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It was hard to find anyone who thought that running back Darren McFadden would be back with the Raiders in 2014.
The oft-injured running back was less effective than Rashad Jennings last season and the Raiders made little effort to keep McFadden from hitting the open market, which made Tuesday’s news of McFadden’s return to Oakland a bit surprising. McFadden signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with another $2.25 million in incentives and $100,000 guaranteed, and his agent Ian Greengross said that his client turned down bigger offers elsewhere.
“We did have real interest from four or five other teams — one offered more money,” Greengross said, via Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “Darren wanted to stay a Raider. He felt like he still had something to prove in silver and black.”
It’s hard to imagine that there was a vast difference in offers if McFadden went back to Oakland and other situations might not offer the same chance to cash in on incentives. Jennings is headed to the Giants, leaving McFadden at the top of a depth chart that includes Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart and Kory Sheets. If he’s healthy, McFadden should get plenty of opportunities to earn that extra $2.25 million next season.
That’s an Everest-sized if, but McFadden will get one more chance to show Oakland that he can.
A year ago, receiver Hakeem Nicks appeared to be on track to be a major name in free agency — if the Giants didn’t sign him to a long-term deal and if they didn’t apply the franchise tag.
Neither has happened, for obvious reasons. Nicks had a horrible contract year with the Giants, and the Giants by all appearances are ready to move on.
And so the Panthers become an obvious alternative. Apart from the fact that Nicks hails from Charlotte and played at UNC, G.M. Dave Gettleman knows Nicks well. As one league insider explained it on Tuesday, perhaps too well.
Even though Gettleman has been gone from the Giants for more than a year, Gettleman has enough friends and former colleagues to know what happened last year in New York with Nicks. So for the same reasons the Giants apparently want to move on, Gettleman may never want Nicks to move in.
It’s not as if the Panthers don’t have a need at the position. They do, and if Gettleman doesn’t want Nicks that could be the biggest red flag for any other team out there.
At this point, it might be simpler to name the defensive free agents the Broncos are not trying to sign.
Denver, which has already acquired big-name help for its secondary in the form of Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, and which is hosting pass rusher DeMarcus Ware today, is also hoping to add some help at middle linebacker.
Beason shook off injuries that limited him to five games over two years in 2011 and 2012, earning a starting job with the Panthers and then starting 11 games for the Giants after he was traded early in the season. Although his experience and injury history might make it feel like he’s an old veteran at the end of his career, he’s only 29 and looked last season like he still has some good football left in him.
Smith was a second-round draft pick of the Jaguars in 2004 and played there until last year, when he signed a one-year contract with the Ravens. He started all 16 games and had three interceptions and five sacks.
Either Beason or Smith could provide an upgrade to the Broncos’ defense. Which has already been upgraded twice in the first 17 hours of free agency.
Sure, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has started one game in his career. But that actually makes his 17 sacks in the last three seasons (13.5 in the last two) even more impressive.
It was impressive enough to get him a top-of-the-market haul on a five-year deal. And now that he’s looking at $42.5 million, he’s ready to strive for a new level.
“They’re holding me up to a higher expectation. They knew what I could do when they drafted me here in 2010, and now it’s time for me to go out there and blossom with this team, with all of my boys,” Griffen said Tuesday on a media conference call, via the Associated Press. “It’s time to go out there and celebrate on the field every single play, every single down. It means the world to me. It just means they trust in me.”
Despite thriving under Leslie Frazier, Griffen is unfazed by the coaching change.
“I haven’t even touched the surface of what I can do,” Griffen said. “I’m ready to work. I’m ready to listen. I’m going to absorb all of this knowledge that Coach Zimmer is going to give me. . . . He’s going to pull the most out of you. He’s going to find what you’re made of. He’s going to make sure that he gets the best out of this team. I just feel with his mastermind skills and what he brings to the table, he’s going to use not just me, he’s going to use every single player on the team the right way.”
Some will continue to be skeptical about the decision to pay a somewhat unproven player so much money. Because he never actually hit the market, it’s hard to know what another team (perhaps Frazier’s Buccaneers) would have paid. Still, the decision to reward Griffen sends a strong message to the rest of the young players in the locker room — do what’s expected of you, perform well, and you won’t have to leave to get paid.
