The biggest move at Tuesday’s start of the NFL free-agency signing period was a departure: Franchise sack leader DeMarcus Ware was released by the Dallas Cowboys to create room under the salary cap.
“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
With the cap rising $10 million to a record $133 million, a crop of players quickly found new homes as soon as the market officially opened Tuesday afternoon – and offensive linemen were a popular commodity.
Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and the Miami Dolphins agreed to a five-year contract worth more than $45 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team hadn’t made an announcement.
Albert takes over the position played at the start of last season by Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins in October, leading to an NFL inquiry into bullying on the team.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer and the Arizona Cardinals agreed to a five-year contract worth $35 million, with $17 million guaranteed. Veldheer left the Oakland Raiders, who replaced him by giving former Rams lineman Rodger Saffold a five-year deal.
Another left tackle, Eugene Monroe, agreed to a five-year contract to stay with the Baltimore Ravens.
Guards switching teams: Zane Beadles was expected sign a five-year deal to join the Jacksonville Jaguars from the Denver Broncos, pending a physical; the Atlanta Falcons agreed to terms with Jon Asamoah, who was with the Kansas City Chiefs; the Washington Redskins struck a deal with Shawn Lauvao, who left the Cleveland Browns. The Redskins also agreed to terms with special teams standout Adam Hayward and scheduled a visit with cornerback Corey Graham.
The Jaguars also were busy, announcing they re-signed cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year deal, traded quarterback Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick, and scheduled a visit with free-agent linebacker Dekoda Watson. Gabbert was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The Chicago Bears made a series of moves to try to improve their defense, agreeing to a five-year contract with former Raiders end Lamarr Houston and a two-year contract with former Steelers and Giants safety Ryan Mundy, along with one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.
Other players changing teams: kick returner and receiver Dexter McCluster agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans, leaving the Chiefs; defensive end Arthur Jones joined the Indianapolis Colts from the Baltimore Ravens; safety Antoine Bethea went to the 49ers from the Colts; safety Malcolm Jenkins agreed to a three-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving the New Orleans Saints; defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai both joined the Falcons; and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell left the Houston Texans to go to the Dolphins.
Still, Ware’s exit from Dallas was the most significant early development.
The 31-year-old Ware, who had 117 sacks and went to seven Pro Bowls while with the Cowboys, was set to count $16 million against the salary cap. By releasing him now, the Cowboys, who were right up against the cap, saved more than $7 million.
Ware had a career-low six sacks last season, his ninth in Dallas. He missed time with a thigh injury, then had offseason elbow surgery.
Others released included Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb (who failed a physical), Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, Eagles safety Patrick Chung, and Bengals center Kyle Cook.
Among players staying with their teams thanks to new deals reached Tuesday:
-RB Darren McFadden was given a $4 million, one-year contract by the Raiders.
-KR-WR Brandon Tate re-signed with the Bengals.
-PK Adam Vinatieri, the 41-year-old with four Super Bowl rings, agreed to a two-year contract with the Colts. Other PKs getting new contracts: Nick Folk (Jets), Phil Dawson (49ers), Dan Carpenter (Bills).
-CB Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts.
-RB Joique Bell is now signed with the Lions for $9.3 million over three years, with $4.3 million guaranteed.
-LB Perry Riley and the Redskins agreed to a deal worth about $13 million over three years, with about $4.25 million in guaranteed money. Washington also re-signed WR Santana Moss.
-DT Jonathan Babineaux got a three-year contract from the Falcons.
-TE Anthony McCoy got a one-year deal from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks after he missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
– WR Andre Caldwell got a two-year contract from the Broncos.
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