The Dallas Cowboys released franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday, a salary cap move that owner Jerry Jones called "extremely difficult" after the worst season of the star pass rusher's career.
Ware broke Harvey Martin's 30-year-old franchise record for sacks in 2013, but got to the quarterback a career-low six times and missed games for the first time in his nine-year career with a thigh injury.
The 31-year-old Ware also had offseason elbow surgery and was set to count $16 million against the salary cup. His release saves about $7.4 million and gives Dallas about $9 million to spend at the moment.
"A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult," Jones, also the team's general manager, said in a statement announcing the decision just as free agency opened.
Jones didn't rule out Ware returning after testing the market, but Ware has likely played his last down for an owner who always had a tough time letting aging superstars go.
"We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring," Jones said in the statement.
When the Cowboys switched to a four-man defensive front last year, Ware became a defensive end with his hand on the ground closer to the offensive line rather than a stand-up outside linebacker who could get a faster start on the snap.
Still, Ware looked good in training camp and even intercepted a pass by Eli Manning on the first play of last season. But he never did find his form as a pass rusher after fading late in 2012 and finished third on the team in sacks behind Jason Hatcher and George Selvie, who wasn't even on the roster when training camp started.
"DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family," Jones said in the statement. "He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family."
A first-round pick under coach Bill Parcells in 2005, Ware finished with 117 sacks, three more than Martin. He set a club record with 20 sacks in 2008 during a seven-year streak of at least 10 sacks per season. The four-time All-Pro is ninth in club history with 710 tackles.
Colts re-sign Vinatieri, Davis, Bradshaw
Adam Vinatieri had two wishes in free agency.
He wanted to win one more Super Bowl ring for his thumb, and he wanted to do it with the Colts.
Indianapolis refused to let the 41-year-old kicker slip away Wednesday, re-signing Vinatieri just hours before he was to become an unrestricted free agent.
"I'd like to be here if the cards fall right," Vinatieri said in January, after the Colts were eliminated with a playoff loss at New England, where he won three Super Bowls. "Obviously this locker room's awesome. I've got a lot of friends in this locker room and I've got the most admiration for the ownership here and coaches and staff and everything. So if it's up to me, I'd love to be here."
Terms of the deal were not announced by the team.
Indianapolis also signed free agent defensive end Arthur Jones, and retained cornerback Vontae Davis and running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Team officials made the announcements less than 90 minutes after the free agent market officially opened. Terms of the deals were not immediately available.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Jones started a career-best 13 games with Baltimore last season and finished with a career-high 53 tackles. He was Baltimore's fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft and spent his first two seasons with the Ravens when Colts coach Chuck Pagano was on the coaching staff.
Colts general manger Ryan Grigson issued a statement calling Jones an "outstanding producer" against the run and the pass.
Davis was the top cover cornerback for Indianapolis last season.
Lions sign Bell, Ogletree: reports
A person familiar with the negotiations says the Detroit Lions and running back Joique Bell have agreed to a $9.3 million, three-year contract.
The person, who says $4.3 million of the contract is guaranteed, spoke Tuesday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Bell had a team-high eight touchdowns rushing last season. He was second on the team with 166 carries for 650 yards rushing.
Keeping him was a top priority for the Lions this off-season.
Bell has run for 1,064 yards — 4.3 yards per carry — and 11 TDs in two seasons with the Lions. The undrafted free agent from Wayne State University played in eight games as a rookie in 2010 with the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.
A person familiar with the negotiations says Detroitand wide receiver Kevin Ogletree have agreed to a one-year contract.
The person spoke Tuesday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Ogletree adds depth where Detroit needs it because Nate Burleson was released and Ryan Broyles has struggled to stay healthy. He had 13 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown in 12 games last season for the Lions, who signed him after Tampa Bay cut him.
Ogletree has 78 career receptions for 999 yards and six touchdowns over five seasons, four of which were with the Dallas Cowboys.
Bears terminate contract of Julius Peppers
The Chicago Bears released eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers on Tuesday.