With the addition of former Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph and the presence of defensive end Brian Robison and 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd, who knows? It could be time for a new generation of the Purple People Eaters.
D.J. Williams opened last season as the starting middle linebacker for the Bears, but his run in the job came to an early end when a torn pectoral muscle forced him to injured reserve after six games.
Williams will get another chance to make an impact on the Bears defense. The team announced that they have re-signed Williams to a one-year deal that General Manager Phil Emery hinted was coming at the combine.
“I saw a good football player,” Emery said, via the Chicago Tribune. “Saw a guy who has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player who has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing.”
Williams, who also missed time in the preseason with a calf injury, recorded 39 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble in his brief time in Chicago’s lineup last season. Jon Bostic took over in the middle when Williams went down and the two will likely compete for the job again this offseason.
The Jaguars aren’t bringing in the biggest names in the early hours of free agency, but they’re stacking up solid moves, which should help them fortify an improving base of young talent.
According to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jags are bringing in Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond, Lions defensive end Willie Young and Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson for visits.
Thurmond’s visit ties in with the previous acquisition of Red Bryant, as coach Gus Bradley tries to collect guys he knows from his days as the Seahawks defensive coordinator.
Young had 3.0 sacks for the Lions last year in 15 starts, replacing Cliff Avril. While his numbers aren’t off the charts, the Jaguars need all the pass-rush they can get.
Given the top-heavy nature of their salary cap situation, the Lions appear to be working the fringes of the free agent market.
Costa could help fill in on the line after the release of Leroy Harris. Hynoski, who wasn’t tendered as a restricted free agent, would offer something the Lions lack, a true thumper in the backfield.
After investing in Reggie Bush last offseason and keeping running back Joique Bell off the market with an extension, the Lions obviously want to offer some protection for the backfield under new coach Jim Caldwell.
The Titans signed Dexter McCluster on Tuesday and it wasn’t the only move they made to address their kick return game.
The team also re-signed kick returner Leon Washington to a one-year contract. Washington joined the Titans late last season and handled both punt and kickoff return duties for the team in the final five games of the season. McCluster’s arrival likely means that he’ll be limited to kickoffs in 2014.
“Leon came in last year and was the consummate professional,” Titans General Manager Ruston Webster said in the team’s announcement of the deal. “He stabilized our return game and we are excited to sign him back to our roster.”
Washington averaged 30.1 yards on kickoff returns for the Titans last season and is tied for the NFL record with eight kickoff return touchdowns in his career. He’s also scored 18 touchdowns on offense, although he’s primarily played on special teams over the last few seasons.
Before Tuesday, a gap existed between the Broncos and Chiefs. On Tuesday, that gap widened.
The Broncos added safety T.J. Ward and, in one of the biggest surprises of the day, cornerback Aqib Talib. While the Broncos saw guard Zane Beadles leave for Jacksonville and likely will lose linebacker Wesley Woodyard (who lost his starting job in the middle last season), those aren’t major departures. Likewise, the Broncos realize receiver Eric Decker won’t be back; with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas in their contract years, it makes no sense to pay all three.
In Kansas City, that sign in the photo may have been taken a bit too literally.
Five players ran for the exits in the first 90 minutes of free agency. Gone are three offensive linemen: left tackle Branden Albert, guard Geoff Schwartz, and guard Jon Asamoah. Receiver/punt returner Dexter McCluster took off for Tennessee. On defense, end Tyson Jackson went to Atlanta, likely lured in part by Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli, who made Jackson the third overall pick in the 2009 draft.
While the loss of Asamoah and Schwartz essentially amount to losing one full-time player, since they essentially shared the right guard job last year, the Chiefs now must find a way to replace both players and, more importantly, their long-time left tackle. Tackle Eric Fisher became the first overall pick in the 2013 draft under the apparent assumption that he’d succeed Albert. Based on Fisher’s struggles last year and the performance of Donald Stephenson in place of Albert, Fisher may stay on the right side.
With the Raiders making a big push to improve their overmatched roster and the Chargers doing what they can with the cap space they have, the Chiefs may have to worry less about catching Denver in 2014 — and more about being caught by San Diego and Oakland.
