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What we learned on Day 5 of free agency

Things have slowed down by the fifth day of free agency, but it wasn't too late for some early morning fireworks from a surprising source.

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Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson locked up Julius Peppers with a three-year contract, making the big splash in free agency that Packers fans were hoping for. Thompson made some crucial defensive pickups in 2006, grabbing Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson. This move was much different.

Peppers reportedly will make $8.5 million in 2014 in what we suspect amounts to a one-year deal. If Peppers plays hard and improves the Packers' pass rush, he'll be back in 2015. If not, he'll slide further down the NFL pay scale next season.

The reason Peppers is worth a shot even at age 34: There aren't many players like him. He can play inside and out on the defensive line, in a three man or four-man front. The Packers will surely give him chances to line up as an outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme. Motivation was a question in Chicago.

Thompson's defensive drafting wasn't getting things done on its own. This group needed a little extra, and there was plenty of cap room to play with. That's why Peppers is the newest name on our best signings list. You only have so many years with Aaron Rodgers at his absolute peak; it's worth taking a few calculated risks.

Here's what else we learned Saturday:

  1. The rest of the league wasn't quite buyingJulian Edelman's breakout year. The Patriots pushed to sign Edelman before free agency, but he wanted to test the market. He visited San Francisco and reportedly had talks with Cleveland and Baltimore. None of the teams wanted to give Edelman unquestioned, No. 2-starter money like Golden Tate, or he would have taken it.

Instead, Edelman will return to New England where he fits best. His production could go way up or down depending on what the Patriots' offense needs in a given season, and whether he stays healthy. But he adds a ton of value as a great punt returner and a receiver that Tom Brady trusts. He's not quite Troy Brown, but he has a chance to have a Brown-like career playing with Brady.

  1. The Patriots weren't done with wide receivers, either. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that former Panthers receiver Brandon LaFellagreed to a three-year pact with the team. LaFell will compete for snaps in a crowded receiver group. Rapoport reports that Kenny Britt is visiting the team next. It's looking more likely that Danny Amendola could be on the way out this offseason.
  1. Brandon Spikes' deal with Buffalo happened late night after we wrote Friday's wrap up, but it's worth mentioning here. He's going to play inside for the Bills, with Kiko Alonso moving to weakside linebacker. While Spikes has a limited skill set, he would be an All-Pro if the All-Pro voting had a ballot for early-down run stuffer. It's a nice move for the Bills.
  1. Our highest-ranked running back in free agency, Ben Tate, only cost the Cleveland Browns $7 million over two seasons. Somewhere, Michael Lombardi is smiling. The moves to bring in Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner were curious, but this is the type of second-contract deal that makes perfect sense. Even if Tate winds up only splitting carries, the Browns should get plenty of production for that price. Tate is a massive upgrade for the shakiest running back group in football. Look for the Browns to draft at the position as well.
  1. The Panthers got by with a randomly assorted collection of castoffs in the secondary last season. They are trying the same approach again, signing former New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper on a low-cost deal Saturday.
  1. Two of the most surprising moves of the day didn't include players changing teams. Dwight Freeney took a $1 million pay cut from the Chargers, while tight end Zach Milleragreed to a new deal in Seattle. It's safe to assume that Miller took a massive reduction; he was scheduled to have one of the highest cap numbers on the team.

We don't think keeping Miller will change Seattle's plans to sign Jermichael Finley. Miller is valued more for his blocking.

  1. Emmanuel Sanders is the latest name to join the Denver Broncos. His presence will mitigate the loss of Eric Decker, but the story behind the signing is more fascinating. Sanders verbally agreed to a deal with the Chiefs, then shopped it around. Rapoport did some great reporting on how the sausage gets made sometimes, and it's not pretty.

"This was one of the worst situations in modern football negotiations," one executive involved said. "Totally wrong. This needs to be stopped."

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