The move was hardly a surprise given the way he struggled last year and the fact that his salary cap hit next season was for more than $18 million.
Peppers is the second high-profile player to part ways with the Bears this off-season, joining record returner Devin Hester. Those moves come after they split with Brian Urlacher following the 2012 season.
Peppers finished with just seven sacks, his lowest total in four seasons with Chicago and the fewest for him since he had a career-low 2 1/2 with Carolina in 2007. Three times last year he failed to make a tackle, and the Bears' defence ranked among the worst in the NFL.
Earlier in the day. the Bears agreed to a five-year contract with former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston.
The team also agreed to a two-year contract with former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy and one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams as they try to shore up a defence that got shredded by injuries and ranked among the league's worst last season. The Bears announced the moves on Tuesday.
Chicago is coming off a season in which it allowed a league-high 5.3 yards per carry — half a yard more than any other team — and tied Jacksonville for an NFL-worst 31 sacks.
Raiders re-sign RB McFadden, sign OL Saffold
The Oakland Raiders have agreed to a five-year contract with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and have re-signed running back Darren McFadden to a one-year contract.
A person with knowledge of the deal says McFadden will be paid $4 million under the deal agreed to at the start of free agency on Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
ESPN reported that Saffold will get a $42.5 million contract with $21 million guaranteed despite missing 17 games with a variety of injuries in four seasons in St. Louis.
But the Raiders still valued him higher than left tackle Jared Veldheer, who was allowed to leave as a free agent to Arizona.
Redskins sign Roberts to 4-year, $16M deal
A person familiar with the situation says receiver Andre Roberts' deal with the Washington Redskins is worth a base value of $16 million over four years with $8 million guaranteed.
The person says Roberts will get a $4 million signing bonus, and that the deal could be worth up to $17.35 million with incentives. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Roberts has yet to sign the contract.
The person says the former Arizona Cardinals wideout agreed to the terms Tuesday. He is scheduled to take his physical Wednesday and then sign his deal.
The Redskins also agreed to terms with linebacker Adam Hayward and scheduled cornerback Corey Graham for a visit on a busy first day of NFL free agency.
The Redskins also Tuesday re-signed linebacker Perry Riley and receiver Santana Moss and agreed to terms with free agent guard Shawn Lauvao. They were also working to complete a deal with receiver Andre Roberts.
Hayward will sign a three-year deal once he passes his physical. He is expected to improve the Redskins' woeful special teams units.
A person familiar with Riley's contract said the deal is worth about $13 million over three years, including approximately $4.25 million in guaranteed money. Moss signed a one-year deal.
Lauvao comes from the Cleveland Browns and should help upgrade the offensive line.
Albert, Mitchell sign with Dolphins: reports
With the Miami Dolphins desperate to rebuild their troubled offensive line, Branden Albert will provide a 316-pound cornerstone.
The Pro Bowl left tackle agreed to terms on a five-year contract worth more than $45 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday.
Former Houston Texans defensive tackle Earl Mitchell agreed to terms on a $16 million, four-year deal with Miami, the person said. Both deals will be completed pending physicals.
The person confirmed the agreements to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team hadn't made an announcement. The deals were part of a busy first day of free agency for new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey.
Albert, a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, started 83 games for them in the past six seasons. He'll move into the position played at the start of last season by Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins in October and alleged he was harassed persistently by teammates.
49ers acquire Martin from Dolphins
Martin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers late Tuesday.
Martin's move cross country brings him back to the Bay Area to be reunited with his former Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh.
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.
Jaguars sign G Beadles to 5-year, $30M deal
The Jacksonville Jaguars wasted little time upgrading their offensive line in free agency.
Just days after cutting starting guard Uche Nwaneri for performance reasons, the Jaguars agreed to terms with former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles.
The team continued its offensive makeover Tuesday night by agreeing to terms with former Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, a possible indication Jacksonville doesn't expect free agent Maurice Jones-Drew to return.
