Cap numbers lead to cut stars; more Snaps from free agency

Wednesday March 12th, 2014

Julius Peppers is one of several whose big salaries will see them on the move this free agency period.
Paul Sancya/AP

Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a whirlwind first day of the NFL's free agency period (what a day for Twitter to crash in mid-afternoon)...

• Every team in the NFL wants its share of superstar players. But as recent days have shown us, nothing puts a superstar on the endangered list quite like his salary cap number. What carnage we have witnessed as the league's new financial year dawns and the personnel acquisition season opens in earnest.

At the moment, the likes of ex-Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers ($18.2 million cap number in 2014), ex-Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware ($16 million), Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis ($16 million), ex-Pittsburgh outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley ($13.6 million), Tennessee running back Chris Johnson ($8 million) and Carolina receiver Steve Smith ($7 million) can be had. They're all either newly unemployed, in jeopardy of being traded, or more likely released.

That has the makings of a decent lineup, eh?

Age has plenty to do with Smith's shaky status in Carolina (he's 34), but wasn't it just yesterday that Peppers and Revis were being hailed as the missing piece by the teams that lavished them with huge contracts in Chicago and Tampa Bay? Peppers has always worn the label of the overrated in my mind, and his four-year stint with the Bears did nothing to alter that impression. Chicago made the playoffs just once in that span, winning the NFC North in 2010.

And while Ware and Revis are very much in demand (a reported six 2013 playoff teams have already contacted Ware), Peppers, Woodley, Johnson and Smith might find that their reputations far outweigh the perceived need for their services.

Imagine who might have joined them on this big-money list if the salary cap hadn't risen by $10 million this year, and wasn't headed significantly higher in 2015 and 2016. Unless you're a franchise quarterback, this is apparently no time to be sporting a gaudy salary cap number.

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• The NFL really laid their money on the line as free agency opened, both on the offensive and defensive fronts. If there's one takeaway from Tuesday, it's that the big guys cleaned up big-time. Teams basically said: "We don't need no stinkin' skill players.''

Everyone knew Atlanta was going to upgrade both of its lines after getting pushed around up front in 2013, but the Falcons really weren't messing around, signing Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai, Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson and re-signing center Joe Hawley and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux in the opening hours of the shopping season. With the two ex-Kansas City draft picks making Atlanta their new home, clearly the recently-hired Scott Pioli had a role in molding the Falcons' free agency plans. The ex-Chiefs general manager is Atlanta's assistant GM under Thomas Dimitroff.

The flurry of signings at offensive tackle were expected. In what amounted to a game of musical chairs, Branden Albert went from Kansas City to Miami; Jared Veldheer left Oakland for Arizona; Rodger Saffold spurned St. Louis for Oakland; and in the best move at tackle, Baltimore got its man, re-signing Eugene Monroe. At guard, Denver's Zane Beadles joined Jacksonville and Kansas City's Geoff Schwartz agreed to terms with the Giants, greatly boosting New York's troubled offensive line.

But the most interesting action came on the defensive line, where the Bucs landed the legit pass-rushing defensive end they've lacked -- since when, Simeon Rice? -- in Cincinnati's Michael Johnson. In addition, the Colts corralled underrated ex-Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones and defensive end Lamarr Houston escaped Oakland for Chicago. With the Bears missing out on Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, Houston represented something of a nice recovery by Chicago. Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph was another big man getting paid, jumping to Minnesota as a run-stuffer in the interior.

• So glad the NFL made it clear via memo that teams could negotiate with the agents of potential free agents during the league's three-day legal tampering period -- which began at noon ET on Saturday -- but couldn't actually make offers and execute contracts. That worked like a charm. I'm sure the spate of deals that flooded in by 4:05 p.m. on Tuesday (and some sooner than that) were just a case of teams making very fast work of the market.

Back to the drawing board on the three-day legal tampering period's guidelines, NFL. If you're even going to have it, it can't be a viewed as a joke.

