Greg Jennings has agreed to terms with the Minnesota Vikings, becoming the latest Green Bay Packer to head across the border and join their bitter NFC North rivals.
Jennings made his decision on Friday, giving the Vikings the No. 1 receiver they so desperately needed after trading Percy Harvin to Seattle.
ESPN first reported the five-year deal. Whenever the Vikings have really needed to fill a big hole, they've gone to Green Bay to do it more often than not.
Jennings joins safety Darren Sharper, kicker Ryan Longwell and, of course, quarterback Brett Favre as high-profile Packers to defect to Minnesota.
Like all the rest of them, Jennings will be looking to prove that his best days are not behind him.
The 29-year-old Jennings played in only eight games for the Packers in 2012, plus two in the playoffs, because of a torn lower abdominal muscle and finished with a career-low 366 yards receiving with an average of 10.2 yards per catch, also his worst NFL total. In 2011, he missed three games with a sprained left knee.
The Vikings are betting that he's going to return to the durable player that played in all 16 games from 2008-10, when he became one of the productive and reliable receivers in the league.
Jennings arrived in the Twin Cities on Thursday night and joined Vikings brass and star defensive end Jared Allen for dinner at a downtown Minneapolis steakhouse.
He spent all day on Friday at the team's headquarters in Eden Prairie while he mulled whether to join the Vikings or head back to Green Bay, where the Packers were believed to have wanted him back.
Instead of catching passes from the elite Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Jennings will be charged with helping third-year Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder take the next step in his development.
Even with the dynamic Harvin in the mix, Ponder hasn't had a true game-breaker on the perimeter in his first two seasons in the league. It's been one of the reasons coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman have been so patient and supportive through Ponder's ups and downs. They believed he was missing that threat on the outside to make his life easier.
The two-time Pro Bowler will join a non-descript receiving group that includes veteran Jerome Simpson, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season, and youngsters Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright.
The Vikings no doubt will look to add more in the draft coming up next month as well, but having Jennings in the fold gives the group instant credibility and an accomplished veteran that can serve as a mentor to the younger players in the group.
Jennings was widely hailed as a great locker room presence who relished charitable work in the Green Bay community, which certainly can't hurt as well.
One of the main reasons the Vikings parted with Harvin was the trouble the volatile 24-year-old would occasionally cause behind the scenes. That won't be an issue with Jennings.
"He's as great player," Ponder said of Jennings earlier this week. "He's been doing great things in Green Bay, and he'd bring leadership to that position. Kind of a dynamic guy you can put in the slot and outside. I've always admired his work in Green Bay, and he seems like a great guy to have on a team."
The move was somewhat surprising from Spielman, who has preached that he wants to build through the draft rather than make many big splashes in the free agent market. He hinted at the opening of free agency that the Vikings would stay true to that philosophy, and they did through the first few days.
They locked up their own free agents, including right tackle Phil Loadholt and fullback Jerome Felton, and signed backup quarterback Matt Cassel to a one-year deal.
But it turns out that the chance to add Jennings to help Ponder proved too much to pass up.
Cardinals release Kevin Kolb
The Arizona Cardinals have released Kevin Kolb, ending the quarterback's two injury-filled seasons with the team.
The team's move on Friday came just ahead of the deadline for paying Kolb a $2 million US roster bonus. The team paid Kolb some $20 million over two seasons after acquiring him in a trade that sent a second-round draft pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The move reportedly saved $7 million in salary cap space. Later in the day, the Cardinals announced they had signed ex-Oakland defensive end Matt Shaughnessy to a one-year deal.
Kolb was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in his two seasons in Arizona.
He was due to make $9 million this coming season. Earlier this week, Arizona signed free agent quarterback Drew Stanton. Stanton was the backup last season at Indianapolis, where new coach Bruce Arians was interim head coach.
At his news conference announcing the firing of coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said "I'm not ready to give up on Kevin Kolb yet," but the team wound up doing just that after bringing in Arians and elevating Steve Keim to the position of general manager.
Kolb appeared in 15 games in two seasons with Arizona, 14 as a starter.
Last season, he lost the starting job to John Skelton but came on in the opener after Skelton was hurt to direct the winning touchdown drive against Seattle. Arizona went on to a 4-0 start with Kolb at quarterback, but in Week 6 he tore cartilage from his ribs on a broken play and never played again. The Cardinals, meanwhile, lost 11 of their last 12 to finish 5-11, costing Whisenhunt his job and bringing in Arians to try to clean up the mess of what was the worst offence in the NFL.
