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NFL free agency news and rumors: Houston signs the ‘honey badger’; Patriots add running back and pass rusher

The Cardinals released Tyrann Mathieu this week after the defensive back declined to take a pay cut. Now he’s signed with the Houston Texas. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
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With the NFL’s free agency period well underway, here’s a look at the major names either hitting or being taken off the market.

The “honey badger” is headed to Houston

Well, that didn’t take long.

Two days after Arizona released Tyrann Mathieu when the two sides couldn’t agree to a restructured contract, the “honey badger” has a new place to call home. He agreed to a one-year, $7 million with the Houston Texans on Friday night, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The move helps a secondary that was 24th in the league last year in pass defense.

LeGarrette Blount signs with Lions

LeGarrette Blount won a Super Bowl with Philadelphia, and now he’s moving on. The journeyman tailback with three rings is headed to Detroit for one year and $4.5 million dollars.

Blount rushed for 766 yards and two touchdowns for a stacked Eagles’ backfield in 2017-18. In Super Bowl LII, he rushed 14 times for 90 yards and a score. The Lions could certainly use that kind of help. They finished last in the NFL in rushing this past season for the second time in three years.

Tampa Bay’s new center will be highest paid in the league

The Buccaneers have signed former Ravens guard Ryan Jensen to a four-year, $42 million deal. Jensen played guard in Baltimore, but ESPN reports Tampa Bay will ask him to play center to allow Ali Marpet to move back to guard, where he is most comfortable.

That contract and position shift would make Jensen the highest paid center in the NFL.

Patriots add a running back and pass rusher

Another season, another brand new running back for New England. Bill Belichick and Co. added former Cincinnati Bengals tailback Jeremy Hill on Friday, NFL Network reports. Terms of the deal are not yet available.

Hill replaces Dion Lewis, who departed for Tennessee earlier in the week.

The signing lines up with the Patriots’ well-worn habit of dispensing rushers year after year. New England has had a different leading rusher four of the past six seasons. The two running backs to lead the Patriots in yardage for multiple seasons in that time — LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley — are both no longer with the team.

New England also added defensive end Adrian Clayborn, previously of Atlanta, to bolster the team’s pass rush. Clayborn had 9.5 sacks in 2017, though six came in the same Week 10 game against Dallas.

Ravens sign Michael Crabtree after Ryan Grant fails physical

After ex-Redskin Ryan Grant failed his physical with the Ravens, Baltimore has signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal reportedly worth $21 million.

In a spin of the wide receiver carousel earlier on Thursday, Crabtree was let go by Oakland after it signed former Packer Jordy Nelson. The Ravens had announced on Wednesday that they had come to terms with a pair of receivers, including former Cardinal John Brown, but according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Brown failed his physical Thursday because of “an ankle injury that dated back to the Redskins’ final regular-season game.”

By landing Crabtree the Ravens would be effectively using the unexpected snag in its signing of Grant to replace him with a far more accomplished player, albeit one three years older. With 45 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns last year in Washington, Grant is coming off the best campaign of his four-year career, whereas the 58 catches for 618 yards notched by the 30-year-old Crabtree last year represented his worst output over a full season since his rookie year in 2009.

Crabtree still managed to score eight touchdowns for Oakland in 2017, continuing a pattern of end zone effectiveness the Ravens know all too well, given his five touchdowns in three games against Baltimore as a member of the Raiders. As the Baltimore Sun pointed out, a failed end zone opportunity by Crabtree is also well-remembered by Ravens fans, as he was the intended target on Colin Kaepernick’s fourth-down pass near the end of Super Bowl XLVII, allowing Baltimore to escape with a narrow win.

Baltimore recently waived veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and let its top player at that position from last season, Mike Wallace, hit the market, so even with Brown on board, it could use some additional help for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Grant had been set to sign a four-year, $29 million contract with Baltimore before he encountered a significant setback. The size of that pact garnered the Ravens some criticism, which in turn led to some suspicions Thursday that perhaps Grant’s failed physical was linked to Crabtree’s sudden arrival in free agency.

Raiders drop Michael Crabtree, pick up Jordy Nelson

Days after the Packers released wide receiver Jordy Nelson, the Raiders made room for him by dropping Michael Crabtree on Thursday.

Nelson will sign a two-year deal for a reported $15 million with Oakland. Crabtree would have been due $7 million this year.

Crabtree had 58 receptions for 618 yards and eight scores in the 2017-18 season, and Nelson caught 53 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns. But the ex-Packer was coming off two seasons of 97 and 98 catches, sandwiched around a season lost to injury, and has three-straight 1,200-yard seasons when healthy. Crabtree has never had that many receiving yards in his nine-year career.