GALLERY: NFL veteran players in need of a new team

• They were only one-year deals, but two of the more surprising moves of the day were the Raiders re-signing oft-injured running back Darren McFadden and Washington finding the cap room to bring back veteran receiver Santana Moss for another go-round. Didn't see those marriages continuing.

So cap-flush Oakland decides to bring McFadden back, lets leading rusher Rashad Jennings sign with the Giants, and bids farewell to both Veldheer and Houston, losing arguably its three most important free agents? You can have all the cap room in the world, I suppose, but it doesn't necessarily buy you good judgment.

It would seem the Raiders finally have plenty of wallet, but they're still finding it difficult to locate players who want to be Raiders.

• The Blaine Gabbert era has been mercifully ended in Jacksonville, and that was absolutely the right move for a Jaguars team that re-signed veteran quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year deal last week and is expected to draft a potential future starting quarterback in May. Gabbert had been given enough chances to make it work in Jacksonville, and there was no need to string things out any longer.

In a break for him, Gabbert was sent to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in 2014, and a possible conditional pick in 2015. At best he'll be Colin Kaepernick's backup with the 49ers, and the chance to work under head coach Jim Harbaugh won't hurt his faltering game one bit. Gabbert went just 5-22 as Jacksonville's starter, and never remotely lived up to being the No. 10 overall pick in 2011.

But then again, David Garrard probably should have been Jacksonville's starting quarterback that season, while Gabbert watched and learned. Instead, Garrard was released just before the regular season began and Gabbert started 14 games that year. The rest is history, and not the kind either the Jaguars or Gabbert were hoping for.

• So the Falcons had to release Tony Gonzalez on Tuesday or risk owing him some bonus money if he was on the roster later this week? Even though Gonzalez has said he's retired and has taken a job in television for the 2014 season, he hasn't filed his retirement papers with the league just yet. For reasons unknown.

That's a very Favre-like move by him, and I'm starting to think Gonzalez's ego just needs some constant stroking and attention. Let's see how long his second "retirement'' lasts. How can we ever miss him if he won't go away (and stay away)?

• All those safeties coming to terms on Tuesday, and the Bills' Jarius Byrd -- the presumed pick of the litter -- was the last one to get his money. I'm sure it had plenty to do with the $9 million per season that Byrd was reportedly seeking. But I didn't foresee a scenario where the 49ers' Donte Whitner (Cleveland), the Browns' T.J. Ward (Denver), the Panthers' Mike Mitchell (Pittsburgh), the Saints' Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia), the Lions' Louis Delmas (Miami), and the Colts' Antoine Bethea (San Francisco) would all find their new NFL address even before Byrd made a free-agent visit.

Byrd, however, struck a quick and surprising deal Tuesday night with New Orleans, signing for six years at still-undisclosed financial terms. The safety pairing of Byrd and second-year Kenny Vaccaro is instantly one of the best in the NFC, and could rival Seattle's pairing of Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor in time.

• There was nothing too flashy about it (and that's probably a relief to Redskins fans burned in the past), but Washington has done solid work so far in free agency. The Redskins picked up a very useful potential No. 2 receiver in Arizona's Andre Roberts, giving him $16 million over four years, with $8 million guaranteed. In addition, they brought receiver Santana Moss back for a 10th season, added a starting guard in Cleveland's Shawn Lauvao (four years, $17 million), acquired a special teams linebacker in Tampa Bay's Adam Hayward (three years, $3 million), and retained starting inside linebacker Perry Riley (three years, $13 million). Having lost London Fletcher to retirement, keeping Perry around was a priority.

When you factor in the re-signing of cornerback DeAngelo Hall, defensive lineman Chris Baker, and the franchise-tagging of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, the Redskins have helped turn the page on their debacle of a 2013 season with some well-thought out, building-block moves.

• Just my gut talking, but if Darrelle Revis is released rather than traded by Tampa Bay, I'd take the Patriots in the office pool as his next NFL venue. With one interesting caveat: If Bill Belichick finds a role for fired Bucs head coach Greg Schiano in the New England organization -- as has been rumored and expected -- would that affect Revis's decision? The two men weren't ideally matched in Tampa Bay.

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