Beadles and Gerhart were expected in Jacksonville on Wednesday, and pending physicals, expected to sign their contracts. General manager Dave Caldwell said the plan is to play Beadles at left guard next to second-year offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
"He's very intelligent, he's very competitive and he's very smart," Caldwell said. "He's had a heck of a career to date. I think he's played in every game possible in his four years in Denver. He played in the Pro Bowl in 2012. He's a guy with a proven track record. He's still only 27 years old. He's very passionate about football. I think he checks the box for everything we look for in a player."
A second-round draft pick from Utah in 2010, Beadles started 62 games for Denver the last four years. He didn't miss a single snap last season.
The Jaguars also announced they re-signed cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year deal, traded quarterback Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick and scheduled a visit with free-agent linebacker Dekoda Watson.
Broncos agree to deal with Pro Bowl S T.J. Ward
The Denver Broncos have revamped their defensive secondary by agreeing to a deal with Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward on Tuesday.
Ward is coming off a season in which he had 129 tackles and two interceptions for the Cleveland Browns.
General manager John Elway called Ward a "young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary." The Broncos struggled at safety last season, especially after losing Rahim Moore, who underwent emergency surgery to fix a blood-flow problem in his lower left leg in November.
Earlier in the day, Denver brought back one of Peyton Manning's targets, agreeing to a two-year deal with receiver Andre Caldwell.
Eric Decker, one of Manning's go-to receivers, is a free agent.
Titans agree to deal with McCluster, Washington
A person familiar with the deal says the Tennessee Titans have agreed to terms with Chiefs running back, receiver and kick returner Dexter McCluster.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the deal had not been announced minutes after NFL free agency started.
ESPN.com first reported the deal.
McCluster was switched between wide receiver and running back early in his career but flourished in 2013 as a slot receiver and punt returner for new Kansas City coach Andy Reid. The former second-round pick caught a career-high 53 passes for 611 yards and two touchdowns, and also had two punt return touchdowns, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
That production made McCluster too pricy for the cash-strapped Chiefs to bring back.
The Titans also re-signed kick returner Leon Washington, who provided a big boost to Tennessee's special teams over the final five games last season. The eight-year veteran averaged 13 yards on punt returns for the Titans and also had a 95-yard return at Denver.
"Leon came in last year and was the consummate professional," general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. "He stabilized our return game and we are excited to sign him back to our roster."
Browns fill holes with Whitner, Dansby
With wads of money to spend, the Browns didn't waste any time shoving millions into two defensive holes they created this winter.
During the furious first few hours of free agency Tuesday, the team agreed to terms with strong safety Donte Whitner, a Cleveland native who can't wait to play in his hometown.
"I must now embark on my intended journey and become a Cleveland Brown," Whitner wrote on his Twitter account. "A place that's very dear to my heart!"
Also, the Browns reportedly struck a deal with inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who resurrected his career last season in his second stint with Arizona.
The team has not made any announcements.
With $49 million of space under the salary cap to sign players, new Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer addressed two pressing needs after the club decided not to re-sign safety T.J. Ward or linebacker D'Qwell Jackson — the Browns' top tacklers last season and two of their best players.
Whitner's deal is reportedly worth $28 million over four years, and Dansby's is for $24 million — $14 million guaranteed — over four years.
Farmer could be working on a blockbuster deal as the Browns are said to be interested in trading with Tampa Bay for shut-down cornerback Darrelle Revis. If they can land Revis and pair him alongside Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the Browns would have arguably the NFL's best tandem of cornerbacks. The Buccaneers are eager to part with Revis, who makes $16 million a year.
Whitner spent five seasons with the Bills, who selected him with the No. 8 overall pick in 2006. Nicknamed "Hitner," the 28-year-old signed a three-year, $11.75 million free agent deal with San Francisco in 2011 and played three seasons with the 49ers, getting to the NFC championship each year.
He's been durable, missing just one game in the past four seasons.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Dansby fills the void left following the surprising departure of Jackson, the respected captain and team leader.
