Early signings by Dolphins, 49ers kick off frantic free-agency period
Everyone expected a quick start to free agency, but the limited market of players made things even crazier than normal Friday morning.
Less than a hour after the 12:01 a.m. start to free agency, the Dolphins reached a five-year, $25 million deal with 49ers guard Justin Smiley that included a $9 million guarantee. The Raiders quickly made contact with 49ers tackle Kwame Harris and may try to do something at a similar price although talks are in the early stages.
The 49ers wasted no time hitting their free agency shopping list. They agreed with Vikings linebacker Dontarrious Thomas on a two-year deal and allowed Lions quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan to be re-united with new 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz by agreeing to a one-year, $645,000 contract. The 49ers also locked up a two-year, $1.8 million deal with former Panthers halfback DeShaun Foster and a one-year, $870,000 deal with kick-returner/cornerback Allen Rossum, a former Steeler.
The post-midnight contact for Steelers guard Alan Faneca set the stage for a possible $8 million-a-year deal before Monday. The 49ers, Rams and Jets contacted Faneca's agent, Rick Smith, after midnight to set up visits. Faneca plans to spend Friday mapping out plans and visit a team Sunday. The Cardinals expressed interest in Faneca but indicated to him they couldn't do an $8 million-a-year deal now because of Larry Fitzgerald's contract. Fitzgerald has a $16.48 million cap number this year and the team hasn't been able to restructure his contract.
The phone was busy for Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, with the Eagles making the early calls and winning the first visit. Samuel is hoping to get a five-year, $50 million or six-year, $62 million contract.
Things were tight-lipped around Randy Moss, the Patriots' receiver who wasn't franchised and is technically a free agent. Many believe he will re-sign in New England, but there was no deal in place at the start of free agency.
The Falcons contacted Seahawks kicker Josh Brown and also tried to convince Chargers running back Michael Turner to make a visit on Friday. The Panthers convinced Raiders defensive end Tyler Brayton to make Carolina his first visit. The Vikings and 49ers battled it out to convince Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, but Smith informed the 49ers he will make San Francisco his first stop.
Late deals to keep players prevented some suitors from getting visits. Defensive tackle Brian Young is considering an offer to re-sign with the Saints and declined a visit. Chris Redman is considering re-signing with the Falcons.
Plenty of trades are expected to be announced Friday. The Packers traded franchise defensive tackle Corey Williams to the Browns for a second-round choice. Williams is expected to sign a six-year, $38 million contract. The Saints are close to finishing a trade for Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Panthers defensive tackle Kris Jenkins is heading to the Jets for a third- and fifth-round pick. Vikings wide receiver Troy Williamson will go to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud are also on the trading block and deals could move quickly involving them.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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2008 FREE AGENCY
NFL teams began shopping for free agents on Feb. 29, with approximately 320 players available. Randy Moss (right), one of the top free agents available, re-signed with the Pats.
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