A couple of accomplished pass rushers became available when DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers were released to create room under the league’s salary cap in two of the biggest moves at Tuesday’s start of the free-agency signing period.
The Chicago Bears cut ties with the 34-year-old Peppers, who has 118½ sacks in 12 seasons, as part of a series of moves aimed at improving their defense, including a five-year contract with former Oakland Raiders end Lamarr Houston.
The Cowboys let Ware, 31, 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 of Ware. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
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Ware was set to count $16 million against the salary cap. By releasing him Tuesday, the Cowboys saved more than $7 million.
With the salary cap rising $10 million to a record $133 million, several players found new homes shortly after the market officially opened — and safeties and offensive linemen were popular commodities.
Jairus Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl safety previously with Buffalo, agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints, part of a merry-go-round of moves at his position.
Other safeties swapping clubs: Michael Jenkins, from the Saints to the Philadelphia Eagles; Donte Whitner, from the San Francisco 49ers to the Cleveland Browns; Antoine Bethea, from the Indianapolis Colts to the 49ers; T.J. Ward, from the Browns to Denver; Mike Mitchell, from the Carolina Panthers to the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Ryan Mundy, from the New York Giants to the Bears.
Two of the most sought-after cornerbacks also were on the move. Alterraun Verner, who had five interceptions for Tennessee last season, agreed to a four-year contract with Tampa Bay, and Aqib Talib left New England for a six-year deal with Denver worth a reported $57 million.
AFC champion Denver reportedly is interested in Ware.
Deals for offensive linemen were highlighted by Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert’s five-year contract with the Miami Dolphins. Albert previously played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer and the Arizona Cardinals agreed to a five-year contract worth up to $35 million. Veldheer left the Raiders, who replaced him by giving former St. Louis Rams lineman Rodger Saffold a five-year deal. Another left tackle, Eugene Monroe, agreed to a five-year contract to stay with the Baltimore Ravens.
Guards switching teams: Zane Beadles was joining the Jacksonville Jaguars from Denver; Atlanta agreed to terms with Jon Asamoah, who left the Chiefs; and Washington struck a deal with Shawn Lauvao, who left the Browns.
The Jaguars were busy, including a trade that sent quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, an agreement with former Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart and re-signing cornerback Will Blackmon.
49ers acquire Martin in trade
SAN FRANCISCO – Jonathan Martin, the offensive tackle who accused Miami Dolphins teammates of bullying last season, was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional draft pick and will be reunited with his Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Martin, 24, must pass a physical to complete the deal. “Big news. … Beyond Blessed. … Opportunities are few in the NFL. … Can’t wait to get to work #9erEmpire,” Martin posted on Twitter.