Free-agent news & rumors

Cowboys, Giants bolster defenses; Jordan set to join Raiders

By PFW staff
March 3, 2005

The Cowboys not only snatched up DT Jason Ferguson, a sign that the team intends to run the 3-4 defense at least part time this season, but they also agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal for CB Anthony Henry, a rising star in some scouts’ eyes. The deal included an $11 million signing bonus. Right cornerback was a perpetual problem spot last season, and the team now has a legitimate starting pair with former No. 1 pick Terence Newman and Henry. The Cowboys now can turn their attention to Packers OG Marco Rivera, who would upgrade an offensive line in Dallas that Bill Parcells was disappointed in last season.

The Giants made a bold move Wednesday, signing Redskins MLB Antonio Pierce to a six-year, $26 million deal once they realized that Steelers LB Kendrell Bell was out of their price range. Pierce was a full-time starter for only this past season, but Redskins observers believe Pierce has a bright future. He collected 110 tackles, one sack and two interceptions in 16 games last season and was part of a Redskins defense that ranked in the top five in several categories. Bell, who became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001 under current Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis when the two were in Pittsburgh together, is seen as a better pass rusher than Pierce, but injury concerns also scared off the Giants. The team now has a strong LB unit with Pierce, Carlos Emmons, Barrett Green, Nick Greisen and Kevin Lewis, last year’s starting middle linebacker who did a respectable job but is better-suited for part-time and special-teams duty.

The Eagles are on the verge of losing MLB Jeremiah Trotter, who was in Kansas City last night and poised to sign what is believed to be a long-term deal with the Chiefs. The Eagles did not want to spend too much money in retaining their Pro Bowl linebacker and especially didn’t want to be on the books for too many years with a player who turned 28 during the playoffs this year. Team sources have indicated in the past that it views its linebackers as interchangeable, and as much as the club would have liked to retain Trotter, it will not view this as a big blow. Good news, meanwhile, came in the limited form of two of its own free agents returning: RB Correll Buckhalter and DE Hugh Douglas. The coaching staff respects the hard work of Buckhalter, who has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries but was signed to a two-year deal. He likely will replace Dorsey Levens as the short-yardage and chain-moving runner to complement Brian Westbrook. Douglas, who signed a one-year pact, could play a limited role or a significant one, depending on whether free agent Derrick Burgess returns and what happens with rehabbing DE N.D. Kalu. Douglas is a popular figure in the Eagles’ locker room.

The Redskins now must find a replacement for MLB Antonio Pierce, who accepted a six-year, $26 million deal from the NFC East-rival Giants. Washington feared losing Pierce, and the two sides drifted apart the past few days, reports say, even as the team cleared salary-cap space by reworking OT Chris Samuels’ deal. The signing of C Casey Rabach, viewed as the top center available through free agency, softens the blow somewhat, but the Redskins now must target a starter at middle linebacker through the draft or free agency. Pierce was a first-time starter last season and was very effective in replacing expected middle man Micheal Barrow, who missed the year with injury. The team did re-sign backup MLB Clifton Smith, who could be given a chance to start in camp if no bona fide starter is brought in.

AFC West

LaMont Jordan, considered by many to be the top free-agent running back to hit the market, was pursued hard by the Raiders on the opening day of free agency yesterday, and apparently liked what he heard, agreeing to a five-year deal worth approximately $27.5 million. Jordan is expected to sign the contract on Thursday. A signing bonus of $7 million and close to $16 million in guaranteed money over the first three years of the deal were major selling points. Jordan, who will be 27 at the start of the year, backed up Curtis Martin during his four seasons with the Jets, owning a career average of 4.9 yards per carry. The Raiders were dead last in the league in rushing last season and consequently released RB Tyrone Wheatley after coming to terms with Jordan. DT John Parrella was also released for cap reasons.