According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins locked up Texans defensive tackle Earl Mitchell with a four-year, $16 million deal, with $9 million guaranteed.
That’s a much smaller deal than Soliai got from the Falcons (five years, $33 million), for a younger player who was good against the run for the Texans.
While overshadowed by some of the bigger deals the Dolphins were making on the other side of the line (signing Branden Albert and trading Jonathan Martin), it was a solid piece for a defense that risked losing its anchors inside.
Plenty of big names made headlines by finding new homes on Tuesday and Wednesday promises more of the same, but there are also plenty of smaller deals getting done around the league.
The Eagles made one of those by signing former Seahawks safety and special teamer Chris Maragos. Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that it is a three-year, $4 million deal with $1 million guaranteed. Caplan reports that the Redskins were also among the teams interested in adding Maragos, but Philly got the deal done.
Maragos played sparingly on defense in Seattle and doesn’t figure to play a much bigger role on Philly’s unit, but he should be a valuable member of the special teams units.
While Maragos isn’t a good bet to see extended time in the secondary, his arrival could lead to more changes at safety. The Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins and released Patrick Chung on Tuesday, and Maragos could wind up taking the roster spot of either Colt Anderson or Kurt Coleman as the Eagles continue building their 2014 roster.
UPDATE 7:55 a.m. ET: The Eagles have officially announced the deal.
Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks appears ready to stay in Miami.
The Dolphins and Starks are close to an agreement that would keep Starks around at a salary of about $6 million a year, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS.
The 30-year-old Starks has been to two Pro Bowls in his six seasons with the Dolphins, and he’s strong both against the run and as a pass rusher. He’s a player the Dolphins don’t want to lose in free agency, and now it appears that they won’t.
Starks is the No. 29 player in our Free Agent Hot 100.
They play the Battle of Ohio twice every season and the Browns and Bengals are playing a round this offseason over wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
The Bengals tendered Hawkins as a restricted free agent at the original round level, which meant that they were not eligible to get draft pick compensation if he signed elsewhere but could match the offer. The Browns took the bait and extended a four-year offer to Hawkins on Tuesday.
It doesn’t look like he’ll be winding up in Cleveland, though. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Bengals will match the offer, which is for $12.2 million with $5.3 million in guaranteed money. That’s much more than the $1.431, one-year tender that the Bengals extended to Hawkins, which makes it a little surprising that the Bengals made a call to match so quickly.
Hawkins played just eight games for the Bengals last season after a stay on injured reserve/return and caught just 12 passes while playing a limited role in the offense. With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu all back in Cincinnati, it will be interesting to see if Hawkins gets a role more in line with his new deal.
The Raiders have a whole lot of cap space, and they may be preparing to spend some of it on bolstering their defense with a couple of veterans.
Tuck hit free agency this year after playing his entire nine-year career with the Giants. Last season Tuck was somewhat overlooked as the team itself was a major disappointment, but he played well, recording 11 sacks. Tuck is the No. 18 player in our Free Agent Hot 100.
Woodley was cut by the Steelers after seven seasons in Pittsburgh. Last year he missed five games and had five sacks in the 11 games he played.
The Raiders already needed to improve on defense even before they lost their best pass rusher, Lamarr Houston, in free agency. Adding Tuck or Woodley (or both) would go a long way toward turning things around in Oakland.
Tuesday was a relatively quiet day for the Jets and a totally silent one for wide receiver Eric Decker, but things could heat up on both fronts on Wednesday.
Kim Jones of NFL Network reports that Decker will visit with the Jets on Wednesday and an aggressive offer from the Jets, who have plenty of money under the cap, could mean that it is the only visit that Decker makes. The Jets had a rotten receiving corps last season and Santonio Holmes has been jettisoned, leaving them in fairly desperate need of help at the position.
The big question that they’ll have to answer is whether Decker will be as effective catching passes from Geno Smith or someone else the Jets bring in as he was catching passes from Peyton Manning with a ton of offensive talent around him. As the top wideout on the market — and highest remaining available player on PFT’s Hot 100 at No. 8 — Decker’s going to be paid like he can be that productive whether it is from the Jets or someone else.
It’s a question that other receivers in Decker’s position have often failed to answer positively, but the Jets need help at the position badly enough to roll the dice that things break the other way.