The NFL free agent frenzy is scheduled to begin next week, but there was a late and surprise addition to the free agent crop last week. Brandon Browner joined the list of soon to be free agents on Tuesday when he was reinstated by the league after the NFL and his representatives agreed on a reduced suspension.
Browner was suspended indefinitely in December after violating the NFL's policy for substance abuse. The length of the suspension was a result of Browner failing a test while in Stage 3 of the NFL's drug program. Browner and his agent, however, argued that Browner shouldn't have been in Stage 3. He was elevated into the program due to missed drug tests while he was out of the NFL and playing in the Canadian Football League. Browner was reportedly planning to file a lawsuit against the NFL before the two sides came to an agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, Browner is eligible to become a free agent and can participate in all team activities, including offseason workouts and the preseason. He will, however, have to serve a four-game suspension to begin the season. He'll be eligible in Week 5, but will play an additional four games without pay. Browner was suspended the final two games of the 2013 regular season, so the complete suspension amounts to six games, and 10 game checks. He was also suspended through Seattle's Super Bowl run.
Although he still has games to serve and will miss a half-season of pay next year, the timing of the agreement is excellent for Browner. Had he remained indefinitely suspended, he wouldn't have been eligible for reinstatement until late next season and likely would have missed the entire 2014 season. Now, the 29-year-old will become a free agent. His market value is reduced because of the suspension, but he'll land a job somewhere next season, something he likely couldn't say otherwise. Add in the fact that he'll get paid for half a season and avoid a costly lawsuit and this deal is likely a win for the cornerback.
There is a chance he could prove to be one of the steals of the free agent market. His suspension issues make it unlikely he'll receive significant guaranteed money. He may even be forced to settle for a one-year deal worth around the veteran minimum. If that's the case and he goes to a team that can utilize his unique skill set, Browner could be a bargain next year.
Champ Bailey's 10-year run in Denver came to an end last week when the Broncos released the veteran cornerback. The 35-year-old Bailey struggled with injuries last season and played just five games during the regular season. Once the top corner in football, Bailey was set to earn $9 million in base salary and his release saves the Broncos $10 million in salary cap space.
Bailey said he plans to play another season, but it won't be in Denver. According to reports, the Broncos did not approach Bailey about a reduced contract and do not have any intentions to sign him to a lesser deal. Instead, Bailey will likely sign with a new team, changing uniforms for the first time since the Broncos traded for him in 2004. He said he'd like to remain at corner, but is open to playing safety in the right situation.
Indianapolis got a jump on free agency, signing inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a four-year deal worth $22 million, including $11 million guaranteed. While free agency doesn't begin until next week, Jackson was free to sign after he was released by the Cleveland Browns. Jackson has been an excellent defender during his career and racked up impressive tackle numbers, but his play has declined in recent seasons. He will turn 31 next season, which makes Indianapolis' decision to give him $11 million guaranteed a bit questionable. Pro Football Focus graded Jackson as the No. 42 inside linebacker last season, actually making him a downgrade over Pat Angerer, who isn't expected to return to the Colts.
As Brad Wells of Stampede Blue wrote, the deal has not been well received around the NFL with many questioning the move. Wells said the criticism is justified:
$11 million in guaranteed money for a player like Jackson, who is now on the other side of 30, is not being "prudent" in free agency, as Ryan Grigson said the Colts would be in free agency this year. That's a fair criticism, especially in light of all the overpaid, free agent busts Grigson has inked over the last two season.
The hope is Grigson got this one right. That would, however, be going against the norm when it comes to the Colts' third-year G.M. and free agency.
Up against the salary cap and with Jimmy Graham still without a long-term deal, the Saints released a pair of productive veterans this week to create salary cap space. Darren Sproles, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas were rumored to be on the trade block earlier in the week. With no deals happening, New Orleans eventually released Moore and Sproles,
Sproles was released on Friday with the move creating $3.5 million in salary cap space. He played a key role in New Orleans' backfield rotation, setting the NFL record for all-purpose yards in 2011. His production dropped last season and while he remained a valuable piece of the offense, the Saints were in desperate need of salary cap space and had little choice.
By releasing the 30-year-old Moore, New Orleans added another $3.8 million in salary cap space. A year after topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, Moore's production dipped last year. He finished the season with 457 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2009.
The moves created more than $7 million in salary cap space, giving New Orleans roughly $8 million in cap room heading into free agency. Thomas remains on the team for now. He could be a cap causality down the road, with a move saving an additional $2.9 million in salary cap space.
As the top free agent quarterback available, Michael Vick should have a few options on the free agent market. Minnesota could be one of those options, and the Vikings' All-Pro running back would apparently be all for it. Adrian Peterson tweeted that Vick would make the Vikings a playoff team. It's hard to argue he's wrong either. Minnesota has some pieces in place on both sides of the ball and made the playoffs in 2012 despite poor quarterback play. The Vikings couldn't overcome those issues last season, but Vick could be the upgrade they need.