Dontari Poe stays in the NFC South

Scratch another defensive tackle off the list of available free agents. The Washington Post’s Kimberley A. Martin reports that Dontari Poe, who spent last season with the Atlanta Falcons, is flying to Carolina on Thursday to sign a three-year, $27 million deal with the Panthers.

Poe, 27, signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Falcons last offseason after spending the first five seasons of his career with the Chiefs. The No. 11 overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft had 2.5 sacks and 39 tackles during his one year in Atlanta. In Carolina, he’ll be expected to fill the void left by defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who signed with the Bills this week.

Vikings make it official with Kirk Cousins

As expected, former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his three-year deal worth approximately $84 million with the Vikings on Thursday.

Whither Ndamukong Suh?

Cut by the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has yet to find a new home after three highly paid seasons in South Florida.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that the New Orleans Saints are working on bringing Suh in for a visit.

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, meanwhile, offered his highly technical thoughts on teams’ interest in Suh, or lack thereof:

Suh was due almost $17 million this season, his fourth of a six-year deal with the Dolphins. Miami had attempted to find a trade partner but came up empty, necessitating his release.

And Dolphins center Mike Pouncey will be released by the team, according to multiple reports. Miami is granting the request he made after the team declined to do a longer-term deal. “I gave this city everything I had,” he told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post. “I’m heartbroken.”

The Dolphins moved quickly to replace him, signing Josh Sitton to a two-year deal worth up to $18 million, according to reports. Sitton formerly played for the Packers and Bears.

Bills sign QB A.J. McCarron

With all the quarterbacks agreeing to deals Tuesday, including Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown, A.J. McCarron may have been starting to wonder when his turn would arrive. His name was officially called Wednesday, when the former Bengals quarterback came to terms on a two-year deal with the Bills.

McCarron was a 2014 fifth-round pick by Cincinnnati who spent most of his four years there as the understudy to Andy Dalton. He impressed enough in limited action that the Browns reportedly tried to trade for him at the deadline last season, and that team was thought to be a likely suitor in free agency, but they instead traded for Tyrod Taylor — from the Bills.

With the 27-year-old McCarron, Buffalo now has its presumptive starting quarterback this season, but the team is still widely expected to try to trade up in the draft and position itself for one of the top prospects at that position. With the 12th and 22nd overall selections in the draft — the former acquired in a trade Monday with the Bengals — plus two picks more in each of the second and third rounds, the Bills have plenty of assets to dangle in front of teams currently sitting in the top five.

Over 11 appearances, including three starts in 2015, McCarron has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 920 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 93.6 rating. In one playoff start, a loss to the Steelers that featured a notable late-game collapse by the Bengals’ defense, McCarron completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 212 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 68.3 rating.

Carlos Hyde goes from 49ers to Browns, Jerrick McKinnon goes from Vikings to 49ers

The Cleveland Browns continued to completely remake their offense Wednesday, agreeing to terms with former San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde on a three-year deal worth more than $15 million, including $6 million in the first year, the NFL Network reports.

Whether the addition of Hyde, considered the top free agent running back available, changes the Browns’ draft thinking on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley remains to be seen. Cleveland has the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the draft and also seems likely to select a quarterback.

Hyde, 27, has been the 49ers’ go-to back the past two seasons, topping 900 rushing yards in each while also catching 86 passes over that span. For now, he’ll be paired with Duke Johnson in the Browns’ backfield; Isaiah Crowell, the team’s leading rusher last season, agreed to free agent terms with the Jets on Tuesday.

The Browns have also traded for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry and Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the past few days.

The 49ers quickly found Hyde’s backfield replacement Wednesday, reportedly agreeing to terms with former Viking Jerick McKinnon. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $30 million over four years. At $7.5 million on average per year, McKinnon will be the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid running back, Spotrac notes.

McKinnon never was the Vikings’ bellcow but was a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield, with 142 receptions over his four-year NFL career, 94 of them over the past two seasons.

On defense, the Patriots made a trade for defensive lineman Danny Shelton. Terms of the deal were not announced.

Giants get a franchise left tackle

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport and others are reporting that the Giants have agreed to a deal with left tackle Nate Solder, a stalwart on the Patriots’ offensive line since 2011 and likely the best free agent offensive lineman available after Andrew Norwell agreed to a deal with the Jaguars on Tuesday. He will become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL, Rapoport says, after agreeing to a four-year deal worth $62 million, with $35 million guaranteed. His average annual value of $15.5 million is nearly $2 million more than any lineman in history, Jeff P. Howe reports.

The Giants’ offensive line struggled in 2017, with Pro Football Focus ranking it as the 26th-best in the league (a host of injuries didn’t help). It allowed 27 sacks, fourth most in the league.

According to Albert Breer, the Giants beat out the Patriots and Texans for Solder’s services.

