Free agency hasn't officially started, yet many of the best players who were poised to hit the market have already decided where they will be playing next season. That was the biggest takeaway from a busy Tuesday that included five of our top seven available players agreeing to terms on new deals. The teams that jumped on big players early -- should not be a surprise.
Let's break down the four most important moves of the day in order of cash:
- The Jacksonville Jaguars entered free agency with a record amount of salary-cap space, a requirement to spend most of it, and a mandate from ownership to win now. It should be no surprise they agreed to terms with our No. 1 overall free agent Malik Jackson on a six-year contract worth $90 million, including $42 million fully guaranteed according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. In short: A player that has never made a Pro Bowl and wasn't even a full-time starter until 2015 just got paid like a starting quarterback. And we don't think it was a crazy move. Jacksonville needs to improve its defense and Jackson is a versatile fit for any scheme. The Jaguarsalso are adding a nice complement to T.J. Yeldon in their backfield with power back Chris Ivory from the Jets, according to Rapoport.
2-3. The most surprising news of the day came late when the Raidersswooped in and stole former Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin from the Arizona Cardinals and other potential suitors. We are waiting to hear details on the money, but it's safe to expect it will be massive. The Raiders wanted some help in the front seven with Khalil Mack after missing Aldon Smith in the second half of last season, and they found it with Irvin. While he's not a pure pass rusher like Smith, Irvin's flexibility should fit into any system.
Last year, the Raiders had more salary-cap room than they knew what to do with. This season, general manager Reggie McKenzie made sure that wasn't a problem again. Kelechi Osemele is hardly a household name, but he's one of the best guards in football. NFL Media's Rand Getlin was the first to report his agreement with the Raiders. His contract, which averages more than $11 million per season, resets the market at guard (Osemele could wind up playing tackle for the Raiders, too).
- The Dolphinsannually make big news in March, and this year has been no exception. Following Monday's big trade agreement with the Eagles, they doubled down on their strategy of buying medium on big names that struggled elsewhere by signing a two-year, $16 million deal with Mario Williams. Cameron Wake remains in the team's plans, which makes it very hard to imagine they will keep Olivier Vernon. So the Dolphins essentially chose to get older at defensive end with a player whose effort was widely questioned last season. Miami has done this "Offseason Champion" thing before without a lot of success.
- Jason Pierre-Paul will try to get his Malik Jackson-like money next season. His one-year deal to stay with the Giants was a sign of how well the Giants handled his situation last year. He probably could have earned more money elsewhere, but he wanted to stay where he was comfortable and produce a huge 2016 season before cashing in next year. We think he has a chance to be one of the best bargains of this free-agent period. The Giants have so many holes on defense that they should remain very active over the next week. That's how the start of free agency goes: Desperation inspires spending.
The hog mollies up front weren't the only players in the news Tuesday. Let's break down the rest of the activity on the eve of free agency:
Megatron retires his way
"Let me begin by apologizing for making this announcement via a statement and not in person. While I truly respect the significance of this, those who know me best will understand and not be surprised that I choose not to have a press conference for this announcement," Johnson stated.
Best Bargain of the day
The Panthers released defensive end Charles Johnson last Thursday when he was set to count more than $15 million on the salary cap. They agreed to re-sign him on Tuesday for $3 million, despite getting offers for double that elsewhere. A lot of players say it's not about the money, but Johnson truly meant it. As Johnson showed in the Super Bowl, he still has plenty of snaps left as a solid starter. The Panthers were thin at defensive end if he left, and Johnson ultimately spurned division rivals (Tampa) after visiting with them, just like he spurned a big-free agent offer from the Atlanta Falcons in 2011.
I would rather have Johnson than Mario Williams at any salary, much less at less than half the price.
Tweet that would have been hard to imagine two years ago
Incognito played extremely well for Rex Ryan last year in Buffalo, and the team showed they saw him as a priority with a three-year contract worth $15 million, Rapoport reported.