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The NFL’s 2021 free agency market doesn’t officially open until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday for players with expiring contracts – however they are already eligible to negotiate with any teams they choose. Players who have already been released can immediately sign elsewhere, and anyone is free to re-sign with his current club.
The NFL’s salary cap floor for the upcoming season will be $180 million with a max value of $182.5 million – all teams must be under the cap by Wednesday, when the new league year begins.
Here are the major moves that have already occurred Monday, March 15:
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OLB Shaq Barrett
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers postseason hero – he had four sacks combined between the NFC title game and Super Bowl 55 – remains with the champs on a four-year, $72 million deal, according to USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones, with $36 million guaranteed. As Tom Brady signaled, it appears the band is staying together. Barrett has 27½ regular-season sacks during two years in Tampa, including a league-best 19½ in 2019.
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Speaking of that Tampa band, TE Rob Gronkowski is returning on a one-year, $10 million deal. Gronk indicated he’d be back after the Super Bowl, and now it’s official. After his one-year retirement, Gronkowski produced 45 receptions for 623 yards and seven TDs in 2020. He caught six balls for 67 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s Super Bowl 55 triumph.
Jets add Davises
The New York Jets entered this week with among the most cap room in the league. Mostly quiet on Monday, they added two Davises – former Lions LB Jarrad Davis and then the big splash, landing former Titans WR Corey Davis for three years and $37.5 million, per reports. Davis, the No. 5 pick of the 2017 draft, posted his best season in 2020 and gives Sam Darnold (or the Jets’ next QB) a legit downfield weapon.
Gang Green also landed a somewhat under-the-radar pass rusher, taking DE Carl Lawson from the Bengals in a three-year, $45 million agreement, per reports. Lawson had a modest 5½ sacks but added a career-best 32 QB hits in 2020, ranking behind only T.J. Watt.
Bengals get involved
Cincinnati made a rare foray into free agency Monday, striking a deal with DE Trey Hendrickson, whose 13½ sacks in 2020 (for the Saints), tied for second league-wide with Aaron Donald. Hendrickson’s deal is for four years and $60 million, per reports.
DT Dalvin Tomlinson
The Minnesota Vikings added the run stuffer with a two-year deal worth $22 million, per reports, addressing a defense coach Mike Zimmer called the worst he’d ever had during his NFL career.
OLB Leonard Floyd
The Rams pass rusher will continue building off his career year in L.A. Floyd, who had a career-best 10½ sacks in 2020, is re-signing for four years and $64 million, according to multiple reports. A significant piece of the NFL’s top-rated defense remains in place … though S John Johnson is on his way to Cleveland.
DE Yannick Ngakoue
The pass rusher is about to join his fourth team in less than a year. Jacksonville’s franchise player in the 2020 offseason, Ngakoue was traded to Minnesota and then Baltimore before winding up on the free agent market. Now he’s ticketed for Sin City, agreeing to become part of a Raiders defense in dire need of a closer that can help this team hold onto the leads it too often lost last season.
C Corey Linsley
Last year’s All-Pro pivot leaves the Packers and three-time MVP Aaron Rodgers to protect offensive rookie of the year Justin Herbert for the next five years – for the price of $62.5 million. Huge money for Linsley, huge win for Herbert’s shoddy O-line … and huge loss for Rodgers.
OL Joe Thuney
New England’s franchise player in 2020, the offensive lineman has agreed to a five-year deal (worth a reported $80 million)with the AFC champion Chiefs, per agent Mike McCartney. Thuney will shore up an O-line that was shredded in the Super Bowl – presumably at his customary left guard spot, though he has played center and right tackle.
Browns fortify defense
Cleveland plucked sterling S John Johnson III from the Rams’ top-ranked defense, the parties agreeing to a three-year, $33.8 million deal ($24 million guaranteed), according to NFL Network. Solid against the run and pass and able to be a quasi-coach on the field, Johnson could be one of this market’s more underrated steals. The Browns’ pass defense, despite the presence of All-Pro DE Myles Garrett, ranked 22nd in 2020.
Pats upgrade defense
OLB Matt Judon, the Ravens’ leading sack man the past two years – and with a total of 34½ over his five-year career – agrees to jump to New England thanks to a four-year, $56 million offer. The Patriots haven’t had a dominant edge presence since they traded Chandler Jones.
New England, which missed the playoffs in 2020 for the first time since 2008, also agreed to add Jalen Mills from the Eagles on a four-year $24 million deal, per NFL Network. Mills is the versatile kind of player Bill Belichick favors, able to play both corner and safety.
The Pats have also plucked defensive lineman Davon Godchaux from the division rival Dolphins for the next two years. A fifth-round pick out of LSU in 2017, he’s started 42 games since then and was a regular contributor for Miami coach Brian Flores, who was previously Belichick’s defensive coordinator.
Patriots upgrade offense
After a career year with the Titans (41 catches for 448 yards and 8 TDs), TE Jonnu Smith agreed to join New England on a four-year $50 million deal early Monday as the team kicked off its spending spree. Smith fills a void that’s existed since Rob Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season.
Monday evening – after Belichick spent the day adding bodies to his defense – WR Nelson Agholor agreed to come to Foxborough on the heels of his own career year (48 grabs for 896 yards and 8 TDs). Also inbound is former 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne, who agreed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal, per reports. Patriots wideouts produced only four TD grabs in 2020.
DE Romeo Okwara
After he doubled his career sack total by posting 10 in 2020, the Detroit Lions re-signed their 25-year-old pass rusher with a three-year, $39 million deal, per reports.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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