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    NFL Free Agency News and Rumors: NFL Insider Shares the Latest on the Patriots, Steelers, and Others

    PFN Insider Adam Caplan shares the latest intel around the NFL, including the Patriots' plan at WR and league executives' opinions on top free agency signings.

    As we enter the second week of NFL free agency, we’re taking an inside look at situations around the league that have developed in recent days.

    NFL Free Agency News and Rumors

    As we saw last year with the Indianapolis Colts, the backup quarterback position became very important after rookie Anthony Richardson was lost for the season after just four games due to a significant right shoulder injury.

    Here’s how they addressed the most important backup spot on the roster, as well as offseason developments for the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Joe Flacco’s Free Agency Sends Him to Indianapolis

    The team signed veteran QB Gardner Minshew to a one-year, $3.75 million deal before the 2023 season. His performance over his 13 starts filling in for the injured Richardson was strong enough for him to garner a two-year, $25 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders.

    With Minshew gone, the team turned to the veteran market again and signed Joe Flacco last week.

    We’re told the Philadelphia Eagles made an offer to the veteran signal-caller, but he wound up signing a one-year, $4.5 million fully guaranteed contract with the Colts, a league source confirmed.

    As was the case with Minshew last season, Flacco’s contract also includes incentives that could bring his deal to around $8.2 million.

    Flacco can earn an extra $1 million if he plays in at least 60% of the offensive snaps in the regular season and can earn an extra $2.7 million for a combination of playoff wins and playing time in the postseason, should the team make it that far.

    The Cleveland Browns expressed interest in bringing back Flacco for a second year but surprisingly did not offer him a contract to re-sign. Instead, they signed former New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston to a one-year, $4 million deal with an upside of $8.7 million with incentives.

    The Colts otherwise had a quiet first week in free agency, which typically has been the case in years past with general manager Chris Ballard.

    But one of the areas a league source said he wanted to see improved was Indianapolis’ run defense, which finished 24th overall last season (124 yards per game).

    To help in that area, the team signed former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Raekwon Davis to a two-year deal worth $14 million, with $7 million fully guaranteed at signing.

    Davis, paired with veteran tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, should give the Colts really strong help for the interior of their defense.

    Part of free agency is re-signing your players, and Stewart, known as an outstanding run-stopper, re-upped for three years and $39 million.

    Indianapolis also re-signed two other key defensive players: linebacker Zaire Franklin (3 years, $31 million) and nickel corner Kenny Moore (3 years, $30 million).

    An Update on Terron Armstead

    As we discussed last week in this space, the Dolphins approached veteran left tackle Terron Armstead about a pay reduction and both sides reached an agreement last week.

    Armstead, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal in March 2022, had his $13.25 million base salary for this season reduced to the veteran minimum of $1.21 million, a league source confirmed. And while the team did get some needed salary cap relief, they made up some of his salary reduction in the form of a signing bonus of $7.3 million.

    KEEP READING: Dolphins, Armstead Agree to Pay Cut

    Armstead, who missed seven games last season due to injury, can still earn up to $17 million this season based on per-game roster bonuses ($1.5 million), playing time incentives, and earning a Pro Bowl selection.

    He’s still signed through the 2026 season, with the money staying the same for the final two seasons.

    What Are the Patriots’ Plans at Receiver?

    Not only did the Patriots have serious interest in signing WR Calvin Ridley, but a league source with knowledge of the situation said the team has looked into the trade market for other veterans at the position.

    As another source points out, New England has gotten little production out of the wide receiver position for years (especially drafted players), and they’re looking to add at least one impact player at the position this offseason.

    New England signed veteran WR JuJu Smith-Schuster last March to a three-year, $25.5 million deal with $16 million fully guaranteed at signing. His $7 million base salary for this season is fully guaranteed.

    Smith-Schuster missed six games last season due to injury and finished with only 29 receptions. The Patriots recently released veteran WR DeVante Parker, who signed with the Eagles.

    Veteran receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was headed for a career-high in receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season before suffering a torn ACL, is back for his fourth season with New England. He signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal last week.

