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 agreeing to 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 offensive linemen were a popular commodity.
Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and the Dolphins agreed to a five-year contract worth more than $45 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team hadn’t made an announcement. Albert takes over the position played at the start of last season by Jonathan Martin, who left Miami in October, leading to an NFL inquiry into bullying on the team.
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, and re-signing cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year deal.
In addition to jettisoning Peppers and adding Houston, Chicago agreed to a two-year contract with safety Ryan Mundy, along with one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.
Other players changing teams: kick returner and receiver Dexter McCluster went to the Titans from the Chiefs; safety Donte Whitner said on Twitter that he left the 49ers to sign with the Browns; San Francisco replaced him by signing Antoine Bethea from the Colts; defensive end Arthur Jones joined the Colts from the Ravens; safety Malcolm Jenkins agreed to a three-year contract with the Eagles, leaving the Saints; defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai joined the Falcons; and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell left the Texans for the Dolphins.
Amid it all, the Ware and Peppers departures were 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.