackle Denico Autry is leaving one AFC South team for another. NFL Network reports Autry, the No. 59 player on The Athletic’s free agent big board, is signing a three-year, $21.5 million deal with the Titans. Autry spent the past three years with the Colts.

In 40 games with Indianapolis, he 20 sacks on 32 QB hits, along with 26 tackles for loss.

Related: Titans’ needs include defensive line

Carlos Hyde heading to Jaguars

The oft-traveled Carlos Hyde is making a second stop in Jacksonville, as the veteran running back is signing with the Jaguars on a two-year deal reportedly worth $6 million.

Hyde, 30, is changing teams for the fifth time in three years. After spending his first four NFL seasons with the 49ers, he signed with the Jaguars in 2018, was traded to the Browns in midseason, then spent 2019 with the Texans and 2020 with the Seahawks.

He’s averaged 4.4 yards per carry in each of the last two years, including a season with 1,070 rushing yards and six touchdowns with Houston. Last year in Seattle, he was limited to 356 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games.

In Jacksonville, he’ll be paired with James Robinson, who rushed for 1,070 yards and four touchdowns as an undrafted rookie last season.

Chargers re-sign CB Michael Davis for 3 years

Cornerback Michael Davis is staying with the Chargers on a three-year, $15 million deal. Retaining Davis was key for the Chargers, who recently cut veteran corner Casey Hayward.

Davis, who will be 26 by Week 1, played 92 percent of the Chargers’ defensive snaps in 2020 and was the 48th-ranked free agent on The Athletic’s big board.

Daniel Popper’s analysis

Rams re-sign OLB Leonard Floyd for 4 years, $64 million

The Rams have brought back a key part of their defense, re-signing outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with a four-year deal reportedly worth $64 million.

Floyd, 28, reset his career highs for sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (11) and total tackles (55) in his first season in Los Angeles, after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Bears. It’s a key re-signing for a Rams defense that lost coordinator Brandon Staley this offseason and just saw safety John Johnson sign as a free agent with the Browns. Floyd’s contract is the second-largest among NFL free-agent pass-rushers Monday, topped only by the Bucs’ Shaq Barrett at $17 million per year.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C- | Jourdan Rodrigue’s analysis | Rams free agency needs

Broncos, CB Ronald Darby agree to 3-year, $30 million deal

Cornerback Ronald Darby has agreed to a three-year deal with the Broncos that is reportedly worth $30 million.

Darby most recently played for the Washington Football Team, which signed him to a one-year deal last offseason. He played in all 16 games for the first time and broke up 16 passes, which ranked fifth. From 2017-19, though, Darby missed 20 games. He ranked 57th on The Athletic’s free-agent big board.

Nick Kosmider’s analysis | Broncos tracker

Patriots continue busy day, agree to terms with WR Kendrick Bourne

The Patriots continued rebuilding their receiving corps with the addition of Kendrick Bourne, who is signing a three-year, $22.5 million deal with New England, according to NFL Network.

Bourne, the No. 76 free agent on The Athletic’s big board, will be 26 by Week 1. He’s coming off the best year of his career: 49 catches for 667 yards while playing 67 percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps.

Bourne can line up outside or in the slot and has missed one game in the past three years.

Jeff Howe’s analysis

Buccaneers re-sign Rob Gronkowski for 2021

The Bucs have brought back another key piece from their Super Bowl championship roster, re-signing tight end Rob Gronkowski on Monday afternoon on a one-year, $8 million contract.

Gronkowski, who turns 32 in May, came out of retirement last year and helped Tom Brady win another ring, the two connecting on two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl win over the Chiefs. He made it clear he wanted to return for another year, so this was just about the Bucs finding a way to fit him under the salary cap. This contract will take advantage of voidable years, so there are four voidable years, spreading out the cap impact of a $4 million signing bonus and lowering his cap number for 2021 to just $4.8 million.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: A | Greg Auman’s analysis

Raiders, Yannick Ngakoue agree to terms

The Raiders have made their first splash signing of free agency, agreeing to terms with pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

Ngakoue, who turns 26 at the end of the month, is on his fourth team in seven months. He was traded from the Jaguars to the Vikings in August, then traded to the Ravens during the season.

