The NFL’s free agency period gets going this week as teams begin to negotiate with players ahead of Wednesday afternoon, when the league’s 2018 calendar officially begins and teams can start signing away. Here’s a look at who’s going and who’s staying, with the proviso that deals are not official until 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
Brees and Saints reportedly will stick together
To no one’s surprise, the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees have struck a deal to keep the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer in New Orleans. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the two sides have agreed to a $50 million deal with $27 million guaranteed. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the deal is the equivalent of a two-year contract, though officially it will be a one-year deal with a team option for 2019, plus a no-trade clause, all but ensuring Brees will end his career with the Saints.
Brees was eligible for unrestricted free agency Wednesday, but he has long said that he wanted to remain with the Saints and the team has expressed confidence that it would keep him. Brees has spent the past 12 seasons with the Saints and led the team to a Super Bowl title.
Brees remained productive last season, completing 72 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns, even as the Saints used a more balanced offensive approach with an increased focus on a running game led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. They won the NFC South and beat the Carolina Panthers in a first-round playoff game before losing in dramatic fashion at Minnesota in a conference semifinal.
Although reports indicated that the Vikings have shown interest in Brees, there was little reason to expect that he wasn’t going to stay with the Saints. He and his family love New Orleans and he is the team’s foundation. Besides, he nearly got them into the NFC championship game in January. Why wouldn’t the Saints have him back?
With Brees back in the fold, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer says New Orleans will now work on bringing back tight end Jimmy Graham, who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle but is now a free agent.
K.C. lands a star target for Patrick Mahomes
Free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, a person familiar with the situation told The Post’s Mark Maske.
Watkins is regarded as one of the top wideouts available in free agency after a 39-catch, 593-yard, eight-touchdown season for the Los Angeles Rams. He is a former 1,000-yard receiver for the Buffalo Bills.
His three-year deal with the Chiefs is expected to average about $16 million per season.
In Kansas City, Watkins joins tailback Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce in an offense being handed over to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs agreed to trade Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins to clear the starting spot for Mahomes, a first-round draft pick who served as Smith’s backup as a rookie.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson, the Bears also made a “strong push” to sign Watkins.
Kansas City also began restocking its defense after either trading away or cutting key components from last year. According to Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, they plan on signing former Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens to a deal worth $9 million per year. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, has started 48 games over his four-year NFL career.
Bears beef up receiving corps with Allen Robinson
The Chicago Bears averaged a league-low 175.7 passing yards per game last season, their quarterbacks throwing only 13 touchdown passes to tie the Colts for the league low. And so the news that, barring a snag, that Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson will sign with the Bears isn’t all surprising (it was first reported early Tuesday by ESPN’s Adam Schefter).
Josina Anderson, Schefter’s ESPN colleague, reports the deal is worth $42 million over three years.
Robinson, who will be 25 when the 2018 season begins, tore his ACL in Jacksonville’s season opener last season and missed the rest of the season, but in the two previous years he had 153 receptions for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had an NFL-best 14 touchdown catches in 2015; no Chicago receiver has ever reached that mark, with Brandon Marshall’s 12 receiving scores in 2013 being the franchise’s recent high-water mark.
The Bears did not have a wide receiver on their roster last season with more than one touchdown catch.
Jacksonville declined to place the franchise or transition tag on Robinson last week, making him a free agent.
Cowboys reportedly sticking with Dez Bryant
Rapoport reports that the Cowboys have met with wideout Dez Bryant and won’t be making any alterations to his contract. Dallas reportedly sniffed around the free agent wide receiver market but decided to stick with Bryant, who is due $12.5 million next season as part of a five-year contract extension he signed in 2015.
According to the Star-Telegram, the Cowboys were perhaps hoping Bryant would take a pay cut but apparently that’s not happening after the team decided that the alternatives were not any better than the 29-year-old, eight-year NFL veteran.
Bills get their Star
Schefter reports that former Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is headed to Buffalo with a five-year contract. Lotulelei, the 14th pick of the 2013 draft, has started nearly every game of his five-year NFL career and has 11.5 career sacks. He played under Bills Coach Sean McDermott from 2013 through 2016 when McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator.
Buffalo had one of the worst defensive lines in football last season after it traded away Marcell Dareus in Week 8 last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bills allowed a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns and an AFC-worst 1,487 rush yards after the Dareus trade. Of those yards, 1,105 were inside the tackles, and opponents’ 4.8 yards per rush inside the tackles was tied for worst in the NFL.
Jags’ already-good offensive line just got even better
Jacksonville averaged 141.4 rushing yards per game last season, tops in the NFL. The Jaguars also allowed only 24 sacks, a number bested by only the Chargers and Saints.
On Tuesday, a stout offensive line got even stouter with the news that former Panthers guard Andrew Norwell intends to sign with Jacksonville, the Jaguars beating out the Giants, 49ers and Colts for his services.
Per his 5 yr, $66.5M agreement w/ the #Jaguars, Andrew Norwell is set to become the 2nd highest avg. paid OL in football.
Trent Williams: $13.6M
Andrew Norwell: $13.3M
Russell Okung: $13.25Mhttps://t.co/sXvuRIm9zt
— Spotrac (@spotrac) March 13, 2018
According to Pro Football Talk, Norwell has agreed to a five-year, $66 million deal with $30 million in guaranteed money, which sets a new high bar for NFL guards. The first-team All-Pro in 2017 was ranked as the league’s No. 12 offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. He was the only guard in the league with at least 200 snaps in pass protection to not allow a quarterback sack or hit, PFF says.
Jump-starting the QB market
Case Keenum has agreed to a deal with the Broncos that should get the quarterback market moving. The Broncos will become Keenum’s fourth NFL team after the Houston Texans, Rams (in both St. Louis and Los Angeles) and Minnesota Vikings. He had a breakthrough 2017 season with the Vikings in which he threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, playing at a near-league-MVP level and helping Minnesota to reach the NFC title game.
Dolphins to move on from Suh
Ndamukong Suh is expected to hit the free agent market, with reports indicating that the Miami Dolphins will release him on Wednesday. The defensive tackle hints as much Monday when he tweeted a video in which he promised, “there will be some exciting things going on.”
— Ndamukong Suh (@NdamukongSuh) March 12, 2018
Suh has been something of a disappointment in Miami after signing a six-year, $114.4 million contract in 2015. Over the past three years, he has not had more than six sacks in a season. Nevertheless, a host of teams would love to add the 31-year-old to their rosters for 2018.
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