Look who’s running to paydirt: DeMarco Murray, Justin Forsett and Ryan Mathews.
Running backs took their place at the head of the free agency class Thursday, the third day of the NFL’s business year. Two of them, 2014 Offensive Player of the Year Murray, the league’s leading rusher, and Mathews wound up in Philadelphia. Forsett is staying right where he made his breakthrough last season, in Baltimore.
Murray, 27, helped the Cowboys win the NFC East while rushing for a franchise-record 1,845 yards, breaking NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith’s team mark. He also set a league record with eight straight 100-yard games to start the season.
He’ll combine with Mathews to replace two-time All-Pro LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s rushing leader in 2013 who was dealt to Buffalo by coach Chip Kelly.
“We have great appreciation for his skills, and if there was no salary cap in place, DeMarco would be a Cowboy,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “This came down to an allocation of dollars within the management of the salary cap.”
Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant tweeted: “@DeMarcoMurray I wish you would have stayed but I understand your decision… Congrats bro you deserve it -”
Kelly has been among the busiest barterers in rebuilding the Eagles, also dealing starting quarterback Nick Foles to St. Louis for quarterback Sam Bradford; getting linebacker Kiko Alonso from Buffalo for McCoy; signing cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III; and releasing offensive lineman Todd Herremans, cornerback Cary Williams, linebacker Trent Cole and tight end James Casey.
Mathews, 27, leaves San Diego after an injury-plagued five seasons. A first-round draft pick in 2010, he played in all 16 regular-season games only in 2013, his best season with 1,255 yards rushing and seven total touchdowns.
Forsett, 29, agreed to a three-year contract with the Ravens. He comes off the finest season of his seven-year career, replacing Ray Rice and rushing 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Sometimes you have fortunate signings in this business and Justin was one of those,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We were fortunate because he became such a vital part of our on-field success and quickly became a steadying influence in the locker room at an uneasy time for us. He gave us more than we anticipated. From what we expected, he gave us unprecedented production.”
Two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback Brandon Browner heads to New Orleans for a three-year deal worth about $18 million. Browner won a ring with Seattle in 2013, then with New England last season.
The Patriots lost their other starting cornerback, Darrelle Revis, to the Jets in free agency.
New York also brought back another previous fixture in its secondary, Antonio Cromartie, to team with Revis on the corners. Cromartie, 30, gets a four-year contract worth $32 million in base salary. Revis came back on a five-year, $70 million contract.
The Jets also re-signed guard Willie Colon to a one-year deal Thursday and brought back long snapper Tanner Purdum on a two-year contract.
Another defensive back on the move is safety Nate Allen, from Philadelphia to Oakland on a four-year contract. The Raiders have won just 11 games the past three seasons and have gone 11 straight years without a playoff berth or winning record.
“It’s a great thing and like I’ve been saying, we’re planning on winning now,” the optimistic Allen said. “We’re not trying to rebuild and try to do this or do that, we’re trying to make something happen now, this year.”
After adding Frank Gore in free agency earlier in the week, Indianapolis cut Trent Richardson, the third overall pick by Cleveland in 2012 who came to the Colts in a huge trade last year. Richardson never made an impact in Indy.
Kansas City released unproductive receiver Dwayne Bowe and saved $14 million against the salary cap.
“This was a tough decision to make,” said John Dorsey, whose signing of Bowe to a $56 million, five-year deal was one of his first major moves as general manager. “Dwayne is a team-first guy and he holds a number of team receiving records.”
On Wednesday, the Chiefs wrapped up a $55 million, five-year deal with Jeremy Maclin, who was drafted by Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia.
Another receiver took a hit when Stevie Johnson was released by the 49ers.
— Three quarterbacks got contracts. Tyrod Taylor moved from Baltimore to Buffalo for a two-year deal; Blaine Gabbert re-upped with San Francisco for two seasons, and Thad Lewis took a one-year contract to return to Cleveland.
— Houston signed safety Rahim Moore, who started all 16 games in 2014 for the Broncos, setting a career high with four interceptions.
— Tampa Bay continued to boost its defence by adding tackle Henry Melton and safety Chris Conte. Both played for Bucs coach Lovie Smith in Chicago.
— Atlanta also went the defence route, signing end Adrian Clayborn, cornerback Phillip Adams and linebacker O’Brien Schofield.
— Jacksonville released DE Red Bryant, who was due a $500,000 roster bonus on Sunday. Bryant was scheduled to count $4.5 million against the salary cap.
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