The waiting and the misdirection is almost over. The final weekend before free agency included a few big deals, a few notable cuts and a lot of useless rumors that will be forgotten by Tuesday.
We didn't learn about everything that happened after the NFL's negotiating window opened between players and their agents. We mostly learned which agents like to negotiate through the media. (The agents who know they have the best deals often don't feel the need to play media games.)
This was the second year since the NFL enacted its purgatory-like "legal tampering" period that concludes Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, when free agency starts. This weekend lacked fireworks, but there was still plenty to keep track of for NFL news junkies. Here's what you missed if you were away from the computer:
1. Everson Griffen stays with Minnesota: This is listed first because it's the best bellwether for the upcoming market. Pass rushers are going to get paid. Griffen received $20 million guaranteed on a five-year, $42.5 million deal, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.
Griffen isn't a big name, but he was ranked No. 19 in our Top 101 free agents because he's versatile, young and still has room to grow. His deal is a great sign for guys like Michael Johnson, Lamarr Houston and Michael Bennett.
2. Sam Shields re-ups with Green Bay: Ranked one spot below Griffen on our top 101, Shields didn't need to make it to the market to get top dollar. (He will make $39 million over four years.) Brent Grimes helped set the floor for this year's crowded market with his own solid deal. Like Shields, guys like Aqib Talib, Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have had ups and downs in their career. They should all make good money now.
The Packers couldn't afford to let Shields leave. An established, above-average starting cornerback is going to cost close to $10 million per year in this market.
3. Red Bryant signs with Jacksonville: It's hard not to like this move. Bryant is a run-stopping specialist, but he should still have plenty left in the tank at age 30. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley knows what Bryant does well, and the deal was fair: Four years, $17 million. Bryant was able to sign early because he had been released by the Seahawks.
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4. Chad Henne, Matt Cassel stay put: These moves happened late Friday, but will help shape the meager free agent quarterback market. Minnesota wanting to bring Cassel back so badly says it all about Christian Ponder. Henne's decision to return should have no impact on Jacksonville's No. 3 overall draft pick.
If Henne's presence affected that pick, everyone should be fired. General manager David Caldwell is too smart for that. He just happened to like Henne better than the rest of the free agent flotsam out there, which makes sense. The Jaguars had to bring in someone to pair with the rookie(s) to be named later.
Guys who were cut
1. Antonio Cromartie: This could not have been an easy move for coach Rex Ryan, who annually fell in love with Cromartie's talent. Despite his reputation, Cromartie is known for his great practice habits and love of the game. His play fell off a cliff last season, but he could be a nice bargain at the right price. We ranked him No. 40 on our Top 101 list.
Guys who will be cut
Deals that won't get done
- Following Griffen's re-signing in Minnesota, Jared Allen's agent confirmed to Rapoport that his client and the organization have severed ties. Allen might have to wait a few days into free agency for his market to form.
- It would be surprising if the Miami Dolphins re-signed either one of their free-agent defensive tackles, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks.
- Rashard Mendenhall won't be signing with any team because he's retiring. He was not ranked among our top-10 free-agent running backs, but he could have found a job if he had wanted to. We wish him the best.
Be careful putting too much stock in the free-agent speculation that bubbled up this weekend. Here's how it works: Agents float names to reporters about the teams they are speaking to. Sometimes it's serious. Sometimes they are trying to make their client sound more popular than he is. Sometimes the agent is trying to send a message to another team he's negotiating with through the media.
Sometimes the teams expressing interest are just showing cursory interest, fact checking and covering bases. The more headline-craving the reporter, the more likely he is to send it out. Many of the most serious talks never get passed along to the public. Reporters are sitting on a raft of information to be unleashed later.
You see a lot of "expressed interest" and "unlikely to return" and "could be a target" this time of year because everyone knows that they are being used by everyone else. Tread carefully.
Five irresponsible predictions
After the preamble above, let's throw it all out there and make a few irresponsible predictions for possible deals that could get done early in free agency. Remember, don't trust anything this time of year. Especially me:
- Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie back to Denver
- Rodger Saffold to Oakland
- Branden Albert to Miami
- Lamarr Houston to New York Jets
We'll check back Wednesday to see how these predictions did.