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NFL Weekly Transaction Tracker

Matt Pearce

By Staff Writer Matt Pearce:

The last transaction tracker before the start of free agency on March 11, most teams were active this week either re-signing, cutting or using their franchise or transition tag on different players.

Franchise and Transition Tags

Jimmy Graham

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Last Monday was the deadline for teams to place the franchise or transition tag on any of their impending free agents. Usually multiple teams use their franchise tag, but it is rare to see a transition tag used. The difference between the two is that the franchise tag completely takes the player off the free agent market while the transition tag allows the player to still test the open market, but their team gets the right to match any contract offer that the player signs. Once the player signs the transition tag tender, he can’t receive offers from other teams. This is what Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers has already done. It is basically like restricted free agency without draft pick compensation if the player leaves. The only exception to this is the non-exclusive franchise tag, which is what the Saints used on Jimmy Graham. This means that the player can test the free agent market and sign with another team. Their old team can match any offer, but if they don’t they will receive two-first round picks from the team that signs the player.

Since these tags have been much discussed already and because this week also saw numerous other moves, I am just going to list the tagged players and not go in depth for them.

The Carolina Panthers place their franchise tag on DE Greg Hardy. This tag is worth $13.1 million.
The Cleveland Browns place their transition tag on C Alex Mack. This tag is worth $10.04 million.
The New Orleans Saints place their franchise tag on TE Jimmy Graham. This tag is worth $7.05 million.
The New York Jets place their franchise tag on K Nick Folk. This tag is worth $3.56 million.
The Pittsburgh Steelers place their transition tag on OLB Jason Worilds. This tag is worth $9.75 million.
The Washington Redskins place their franchise tag on OLB Brian Orakpo. This tag is worth $11.5 million.

Baltimore Ravens re-sign TE Dennis Pitta

Up first this week is Pitta, the tight end for the Baltimore Ravens.

An impending free agent, he signed a five-year deal worth $32 million with $16 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $11 million. This pays him as a top-10 tight end, which he is.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 28-year old (29 at the start of the season) has quickly developed into quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target.

Off the field, the two are best friends and on the field, this relationship carries over. Flacco’s favorite receiver to look for is Pitta. This is one of the reasons why Flacco struggled this last season as Pitta missed the first 12 games with a hip injury.

Early in training camp, Pitta landed badly on his hip after making a leaping catch. In doing so, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time, it was thought that he would be out for the season. However, just before the season began, the Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return. This allowed to to return later in the season and he didn’t have to take up a roster spot while recovering.

He finished this past season with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown in just four games.

His best season came the year before when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. For the season, the sure-handed Pitta had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including four catches for 26 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Not run blocker by any means, he is a pure pass-catching tight end––something that has become more and more common over the recent years. He spends a lot of his time lined up in the slot a receiver to create mismatches over the middle of the field. This led to speculation that he could have been ruled a wide receiver if the Ravens placed the franchise tag on him. Thanks to this new deal though, that won’t be necessary.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to utilize tight ends and two tight end sets in his offense. While he has remade his offense to better fit the Ravens, expect Pitta to be a key component of this offense. Currently, Pitta is the only tight end under contract with the Ravens right now, so more work is needed at this position.

It may look like he is overpaid a bit, but consider two things: he is Flacco’s favorite target and tight ends are becoming more important to offenses every year. Even at $6.4 million per year, Pitta is only in the top-10 for tight ends in terms of average value of the contract. He is certainly a top-10 tight end the NFL and is worth more to the Ravens than any other team.

San Diego Chargers re-sign ILB Donald Butler

Receiving the longest contract of the week is Butler who signed a deal that can go up to seven years.

However, there is a catch. After the third year of the contract, there is a team option. If that is picked up, then he stays for another four years, if not then he becomes a free agent. The first three years of the deal are worth about $20 million with $12 million guaranteed. If the team option is picked up, then another $15 million becomes guaranteed and will take the total value of the contract up to $48 million.

No doubt, this is a creative contract that provides protection to the team in case he struggles. A potential reason for this type of contract is that he has sustained numerous injuries so far in his NFL career.

After being drafted by the Chargers in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 25-year old has started 40 games for the team. The only full season that he has played in was his second year. His rookie season, he tore his Achilles tendon before the season started. In his third season, he missed four games and he missed three games this season due to a groin injury.

In that only full season, he recorded 96 tackles, two sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles. This past season, he had 84 tackles, 0.5 sacks and one interception.

According to Pro Football Focus, his 2011 season was the best of his career. This season, he ranked as the 45th best inside linebacker (out of 55). He struggled all around, but his worst grade came in coverage.

Essentially, this is a three-year contract that averages $6.6 million per year. This is a lot of money for a player that struggled last season, but the team is obviously banking on their defensive leader improving over the coming years. However, if his play continues to be similar, San Diego overpaid.

Philadelphia Eagles re-sign WR Jeremy Maclin

After re-signing three key players last week, the Eagles continue to work by signing the 25-year old Maclin to a one-year deal.

This one-year deal is worth a maximum of $6 million and contains $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

The reason why this is a one-year deal is because Maclin missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. He––smartly––was willing to take a one-year deal to prove that he is fully recovered and allow him to cash in even better next offseason.

Drafted by the Eagles with the 19th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Missouri, he has started 57 games for Philadelphia in four seasons of play. (He has been with the team for five years, but he saw no playing time last season due to his torn ACL.)

Statistically speaking, his best season came in 2010––his second year in the league. Catching 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns, he set career-highs in all three of these categories. Pro Football Focus grades his best season as his rookie year.

In his last season played, he caught 69 passes for 857 yards and seven touchdowns.

It will be interesting to see how he can perform in head coach Chip Kelly’s imaginative offense. Maclin has great speed and was expected to play a major role in the offense last season before his injury.