Eagles reward defensive leader Nigel Bradham

Coveted by eight to 10 teams in free agency, linebacker Nigel Bradham instead will remain with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, agreeing to terms Wednesday to a deal reportedly worth $40 million over five years.

Bradham, a six-year veteran, called the Eagles’ defensive plays on the field after fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks went down with an Achilles’ injury in October. He had 88 tackles (five for a loss) with a sack and eight passes defended last season.

“Nigel plays with tremendous energy and fire and has made a number of impact plays for us at the linebacker position,” the team said in a statement. “Keeping him here was a priority of ours and we are looking forward to his future here in Philadelphia.”

Teddy Bridgewater joins the Jets, who also land linebacker Avery Williamson

Having struck out in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, the Jets wasted little time Tuesday coming to terms with two strong candidates to be the team’s starting quarterback this season, including Teddy Bridgewater. The 25-year-old former Viking was lured to New York on a one-year deal, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Jets brought back last year’s starter, Josh McCown, also on a one-year deal reported to be worth around $10 million. McCown has reportedly been told that he will return to his place atop the team’s depth chart, although Bridgewater likely will be given an opportunity to unseat him in training camp and the Jets could also spend their No. 6 overall pick on a quarterback.

Having suffered a devastating knee injury just before the 2016 season began, Bridgewater missed almost all of the past two seasons, making a brief appearance in December for Minnesota, which was led last year by Case Keenum but let him go to the Broncos as it acquired Cousins. The 32nd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Bridgewater showed promise in his first two seasons, going 17-11 as a starter with a 64.7 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, an 86.3 rating and a Pro Bowl appearance.

The Jets, who entered the free agency period armed with more than $90 million in salary-cap space, stayed busy by landing inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The former Titan could replace Demario Davis, who played well last season after returning to the Jets in a trade from the Browns, and line up alongside 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee.

Williamson, 26, was a fifth-round pick in 2014 who has started 59 games in his four seasons and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the third-best inside linebacker in 2017, behind only Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. On a busy day, the Jets also have been reported to have reeled in highly regarded cornerback Trumaine Johnson, formerly of the Rams, and ex-Browns running back Isaiah Crowell.

Dion Lewis leaves Patriots for Titans

The player regarded by many as the top running back on the market is leaving New England for Nashville. Dion Lewis, per multiple reports, will sign a four-year deal with the Titans, making him the second player to defect to the team from the Patriots on Tuesday, following cornerback Macolm Butler.

Lewis has had major problems staying healthy in his career, but when available to play, he has proven to be a dynamic runner with toughness and receiving skills. Last season was his best in the NFL, as the 27-year-old rushed for 896 yards and six touchdowns, with an impressive 5.0 average, adding 32 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns.

Lewis is expected to share time with the bruising Derrick Henry in something of a “Thunder and Lightning” tandem for new Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, a former Patriot in his own right. The Titans released veteran running back DeMarco Murray on Thursday.

Muhammad Wilkerson picks the Packers

Green Bay bulked up its defensive line by adding Muhammad Wilkerson, on a reported one-year deal worth $5 million, plus an additional $3 million in incentives. Wilkerson had recently spent time with Redskins officials, following meetings with the Saints and Chiefs.

Wilkerson’s first stop, though, after getting released by the Jets was with the Packers, and apparently their sales pitch was effective, not to mention the fact that their new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, wrung excellent play from the defensive end while in New York. A first-round pick by the Jets in 2011 who made the 2015 Pro Bowl, Wilkerson was a disappointment for the team after it signed him to a five-year, $85 million contract in 2016, and he will look to return to form in Green Bay.

Jets land cornerback Trumaine Johnson

Another coveted cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, has found a home, following Malcolm Butler’s reported agreement with the Titans. The 28-year-old Johnson will be joining the Jets, per multiple reports, as the team begins to check items off its lengthy shopping list.

Johnson was allowed to walk by the Rams, who opted to trade for a pair of well-regarded cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but he was the top player available at his position in a number of free agency previews, and he fills a huge hole for New York. In each of the past two seasons, the Rams had placed the franchise tag on Johnson, but they used it on another member of their secondary, safety LaMarcus Joyner, this year.

In New York, Johnson joins a pair of safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who were drafted in the first and second rounds last year, respectively. A tall player for his position at 6-2, Johnson will earn $15 million annually from the Jets (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport), who entered the free agency period with one of the league’s largest war chests of more than $90 million to spend under the salary cap.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Jets reportedly brought back last year’s starting quarterback, Josh McCown, and engaged heavily in talks with Teddy Bridgewater. New York is also believed to be adding former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, but it could still use help at cornerback, as well as offensive line, tight end, linebacker and in pass-rushing.

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