He has had at least eight sacks in all five of his NFL seasons but has hit double digits only once, getting 12 (with six forced fumbles) in a breakout Pro Bowl 2017 season. Ngakoue is reunited with Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his head coach in Jacksonville during his rookie year in 2016.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B | Tashan Reed’s analysis | Roundtable reaction

Chiefs to sign Joe Thuney to 5-year, $80 million deal

After their banged-up offensive line struggled in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs signed the top interior lineman on the open market, guard Joe Thuney. According to multiple reports, it’s a five-year deal worth $80 million.

Thuney, the No. 13 player on The Athletic’s free agent big board, received the franchise tag from the Patriots last year. After starting 80 consecutive games for New England, he now joins a remade Kansas City offensive line that recently lost right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left tackle Eric Fisher, who were both cap casualties.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C | Nate Taylor’s analysis | Offensive line was the Chiefs’ top need heading into free agency

Patriots adding Nelson Agholor on 2-year, $26 million deal

After having arguably the NFL’s worst group of pass-catchers a season ago, the Patriots are signing receiver Nelson Agholor to a reported two-year deal worth $26 million.

Agholor, a 2015 first-round pick of the Eagles, struggled in Philadelphia and had to settle for a one-year deal with the Raiders last year. He then enjoyed the best season of his career, catching 48 of 82 targets for 896 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranked 32nd on The Athletic’s free-agent big board and is one the best free-agent receivers to pick a team on what’s so far been a quiet day for the position.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C | Jeff Howe’s analysis

Broncos re-sign Shelby Harris to 3-year, $27 million deal

The Broncos are retaining defensive lineman Shelby Harris on a three-year deal worth $27 million, according to The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider.

Harris, who will be 30 by Week 1, has spent the past three seasons in Denver, and he was more disruptive than ever last season. In 11 games, he totaled a career-high 11 QB hits, including 2.5 sacks. He also broke up seven passes.

Harris ranked 88th on The Athletic’s free-agent big board.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C- | Nick Kosmider’s analysis | Broncos tracker

Chargers upgrade offensive line, will sign Corey Linsley

The Chargers are making Corey Linsley the highest-paid center in the NFL, signing the longtime Packers lineman to a five-year, $62.5 million contract.

Linsley, 29, was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2020, his seventh season in Green Bay. It’s an upgrade for the offensive line protecting quarterback Justin Herbert.

It’s the first big splash for the Chargers, who entered free agency with $51 million in available cap space.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B | Daniel Popper’s analysis | Chargers free agency primer with team needs, available budget

Browns pry S John Johnson away from Rams

The Browns have landed a key part of the Rams defense, luring away safety John Johnson with a three-year contract reportedly worth $34 million.

Johnson, 25, topped 100 tackles in 2020 for the second time in three years. The former third-round pick from Boston College now joins a Cleveland secondary that also will gain 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit, who missed his rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon.

The Rams gave cornerback Darious Williams a first-round tender as a restricted free agent Monday. They still could lose pass-rusher Leonard Floyd, also a top free agent.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B+ | Zac Jackson analysis

Jets, LB Jarrad Davis agree to 1-year deal

The Jets had a hole at linebacker in head coach Robert Saleh’s defense and filled it with Jarrad Davis, who has agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal.

Davis, the No. 114 player on The Athletic’s free agency big board, was a first-round pick of the Lions in 2017, but his role diminished under former Detroit head coach Matt Patricia. Per The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, the Jets believe Saleh can help Davis be as productive as he was during his first two seasons, when he had 196 tackles and eight sacks.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C | Connor Hughes’ analysis | Jets have a big budget this offseason, and a GM who can’t afford to miss

Patriots, edge rusher Matt Judon agree to massive deal

The Patriots’ spending spree continued with the signing of edge rusher Matt Judon, who agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal, according to multiple reports.

