Roundup: Bucs grab CB Verner, DE Johnson

The Tampa Bay Bucs got two players the Vikings had expressed an interest in over the past few days, DE Michael Johnson and CB Alterraun Verner. But that was only a small part of the action on the opening day of free agency.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun an overhaul of their roster, agreeing to contracts with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson and two other potential new starters on the first day of free agency.

In addition to landing Verner, who had five interceptions for the Tennessee Titans last season, and Johnson, who had 11½ sacks for the Cincinnati Bengals two years ago, the team announced Tuesday through its website that it also has agreements with former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and ex-New York Giants tight end Brandon Myers.

The club scheduled a news conference Wednesday to introduce the additions.

The signings are the first major moves for new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, who were hired in January following the firings of former coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik.

SAINTS SIGN BYRD

The New Orleans Saints agreed to a six-year contract with safety Jairus Byrd on Tuesday, shoring up a depleted defensive backfield that lost a safety to free agency and recently released another one.

Byrd's contract was announced at the end of the first day of NFL free agency. It gives the Saints another hard-hitting safety to pair with Kenny Vaccaro.

The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Byrd, a former second-round pick by Buffalo, has gone to three Pro Bowls in his five seasons. He has 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and three sacks since entering the NFL in 2009 out of Oregon.

"We had hoped for the opportunity to pursue Jairus Byrd," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement released by the club. "After meeting with him, we are excited that he will become a member of the New Orleans Saints. We think that his playmaking abilities will be an excellent fit with what we are trying to accomplish with our defense and in our secondary."

New Orleans lost free agent Malcolm Jenkins to Philadelphia earlier Tuesday and released safety Roman Harper in February. Vaccaro was the only safety remaining on the Saints' roster.

The 27-year-old Byrd played in 11 games last season with Buffalo, and finished with 48 tackles, four interceptions and a sack. He missed the first five games of the season with a foot injury.

"We played against the Saints this year and I saw their style of play and was impressed by it," Byrd said in a statement. "I think I will fit well in the scheme. This is a great opportunity to join a championship organization. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and being part of a great Saints defense."

MARTIN TRADED TO 49ERS

Jonathan Martin is returning to familiar territory, months after he accused a teammate of bullying and left the Miami Dolphins.

The offensive tackle is headed back to the Bay Area to play for Jim Harbaugh.

Martin was traded from Miami to the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday night, reuniting the lineman with his college coach at Stanford and a support staff he knows so well. In fact, Harbaugh publicly expressed his support of Martin last year.

The Dolphins announced the move late on the first day of NFL free agency. San Francisco then confirmed the trade, saying only that it would send an undisclosed draft choice to Miami and that Martin still must pass a physical to complete the deal.

"Big news.... Beyond Blessed ... Opportunities are few in the NFL... Can't wait to get to work (hashtag)9erEmpire," Martin posted on Twitter.

The 24-year-old Martin's move cross country brings him back to Northern California, but he is already in town — back on the Stanford campus taking classes.

"This is great for him to get back on the field and he's in Palo Alto right now. It couldn't be much better," his agent, Ken Zuckerman, said in a phone interview. "I just think everyone wanted this to happen. Harbaugh knows Jonathan, I think the Dolphins were compensated and Jonathan wants to get back on the field. It's a good day."

An investigation for the NFL determined last month that Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and two other offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.

The trade capped a busy first day for the 49ers, who lost to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game.

Martin left the Dolphins in late October, underwent counseling for emotional issues and alleged he was harassed by teammates. Incognito was then suspended for the final eight games.

"We feel that this move is in the best interests of all parties involved," Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. "We wish Jonathan well."

A three-month investigation determined Incognito and two teammates engaged in persistent harassment directed at Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.

After a report on the investigation was released last month, the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill. Incognito and guard John Jerry, who was also implicated in the report, became free agents Tuesday and aren't expected to play for the Dolphins again.

Incognito has recently received treatment in the wake of the scandal. He sent tweets in recent weeks that varied dramatically in tone, including a rant blasting Martin that quickly went viral.

Martin's departure from the Dolphins had been expected. Owner Stephen Ross said in January that he didn't expect Martin to play for the team again.

The investigation for the NFL found a pattern of harassment on the Dolphins, with Martin the primary target of vicious taunts and racist insults that occurred almost daily. The report said teammates threatened to rape Martin's sister, called him a long list of slurs and bullied him for not being "black enough." Martin is black and Incognito is white.

The troubled relationship between Martin and Incognito drew national scrutiny and stirred a debate about bullying. Martin said he tried to be friends with Incognito despite their diverse backgrounds.

Martin was a classics major at Stanford, while Incognito, 30, was kicked off his team at Nebraska and went on to develop a reputation as one of the NFL's dirtiest players.

Martin, who protected Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford, was a second-round draft pick by Miami in 2012. He became a starter as a rookie but struggled at times while being shuffled between right and left tackle.

Last year he was part of a line that allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks. The Dolphins began revamping their line Tuesday by agreeing to terms with Pro Bowl left tackle Braden Albert.

Martin has two years remaining on his contract and has a base salary of $824,933 this year.

Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is the only offensive lineman involved in the bullying scandal still on Miami's roster.

PEPPERS, WARE RELEASED

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 five-year contract with former Raiders end Lamarr Houston.

The Cowboys let Ware and his 117 sacks go.

"A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring."

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, three-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; Donte Whitner from 49ers to Browns; Antoine Bethea from Colts to 49ers; T.J. Ward from Browns to Broncos; 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 one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.

Two of the most sought-after cornerbacks also were on the move. Alterraun Verner, who had five interceptions for Tennessee last season, agreed to a four-year contract with Tampa Bay and Aqib Talib left New England for a six-year deal with Denver.

Verner, 25, could wind up being a replacement for Darrelle Revis, who might be traded or cut to create more salary-cap room for the Buccaneers.

Deals for offensive linemen were highlighted by Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert's five-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.

Left tackle Jared Veldheer and the Cardinals agreed to a five-year contract worth up to $35 million. Veldheer left the Raiders, who replaced him by giving former Rams lineman Rodger Saffold a five-year deal. Another left tackle, Eugene Monroe, agreed to a five-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 two-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; defensive tackle Earl Mitchell left the Texans for the Dolphins.

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, and Bengals center Kyle Cook.

Among players staying put:

  • RB Darren McFadden was given a $4 million, one-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 two-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.

  • LB Perry Riley and WR Santana Moss re-signed with the Redskins.

  • DT Jonathan Babineaux got a three-year contract from the Falcons.

  • TE Anthony McCoy got a one-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 two-year contract from the Broncos.


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