It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about March Madness, CPAC’s aftermath, or the blind auditions of The Voice. It’s NFL free agency, the annual whirlwind of offseason activity that reshapes the terrain of America’s real pastime.
This year, the action began Tuesday afternoon, and with teams allowed to spend $10 million more than last year, the game of hot potato is already scorching.
It can be hard to keep track of all the moves, like when the San Francisco 49ers trade a sixth-round pick for a backup quarterback that looks like Sunshine from Remember the Titans. So here’s your cheat sheet on this year’s most notable movers and shakers:
When Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones shocked the football world by releasing his team’s best player, this was the message that landed on my phone from diehard Cowboys fan Ryan Alster: “Terrible!!!! Jerry Jones should fire himself to save money, that’s the only chance we have!”
Ware, a tenacious pass-rusher, is a 7-time Pro Bowler and the Cowboys all-time leader in sacks, with 117 in nine seasons. While the move will give Dallas $7.4 million of salary cap relief, fans of America’s Team are peeved. Although the 31-year-old has a recent history of injury, he’s still one of the best defensive players in the league. Reports say that the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos are the favorites to sign Ware.
The shutdown cornerback is currently still employed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but if the Bucs can’t find a trade for Revis by 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, they’re expected to drop him. This comes just one year after handing Revis a six-year, $96 million contract. The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders have reportedly expressed interest in acquiring Revis Island, and the cornerback must be thrilled about possibly playing for one of those totally inept franchises.
Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito
The Miami Dolphins bullying scandal was easily the most disturbing (and confusing) storyline of the 2013 NFL season. In an uplifting turn, the 49ers traded for Martin, who was systematically harassed by his offensive line mate. Why San Francisco? In college, Martin played for coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.
Meanwhile, the free agent Incognito recently sought help for “severe mental stress”. And despite the situation not being funny at all, the Onion facetiously offered Incognito a five-year, $50 million contract.
The Seattle defensive end didn’t technically hit free agency, but the Super Bowl champions only re-signed their 2013 sack leader at the 11th hour. The four-year, $28.5 million deal came as a bit of a surprise, as most experts thought Bennett would hit the open market and command more money. Instead, the Seahawks locked up a key member of their all-time great defense and look poised for a title defense.
The next couple seasons should be the last hurrah for the almost 34-year-old quarterback. Vick lost his starting spot in Philadelphia to Nick Foles, and now he’s hoping for one more chance to lead a team. Last year he proved that he still has electric ability, but his inconsistency and durability concerns are worse than ever. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson called for Vick to join the Vikings, but don’t be surprised if he winds up with the New York Jets.
Peyton Manning’s second-favorite target will be catching passes elsewhere in 2014. The Broncos determined that they didn’t have the cap room to accommodate Decker in addition to their other offensive studs (Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker). Some lucky team, perhaps the Indianapolis Colts, will pick up a receiver who caught 172 balls for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Oh, so here’s where Denver’s money went. Late Tuesday night, the Broncos inked the former New England Patriot star cornerback to a monstrous deal, worth $57 million for six years. This is the second time in as many years that Denver poached one of New England’s most important players, after signing wide receiver Wes Welker last offseason. If the Broncos do manage to land Ware, their defense could be scary.
Speaking of Patriot receivers, New England keeps allowing Tom Brady’s favorites to walk. This time it’s Edelman, the Welker clone who easily topped the Patriots’ pass-catching charts last season.
The former San Francisco safety made headlines last year by applying to legally change his last name to “Hitner”, in honor of his smash-mouth style on the field. Ultimately, he determined not to go the Chad Johnson Ochocinco route, but the Pro Bowler did leave the Niners for his hometown Cleveland Browns, to the tune of $28 million over four years.
Jared Allen and Julius Peppers
247 combined sacks. 13 combined Pro Bowls. Untold fear instilled in poor quarterbacks. That’s what pass rushers Allen and Peppers bring to free agency after being let go by the Vikings and Bears, respectively. Both of them aren’t exactly spring chickens, however, so it will be interesting to see what their market is like. Still, it’s safe to say they’ll both have plenty of suitors.
The athletic but injury prone cornerback, along with his 28 career interceptions, was released by the Jets. This man, more than any other free agent, needs to find a new team and receive a paycheck. He’s fathered 12 kids by eight women, so he’s got bills to pay.