    While the team is excited about second-year WR DeMario “Pop” Douglas, they haven’t gotten much out of any drafted player at the position since Julian Edelman, a seventh-round pick selected out of the 2009 NFL Draft. Notably, he was a college quarterback.

    Pittsburgh’s Quarterback Carousel

    When the Steelers surprisingly traded former first-round QB Kenny Pickett to Philadelphia last weekend, it raised some eyebrows around the NFL.

    By trading him after just two seasons, Pittsburgh doesn’t have much of a future at the position left on the roster. While the team did trade for former Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields, he’s signed through just this season.

    But there’s a strong feeling around the league that the Steelers have upgraded the QB room with the additions of veteran Russell Wilson and Fields over Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, and Mason Rudolph. Fields and Wilson are also cost-effective.

    MORE: Who Won the Kenny Pickett Trade?

    Wilson, who is owed $39 million from the Denver Broncos, signed for one season at just the veteran minimum of $1.21 million. Fields is on the books for a total of just $3.2 million.

    While the Steelers have told Fields that Wilson will be the starter this season, a league source confirmed. There’s a good reason for this, another source told us.

    As the source explained this past weekend, Wilson and Fields are not only new to the team but are new to offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme and terminology. Thus, the best decision is to get Wilson, a veteran, as many reps with the first-team offense as possible going forward — he’ll need time to get acclimated to everything.

    More Free Agency Contract Fallout

    Over the course of the past week, we polled NFL sources (coaches, scouts, and front office executives) for their thoughts on what transpired over the first week of free agency and what their favorite moves were.
The results of those conversations are listed below with a top-10 list.

    Note: Contract information confirmed through PFN sources

    1) Danielle Hunter, DE, Houston Texans

    Each of the six people we spoke with mentioned Danielle Hunter’s signing as the best.

    One offensive coach whose team has gone up against him in the past during his days with the Vikings mentioned Hunter’s “length” and “explosion” and was hard to block when healthy.

    One front office executive said he liked that the Texans didn’t go longer than two seasons with the contract due to the fact of Hunter’s age (he turns 30 in late October).

    Hunter’s addition to their defense should help to make the Texans a repeat winner in the AFC South. Leading up to last season, future odds had Houston finishing in last place with anywhere from 4-6 wins.

    Contract terms: Two years, $49 million, $48 million fully guaranteed

    2) Josh Jacobs, RB, Green Bay Packers

    Four out of the six people we spoke with mentioned the Josh Jacobs’ signing as a top one in free agency.

    Reasons given were that Jacobs is still one of the top players at his position in the NFL, his ability to be a three-down player, and his ability to handle a large volume of touches.

    All of the guaranteed money comes in the form of a signing bonus, so the Packers can get out of the deal after one year without an issue. However, if there’s any question as to whether they’ll keep him for Year 2, they’ll have a decision to make on Jacobs’ contract because of a $6 million roster bonus, which is due on the fifth day of free agency next year.

    Contract terms: Four years, $48 million, $12.5 million fully guaranteed

    3) Lloyd Cushenberry, C, Tennessee Titans

    Lloyd Cushenberry’s signing was strongly praised because he’s known in league circles as one of the top players at his position in the NFL.

    The Titans’ offensive line had been one of the NFL’s worst in recent years due to the overall lack of talent, and Cushenberry, who is coming off the best season of his career, will help anchor a unit that’s going to be revamped this offseason.

    Contract terms: Four years, $50 million, $26 million fully guaranteed

    4) Xavier McKinney, S, Green Bay Packers

    As one of the people we spoke to said, this has to be one of the best defensive signings for any team. Another source we spoke with mentioned Xavier McKinney’s tackling and range from tape study.

    GM Brian Gutekunst prefers to build his roster through the draft (at least 16 out of 22 projected starters were drafted by the team), but he’s done fairly well when getting involved with free agency since he took over in 2018.

    While the contract has the typical Packers structure of a large signing bonus and no future guaranteed money, McKinney will still earn a minimum of $24.5 million in Year 1.

