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Jeremy Maclin, Donald Butler among potential free agents re-signed before they hit market

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

The news that the salary cap is rising substantially seems to have started a signing spree on Friday, of teams retaining their own players.

All of a sudden, the market got thinner.

Tight end Jimmy Graham will be franchise tagged by New Orleans, but that's no surprise. Baltimore re-signed Dennis Pitta, making the tight end crop look pretty thin.

Then the San Diego Chargers agreed to a multi-year deal with Donald Butler, one of the top linebackers who was set to hit the free-agent market on March 11. That was followed by the Eagles (who already extended center Jason Kelce and receiver Riley Cooper this week) signing receiver Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal. Even though Maclin was coming off a torn ACL, he was expected to be one of the top free-agent receivers on the market.

[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]

And if that wasn't enough, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy will reportedly be given the franchise tag, which was a surprise because the Panthers have other holes and had been complaining about lack of cap space. With Graham and Hardy getting the franchise tag, the top offensive and defensive free agents are effectively off the market.

That's five key free agents who were locked up in the span of a few hours on Friday, and we still have 11 more days for teams to come to deals with their own players before they hit free agency. Even kickers Graham Gano (re-signed by Carolina) and Nick Folk (franchised by the Jets) were retained by their teams.

Here's the thing: There are a lot of teams with significant salary-cap room, especially now that it will be an estimated $133 million, about $10 million more than last year. That money is going to get spent on someone. There are probably a lot of agents of big-name free-agent players who are salivating at the chance to unleash their stars to hungry and well-heeled general managers on March 11.

Maclin's one-year deal is curious. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the deal is worth $5.5 million, with incentives that can push it to $6 million, and $3.5 million is guaranteed. That's not a bad deal coming off knee surgery, but he's just 25, has 3,453 receiving yards in four seasons and it seemed likely he could have gotten a longer deal from another team. But, agents usually have a good grasp of the market after spending a few days as the annual scouting combine.

The market does appear to be changing, however. A lot of teams aren't letting good players reach free agency.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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