Judon, who will be 29 by Week 1, recorded six sacks on 21 QB hits while playing under the franchise tag for the Ravens. In five seasons with Baltimore, He’ll bolster a New England defense that ranked 18th in pressure rate and 26th in sacks.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B | Jeff Howe’s analysisPatriots roundtable

Jaguars stay active early, will sign Jamal Agnew

The Jaguars, entering free agency with loads of salary-cap space, are signing Lions return specialist Jamal Agnew to a three-year deal reportedly worth as much as $21 million.

Agnew, 25, has been one of the league’s best punt returners, with four touchdowns in his four seasons in Detroit. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2017 as a fifth-round pick out of San Diego. Agnew hasn’t had much of a role offensively, with 16 career catches with the Lions.

Patriots agree to terms with former Eagles DB Jalen Mills

The Patriots’ wild free-agent spending spree continued Monday afternoon by agreeing to terms with former Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills to a four-year deal reportedly worth $24 million.

Mills, 26, has played all five seasons in Philadelphia, resetting his career-high with 74 tackles. He has started as both a cornerback and safety. He is the fourth major signing by the Patriots on the first day of free agency, following tight end Jonnu Smith, defensive end Matt Judon and defensive tackle Davon Godcheaux.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C- | Zach Berman and Steve Buckley analysis

Jaguars to sign former Bears DT Roy Robertson Harris

The Jaguars are signing defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris to a three-year, $24.4 million deal, according to NFL Network.

Robertson-Harris, the No. 135 free agent on The Athletic’s big board, missed eight games last season with a shoulder injury but has shown promise as an interior pass rusher. The 27-year-old has recorded 7.5 sacks and 30 QB hits in 52 career games.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C- | Adam Jahns’ analysis | Interior defensive line was one of the Jaguars’ biggest needs entering free agency

49ers re-sign CB Jason Verrett to 1-year deal

The 49ers have re-signed cornerback Jason Verrett to a one-year deal on the first day of NFL free agency.

Verrett, 29, started 13 games for San Francisco last season, getting 60 total tackles and two interceptions. Last season was just his second as a full-time starter in seven years in the NFL.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B+ | Matt Barrows’ analysis

Patriots to sign former Titans TE Jonnu Smith

The Patriots have found a missing piece in free-agent tight end Jonnu Smith, who will leave the Titans on a four-year, $50 million contract, a source confirmed to The Athletic.

Smith, 25, had a breakout year in 2020 with eight touchdown catches, as many as in his first three seasons combined. Smith had 41 catches for 448 yards last year and has never had 500 yards in any season since he was drafted in the third round out of Florida International. The Patriots haven’t gotten much from the position since Rob Gronkowski’s retirement after the 2018 season.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: C | Jeff Howe’s analysis

Buccaneers re-sign OLB Shaq Barrett to 4-year deal

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and free-agent outside linebacker Shaq Barrett have agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $72 million, a source confirmed to The Athletic. Barrett was the top-rated player heading to free agency according to Sheil Kapadia’s big board; the new No. 1 is OT Trent Williams.

Barrett, 28, was set to hit free agency and was the Bucs’ top remaining target to re-sign after re-signing Lavonte David and applying the franchise tag to Chris Godwin. He had four sacks during Tampa Bay’s playoff run last season.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: A | Greg Auman’s analysis | Roundtable reaction

Cardinals re-sign Markus Golden to 2-year, $9 million deal

Edge rusher Markus Golden is staying in Arizona on a two-year deal reportedly worth $9 million, according to multiple reports.

