Titans agree to terms with pair of Patriots' free agents
The Tennessee Titans are doing their best to recreate the Patriot Way in Music City.
General manager Jon Robinson, hired in January 2016, got his NFL start as a New England scout. Robinson signed cornerback Logan Ryan as a free agent last year. He then hired Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls as a Patriots linebacker, as Tennessee's new coach in January after the Titans' season ended in Foxborough in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Now the Titans are kicking off free agency by agreeing to deals with a pair of Patriots in cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis.
Agent Derek Simpson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Butler will sign a five-year deal worth more than $60 million, which includes more than $30 million guaranteed, once free agency begins. A person familiar with the deal told the AP that Lewis has agreed on a four-year contract worth a maximum value of $23.4 million .
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because signings can't become official until the start of the new league year on Wednesday. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the deal.
The Titans declined to comment because free agency does not begin until Wednesday afternoon. Tennessee had approximately $59 million in salary cap space to spend after releasing running back DeMarco Murray and three other players last week.
Veteran running back Adrian Peterson was released by the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, and receiver Jordy Nelson — Aaron Rodgers' favorite target — was let go by the Green Bay Packers
Meanwhile, Drew Brees is also staying put in the Big Easy, Case Keenum is headed to the Rocky Mountains, and Kirk Cousins will make his first visit as a free agent to Minnesota. The Vikings long have been considered a natural landing spot for one of the most valuable quarterbacks available.
The 28-year-old Butler is a Vicksburg, Mississippi, native who went undrafted out of West Alabama but spent the past four seasons with the Patriots. Butler started 48 of his 59 games and has eight career interceptions. He was the hero of New England's Super Bowl win after the 2014 season, intercepting a pass to seal the 28-24 victory over Seattle.
The New Orleans Saints pursued Butler as a restricted free agent last year, but the trade price was too high.
The cornerback was well-respected in the Patriots' locker room and played last season under a $3.9 million tender offer. After a slow start, he ended up playing 98 percent of New England's defensive snaps and finished the season with two interceptions.
Butler started the Patriots' first two playoff games before he was mysteriously benched for the Super Bowl. He played only one snap — on special teams — in New England's 41-33 loss to Philadelphia. Butler later denied any off-field misconduct, saying he never missed a curfew or did anything to hurt the Patriots' chances.
His two interceptions were the same number as fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was signed by the Patriots to a five-year, $65 million deal last spring.
The Titans will add Butler to a secondary already featuring Ryan and Adoree Jackson, who started 16 games after being drafted 18th overall. Ryan wrote on Twitter earlier Tuesday that he was working the phones recruiting free agents to Tennessee.
The Titans ranked 13th in total defense and improved slightly against the pass, giving up 239.3 yards through the air to move from 30th in 2016 to 25th overall.
After releasing Murray, the Titans needed more help for quarterback Marcus Mariota and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
Lewis joins a backfield already featuring Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, who had bided his time behind Murray his first two seasons. Lewis is a big receiving threat with 109 catches in his three seasons with New England, even with his first season in 2015 cut short by knee surgery after seven games.
He played just seven games during his return in 2016, but he had a career season in 2017, leading New England with 896 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He also had three receiving scores and was the Patriots' best kickoff returner, posting a 103-yard return for a touchdown against Denver.
Seven-time All-Pro running back Peterson began last season with New Orleans but, after barely playing there, was dealt to the Cardinals. Peterson rushed for 134 yards in a win over Tampa Bay and 159 in a win over San Francisco. In six games, he gained 448 yards on 129 carries for Arizona before being sidelined with a neck injury.
Peterson, who turns 33 next week, ranks 12th in the NFL in career rushing with 12,276 yards.
Nelson had 550 receptions and 69 touchdown catches in 10 seasons in Green Bay. But his production declined last season with Rodgers sidelined much of the year by a collarbone injury. He missed the 2015 season with a major knee injury, and then was the 2016 Comeback Player of the Year.