    Contract terms: Four years, $67 million, $23 million fully guaranteed

    5) Patrick Queen, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    This signing was lauded by three of the sources we spoke with due to his obvious talent and fit within the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme.

    Being that Pittsburgh is bereft of talent at off-the-ball linebacker other than Patrick Queen, he should easily be able to finish those three years of his contract out.

    Contract Terms: Three years, $41 million, $13.8 million fully guaranteed

    6) Hollywood Brown, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

    Two of the sources we spoke with mentioned Hollywood Brown’s clear fit with head coach Andy Reid’s offensive scheme and the need for a deep threat at the position. Another mentioned how Brown’s speed will help open things up underneath for WR Rashee Rice and TE Travis Kelce.

    With Brown in the fold, Kansas City has finally found the speed element to their downfield passing game, which has been missing since Tyreek Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins two years ago.

    MORE: NFL World Reacts to Andy Reid Recruitment Texts

    In fact, we could see Brown re-signing for future seasons if everything works out well this season for him.

    Contract Terms: One year, $7 million, $6.5 million fully guaranteed

    7) Kirk Cousins, QB, Atlanta Falcons

    The sense we got from our conversations was the only true concern here would be Kirk Cousins is coming back from a serious injury (torn Achilles tendon) and he turns 36 in August.

    As one of the sources we spoke with said, “When is the last time you watched this team and felt they had the future at QB on their roster?”

    While that’s true, it’s clear that GM Terry Fontenot, who has personnel control, isn’t worried about developing the future at the position. Rather, he’s going for a proven player for the short term.

    Atlanta can still draft a quarterback this year, but don’t look for that to be a first-rounder due to Cousins’ contract (they’re locked in for at least two seasons due to structure), and their needs are just about all on defense.

    Contract terms: Four years, $180 million, $90 million fully guaranteed. Cousins will earn $90 million over his first two seasons — all fully guaranteed.

    8) Tony Pollard, RB, Tennessee Titans

    What’s interesting about the feedback on Tony Pollard’s signing was only one of the six people we spoke with for this piece mentioned the signing of WR Calvin Ridley as being a great move. But two out of the six mentioned Pollard and how well he’ll fit in with Tennessee’s new offensive scheme under head coach Brian Callahan.

    The plan, as we understand it, is for the running game to be a two-back system with Pollard and second-year pro Tyjae Spears, whom the team is very excited about.

    The only question here would be who is best suited to be the team’s closer at the position, meaning who could close the game if they get a sizeable lead in the fourth quarter.

    Neither player has great size (Pollard does weigh at least 10 pounds more), which could leave the door open for third-year RB Hassan Haskins for a role or for the team to sign a back with size.

    Contract terms: Three years, $22 million, $10.5 million fully guaranteed

    9) Frankie Luvu, LB, Washington Commanders

    I was glad that two of the people we spoke with (one coach, one executive) mentioned the underrated defender.

    I became aware of Frankie Luvu early in his career with the New York Jets, whom he signed with as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Luvu worked his way onto their roster as mostly a special-teams player but wound up becoming a full-time starter over his final two years with the Carolina Panthers.

    As one of the sources said, he shows up on tape immediately and calls him a “maniac” due to his energy, movement ability, and versatility.

    Contract terms: Three years, $31 million, $14.6 million fully guaranteed

    10) Saquon Barkley, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

    I was surprised that only two of the people we talked to mentioned this signing and his potential impact, which could be big considering he’ll be playing behind the best offensive line in his career.

    One of the two people we spoke with did call it a potential “home run” signing if he can stay healthy.

    KEEP READING: 2024 NFL Free Agent Rankings

    The gist of the other conversations on Barkley’s signing was whether he’s on the downside of his career or not, and one executive mentioned the high guarantee on his contract.

    Contract terms: Three years, $37 million, $26 million fully guaranteed.

The contract has a very strong two-year structure, meaning even if he doesn’t play well this season, Barkey’s pretty much a lock to return for Year 2 due to the $11.25 million fully guaranteed in 2025.

    Every move. Every team. Don’t miss a thing with PFN’s NFL Free Agency Tracker.

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