There was no way Arizona was going to bring back Kolb with his big contract. The only possibility was a restructuring for less money, and that didn't happen, with Kolb now seeking opportunities elsewhere.
Cassel inks deal with Vikings
Matt Cassel is signed, sealed and delivered in Minnesota, and there is no question what his role will be with the Vikings.
"The fact of the matter is," Cassel said in a conference call on Friday, "Christian is the starting quarterback."
When Cassel agreed to terms on Thursday, there was speculation that he was coming in to compete with third-year starter Christian Ponder for the No. 1 job. But Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman stand firmly behind Ponder, who has been up and down in his first two seasons. So they went into this off-season in search of a quality veteran who would accept his role, but also be able to handle the offence capably if Ponder were to go down with injury or fail to progress as he is expected.
Cassel appears to fit the mould. He was a career backup in college at Southern Cal then spent his first three seasons in the NFL buried on the bench behind Tom Brady. When Brady went down with a knee injury in 2008, Cassel stepped in and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.
Dumervil, Broncos part ways due to tardy paperwork
Time really is money. Nobody knows that better than Elvis Dumervil and the Denver Broncos.
Dumervil found himself out of a job and the Broncos were without their best defensive end Friday afternoon after they reached an agreement on a new contract but saw it all come undone when tardy filing of the paperwork forced Denver to release him.
A person familiar with the negotiations gave The Associated Press details about the confusion. The person did not want to be identified because the negotiations were not public.
According to that person, the day played out like this:
- At 1:25 p.m., Denver time, Dumervil agreed to take a $4 million pay cut to remain with the AFC West champions for 2013.
- The paperwork was ready to be signed and sent to the league. But with the clock ticking on a 1:59 p.m. deadline, the Broncos were not seeing any sign of the signed copy on their fax machine
- With no signed contract in hand as 1:59 approached, the Broncos were forced to cut Dumervil, because once the 1:59 deadline passed, they were on the hook for the $12 million they owed him in the original contract.
- The team received the signed contract via fax at 2:06 p.m. That was seven minutes past the deadline and about 15 minutes later than they needed to receive it so they could review it and send it to the league.
Dumervil's agent, Marty Magid, did not return messages left by AP via text and voicemail.
Dumervil is now a free agent, dumped late onto a market where one top defensive end, Cliff Avril, just signed a two-year deal with Seattle worth an average of $7.5 million a year.
The Broncos now can start looking at other defensive ends, including Dwight Freeney, in what appears to be a buyer's market for pass rushers.
Though the parties had agreed on a deal, the odds of Dumervil returning to Denver are hampered because cutting him could leave them with a salary cap hit of up to nearly $5 million.
Dumervil was second on the team last year with 11 sacks, but Broncos front office executive John Elway asked him to take a pay cut because the $12 million was well over the market price, even for top pass rushers this year. Dumervil led the league in sacks in 2009 (17) and the Broncos, then under coach Josh McDaniels, rewarded him with a six-year, $61.5 million contract. Dumervil received $14 million in 2011 and 2012.
The confusing day closes out what had been an otherwise successful week for Elway and the Broncos, who brought Wes Welker and four other free agents onto the roster and also re-signed defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. They clearly wanted Dumervil to stay for the right price but now must decide whether to restart negotiations with him, pursue another edge pass rusher in free agency or wait until next month's draft.
Roach to Oakland
The Oakland Raiders have signed former Chicago linebacker Nick Roach to a free-agent deal to bolster their depleted defence.
Roach's agent, Josh Wright, confirmed the deal on Friday. Roach is the second linebacker signed by Oakland this week, following a three-year, $6-million US deal given to Kaluka Maiava on Wednesday.
The Raiders began the free agency period this week with just four returning starters on defence. They lost two of their top performers in free agency when defensive tackle Desmond Bryant signed with Cleveland and linebacker Philip Wheeler signed with Miami. Oakland also released defensive back Michael Huff.
Roach is expected to replace former first-round pick Rolando McClain as the starter in the middle.
Jets sign OL Willie Colon: report
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the New York Jets have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon.
Colon, a fourth-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2006, will add depth to the Jets' offensive line and could potentially fill one of the guard spots with Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson free agents.