Golden was The Athletic’s No. 87 free agent and the 16th-ranked edge rusher on the open market. A second-round pick out of Missouri, Golden began his career with the Cardinals before playing one and a half seasons with the Giants. He returned to Arizona midway through this past season in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick. He totaled 4.5 sacks and 20 QB hits with the Giants and Cardinals in 2020. He’ll be a complementary piece to a pass rush that includes Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt, who recently joined the team via free agency.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B+ | Lindsay Jones analysis

Patriots bolster DL with Davon Godchaux signing

After quickly addressing their need for a tight end by signing Jonnu Smith, the Patriots began bolstering their defensive line. New England signed defensive tackle Davon Godchaux to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed. Godchaux, 26, ranked 128th on The Athletic’s big board.

A fifth-round pick in 2017, Godchaux was limited to five games in 2020 but has otherwise been durable. In 52 games, he’s recorded three sacks, 16 QB hits and 12 TFLs.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: D | Patriots’ offseason priorities

Lions re-sign DE Romeo Okwara

Romeo Okwara was supposed to be one of the top pass rushers to hit the open market, but instead, he’s staying in Detroit.

Ranked the No. 39 free agent on The Athletic’s big board entering Monday, Okwara had 10 sacks and 18 QB hits in 2020 after totaling just 10 sacks in the previous four seasons combined. He’ll be just 26 by Week 1, offering hope that his best play is ahead of him.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B- | Nick Baumgardner’s analysis | Ted Nguyen’s five free-agency steals

Ravens sign G Kevin Zeitler to 3-year, $22.5 million deal

Getting a head start on free agency, the Ravens signed veteran guard Kevin Zeitler to a three-year, $22.5 million contract Monday morning, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reports.

Zeitler, 31, was just released by the Giants, which allows him to talk with and even sign with a new team ahead of the free-agent window for negotiation, which starts Monday at noon. His veteran presence will displace one of the Ravens’ young interior offensive linemen — 2018 sixth-rounder Bradley Bozeman (who could move to center now), 2019 fourth-rounder Ben Powers or 2020 third-rounder Tyre Phillips — from the starting lineup. Center Matt Skura also is an unrestricted free agent.

Sheil Kapadia’s grade: B | Jeff Zrebiec’s analysis | Ravens free agency: Potential targets

Sunday, March 14

Explaining the Saints’ reported $140 million extension with Taysom Hill

Drew Brees’ retirement was the big quarterback news for New Orleans, and no surprise. A companion story about backup Taysom Hill invites some explanation after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Hill had signed a four-year, $140 million extension featuring all voidable years.

The Saints have been seeking ways to clear salary-cap obligations for the 2021 season, and adding voidable years to contracts is a longstanding method for achieving short-term cap relief. The tactic hasn’t been used as frequently by teams in recent seasons because the cap has increased substantially and teams have gotten better at managing it. But with the cap shrinking to $182.5 million per team this season, down from $198 million in 2020 after revenues dropped during the pandemic, teams with tighter salary-cap situations have resorted to this old tactic more frequently. The Saints are one of those teams.

Teams in the Saints’ situation typically convert scheduled base salary into a signing bonus. The player benefits by putting into his pocket money that typically would have been paid on a weekly basis during the upcoming regular season. The team benefits in the short term because signing bonus money, unlike base salary, can be accounted for across multiple salary caps in the future. For example, a $10 million signing bonus as part of a five-year extension would count $2 million against the cap in each of the five years of the extension. If the player were released before the contract was completed, whatever amount of the bonus that had not been accounted for under the cap (or caps) would immediately count against the current cap. Yet, even then, there are mechanisms for pushing some of that so-called dead money into the future, typically by releasing players after June 1.

In Hill’s case, he converted his scheduled $10.7 million base salary into a $9.686 million signing bonus, adding a $1.439 million guaranteed roster bonus and a $1.034 million guaranteed base salary, according to Schefter. Under Hill’s previous deal, the $10.7 million salary was counting against the cap in full. Under the new contract, the cap charge from the $9.686 million signing bonus is spread over multiple caps, while the guaranteed roster bonus and guaranteed base salary count this year.