The Chiefs, to nobody's surprise, made LB and CB help their top priorities of the offseason, and MLB Jeremiah Trotter was phoned early on in free agency. After arriving in K.C. last night for a visit, Trotter’s reps and the Chiefs had exchanged proposals and were reportedly close to inking a lucrative deal as long as Trotter’s knee issues don’t concern team officials. Trotter has said he would like to retire in Philly, but it looks like Kansas City has taken the lead in the race, although Seattle and Atlanta are said to be in the mix as well. … CB Samari Rolle (ex-Titans) and ILB Edgerton Hartwell (Ravens) are also being courted by the Chiefs and visited yesterday. … No other visits are currently scheduled, but they have LBs Ian Gold (Bucs) and Kendrell Bell (Steelers) and CBs Ken Lucas (Seahawks) and Fred Smoot (Redskins) on the radar. … Trade talks with the Dolphins for CB Patrick Surtain have slowed because Miami is asking for a second-round pick. The Chiefs are already without their third-rounder this season, so they’re not expected to want to go into the draft with only one pick in the first three rounds. … Unrestricted RB Derrick Blaylock was scheduled to meet with the Jets and Texans in the coming days.

The Broncos never made a concerted effort to keep DE Reggie Hayward and consequently lost him to the big dollars the Jaguars threw at him Wednesday. He signed with Jacksonville for $25 million over five years, with $10 million in guaranteed cash. … With Hayward leaving town, the Broncos are hosting DE Chike Okeafor today. They tried to sign him back in 2003 but were edged out by the Seahawks. … OLB Ian Gold, lost to the Buccaneers last season in free agency, is negotiating on his own behalf after dismissing Carl and Kevin Poston as his agents. Kansas City, Atlanta and Houston are also showing interest, but Gold may be leaning toward Denver, which would push Donnie Spragan out the door. Spragan is being courted by Miami and Atlanta. … SS Kenoy Kennedy, meanwhile, is being pursued hard by Detroit. He will meet with the Lions over the weekend. He has not ruled out returning to Denver but has trips planned for Oakland, New Orleans and Cleveland down the road. We’re hearing the Jets and Dolphins also have an interest.

The Chargers entertained Packers S Bhawoh Jue and Falcons return man Allen Rossum on Wednesday. The Chargers are looking for an upgrade at free safety with Jerry Wilson unrestricted, and they recently cut Tim Dwight, who had handled their kick-return duties.

AFC East

The first day of free agency was a tough day for the Bills as they lost two valuable starters — DT Pat Williams, who signed a three-year deal with the Vikings, and OLT Jonas Jennings, who reportedly has agreed to a seven-year deal with the *****. The Bills appear to have youngsters already on the roster to fill in for Williams at the DT spot. However, the offensive line is considerably weaker without Jennings, and his departure likely will lead the Bills to pursue a free-agent offensive lineman, possibly precipitating the move of C Trey Teague to left tackle, where he played in Denver.

There’s no question that a big detriment to the Dolphins moving Pro Bowl CB Patrick Surtain is the fact that an interested team would owe Miami compensation since Surtain is under contract for another season. However, we hear that Kansas City is not out of the running for Surtain’s services. Word is that there are also other teams, both from the AFC and the NFC, who are interested in Surtain but are waiting to see how the market plays out. Surtain’s fate ultimately will be up to Miami and whether the Dolphins get the kind of deal they desire in order to be willing to trade him. … Miami is actively looking at upgrading its defense, welcoming DEs Kevin Carter and Tony Bryant to South Florida on Wednesday. Ex-Bucs CB Mario Edwards also visited. The Dolphins are reportedly interested too in Falcons LB Matt Stewart, Broncos S Kenoy Kennedy, ex-Chiefs DE Vonnie Holliday and Raiders DE Bobby Hamilton as they look to get bigger on the defensive side of the ball. … Word is that LB Morlon Greenwood met with the Texans and may be negotiating a deal with them. If that falls through, he has other visits planned. … QB Jay Fiedler has planned visits with the Giants, Bears and possibly the Browns. The Jets are also reportedly interested in the Long Island native.