The deal is for one year, $1.2 million, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the signing.
Colon, a Bronx native who played at Hofstra, was an offensive tackle from 2006-11 but moved to guard last season. Colon missed all but one game in the 2010-11 seasons due to injury, and was sidelined for five games last season.
The Jets have also signed running back Mike Goodson and fullback Lex Hilliard in free agency.
Goodson, a former fourth-round pick by the Carolina Panthers, has played in 40 games, rushing for 722 yards and three touchdowns on 160 carries. He also has 59 receptions for 524 yards and a score.
Hilliard joined the Jets last season after being waived by New England. The former sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins has played in 62 NFL games, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries.
The Jets went 6-10 last season and scored just 281 points, the lowest total in the AFC East.
Giants ink LB Rivers
Linebacker Keith Rivers has signed a new one-year deal with the New York Giants.
Rivers, a former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, was traded to New York for a fifth-round pick on April 11, 2012. He missed five games with the Giants because of a slow-healing hamstring injury.
Rivers, 27, has never played a full season, and sat out all of 2011 with the Bengals after undergoing wrist surgery.
"Anytime you step on the field you have something to prove. Me? More so," Rivers said. "Obviously, I have to prove I can stay healthy. I haven't necessarily been able to be trusted to stay healthy. Hopefully, taking a big rest this off-season will help me do that."
Rivers had 44 tackles last season.
Miami lands Keller
Tight end Dustin Keller moved up in the AFC East standings Friday, and now that he's with the Miami Dolphins he expects to keep climbing.
The former New York Jet signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins. He said he wanted to join a playoff contender and likes the Dolphins' chances under coach Joe Philbin in 2013.
"Coach Philbin is putting all the pieces together to win now," Keller said. "This team is in a position to win, and that's what we're going to do."
The Dolphins are coming off their fourth consecutive losing season, but they did finish a game ahead of the Jets at 7-9, and optimism is high in the wake of several free agent moves this week.
The Dolphins signed receiver Mike Wallace and re-signed receiver Brian Hartline. With those wideouts and Keller, who has 17 career touchdown catches, Miami should be better able to spread the field for young quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
"I've been following him for a while," Keller said. "He does a great job. To have a guy who can work the middle of the field and stretch the field, I think I can really help him out.
"There are a lot of pieces, and I'm just happy to be one of those pieces."
Keller was slowed by a left ankle injury last year and made 28 catches for 317 yards and two scores in eight games.
"It was pretty frustrating," he said. "This is a fresh start for me. It's an opportunity to go somewhere and re-prove myself."
The Dolphins acquired Keller to replace Anthony Fasano, their starting tight end the past four years. He signed Tuesday with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Keller has 20 catches of at least 25 yards over the past five years, compared with 11 for Fasano.
Colts cut Zbikowski
The Indianapolis Colts have released safety Tom Zbikowski after one season with the team.
The Notre Dame alum and professional boxer followed coach Chuck Pagano and teammates Brandon McKinney and Cory Redding from Baltimore to Indy last season. He started 11 games, finishing with 47 tackles, one sack and one interception while returning six kickoffs for 123 yards.
When the Colts signed Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry to a four-year, $24 million US contract late Wednesday night, Zbikowski became expendable.
The move comes after a flurry of free-agent signings. Indy has already signed seven players, five on defence, and also re-signed cornerback Darius Butler who was a free agent, too.
Chiefs sign veteran Schwartz
The Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz on Friday in an attempt to bolster their depth.
Schwartz, who can play both guard and tackle, started 16 games for Carolina in 2010, but missed the following season with a hip injury. He spent last season as a backup in Minnesota.
The former seventh-round pick could compete with Donald Stephenson for the job at right tackle, which came open when the Chiefs released Eric Winston. But Schwartz admitted he's more adept at guard, where he could compete with Jon Asamoah and Jeff Allen for playing time.
Schwartz said on a conference call with reporters that he's been told by the Chiefs there will be open competition, and that "the best five will roll."
Bears agree with corner Bowman
The Chicago Bears have agreed to a one-year contract with cornerback Zack Bowman.
Bowman has appeared in 57 games with 16 starts over five seasons with the Bears, recording seven interceptions and 13 pass break ups and five fumble recoveries - including two for touchdowns.
He played in 11 games last season, recovering two fumbles and returning one for a touchdown.
The Bears announced the agreement on Friday.