In a move that could set dominoes in motion around the league, the Houston Texans on Thursday dumped their pricey free-agency acquisition of a year ago, quarterback Brock Osweiler, in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
Cap-strapped Houston sent Osweiler and a 2018 second-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the Browns taking Osweiler’s $16 million salary off the Texans’ books. The Texans will also receive Cleveland’s 2017 fourth-round pick in exchange for their own sixth-round selection.
The move saves Houston $16 million in cash and $10 million against its salary cap this season. The extra salary cap space could presumably be used to make a run at Tony Romo when he is traded or released by the Cowboys.
According to an NFL Network report, the Browns aren’t even committed to keeping Osweiler. Ian Rapoport reported Thursday the Browns plan to release Osweiler if they can’t trade him and are also expected to release former Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who won the starting job in Cleveland last season before falling again to injury.
That would leave the Browns with Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan at quarterback.
Trades to address cap problems are more common in the NBA than in the NFL, but Houston apparently was so determined to move on from Osweiler that it was willing to trade a second-round pick just to rid itself of Osweiler’s contract.
Whoever suits up at quarterback for the Browns next season will be playing behind a better line. After giving guard Joel Bitonio a five-year contract extension, the Browns signed former Bengals left guard Kevin Zeitler to a five-year $60 million deal with $31.5 million guaranteed.
Bitonio and Zeitler will join All-Pro Left Tackle Joe Thomas on a suddenly a formidable offensive line. Zeitler will be reunited with coach Hue Jackson, who spent two seasons as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator before being hired by the Browns.
Osweiler was the biggest news on a busy first day of NFL free agency.
The league’s top free agent defensive backs wasted no time inking new deals, with two of the top cornerbacks coming off the market.
Stephon Gilmore is staying in the AFC East, joining the defending champion Patriots on a five-year, $70 million deal with $40 million guaranteed.
Gilmore finished last season with a career-best five interceptions and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. However advanced metrics don’t speak as highly. He was ranked 61st among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus in 2016.
He will join Malcolm Butler — if Butler isn’t traded to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks, as was rumored Thursday — to bolster an impressive New England secondary. Butler was ranked 5th among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last season and Safety Devin McCourty is a veteran leader.
Former Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye is also moving within the division, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The deal is for five years and $67.5 million, with $26 million fully guaranteed.
Bouye may not be the biggest name, but he was one of the league’s best corners in 2016. Pro Football Focus ranked Bouye third among NFL cornerbacks last season. He will slide in next to Jalen Ramsey, who put together a solid rookie season in 2016.
The Jaguars also made a couple other moves on defense, signing defensive tackle Calais Campbell and Cowboys safety Barry Church to four-year deals.
Wide receivers also came off the market quickly Thursday, including former Redskins pass-catchers DeSean Jackson, who signed with Tampa Bay, and Pierre Garcon, who is headed to San Francisco.
Leaving the 49ers is Torrey Smith. The former Maryland standout is headed to Philadelphia on a three-year deal worth $15 million. He will be joined by former Bear Alshon Jeffery, whose 6-foot-3 frame will complement the speedy Smith. The deal is for one year at $14 million.
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