|Browns plug holes with Whitner, Dansby|
|Tuesday, March 11, 2014 8:13 PM|
CLEVELAND — With wads of money to spend, the Browns didn’t waste any time shoving millions into two defensive holes they created this winter.
During the furious first few hours of free agency Tuesday, the team agreed to terms with strong safety Donte Whitner, a Cleveland native who can’t wait to play in his hometown.
“I must now embark on my intended journey and become a Cleveland Brown,” Whitner wrote on his Twitter account. “A place that’s very dear to my heart!”
Also, the Browns reportedly struck a deal with inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who resurrected his career last season in his second stint with Arizona.
The team has not made any announcements.
With $49 million of space under the salary cap to sign players, new Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer addressed two pressing needs after the club decided not to re-sign safety T.J. Ward (Denver) or linebacker D’Qwell Jackson — the Browns’ top tacklers last season and two of their best players.
Whitner’s deal is reportedly worth $28 million over four years and Dansby’s is for $24 million — $14 million guaranteed — over four years.
Farmer could be working on a blockbuster deal as the Browns are said to be interested in trading with Tampa Bay for shut-down cornerback Darrelle Revis. If they can land Revis and pair him alongside Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the Browns would have arguably the NFL’s best tandem of cornerbacks. The Buccaneers are eager to part with Revis, who makes $16 million a year.
Revis has a previous relationship with Browns coach Mike Pettine, who coached him in New York.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Whitner is returning to Cleveland to help turn around a franchise he pulled for as a kid. As word of his signing leaked out shortly after 4 p.m., Whitner, who played at Ohio State before he was drafted by Buffalo, tweeted “O-H” in a nod to both his alma mater and home state.
After playing 14 seasons in Cleveland, 49ers kicker Phil Dawson can appreciate Whitner’s excitement about the homecoming.
“If most guys are honest, they have a soft spot in their hearts for their hometown and obviously Donte’s getting to go home,” Dawson said on a conference call after receiving a new 2-year deal with San Francisco. “One thing I know about Cleveland is when you grow up there, you wear orange and brown. No matter where you go or how far you’ve been gone, if you’ve grown up in Cleveland, you’re a Browns’ fan.”
Whitner spent five seasons with the Bills, who selected him with the No. 8 overall pick in 2006. Nicknamed “Hitner,” the 28-year-old signed a 3-year, $11.75 million free agent deal with San Francisco in 2011 and played three seasons with the 49ers, getting to the NFC championship each year.
He’s been durable, missing just one game in the past four seasons.
The 6-4, 250-pound Dansby fills the void left following the surprising departure of Jackson, the respected captain and team leader.
Dansby, 32, finished 122 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks and four interceptions with the Cardinals last season. He spent his first six years with Arizona, signed with Miami for three and then returned to the Cardinals as a free agent in 2013.
Ware’s, Peppers’ exits biggest early free agency move
A couple of accomplished NFL pass rushers suddenly became available when DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers were released to create room under the salary cap in two of the biggest moves at Tuesday’s start of the free-agency signing period.
The Bears cut ties with Peppers, who has 118½ sacks in 12 seasons, as part of a series of moves aimed at improving their defense, including a 5-year contract with former Raiders end Lamarr Houston.
The Cowboys let Ware and his 117 sacks go.
With the cap rising $10 million to a record $133 million, a crop of players quickly found new homes as soon as the market officially opened Tuesday afternoon — and safeties and offensive linemen were popular commodities.
About 5½ hours after free agency began, one of the top players available, 3-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, agreed to terms with the Saints, part of a merry-go-round of moves at his position. Other safeties swapping clubs: Michael Jenkins, from Saints to Eagles; Antoine Bethea from Colts to 49ers; Mike Mitchell from Panthers to Steelers; Ryan Mundy from Giants to Bears.
In addition to jettisoning Peppers and adding Houston and Mundy, Chicago agreed to 1-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.
Deals for offensive linemen were highlighted by Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert’s 5-year contract with the Dolphins. Albert left Kansas City to take over the position played at the start of last season by Jonathan Martin, whose exit from Miami in October led to an NFL inquiry into bullying on the team.
Late Tuesday, Martin was traded by the Dolphins to the 49ers.
Former Houston Texans defensive tackle Earl Mitchell also agreed to terms on a $16 million, 4-year deal with Miami, part of a busy first day of free agency for new Dolphins’ general manager Dennis Hickey.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer and the Cardinals agreed to a 5-year contract worth up to $35 million. Veldheer left the Raiders, who replaced him by giving former Rams lineman Rodger Saffold a 5-year deal. Another left tackle, Eugene Monroe, agreed to a 5-year contract to stay with the Ravens.
Guards switching teams: Zane Beadles was joining the Jaguars from the Broncos, pending a physical; the Falcons agreed to terms with Jon Asamoah, who left the Chiefs; the Redskins struck a deal with Shawn Lauvao, who left the Browns. The Redskins also agreed to terms with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts and special teams standout Adam Hayward and scheduled a visit with cornerback Corey Graham.
The Jaguars also were busy, including a trade that sent quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, an agreement with former Vikings running back Toby Gerhart and re-signing cornerback Will Blackmon to a 2-year deal.
Kick returner and receiver Dexter McCluster went to the Titans from the Chiefs; defensive end Arthur Jones joined the Colts from the Ravens; defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai joined the Falcons.
Amid it all, the Ware and Peppers departures might have been the most significant developments.
The 31-year-old Ware, who went to seven Pro Bowls while in Dallas, was set to count $16 million against the salary cap. By releasing him now, the Cowboys, who were right up against the cap, saved more than $7 million. Ware had a career-low six sacks last season, his ninth in Dallas. He missed time with a thigh injury, then had offseason elbow surgery.
Others released included Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb (who failed a physical), Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, Eagles safety Patrick Chung, Bengals center Kyle Cook and Texans TE Owen Daniels and CB Brice McCain.
Among players staying put:
—RB Darren McFadden was given a $4 million, 1-year contract by the Raiders.
—KR-WR Brandon Tate re-signed with the Bengals.
—PK Adam Vinatieri, the 41-year-old with four Super Bowl rings, agreed to a 2-year contract with the Colts. Other PKs getting new contracts: Nick Folk (Jets), Phil Dawson (49ers), Dan Carpenter (Bills).
—CB Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts.
—RB Joique Bell is now signed with the Lions for $9.3 million over three years, with $4.3 million guaranteed, as is WR Kevin Ogletree (1-year deal).
—LB Perry Riley and the Redskins agreed to a deal worth about $13 million over three years, with about $4.25 million in guaranteed money. Washington also re-signed WR Santana Moss.
—DT Jonathan Babineaux got a 3-year contract from the Falcons.
—TE Anthony McCoy got a 1-year deal from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks after he missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
— WR Andre Caldwell got a 2-year contract from the Broncos.
— Kick returner Leon Washington returned to Tennessee on a 1-year contract.
— DE Everson Griffin and QB Matt Cassel finalized contracts to stay with Minnesota.
— TE Matt Caussin re-signed with Buffalo.