- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A deal isn’t done until it’s officially done. The Dallas Cowboys, if they weren’t aware already, learned that the hard way. 

After announcing in a tweet they agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract with pass rusher Randy Gregory, the Cowboys’ social media team quickly deleted the post once reports emerged Tuesday that Gregory backed out of the verbal agreement and instead agreed to join the Denver Broncos

The dramatic twist, while not unprecedented, highlighted another eventful day of the NFL’s free agency — one that saw the Washington Commanders finally make a notable move. 

The Burgundy and Gold are re-signing starting free safety Bobby McCain, a source with knowledge of the situation said. McCain’s agents told ESPN that the deal is for two years, $11 million. The contract was agreed upon hours after the team lost veteran running back J.D. McKissic to the Buffalo Bills for two years, $7 million. 

By focusing to re-sign McCain rather than McKissic, the Commanders chose to prioritize the defense rather than at running back. Free safety had long been a problem for Washington — one that extended far before coach Ron Rivera took over in 2020 — but McCain provided stability at the position in 2021 as he overcame a rough start to finish the year with a career-high four interceptions. 

McKissic, though, is likely to be missed. The 28-year-old became a valuable contributor for Washington, particularly in the passing game where he thrived as a check-down option and on screens. In 2020, McKissic led the league in targets among running backs (110) and over the last two seasons, only Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler have caught more receptions at the position.  The offense struggled this past season once McKissic missed the final six games with a season-ending neck injury. 

Both players arrived to Washington in recent years as under-the-radar signings, only to thrive. Washington signed McKissic to a two-year, $3.26 million contract in March 2020, with the team’s brass optimistic he could handle a bigger role. McCain joined the team last year on a one-year, $1.4 million deal after he was released from the Miami Dolphins. 

At running back, Washington still has starter Antonio Gibson. While McKissic helped make the combo a dynamic 1-2 punch, the Commanders will now look to find another pass-catching running back with similar versatility — either in free agency or through the draft. Experts have praised this year’s running back class as particularly strong.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Commanders had yet to commit money to an outside free agent. Washington is tight on salary-cap space after trading for quarterback Carson Wentz ($28.3 million) last week. 

The same can’t be said for the other team that resides in Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens made a big splash by agreeing to sign safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million deal — a move that should help shore up a secondary that allowed the most passing yards last season. Williams, 25, had become a standout for the New Orleans Saints. 

The Ravens missed the playoffs last year with an 8-9 record. Baltimore was hit hard by injuries, especially in the secondary when it lost star cornerbacks Marcus Peters (ACL) and Marlon Humphrey (torn pectoral) to season-ending injuries. 

Elsewhere, the market was slow to move. Rumors about a potential Deshaun Watson trade continued to percolate — with ESPN reporting that the Atlanta Falcons were emerging as a “sleeper team” to land the embattled quarterback. Watson, who has a no-trade clause, has been meeting with teams after a Texas grand jury declined to indict the 26-year-old on accusations of sexual misconduct. Watson still faces civil lawsuits from 22 women and could face discipline from the league. 

As for free agency, others wondered if the Jacksonville Jaguars’ aggressive spending spree has had a ripple effect for other teams. After the Jaguars handed out $209 million worth of contracts — including to former Washington guard Brandon Scherff (three years, $49.5 million) — insiders have speculated that agents are now trying to leverage Jacksonville’s contracts to benefit their clients.

A number of high-profile players such as receivers Allen Robinson and JuJu Smith-Schuster remain unsigned.

“Agents, rightly, want to negotiate deals for their players based off Jax’s valuations,” CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones tweeted. “The other teams are saying ‘not so fast.’”

“When you get a deal like Kirks you get a massive problem,” tweeted Over the Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald, referencing Christian Kirk’s four-year, $72 million contract. “Everyone wants to use that as a data point and every team says no.”

The edge rusher market has largely yet to materialize, as well — except for Gregory. Von Miller and Chandler Jones are seen as the top two options and were both rumored for Denver until the Broncos swooped in to steal Gregory

According to CBS Sports, Dallas’ deal with Gregory fell apart when the Cowboys tried to insert different details into the contract after the two sides reached an agreement. Unhappy, Gregory backed out of the deal and went to Denver.

Gregory marks the latest departure for the Cowboys. Dallas also traded star wideout Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns over the weekend, while right guard Connor Williams (two years, $14 million) and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (three years, $22.8 million) left for the Miami Dolphins.

Gregory joins the likes of Frank Gore (from Eagles to Colts in 2015) and Anthony Barr (from Jets to re-sign with Vikings in 2019) among players who have backed out of verbal agreements in free agency. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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