Dansby, 32, finished 122 tackles, 6 1-2 sacks and four interceptions with the Cardinals last season. He spent his first six years with Arizona, signed with Miami for three and then returned to the Cardinals as a free agent in 2013.
Giants sign Schwartz, Jennings, Schofield
The New York Giants started rebuilding their offensive line and found a little security at running back on the opening day of free agency in the NFL.
The Giants reached agreements with former Kansas City guard Geoff Schwartz and Oakland running back Rashad Jennings on Tuesday, the players announced in tweets. Seattle Seahawks linebacker O'Brien Schofield also agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal.
All three players were on their way to New Jersey to sign the deals.
A person close to the negotiations also said the Giants re-signed four players from last year's team. The person, who requested anonymity because they team had not announced the re-signings, said placekicker Josh Brown, cornerback Trumaine McBride, safety Stevie Brown and running back Peyton Hillis will be back next season.
Steelers release LB Woodley, sign S Mitchell
The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker LaMarr Woodley on Tuesday, with a post-June 1 designation to save money under the salary cap and signed free agent safety Mike Mitchell from the Carolina Panthers.
Mitchell first announced on Twitter that he has signed with the Steelers and his agent Brian Hamilton confirmed the signing to The Associated Press.
Financial terms were not released. The Steelers have not announced the addition of Mitchell.
"First I have to thank God for this blessing and Mr. Rooney and the Steelers organization for such a great opportunity!" Mitchell wrote on Twitter.
Mitchell started 14 games last season for the Carolina Panthers and had 66 tackles, four interceptions, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the league's second-ranked defence.
By releasing Woodley with a post-June 1 designation, the Steelers free up about $8 million in salary cap space in 2014. The money saved will likely go toward signing the team's selections in the NFL draft in May.
Woodley will, however, count $8.5 million against the team's cap number in 2015.
Woodley started 81 of 94 games during the regular season as well as seven of eight post-season games in his seven years with Pittsburgh. He made the Pro Bowl and selected second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press in 2009.
Falcons re-sign Babineaux, sign 3 linemen
The Atlanta Falcons began a major overhaul Tuesday after a dismal season, signing three linemen at the start of free agency, re-signing defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, and cutting former Pro Bowl safety Thomas DeCoud.
Needing to bulk up on both sides of the line, the Falcons agreed to terms with guard Jon Asamoah, defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
Asamoah and Jackson played last season with Kansas City, where Asamoah lost his starting job. They were familiar to former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who was hired in January as Atlanta's assistant GM.
The 345-pound Soliai spent seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins, including two seasons under Mike Nolan, now the defensive co-ordinator of the Falcons.
"We were focused on adding pieces along our offensive and defensive lines and I feel we were able to accomplish that today," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "We believe that Paul and Tyson will add stoutness and grittiness to our defensive front and will help in the run game. Jon is a solid offensive lineman that has started 41 games during his four-year career that will bring some ruggedness to our offensive front."
Terms of the new contracts were not immediately available.
Atlanta also released former Pro Bowl safety Thomas DeCoud.
A third-round pick in 2008, DeCoud made 78 starts during his six seasons with the Falcons. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2012 as the Falcons came within one victory of making the Super Bowl, losing to San Francisco in the NFC championship game.
Texans release TE Daniels, CB McCain
The Houston Texans have released tight end Owen Daniels and cornerback Brice McCain.
Daniels has spent his entire eight-year career with the Texans and was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2012.
He played just five games last season after breaking fibula in his right leg and finished with just 252 yards receiving. One of his best seasons came in 2012 when he had 62 receptions for 716 yards and a career-high six touchdowns.
McCain was a sixth-round draft pick by Houston in 2009 and appeared in all 16 games last season with one start.
Bills cut QB Kolb, re-sign Caussin, Carpenter
A concussion that has kept quarterback Kevin Kolb sidelined since August, cost him his job with the Buffalo Bills.
