With Tom Brady’s Future in Play, N.F.L. Free Agency Is Set to Begin

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With other sports leagues around the world shut down, the N.F.L. has a captive audience for the frenzied days of free agency, which began at noon Monday, when teams were officially permitted to start talking with unrestricted free agents.

Trades will not be official, and teams cannot announce them, until the beginning of the league year at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Trades and free-agent deals are contingent on players’ passing physicals.

The global coronavirus pandemic has affected N.F.L. business, however, as the league has put travel restrictions in place to prohibit players from meeting with teams in person, and has required that players take physicals in cities where they live instead of at team facilities, which are closed. This year’s round of free agency certainly is different from any other.

That has not stopped teams from setting the market with seismic trades and re-signings in an effort to improve their rosters. The league said Tuesday that teams would have a salary cap of $198.2 million this coming season.

As in most years, quarterbacks are in demand, with Tom Brady, a free agent for the first time after a 20-year career with New England, headlining a cast of starting quarterback options that includes Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater.

Biggest Moves So Far

Brady looking toward Tampa Bay: Brady turns 43 in August, and he announced on Tuesday that he would become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Late Tuesday night, a person familiar with Brady’s plans who requested anonymity said that a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was expected to be finalized.

DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals: The Texans have reportedly traded their best receiver and a fourth-round draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a second-round draft pick this year and a fourth-round pick next year.

The teams have not confirmed the exchange, but via Twitter on Monday Hopkins thanked the Texans and the city of Houston and said, “Now it’s time to bring a championship to AZ!!”

Marcus Mariota to the Las Vegas Raiders: Mariota, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, never quite reached his potential in Tennessee, and last year he lost the starting quarterback job to Ryan Tannehill, who took the Titans to the A.F.C. championship game. Mariota, whose signing was first reported by The Las Vegas Review-Journal, is expected to back up Derek Carr this season, the Raiders’ first in Las Vegas. Mariota went 29-32 in Tennessee and had career passer rating of 89.6.

Amari Cooper re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys: After using the franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys, as expected, signed their top receiver to a contract reportedly worth $100 million over five years, with $60 million guaranteed.

Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens’ already formidable defense — it was ranked second in the N.F.L. last season — will most likely improve with the addition of the Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, who was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2020 fifth-round pick, according to ESPN. Campbell, 33, is a 12-year veteran who spent the past three years with the Jaguars.

Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills: The Buffalo Bills offense, ranked 19th last year, could get a boost with the acquisition of free agent wide receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs caught 63 passes for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns last season. Though the trade had not yet been announced by the team, Diggs seemed happy to be moving to Buffalo, responding, “LETS GET IT” to Bills quarterback Josh Allen on Twitter.

Drew Brees re-signed with the New Orleans Saints: The quarterback merry-go-round will skip New Orleans. Brees reportedly will sign a two-year, $50 million contract to keep him in a Saints uniform, according to NFL Network. Brees, 41, was expected to return to New Orleans after he said on Instagram in February, “Love you #WhoDatNation. Let’s make another run at it!”

Cam Newton can seek a trade: The Panthers are parting ways with Cam Newton, the winner of the league’s 2015 Most Valuable Player Award and the face of the franchise since Carolina made him the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Panthers gave Newton, 30, permission to seek a trade, then thanked him for his service on social media. Newton replied to the team’s post and denied that he really wanted a trade: “I never asked for it.”

Newton, who played in just two games last season because of injuries, is set to earn $18.6 million this season. “We have been working with Cam and his agent to find the best fit for him moving forward, and he will always be a Carolina Panther in our hearts,” General Manager Marty Hurney said in a statement.

Teddy Bridgewater to the Carolina Panthers: Beloved during his stints in Minnesota and New Orleans, Bridgewater stabilized the Saints’ 2019 season — with a 67.9 completion percentage, 7.52 adjusted yards per attempt and just two turnovers in five starts, all victories — during Drew Brees’s absence. His performance ensured that, after two seasons as a backup, he would get a chance to start for the first time since sustaining a severe knee injury in 2016. According to The Charlotte Observer, the Panthers are close to a deal that would make him Newton’s replacement.

Philip Rivers to the Indianapolis Colts: Philip Rivers is moving east. After 16 years with the Chargers, Rivers is set to become the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, who plan to sign him to a one-year, $25 million deal, according to ESPN. Rivers will reunite with two former Chargers coaches, Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni.

Malcolm Jenkins to the New Orleans Saints: Saints Coach Sean Payton has said he regretted letting go of Jenkins, who spent his first five years with New Orleans. Now the Saints appear to be righting a wrong. At 32, Jenkins is still an effective safety, with 81 tackles and a career-high nine quarterback hits last season. If he can play to form, he could improve the Saints’ pass defense, which was in the bottom half of the league in 2019.

Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears: After leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory two years ago, Foles fizzled last season with Jacksonville, where he had secured a four-year, $88 million contract. He lost all four games he started at quarterback before getting injured. The Bears are betting he will bounce back in Chicago. According to ESPN, they traded a compensatory fourth-round pick to the Jaguars, who will presumably stick with Gardner Minshew at quarterback.

Best Available

Byron Jones, CB: He has spent the last two seasons with Dallas demonstrating that he should be known less for his performance at the 2015 scouting combine, where he set an event record in the standing broad jump, than for his reliability in the secondary. After moving around the defensive backfield his first few seasons, Jones became the team’s No. 1 corner in 2018, positioning himself for a huge deal this month. The best free-agent cornerbacks always get paid, and Jones allowed only 0.39 yards per coverage snap on the outside last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Chris Harris Jr., CB: Once the league’s best nickel corner, Harris was moved to the boundary for Denver last season, Vic Fangio’s first as the head coach. The experiment capsized — at least, when measured by Harris’s standards. A smart team will restore him to the slot, the most demanding defensive position in a league where three-receiver sets have become the norm, and watch him thrive again.

Jameis Winston, QB: With Brady likely on the way to Tampa, Winston’s tenure as a Buccaneer is over. If not for, you know, those pesky interceptions — 30 of them last season! — and the regrettable decision-making that led to some of them, Winston would be in high demand. As it is, his strong arm — and presumably improved eyesight after off-season LASIK surgery — makes him a prime candidate for a one-year prove-it season elsewhere.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE: Seattle agreed not to place the franchise tag on Clowney after acquiring him from Houston in September, and now he is poised to receive a long-term contract from a team yearning for an edge defender who has proved better at stopping the run than he is at harassing the quarterback. That team could very well again be the Seahawks, whose meager defensive line precipitated the trade in the first place.

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