The NFL's 365-days-a-year business kept moving on Thursday, with one high-profile signing and another high-profile release. In addition to those moves, other teams are scrambling to get themselves in good salary cap position when the free agency period begins on March 11.
Here is a closer look at all the pertinent moves in the AFC on Thursday.
The Champ doesn't live here anymore
The Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl, and if that wasn't bad enough, they've also lost one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history, Champ Bailey, by releasing the veteran on Thursday. Bailey has spent the last 10 seasons with the Broncos, and in the eight of those years when he played at least 14 games, Bailey was named to the Pro Bowl. He missed all but five games last year, however, and the 35-year-old is coming off of the worst season of his career.
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SB Nation NFL
The move saves Denver considerable cap room and gives the Broncos more negotiating power with the two cornerbacks that took over and played well in 2013: Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As Mile High Report noted on Wednesday, they could also take a look at safety Jairus Byrd or cornerback Darrelle Revis thanks to the money saved by releasing Bailey.
Pats Pulpit wrote on Thursday that New England may also be interested in a trade for Revis.
Jackson signing doesn't sit well with many observers
The Indianapolis Colts signed recently released inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million contract with $11 million guaranteed on Thursday. While the Colts' defense could use an upgrade, particularly against the run, where they ranked 26th in yards allowed, most don't seem to think that Jackson was the answer to that problem, according to Stampede Blue.
Especially at that price:
However, as we've seen time and time again, the market isn't an indicator of how good or bad a player is. Chump teams often overpay for chump talent. Just because the friggin' Titans may have wanted to give Jackson $22 million doesn't mean the Colts get a pass for actually doing it. Smart teams use their cap wisely to improve their rosters with cheap talent. See the Seahawks and Cliff Avril in 2013 as a good example.
Jackson has been the oft-leading tackler for the Cleveland Browns for the last seven years, but Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the 10-worst run defenders among inside linebackers last season.
Matt Cassel could be interested in Texans, vice versa
There was a time when Matt Cassel was notable for the sheer lack of experience he had, but since taking over the Patriots offense just one game into the 2008 season, Cassel has seriously padded his resume. It's just a matter of whether or not you think his experience added is any good.
As Battle Red Blog notes, O'Brien was the receivers coach in New England at the time when Cassel saw his meteoric rise from nameless backup to legitimate starter. Or, at least, semi-legitimate:
Since leaving the Josh McDaniels umbrella in New England, Cassel has largely been a pedestrian quarterback. The former Patriot, Chief, and Viking has posted only one season of more than 3,000 yards (3116 to be exact) after 2008 and only two seasons in his entire career with 20 or more touchdowns (21 and 27 respectively). In 2012, Cassel lead an extremely talented Chiefs roster stocked with Pro Bowlers all the way to a 2-14 record and the first overall pick. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is.
Cassel opted out of his deal in Minnesota to test the free agent market after starting six games last season and compiling 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a QB rating of 81.6.
Ravens have made 'aggressive' offers to their pending free agents
Baltimore was unsuccessful in repeating its Super Bowl success of a year ago, but unlike last offseason when the Ravens lost key players to free agency, trades and retirement, they plan on retaining their own guys in 2014. After signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a new five-year deal, head coach John Harbaugh told the media that the team has made "aggressive" offers to all of its important pending free agents.
Jason Butt at Baltimore Beat Down notes that the negotiations between Baltimore and tackle Eugene Monroe don't appear to be close, but if they can't get it done, then safety Daryl Smith is the second priority.
Steel of a deal
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a flurry of roster moves this week to get back near the estimated $133 million 2014 salary cap, including new extensions for safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller. Behind the Steel Curtain noted on Thursday that it was important to keep those two players around anyway, while it does also save them an exorbitant amount of money for next season.
Getting Polamalu taken care of to make it more likely that he will retire with the same team that drafted him was especially important:
Polamalu has meant too much to this franchise. He has meant too much to the Rooney’s, and too much to the fans. Throughout his career he has shown unconditional loyalty, humility and a quiet leadership, and in return he will be allowed to retire in the Black and Gold. This is the ultimate show of loyalty from the Rooney’s.
Bills make moves with everyone but Byrd
The Buffalo Bills have had a busy week, but as of Thursday it still seems as though star safety Jairus Byrd will hit free agency and likely land somewhere else.
The Bills signed safety Aaron Williams to a new four-year deal that extends his rookie contract through 2018, while also tendering offers to four exclusive-rights free agents, including receiver Chris Hogan. Buffalo is also visiting with linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Jameel McClain. What the team has not been able to do is secure Byrd, opting to not apply the franchise tag to him for the second year in a row.
While Byrd has said that the lines of communication are still open with the Bills, the folks at Buffalo Rumblings, who have seen a large number of young players walk away once they hit free agency, seem unconvinced that Byrd will be back in 2014:
That means that a contract standoff that started with a franchise tag last year, and which has lasted for more than a full calendar year, now has an expiration date: either the Bills will sign Byrd to a long-term extension by 4PM ET on March 11, or they won't, and Byrd will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, where he will quickly be gobbled up as one of this spring's most coveted commodities. The latter is far more likely than the former.