Hill had been signed only through the 2021 season. Once the 2021 season is finished and the additional years void, the Saints would have to immediately account for the prorated portions that had been scheduled to count against future caps.

The Saints have not publicly stated their intentions for Hill. Does this deal assure his free agency in 2022? Could it become a platform for another extension? Could this be a placeholder until later in the offseason? Whatever the case, this extension for Hill is surely a mechanism for the Saints gaining salary-cap relief heading into the 2021 free-agent signing period, which opens Wednesday. — Mike Sando

Drew Brees leaves the Saints’ QB room

Quarterback Drew Brees announced his long-expected retirement on Sunday, 15 years to the day he first signed with the New Orleans Saints.

“He arrived at a time when the city desperately needed someone to believe in,” writes The Athletic‘s Jeff Duncan. “Six months removed from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was desperate for strong, competent leadership. And into this forlorn landscape came Brees, the ultimate leader. Consistent. Reliable. Capable.”

Who steps into Brees’ massive shadow as New Orleans next starting quarterback? Utility player Taysom Hill, who is reportedly restructuring his contract in an unusual way to help the team get under the cap, is one option. Another is Jameis Winston, who joined New Orleans on an inexpensive one-year deal last offseason.

Bills tack on another new deal

The Bills continue to retain key players from a team that reached the AFC Championship Game. That group now includes guard Jon Feliciano, who has agreed to a three-year, $17 million extension, according to multiple reports.

Feliciano has experience at every interior offensive line spot but has primarily been the Bills’ starting right guard for the past two seasons. He placed 90th in The Athletic’s top 150 free agent rankings. Ahead of him at No. 44 is offensive tackle Daryl Williams, who Buffalo is also bringing back on a three-year deal. On the other side of the ball, Buffalo has retained Matt Milano, who was going to be one of the best linebackers available.

Packers hold on to RB Aaron Jones

Even with limited salary-cap space, the Packers have found a way to keep free-agent running back Aaron Jones in Green Bay.

Jones, 26, announced his return on Twitter, writing “Let’s run it back,” with a cheesehead emoji. “#GoPackGo.” The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman confirmed it’s a four-year deal for $48 million, with a $13 million signing bonus.

It’s an expensive deal for Green Bay, making Jones the sixth-highest-paid running back in the league on a per-year basis. Jones earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2020, rushing for a career-best 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2019 with 16. The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia ranked Jones as the top running back and No. 21 overall free agent in this year’s class.

Green Bay had just $1.06 million in cap space before the signing, so the Packers will need to make additional moves to get under the cap before Wednesday’s NFL deadline.

Patriots send right tackle Marcus Cannon to Texans

The Texans executed their second trade on a busy Sunday, acquiring right tackle Marcus Cannon from the Patriots in exchange for a swap of picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, league sources confirmed.

Cannon’s presence could move 2019 first-round pick Tytus Howard, a starter at right tackle for two seasons, inside. Or Cannon, who will be 33 next season and count for approximately $6 million against Houston’s cap, might just serve as an expensive swing tackle. Houston’s top backup tackle for the past two seasons, Roderick Johnson, is just 25 years old and hitting free agency.

Cannon, who opted out of the 2020 season, has no guaranteed money on his contract in 2022, the last year of his deal. So if Houston doesn’t like what it sees out of him this season, it could move on without penalty.

Mario Edwards Jr. is staying put for a while.

After playing for four teams in four seasons, the defensive end has re-signed with the Bears, getting a three-year contract worth $12.5 million, per an NFL Network report.

Edwards, 27, had a career-best four sacks in his first season with the Bears in 2020, and he gets a considerable raise from the $910,000 he earned last year, after going from the Raiders to Giants to Saints to Bears in a span of three years. Chicago has very little salary-cap space as free agency approaches, with less than $90,000 under the cap according to Spotrac. That ranks 28th among NFL teams.