Without going into detail, general manager Doug Whaley announced Tuesday the team released Kolb after he failed a physical.
The move came a few days before Kolb was due a bonus as part of the two-year contract he signed with Buffalo in April. Now there are questions whether Kolb's career might be over after he sustained what was at least his third concussion in seven seasons.
Buffalo also re-signed restricted free agent tight end Mike Caussin and agreed to a new deal with kicker Dan Carpenter on a four-year contract..
Caussin missed the past two seasons because of injuries. He was sidelined last season with a hip injury sustained early in training camp. Caussin missed the 2012 season because of a knee injury.
Caussin had five catches for 41 yards in six games, including two starts, with Buffalo in 2011 after being promoted off the team's practice squad.
He broke into the NFL with Jacksonville in 2010 as an undrafted free agent, but did not play a game with the Jaguars.
Carpenter's 33 field goals last year were a career high and tied Buffalo's single-season record. Buffalo scrambled to sign Carpenter six days before the start of last season, after rookie sixth-round draft pick Dustin Hopkins hurt his groin.
The sixth-year player hit 33 of 36 attempts, including 29 of 30 from inside 50 yards last season.
Bengals release C Cook, re-sign WR Tate
The Bengals released centre Kyle Cook, who started every game last season, and signed receiver Brandon Tate to a new contract on Tuesday.
Cook had been with the Bengals since 2007. He played in 73 games, starting 66. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said the team hasn't decided who will start at centre next season.
Tate would have become an unrestricted free agent if he didn't get a deal on Tuesday. His biggest impact has been on special teams during his three seasons with Cincinnati.
Tate is averaging 24.8 yards on kickoff returns, a franchise record. His average of 9.9 yards per punt return ranks second in team records. He is in position to set franchise records for punt and kickoff return yards next season.
49ers add Gabbert, Bethea, cut CB Rogers
The San Francisco 49ers have released cornerback Carlos Rogers after three seasons, an expected cost-cutting move as the NFL's free agency period begins.
Also Tuesday, veteran place kicker Phil Dawson received a new two-year contract after a sensational first season in San Francisco. Dawson announced on his Twitter page that he had re-signed, then the team made it formal.
"Very excited [and] grateful for the opportuniity to return to my team [and] be a part of chasing the quest for six! Go niners! [hashtag] itsgood," Dawson posted.
Safety Antoine Bethea announced on Twitter he had signed with the 49ers, saying, "Glad to be a Niner!! Going to the Bay!!!" He looks to be the replacement for Donte Whitner. A person with knowledge of Bethea's contract said it is worth $23 million over four years. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial terms weren't announced and the 49ers had yet to acknowledge the signing.
San Francisco also acquired quarterback Blaine Gabbert from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round draft pick this year and a conditional pick next season, apparently finding a capable backup for Colin Kaepernick.
The Jaguars made the announcement Tuesday at the start of free agency.
With Rogers' departure, San Francisco will clear $5.1 million in salary cap room.
Ravens, Monroe agree on 5-year deal
The Baltimore Ravens and left tackle Eugene Monroe reached agreement on a five-year contract Friday.
Finding a way to retain the 26-year old Monroe was one of the Ravens' top priorities of the offseason. They now have the long-term answer at left tackle they have lacked since Jonathan Ogden retired following the 2007 season.
Monroe was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He spent four-plus seasons with the Jaguars before being traded to Baltimore in October.
He started the final 11 games for the Ravens at left tackle.
Seahawks re-sign McCoy
The Seattle Seahawks have re-signed tight end Anthony McCoy to a one-year deal after he missed the entire 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Seattle announced the signing Tuesday prior to the start of free agency. McCoy would have been an unrestricted free agent after spending his entire career thus far with the Seahawks.
McCoy was expected to be a significant part of the Seahawks offence last season as a reserve tight end before suffering his season-ending injury during off-season workouts in May. He had to be a spectator as the Seahawks won their first Super Bowl.
McCoy had 18 receptions and three touchdowns during the 2012 season in a backup role.