Rodger Saffold was mentioned too, but never as one of the top guys. Did you even know who he was before Tuesday? (Hint: He was a Rams offensive lineman.) But Saffold beat almost every free agent in one very important area: Guaranteed money.
Nobody was surprised when players like Michael Johnson, Aqib Talib, Byrd and Albert got more than $20 million in guarantees. Not sure anyone figured on Saffold joining that club with a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $21 million guaranteed from the Oakland Raiders.
Yes, Rodger Saffold.
Saffold moved from tackle to guard during his Rams career (that's usually not a great sign) and there were reports that the Raiders want him to play guard, which seems insane for that money. Either way, Saffold cashed in. We'll see if he lives up to that deal. But on Tuesday, he was an enormous winner.
Here are the other winners and losers from a crazy first day of NFL free agency:
Denver Broncos: You have to respect John Elway's aggressive nature. The Broncos' general manager knows the championship window closes when Peyton Manning calls it a career, and future consequences be damned, he's going for the ring now.
Denver, coming off a Super Bowl loss, made two enormous signings and appear set to make a third. The first two were in the secondary. Safety T.J. Ward, an impact player from Cleveland, signed for $23 million. Then the big bombshell: Cornerback Aqib Talib, formerly of the Patriots, for $57 million. Nobody saw that coming.
The Broncos also emerged as the front-runners for pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cut by Dallas shortly before free agency started on Tuesday. Ware has a visit to Denver scheduled, and usually that's the first step toward a contract. Ware and Von Miller, if healthy, would make a devastating pass-rush duo.
How will Denver pay for all this? Ask again in a couple years when it's stuck in a salary-cap mess. But if the Broncos can win a Super Bowl before then? Nobody will say it wasn't worth it.
The trade for Revis (the Jets ended up with Sheldon Richardson and have another pick coming, and the Buccaneers got one year out of Revis in return) will end up being an all-time debacle. But having Verner replace Revis at a lower cost, while signing defensive line reinforcements in former Bengals end Michael Johnson and former Seahawks tackle Clinton McDonald, is pretty good.
Even though the Buccaneers will get rid of one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, they ended up doing well on Tuesday.
Others who cashed in with surprising big contracts: Saffold wasn't the only one who got more money than expected. There were a few deals that made you wonder if there was an extra zero put on the end by mistake.
Two contracts really stood out. Former Broncos guard Zane Beadles, a solid player who finished 51st among guards graded by Pro Football Focus last season, signed with Jacksonville for $30 million over five years, with about $13 million guaranteed. That's a lot of money for someone who doesn't play a premium position and isn't elite at guard either. Then defensive end Tyson Jackson, mostly known as a massive draft disappointment after being selected third overall by the Chiefs in 2009, signed with Atlanta for five years and $25 million. He had nine sacks in five Chiefs seasons and started just nine games for Kansas City last year.
But hey, those teams saw something in them that led to them handing over eight-figure contracts on the first day of free agency. Nobody can blame them for cashing in.
AFC West, aside from Denver: While the Broncos were letting it fly in free agency, the three teams chasing them did almost nothing.
The Chiefs had five of their own key players sign elsewhere, including three starting offensive linemen in the first hour. The Chargers' first signing came just before midnight on the East Coast, when they signed running back Donald Brown to a reported $10.5 million deal ... even though they have Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead already and a ton of holes on defense. And the Raiders, well, somehow the Raiders lost Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer and Rashad Jennings despite having $10 million more in cap space than everyone else.
The gap between the Broncos and the rest of the AFC West is becoming a canyon.
Receivers: Everyone knew that running backs wouldn't get much attention on the first day of free agency. Teams don't invest in them anymore. But even Rashad Jennings signed with the Giants, Toby Gerhart went to the Jaguars and Brown signed with the Chargers. The top receivers? Crickets.
Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, Julian Edelman and James Jones are all still awaiting deals. It's a passing league but on the opening day of free agency teams focused on protecting the quarterback, rushing the quarterback and defending those receivers than the receivers themselves.
Eventually those receivers will find homes. But it was a rough first day for them.
Fans of teams that did nothing on the first day: It's like Christmas without any presents.
Some GMs don't like to play the high-stakes game of free agency when it begins. Jets GM John Idzik is prudent. Nobody can be sure the Packers' Ted Thompson knows free agency exists because he almost never signs anyone. So even with a good amount of cap room, those teams passed on the first day.
Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, New England and St. Louis were some other teams that were very quiet on Tuesday. That doesn't necessarily mean they made mistakes, or that they won't do anything at all. All of those teams could sign some key contributors in the second wave of free agency (except Green Bay, because Thompson is apparently a conscientious objector). But for the fans who dreamed since the season ended about their team signing every big-name free agent possible, it was kind of a bummer. You'll have to just tune back in for Day 2.
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