The NFL, figuring that nobody believed that teams and agents didn't have secret plans when players were signing eight-figure deals 10 minutes after free agency started, now allows teams to contact agents before free agents can officially sign.
That "legal tampering" period started Saturday, and there were plenty of interesting reports about potential matches between teams and players.
First of all, some intriguing free agents signed back with their teams. Tight end Jeff Cumberland signed for three years and $3.7 million with the Jets. Cornerback Sam Shields was much more expensive for the Packers to retain, as he signed a four-year, $39 million deal with $12.5 million signing bonus, according to multiple reports including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner must have been thrilled to hear those numbers. His price tag just went up.
Verner is arguably the top free-agent cornerback this year, and he was already in contact with the Jets, Vikings and Rams, according to reports from ESPN, New York Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch (h/t to TheRedZone.org). The Tennessean said the Lions, Steelers and Giants also inquired about Verner. The Rams also asked about top safety Jairus Byrd, NFL Network reported. It appears the Rams are serious about upgrading their secondary, especially after cutting cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
He wasn't the only player who was receiving calls on Saturday. ESPN reported that seven teams have contacted Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, including a few teams that run a 3-4 scheme. The Vikings are one of those teams interested in Johnson. He is a proven pass rusher and will make a nice impact for some team.
Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, not surprisingly, is also getting calls. The Carroll County (Md.) Times reported that extension talks between Monroe and the Ravens broke down, as the tackle is asking for $10 million a year. He should get that, too, as perhaps the top overall player on the market. The Dolphins are among the teams that have contacted Monroe, but Miami has backup plans if Monroe goes somewhere else. The Dolphins also contacted Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer, Chiefs tackle Branden Albert and Rams guard/tackle Rodger Saffold, the Miami Herald reported. The Dolphins need to rebuild their line, and it's hard to imagine they won't land a top free-agent lineman.
Another interesting story that broke as free agency started to (unofficially) get going was that Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks notified teams that he has been cleared by two specialists and previous knee and foot injuries won't affect him going forward, ESPN said. The story said he's willing to gamble on himself with a one-year deal, which would make him an enticing option for many teams that don't want to invest too heavily in Nicks, who has been inconsistent and injury prone.
There are plenty more phone calls and preliminary contact before players can officially sign on Tuesday, which shows the NFL can always hog the headlines even when nothing tangible is happening.
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- Alterraun Verner