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What we learned on an insane Day 1 of free agency

I've tried to start writing about what we learned on Day 1 of free agency three different times. And I kept getting interrupted by more breaking news.

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This was a day when Jonathan Martin getting traded to San Francisco was an afterthought. Jairus Byrd, Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown all signed after 9 p.m. ET. DeMarcus Ware -- an ex-Cowboy, by the way --- could join Talib in Denver soon enough.

Byrd got $28 million guaranteed from the New Orleans Saints, a team that supposedly was salary-cap strapped. Talib, a player who could get just $5 million a season ago, received $57 million over six years. (Not that he's likely to get to Year 6 of that deal. Or Year 4.)

We never have seen a first day of free agency this insane. More than 20 deals were "agreed to" within 30 minutes, with at least 10 signings dropping within five minutes. The top-10 unrestricted free agents on our big board heading into Tuesday agreed to deals by midnight. In all, 32 of our top-99 players entering the day have agreed to deals. That's up dramatically from a year ago.

Ware is now the highest-ranked player on our board, but that won't last long for a few reasons. Ware could sign with Denver on Wednesday and Darrelle Revis will probably get released by Tampa, making him the new No. 1.

Now I better write the rest of this fast before we learn anything else:

Broncos mean business


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Denver lacked toughness and struggled to defend the pass at times last season. Enter safety T.J. Ward from Cleveland at a surprisingly affordable rate and Aqib Talib at a shockingly high price. Ware has a visit scheduled with Denver, and it would be an upset if John Elway didn't get his man. The Broncos know their championship window is short. Give Elway credit for going for it.

Safeties got paid


Our top six safeties all agreed to terms within six hours. Cleveland swapped out Ward for Donte Whitner. (Presumably because they don't like Ward in coverage.) The 49ers swapped out Whitner for Antoine Bethea. (Presumably because they don't like Whitner in coverage.) Ward somehow got less money from Denver than Whitner got in Cleveland. Malcolm Jenkins signed one of our favorite cost-effective deals in Philadelphia. Mike Mitchell signed for the cursed number of $25 million over five years in Pittsburgh. (Yes, that's the same Mike Mitchell everyone laughed at Al Davis about back in the day.) Even safeties like Stevie Brown and Ryan Mundy got deals Tuesday.

Byrd joining the Saints was the headliner. Byrd, Rob "Bad Santa" Ryan and second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro should be a brilliant trio together in New Orleans. Byrd got paid like a premier cornerback.

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Earl Thomas' agent should send Byrd a gift basket. Byrd's contract will be the starting point for Thomas' negotiations. Talib, Vontae Davis and even Richard Sherman owe Sam Shields. The Packers cornerback's four-year, $39.5 million deal set the market at the position.

Meanwhile, most running backs like Ben Tate were ignored. Other runners like Toby Gerhart in Jacksonville and Donald Brown in San Diego settled for the new McContract for the position: three years, and roughly $10 million. Parents shouldn't let their kids grow up to be running backs. They take brutal hits, have short careers and everyone gets the same contract as Shonn Greene.

Offensive tackles went fast


Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, Jared Veldheer and Rodger Saffold all signed big contracts shortly after free agency started. (And if you don't know where they went, just go here. I'm tired.) Zane Beadles was the first guard to go, landing in Jacksonville. Our friend Evan Silva noted that Saffold got a better contract from the Raiders than Jake Long got from the Rams a year ago. Yikes.

Veldheer was my favorite value of the bunch, upgrading an awful left tackle situation in Arizona. Saffold looked like the most overpaid player in all of free agency by Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. That was until the Raiders gave New York Jets right tackle Austin Howard $15 million guaranteed on a $30 million contract after midnight.

Talent drains


The Raiders also lost plenty: Their leading rusher (Rashad Jennings to the Giants), their best offensive lineman (Veldheer) and the top defensive player (Lamarr Houston to Chicago) all left town. Darren McFadden stayed in town for cheap.

The Browns had the strangest day, getting older at inside linebacker with Karlos Dansby and choosing Whitner over Ward. Dansby signed for one-year, $2.25 million in Arizona last year after getting released by Miami. Now he'll make $10 million in the first year and $14 million guaranteed from the Browns.

Big name Wednesday


Tuesday was crazy. Wednesday actually should include more big news from big names. It's still stunning that DeMarcus Ware is a free agent. The Cowboys held on to guys like Miles Austin, Ken Hamlin, Terence Newman, Jay Ratliff, Roy Williams and the other Roy Williams past their expiration dates. Ware, one of the greatest players in franchise history, didn't get the same consideration.

Perhaps Jerry Jones has learned to stop being so emotional when self scouting. Or perhaps Jones just had to pay up for all his past mistakes.

Ware could land on a team Wednesday, while the Darrelle Revis-sweepstakes should pick up steam. No team wants to pay Revis $16 million, so it looks like a trade will be impossible. The Buccaneers will be forced to cut Revis by 4 p.m. ET. Revis drama at this time of year is a running theme.

(Last year's Day 1 of free-agency recap included news about a "supposedly imminent Darrelle Revis trade.)

We've made it this far without even mentioning Julius Peppers' release. He too was once the highest-paid defensive player in the league and still has some quality snaps to offer.

Steve Smith remains a Carolina Panther, but that shouldn't last much longer. It looks like Darren Sproles will be traded sooner than later. Some things never change.

So things might get even crazier. There were 32 players out of our top 99 that signed in eight-wild hours Tuesday, but that means there are still 67 players to go. We'll have it all covered on Around the League and our free-agent tracker.

Hopefully you read this before it's wildly out of date.

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys study the free agency picture with the help of NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

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