Word is the Patriots are close to trading their third-round draft pick to the Cardinals for 30-year-old CB Duane Starks. Starks is a former first-round draft pick who has underachieved in Arizona due to injury problems. The teams also would apparently swap fifth-round picks in 2005 if the deal goes through. … Word out of New England is that the Patriots are extremely close to announcing a reworked contract for QB Tom Brady. Look for the signing bonus to be in the $20 million-plus range, putting him on a par with Donovan McNabb but below Peyton Manning. … The Patriots took a hit along their offensive line when starting OLG Joe Andruzzi signed a four-year, $9 million deal with the Browns, following Romeo Crennel and assistant Jeff Davidson to Cleveland. The loss may force the Patriots to address the OG spot via free agency, or most certainly in the draft.

The Jets lost NT Jason Ferguson to the Cowboys and may also be on the verge of losing RB LaMont Jordan to the Raiders. Ferguson signed a reported five-year, $21.5 million deal with Dallas, reuniting him with Bill Parcells, who drafted Ferguson when he was with the Jets. Reports say that Jordan had agreed to a deal in principle with the Raiders that would give him a $7 million signing bonus and $15.8 million guaranteed over the first three years of a five-year deal. … The Jets are rumored to have meetings set up with Chiefs RB Derrick Blaylock and Giants DT Lance Legree.

NFC West

The Niners’ signing of Jonas Jennings, who is considered by many to be the best pure left tackle available in free agency following four solid seasons in Buffalo, is expected to be officially announced today. The Niners’ first significant free-agent move since 2002, when they signed S Tony Parrish and OG Ron Stone, will reportedly pay Jennings $11 million to $12 million in bonuses. The 6-3, 325-pound Jennings dramatically upgrades one of the league’s weakest offensive lines. With Jennings taking over on the left side and former No. 1 pick Kwame Harris expected to be moved to right tackle, veteran ORT Scott Gragg, who is coming off a very rough year, could be the odd man out.

QB Kurt Warner, who spent last year with the Giants, is meeting the Cardinals in the Valley today. Warner also has visits planned to Chicago and Detroit. The Cardinals also remain interested in QBs Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia. … Even though they’re primarily in need of offensive help, the Cardinals have expressed interest in Ravens ILB Edgerton Hartwell, who could visit the team soon. If they signed Hartwell, who lined up next to Ray Lewis last season, Gerald Hayes would probably become Hartwell’s backup or move outside. The Cardinals are also believed to be lining up visits with Eagles OG Jermane Mayberry and Seahawks DE Chike Okeafor. … The Cardinals will have an additional $1.6 million in cap space to use in free agency if their reported trade of CB Duane Starks to the Patriots can be officially consummated today (the Cards would get the Pats’ No. 3 pick in the draft, and the teams would trade fifth-round picks). The deal was contingent on Starks, who was due to make $3.6 million each of the next two seasons, reworking his contract. The Cardinals are also reportedly continuing to field trade offers for OTs L.J. Shelton and Anthony Clement.

With newly acquired OLB Dexter Coakley counting only $1.6 million against the salary cap, the Rams continue firing their free-agent guns and reportedly have their sights set on Vikings MLB Chris Claiborne and Packers FS-CB Bhawoh Jue. Coakley signed a five-year, $14.5 million deal with the Rams, including a $3 million signing bonus, but his base salary this season is a very manageable $1 million. With Pisa Tinoisamoa moving to strong safety, Coakley probably will be the Rams’ starting weak-side linebacker after playing both the strong and weak sides in Dallas.

The best of the Seahawks’ remaining free agents appear to be doing their best to explore all their available options. … DE Chike Okeafor has visits planned for Denver (today) and Arizona. … C Robbie Tobeck is said to be considering Dallas, where he would be reunited with his former teammate at Washington State, Drew Bledsoe. … CB Ken Lucas is meeting with the Panthers today (Carolina is reportedly very serious about Lucas). … Seattle, meanwhile, could still be a week away from looking at other teams’ free agents, as the team continues to concentrate primarily on re-signing its own free agents.

