The NFL’s “legal tampering period” in free agency began Monday with a slew of deals even as many teams released veterans to clear salary cap space before the league’s business year begins Wednesday.
Most aggressive was the worst team in the league. Jacksonville, which has the first overall selection in the draft next month for the second straight year, got busy early.
The Jaguars agreed to sign Arizona receiver Christian Kirk, Washington guard Brandon Scherff, Atlanta linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, New York Jets defensive tackle Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi, New York Giants tight end Evan Engram and Las Vegas receiver Zay Jones, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Also agreeing to move on were New England cornerback J.C. Jackson, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day and New York Giants defensive tackle Austin Johnson, all to the Los Angeles Chargers; linebacker Haason Reddick from Carolina to Philadelphia; guard Laken Tomlinson from San Francisco to the New York Jets; tight end C.J. Uzomah from Cincinnati to the Jets; running back Chase Edmonds from Arizona to Miami; offensive lineman Ted Karras from New England to Cincinnati and offensive lineman Alex Cappa from Tampa Bay to Cincinnati; offensive lineman Rodger Saffold from Tennessee to Buffalo; quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from Buffalo to Pittsburgh; safety Xavier Woods from Minnesota to Carolina; guard Austin Corbett from the Rams to Carolina; and defensive tackle D.J. Jones from San Francisco to Denver — with many more switches to come.
Staying put are Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen, a key protector of the no-longer-retired Tom Brady; RB James Conner and QB Colt McCoy with the Cardinals; safeties Devin McCourty with the Patriots and Quandre Diggs with the Seahawks, who also retained tight end Will Dissly; All-Pro kick returner Braxton Berrios with the Jets; defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah with the Dolphins; linebacker Preston Smith with the Packers; center Brian Allen and tackle Joseph Noteboom with the Rams; center Mitch Morse with the Bills; linebacker Alex Anzalone with the Lions; center Ben Jones and tight end Geoff Swaim with the Titans; and offensive tackle Chuks Okorafor with the Steelers.
“We are excited to have Preston continue his career with the Packers,” general manger Brian Gutekunst said. “Since coming to Green Bay, he has not only contributed with production on the field but has been a great presence in the locker room and a leader for this team.”
Noteboom is nearly certain to be the Rams’ starting left tackle because NFL Man of the Year Andrew Whitworth, 40, is expected to retire.
Set free and able to sign with another team even before Wednesday were Browns receiver Jarvis Landry; Packers linebacker Za’Darius Smith and versatile offensive lineman Billy Turner; Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman; and Panthers cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Morgan Fox.
Yes, 32 teams are in scramble mode, for a variety of reasons. Some desperately need to get under the $208.2 million cap, which is up by nearly $26 million after two pandemic-impacted seasons. The Packers, Saints, Rams, 49ers and Chiefs are among those.
Others are clearing out players with large cap hits to add more spending room or because they plan to bring in replacements. Such is the case in Cleveland with Amari Cooper about to become the No. 1 wideout, so Landry is gone despite the many positives he brought to the Browns.
“Jarvis’ on-field production and fiery competitiveness speaks for itself, but his leadership and team-oriented attitude impacted our culture in a way that will last in time even beyond his release,” general manager Andrew Berry said. “These decisions are always difficult, but we wish Jarvis well and we look forward to the day when he returns as a storied Browns alumnus.”
The biggest scramble, of course, centers on adding players for positions of need. Trubisky in Pittsburgh makes some sense with Ben Roethlisberger retired. Reddick, from the Philly area and a sack force in recent years, should boost a defense in need of exactly what he brings. Miami badly needs a reliable running back and gets one in Edmonds, who would have been a backup to Conner in Arizona.
Jackson should solidify an underperforming cornerbacks group with the Chargers. The 26-year-old earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season, leading the league with 23 passes defensed, and was second with eight interceptions. He has 25 picks over the past four seasons, most in the league.
And then there is Jacksonville, which needs everything.
All six newcomers should be starters. Kirk figures to replace DJ Chark as Trevor Lawrence’s top target, while Jones could line up opposite him. Scherff has been a dependable blocker when healthy in Washington. Oluokun led the Falcons with 192 tackles last season, and Fatukasi is a force against the run. Engram is expected to replace James O’Shaughnessy and be the team’s top tight end.
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