Tuesday's NFL free agency roundup: Patriots strike again, sign TE Hunter Henry; several quarterbacks switch teams

Nate Davis

The NFL's 2021 free agency market doesn't officially open until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday for players with expiring contracts – however they are already eligible to negotiate with any teams they choose. Players who have already been released can immediately sign elsewhere, and anyone is free to re-sign with his current club.

The NFL's salary cap floor for the upcoming has a max value of $182.5 million – all teams must be under the cap by Wednesday afternoon, when the new league year begins.

Here are the major moves that occurred Tuesday, March 16, following a very busy Monday.

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TE Hunter Henry (86), formerly of the Chargers, is joining the Patriots.

Patriots strike again

After a very active Monday, New England continued doubling down on its free agency spending spree by agreeing to a deal with tight end Hunter Henry. The Chargers' franchise player in 2020, Henry agreed to a three-year, $37.5 million arrangement with $25 million guaranteed, per NFL Network.

A second-round pick out of Arkansas in 2016, Henry, 26, has 196 career catches for 2,322 yards and and 21 TDs. He missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL.

In the wake of Monday's agreement with tight end Jonnu Smith, Patriots fans and observers will immediately be taken back a decade when the team so effectively used double-tight sets featuring Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Bill Belichick has wasted little time procuring weapons for quarterback Cam Newton's second season in Foxborough, Mass. In addition to Henry and Smith, the Pats are also adding wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne while making several transactions to bolster the defense.

Quarterbacks on the move

Several passers agreed to switch teams Tuesday, most notably Andy Dalton's move to the Chicago Bears, who will pay him $10 million in 2021, per reports.

But two backup situations are worth monitoring as well. Jacoby Brissett heads to Miami, where he replaces Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Dolphins' Plan B option to Tua Tagovailoa. In Houston, where things are complicated with Deshaun Watson at the moment, Tyrod Taylor is now slated for QB2 duties.

Giants get a deal done

Very quiet in the market so far, the New York Giants made a move Tuesday by extending defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who'd received the franchise tag twice since last year, with a three-year, $63 million contract ($45 million guaranteed), per reports. The move should free up cap space for the Giants, who were previously committed to giving Williams a fully guaranteed $19.35 million salary in 2021 if he'd played on the tag once again.

Per NFL Network, the Giants are also signing swift wideout John Ross, formerly a first-round pick of Cincinnati who set the modern scouting combine record with a 4.22 40-yard dash, to a one-year deal.

Gronk nearly left Bucs, per report

Veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski opted to re-sign with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, meaning his entire NFL career has been spent with quarterback Tom Brady.

But, per NFL Network, Gronk considered signing with the Buffalo Bills for 2021. A native of suburban Buffalo, Gronkowski still has ties to Western New York. He mentioned prior to the Super Bowl that his friends were hoping for a Bills-Bucs matchup.

Jags keep spending

No team had more cap room to start the week than Jacksonville, which had approximately $73 million to spend. Urban Meyer's Jaguars have been scooping up free agents since, though almost exclusively lower-tier players.

That changed Tuesday when the team agreed to a three-year pact (worth up to $45 million, per NFL Network) with cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who made one Pro Bowl during his four seasons with Seattle. A product of the University of Central Florida, it's worth wondering if Griffin's twin, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, might eventually join him in Duval County given he was non-tendered by Seattle and became a free agent himself.

The Jaguars remained active Tuesday afternoon, signing veteran deep threat receiver Marvin Jones to a two-year deal and doing a trade with the Saints for defensive lineman Malcom Brown.

Bengals getting busy

Cincinnati, a team that has typically remained on the free agency sidelines, is adding former Cowboys corner Chidobe Awuzie, per reports, part of an ongoing effort to upgrade a sagging defense. Also inbound is former Steelers corner Mike Hilton, who gets a four-year deal to join a secondary that allowed 26 TD passes in 2020 and is getting a significant facelift as a result.

Late Monday night, the Bengals bagged blossoming pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, who had 13½ sacks for New Orleans last season. Per reports, he gets a four-year, $60 million deal.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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