NFC North

The Bears hope to bring in a few candidates at outside linebacker. One on-the-cheap option with ties to defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is Ike Reese of the Eagles. Rivera, a former LB coach in Philadelphia, has a working knowledge of Reese's ability. … Quarterback has yet to be addressed, mainly because the Bears were surprised to see Kelly Holcomb available instead of re-signed by the Browns on March 2. Holcomb is seeking a four-year contract worth $10-$14 million. While watching Holcomb's situation, the Bears have visits scheduled with Kurt Warner (Friday) and Brad Johnson. Ex-Dolphins QB Jay Fiedler also is a potential target. The Bears hope to address the offensive line but are waiting for the market to be set.

Detroit hopes to keep up its tradition of not letting its top targets continue free-agent tours beyond the Lions' headquarters. Broncos SS Kenoy Kennedy arrives Friday and could be signed. The Lions had similar luck with WR Az-Zahir Hakim, CB Dre' Bly, OG Damien Woody and CB Fernando Bryant. All four arrived at the Lions' facility with the expectation that they would later visit other teams — none did.

Minnesota also is chasing Kennedy and will invest in a linebacker with Chris Claiborne reportedly headed to St. Louis. … The Vikings struck early to sign NT Pat Williams to a three-year contract with a $6.5 million bonus. Williams is a beefy run stuffer who should improve the run defense and aid the development of UT Kevin Williams. … Minnesota had ex-Redskins LB Antonio Pierce on the hook but lost him to the Giants after the Vikings asked Pierce to agree to a series of deferred payments on the back end of his contract. … Minnesota plans to talk to the representative of WR Plaxico Burress but has not committed to a visit. The Vikings hosted WR Travis Taylor on Thursday.

AFC South

The Colts have added three rookie tight ends in the last two years and decided to release TE Marcus Pollard rather than pay a roster bonus of $750,000 on Friday. Cutting Pollard saves Indianapolis more than $2 million against the cap. The Colts have inquired about multiple players, but none had scheduled visits as of Thursday morning.

Jacksonville addressed its biggest need, signing DE Reggie Hayward to a five-year, $25 million contract. Hayward is a good-sized, three-down defensive end with solid pass-rush skills. He had 10.5 sacks last year and is only 26.

The Texans signed NT Seth Payne to a four-year contract to remain the anchor of their defensive line. Payne was also pursued by the Jets. … The team hosted Dolphins LB Morlon Greenwood on Wednesday, according to The Houston Chronicle.

AFC North

The Browns signed Patriots OG Joe Andruzzi to a four-year contract on Wednesday. Andruzzi brings experience and skill to an interior offensive line that was sorely lacking in both areas last season. … The Browns reportedly brought in Vikings S Brian Russell, Falcons LB Matt Stewart and Ravens RB Chester Taylor for visits, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

Ravens WR Travis Taylor is visiting the Vikings today, according to Vikings head coach Mike Tice. The Ravens are unlikely to re-sign Taylor, a 2000 first-round pick.

NFC South

The Panthers reportedly are visiting with OL Mike Wahle today and would love to add him to their rebuilding project along the offensive line. If Wahle likes what he sees — he likely will shop around a bit as one of the top free-agent linemen out there — the Panthers would like him to play the right side, which is a change from his days with the Packers, when he played first left tackle, then left guard. … CB Ken Lucas also is scheduled for a visit as the Panthers continue to work to shore up their secondary. Lucas likely would battle Ricky Manning for the starting job if he lands in Carolina.

With former Jets RB LaMont Jordan likely headed to Oakland, the Bucs are moving on to Plan B. That could be Chiefs RB Derrick Blaylock, whom the Buccaneers tried to wrangle away from Kansas City in their effort to trade WR Keenan McCardell last season. Blaylock also is receiving interest from the Jets and Texans, and Tampa will have to keep its fingers crossed to get Blaylock because the Bucs can’t offer Blaylock as much money as his other suitors.