Texans, Dolphins swap Benardrick McKinney for Shaq Lawson

The Texans and Dolphins agreed to a trade, sending inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney to Miami in exchange for edge rusher Shaq Lawson.

McKinney, who has no guaranteed salary remaining on the final three years of his contract, became expendable after the team signed free agent Christian Kirksey, a cheaper replacement. He’ll slide in a starter opposite Jerome Baker in Miami while Lawson addresses the Texans’ immense need for pass-rushing following the departure of J.J. Watt.

In the first year of a three-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Dolphins last offseason, Lawson, 26, appeared in 14 games and played 55 percent of the defensive snaps. He had four sacks on 18 QB hits. His pressure rate of 11.5 percent would’ve ranked first among the Texans, according to TruMedia and Pro Football Focus.

McKinney, 28, appeared in just four games last season after suffering a shoulder injury but has otherwise been durable. He was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and second-team All-Pro in 2016.

Saturday, March 13

Chargers parting with CB Casey Hayward

The Chargers are releasing cornerback Casey Hayward, a starter there for the past five years, saving $9.75 million in salary-cap space.

Hayward, 31, was a Pro Bowl selection in his first two years with the Chargers, getting a combined 11 interceptions in 2016-17, but he’s totaled just three picks in the last three seasons. Los Angeles already has among the most cap space of any team, with $41.5 million according to Spotrac before this move. With Hayward off the books, the Chargers will have the fourth-most cap space of any NFL team.

Friday, March 12

Niners re-up with CB Emmanuel Mosley

The 49ers have re-signed cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, just a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal worth as much as $10.1 million, according to multiple reports. The Athletic’s Matt Barrows has an instant analysis of the deal and its impact.

Moseley, 24, made San Francisco’s roster in 2018 as an undrafted rookie, and he’s started 17 games in the last two years, with 47 tackles and one interception in 2020. He also had an interception in the 2019 playoffs, picking off Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game just before halftime.

Moseley could have been tendered as a restricted free agent, but now the 49ers have him for two more years, getting an extra year before he’s an unrestricted free agent. San Francisco entered the day with about $24 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

Bills bring back RT Daryl Williams

The Bills were able to re-sign another starter before free agency officially begins. Buffalo is bringing right tackle Daryl Williams on a three-year, $28.2 million deal, according to NFL Network.

Williams was a 16-game starter on one of the NFL’s best offensive lines last season. At $9.4 million per year, he’ll get paid like a top-10 right tackle.

The Bills now have four returning starters on their offensive line, and they could bring back all five players if they re-sign pending free agent Jon Feliciano. Here’s how Sheil Kapadia grades the Williams signing.

Tampa Bay keeps Tom Brady, cap space

The Bucs, needing cap room to re-sign several key free agents from their Super Bowl team, signed quarterback Tom Brady to a contract extension Friday, freeing up about $19 million in salary cap space. The Athletic’s Greg Auman breaks the impact and what it signals for the franchise.

Brady, 43, technically adds four years to his contract, but three are voidable to spread out the initial cap hit. He’s now on the books through the end of the 2022 season, and his cap hit drops significantly from $28.3 million this season.

The obvious next priority for the Bucs is re-signing outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, now listed as the No. 1 available free agent any position in Sheil Kapadia’s rankings. Barrett is likely to command at least $18 million a year on a new contract, and the Bucs will need to make additional moves to get enough room to sign tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and others.

Chargers cut Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner

The Chargers cut guard Trai Turner, a move that nets the team $11.5 million in cap savings.

Turner, a five-time Pro Bowler, came to the Chargers from Carolina in exchange for offensive tackle Russell Okung. In his lone season in Los Angeles, Turner played in a career-low nine games and underwhelmed when available.

As of this writing, the Chargers have approximately $34 million in space when factoring in draft pick compensation and minimum roster requirements, according to The Athletic’s Daniel Popper.