"We cannot thank Jordy enough for all that he has given the Green Bay Packers and our community for the past 10 years," general manager Brian Gutekunst said. "He has been an exemplary professional and teammate and greatly contributed to our success."
Brees has agreed to a two-year, $50 million extension with New Orleans, with $27 million guaranteed the first year, two people familiar with the contract told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the agreement has not been announced.
Brees is 39 and wants to finish his career in New Orleans, where he has played since 2006, won a Super Bowl and led what has been one of the most productive offenses in the NFL since he and coach Sean Payton arrived.
"I'll be here as long as they'll have me," Brees said after last season ended.
In 2017, Brees completed an NFL-record 72 percent of his passes for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He ranked fourth in the NFL in yards passing and the Saints ranked second in the NFL in total offense.
Keenum, a backup when the season began, guided Minnesota to the NFC North title and then into the conference championship game. He'll cash in with the Broncos.
The 30-year-old Keenum is considered the second-best QB available in free agency after Cousins. He went 11-3 with 3,547 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His last-second throw to Stefon Diggs stunned the Saints 29-24 in the playoffs.
Denver chose to bypass incumbents Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch and go for Keenum, who can't sign until Wednesday.
Six years ago, GM John Elway landed Peyton Manning, the biggest free-agent prize in NFL history, following his release by the Colts and a series of neck fusion surgeries. Manning guided the Broncos to two Super Bowls and won the 2015 NFL championship. Now, Elway hopes another free agent will replicate Manning.
Cousins will visit with the Vikings on Wednesday, agent Mike McCartney said. ESPN reported that Cousins will sign with the Vikings, but McCartney said no decision has been made yet by his client.
The Jets and Cardinals also made sense as fits for the 29-year-old who played consecutive seasons for Washington on franchise tags. New York, however, re-signed last year's starter, veteran Josh McCown, and Arizona made a deal with Minnesota's Sam Bradford.
In other moves:
• Super Bowl champion Philadelphia lost two tight ends, cutting veteran Brent Celek, then saw Trey Burton agree to a four-year, $32 million contract with Chicago. Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Corey Nelson have agreed to one-year contracts with the Eagles.
The Bears also will be signing Jacksonville receiver Allen Robinson on Wednesday and kicker Cody Parkey.
• Buffalo bolstered its interior defensive line, agreeing to a deal with Carolina tackle Star Lotulelei and re-signing Kyle Williams, who contemplated retirement.
• Kansas City will add wide receiver Sammy Watkins and middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, filling two glaring needs.
The 24-year-old Watkins intends to sign a $48 million, three-year contract with $30 million in guarantees, while the 25-year-old Hitchens agreed to a five-year deal, two people familiar with their decisions told the AP. The Chiefs have needed to pair a playmaking wideout with Tyreek Hill. Watkins, the 2014 fourth overall pick of the Bills, spent last season with the Rams, where he caught 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns.
• Receiver Albert Wilson is closing in on a $24 million, three-year deal with the Dolphins. Miami traded top receiver Jarvis Landry to Cleveland and has a need. They also are near an agreement with Patriots receiver Danny Amendola.
The Dolphins also cut linebacker Lawrence Timmons after just one season with them. Timmons went AWOL on the eve of last year's opener, was briefly suspended and played poorly when he returned. He signed a $12 million, two-year contract in 2017 after 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His departure clears $5.5 million in cap space for Miami.
• Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny, 33, the second-leading tackler in franchise history, retired after 11 seasons. Posluszny started his career in Buffalo before playing the final seven years in Jacksonville. He led the Jaguars in tackles five times. His 973 stops trail only Daryl Smith (1,089) in Jacksonville's record book.
The Jaguars are poised to sign All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million contract. Norwell's deal will include $30 million guaranteed.
Receiver Marqise Lee has agreed to re-sign for a four-year deal worth $38 million.
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