This signing gives the Eagles a potent wide receiving corps of DeSean Jackson (who may or may not be on the trade block right now), Riley Cooper and Maclin.

For the Eagles, there is no risk involved in this deal since it is just for one year. Teams can’t go wrong with one-year “prove it” deals. He could blow up and have a great season or he could get injured again or he could perform badly. If he plays well, then the Eagles have a good player on a cheap deal. If he does bad or gets injured again, they have no future money committed to him.

Miami Dolphins re-sign CB Brent Grimes

Last up this week is Grimes, who signed a four-year deal after playing last season on a “prove it” deal like Maclin will do this season.

Grimes did well for himself, turning the one-year “prove it” deal worth $5.5 million––very similar to Maclin––into a four-year deal worth just over $32 million with $16.95 million guaranteed.

The reason that Grimes took a one-year deal last offseason was because he was coming off a torn Achilles tendon. He was playing that season––2012––under the franchise tag after failing to reach a long-term agreement with the Atlanta Falcons.

Prior to signing with the Dolphins last season, he had only played for the Falcons. After the 2006 NFL Draft, they signed him as an undrafted free agent. After spending time with the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe, he made the Falcons roster in the 2007.

He then became a part-time starter in 2008 and 2009. After intercepting six passes in 2009 (a career-high), he became a full-time starter in 2010.

According to Pro Football Focus, his best season came in 2011––which led to him being franchise tagged––but last season came a very close second. This year saw him grade as the second best cornerback in the league behind only Darrelle Revis. (In 2011 Grimes was the third best.)

Averaging $8 million per year, this deal is fair for both sides. Without him the Dolphins severely lacked cornerback depth. Now he finally gets that long-term contract that he was looking for back in 2012.

Other Moves:

I’ve highlighted some transactions below in red to point them out as they were also significant. There were so many moves this week that not all could be discussed in depth.

The Arizona Cardinals release LB Jasper Brinkley.
The Arizona Cardinals sign C John Estes.
The Arizona Cardinals re-sign DT Alameda Ta’amu.
The Atlanta Falcons re-sign DT Corey Peters.
Atlanta Falcons RB Jason Snelling has announced his retirement.
The Buffalo Bills cut LB Willie Jefferson.
The Buffalo Bills re-sign CB Brandon Smith to a two-year deal.
The Buffalo Bills re-sign S Aaron Williams to a four-year deal.
The Carolina Panthers re-sign K Graham Gano to a four-year deal.
The Chicago Bears re-sign CB Kelvin Hayden.
The Chicago Bears cut P Adam Podlesh.
The Chicago Bears re-sign DT Jeremiah Ratliff to a two-year deal.
The Chicago Bears sign DE Trevor Scott.
The Cincinnati Bengals re-sign G Mike Pollak to a three-year deal.
The Cleveland Browns release WR Davone Bess.
The Cleveland Browns cut WR Bryan Tyms.
The Cleveland Browns cut LB Paul Hazel.
The Cleveland Browns re-sign K Billy Cundiff.
The Dallas Cowboys release DE Everette Brown.
The Dallas Cowboys cut OT Jeff Olson.
The Dallas Cowboys cut OL Ray Dominguez.
The Dallas Cowboys cut DL Corvey Irvin.
The Dallas Cowboys cut C Phil Costa.
The Denver Broncos release CB Champ Bailey.
The Detroit Lions cut OL Leroy Harris.
The Detroit Lions sign DT Corvey Irvin.
The Houston Texans re-sign OLB Ricky Sapp.
The Houston Texans cut LB Evan Frierson.
The Indianapolis Colts sign LB D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year deal.
The Indianapolis Colts cut C Samson Satele.
The Jacksonville Jaguars release G Uche Nwaneri.
The Jacksonville Jaguars re-sign OT Cameron Bradfield to a two-year deal.
The Jacksonville Jaguars re-sign TE Clay Harbor to a two-year deal.
The Jacksonville Jaguars re-sign OT Sam Young.
The Kansas City Chiefs release LB Robert James.
The Kansas City Chiefs release TE Dominique Jones.
The Miami Dolphins re-sign QB Pat Devlin.
The Minnesota Vikings release TE John Carlson.
The Minnesota Vikings release DT Letroy Guion.
The Minnesota Vikings release WR Greg Childs.
The New England Patriots release S Steve Gregory.
The New York Jets claim CB Johnny Patrick off waivers.
The Oakland Raiders re-sign OL Khalif Barnes.
The Philadelphia Eagles re-sign DE Cedric Thornton.
The Philadelphia Eagles release WR Jason Avant.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sign TE Heath Miller to a two-year contract extension.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sign S Troy Polamalu to a two-year contract extension.
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut LB Larry Foote.
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut OT Levi Brown.
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut CB Curtis Brown.
The Pittsburgh Steelers re-sign S Will Allen.
The San Diego Chargers release FB Le’Ron McClain.
The San Diego Chargers cut CB Derek Cox.
The San Diego Chargers release CB Johnny Patrick.
The San Francisco 49ers re-sign WR Anquan Boldin to a two-year deal.
The Seattle Seahawks release WR Sidney Rice.
The Seattle Seahawks release DE Red Bryant.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-sign RB Bobby Rainey.
The Tennessee Titans re-sign S Bernard Pollard to a two-year deal.
The Tennessee Titans re-sign DE Ropati Pitoitua to a three-year deal.
The Washington Redskins re-sign S Jose Gumbs.
The Washington Redskins release DE Adam Carriker.
The Washington Redskins release P Sav Rocca.
The Washington Redskins cut TE Richard Quinn.
The Washington Redskins cut RB Davin Meggett.
The Washington Redskins cut RB Jawan Jamison.

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