Cam Newton returning to the Patriots

Cam Newton is returning to the Patriots on a one-year deal, as first reported by the Boston Globe.

Newton could have tested free agency next week, but instead he’ll spend another season with Bill Belichick. Newton started 15 games last season and finished 30th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in ESPN’s QBR metric.

The Patriots have cap space to bolster the talent around Newton in 2021, and this signing shouldn’t prevent them from looking at other quarterback options via trades, free agency and the draft.

Texans make a one-year deal with LB Christian Kirksey

The Texans are signing linebacker Christian Kirksey to a one-year deal worth up to $4.5 million, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Athletic.

Kirksey, 28, was a cap casualty of the Packers, after starting 11 games in his lone season with Green Bay. Before that, he spent six seasons with the Browns, the final two of which were hampered by injuries that limited him to a combined nine games.

This move gives the Texans the flexibility to move on from linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who signed a five-year, $51 million deal in 2018 that has no guaranteed salary remaining on it. Cutting McKinney would net the Texans $6.4 million in cap savings and come with a dead money charge of just $1.5 million. McKinney has been durable for much of his career but played in just four games last season due to a shoulder injury, and the Texans have another expensive linebacker in Zach Cunningham, who received an extension last year.

Saints restructure Michael Thomas’ contract, move closer to cap compliance

Another day, another Saints transaction to move them closer to getting under the NFL salary cap.

NFLPA records Friday had them at $44.4 million over the cap, and that likely doesn’t include receiver Michael Thomas reportedly becoming the latest high-salary player to convert most of his 2021 salary to a signing bonus to free up cap space. Thomas, due to make $12.6 million this season, saved the Saints $8.7 million in cap space by shifting most of that to a signing bonus that is pro-rated for cap purposes over the remaining four years of his contract. Doing so makes it less likely that he’ll be traded at any point.

The $44 million figure also likely doesn’t include the release of linebacker Kwon Alexander, who bid farewell to the Saints on social media on Thursday. His release would free up another $13.5 million, so Alexander and Thomas would cut the cap overage in half. Emmanuel Sanders’ release, which frees up another $4 million, likely isn’t factored into that NFLPA figure.

New Orleans would still be among the teams highest over the cap; the Rams are listed as $23 million over, the Bears $22 million over. Teams must be in cap compliance by 4 p.m. Wednesday, the start of the new league year.

Here’s a full rundown from The Athletic’s Katherine Terrell of all the Saints’ recent cuts and restructures.

Ravens bring back edge defender Pernell McPhee

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee will be back with the Ravens in 2021, according to an ESPN report. McPhee started 13 games for Baltimore last season and played 43 percent of their defensive snaps.

Edge defender remains a need for the Ravens going into free agency. Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Tyus Bowser are all set to test the market. But for now, McPhee gives Baltimore a veteran option.

Dolphins sign punter Michael Palardy

Former Panthers punter Michael Palardy, who missed the 2020 season recovering from a torn ACL, has signed with the Dolphins.

Palardy, 28, was born in Margate, Fla.,  and went to St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, and he’ll replace Matt Haack, Miami’s punter for the past four years and an unrestricted free agent. Palardy, cut by Carolina last month, has a 45.3-yard career average, and in 2019, he ranked 13th in the NFL in punting average, though just 28th in net punting due to three touchdowns by opposing returners.

Thursday, March 11

Bills re-sign LB Matt Milano

The Bills have locked up linebacker Matt Milano, getting him signed ahead of free agency with a four-year deal worth $44 million, per multiple reports. The deal includes $24 million guaranteed. The Athletic’s Matthew Fairburn breaks down what it means to the team’s defensive core.

Milano, 26, missed six games this past season with a pectoral injury but returned and had 25 tackles in three playoff games. The former fifth-round pick from Boston College had a career-best 101 tackles in 2019, and is now staying in Buffalo as a key part of last season’s 13-3 division champion team.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia had Milano ranked as the No. 34 free agent in this class overall, writing that he was “likely to command between $11 million and $14 million a year.”

Bears lock up kicker Cairo Santos

The Bears have re-signed kicker Cairo Santos to a five-year, $16 million contract worth up to $17.5 million, a source confirmed to The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain. Per Fishbain, the contract is voidable to a three-year, $9 million deal with a maximum value of $11 million.

In 2020, Santos made 30 of 32 field-goal attempts (93.8 percent). In many ways, that seemed like an outlier performance. For his career, Santos has made 83.1 percent of his attempts. And in the previous three seasons, he spent time with five different teams.

Texans to sign RB Mark Ingram as backup for David Johnson

The Texans are signing running back Mark Ingram to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million, a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to The Athletic. He’ll compete for playing time behind David Johnson, who recently agreed to a pay cut that included receiving more guaranteed money in 2021. Houston cut last year’s No. 2 back, Duke Johnson, who was set to count for more than $5 million against the cap.

Ingram most recently spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He was a Pro Bowler in 2019, when he ran for more than 1,000 yards at an average of 5.0 yards per carry, but he saw a reduced role the next year. The 31-year-old was a healthy scratch in four of the team’s last five games, including both playoff contests.

Chiefs release Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz

The Chiefs, who struggled to protect Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl with a depleted offensive line, have released both of their veteran starting tackles in Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.

Fisher, 30, was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and made his second Pro Bowl appearance in 2020. He tore his Achilles’ tendon in the AFC Championship Game has missed the Super Bowl. He was due to make $11.7 million in base salary and roster bonuses in the final year of a four-year contract.

Schwartz, 31, was limited to six starts due to injury last year, the first games he’s missed in a nine-year NFL career. He also was in the final year of his contract.

Here is The Athletic’s Nate Taylor on their legacies with the Chiefs.

Lions plan to cut DB Justin Coleman

The Lions are expected to cut cornerback Justin Coleman, saving about $4.9 million in cap space for 2021, per an NFL Network report.

Coleman, 27, was halfway through a four-year, $36 million contract and due to make $8.95 million in base salary this season. His release will carry $6.1 million in dead money for the Lions from his original signing bonus.

Coleman had been a part-time starter in Seattle in 2017-18 before signing with the Lions. He had one interception and three forced fumbles in 2019, but none of either in 2020, with a diminished role and just 30 total tackles. Detroit entered the day with about $9 million in cap space, per Spotrac.

Texans restructure Brandin Cooks’ deal

The Houston Texans restructured receiver Brandin Cooks’ contract, as NFL Network first reported. The move creates more than $6 million in cap savings for the Texans, who are now projected to have more than $24 million in cap space. According to ESPN, the move also voids the final year of the contract Cooks signed with the Rams in 2018, making him scheduled to be a free agent in 2022, rather than 2023.

Cooks, 27, previously had no dead money attached to the final three years of his contract, making him a potential cap casualty multiple offseasons in a row. He came to Houston last year in exchange for a second-round pick after experiencing a down season with the Rams. He bounced back to lead the Texans with 81 catches for 1,150 yards.

Traded three times already, Cooks has recorded 1,000-yard seasons with four different teams: the Saints, Patriots, Rams and Texans.

Saints say goodbye to Janoris Jenkins

The Saints continue to work to get themselves under the salary cap, and Thursday’s transaction is a big one: releasing veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins, saving New Orleans about $7 million in cap space.

Jenkins, 32, started 13 games and had three interceptions, including a pick-six of Tom Brady in last year’s season opener. He was due to make $10 million in base salary and a $1.2 million roster bonus, and the Saints will carry $7.2 million in dead money on the cap from his release.

New Orleans now needs to find a starting cornerback and is still more than $40 million over the cap. The Athletic’s Katherine Terrell looks at the Saints’ moves to this point and what could be ahead.

(Photo of Bud Dupree: Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)

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