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NFL Off Season Moves and Analysis


A few Super Bowl contenders had some important decisions to make regarding key players who received the franchise tag designation leading up to Monday's deadline.  They had to choose whether or not to offer long-term contract extensions to those players or risk holdouts.  The New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens were the noteworthy teams that inked their star offensive players to deals before the deadline, ensuring they would be ready to report for training camp.
The Saints (18/1 to win Super Bowl XLVII) kicked off the signings last Friday when they agreed to terms with All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees on a five-year contract worth $100 million with a record $60 million guaranteed in the first three years.  Brees set an NFL record with 5,476 passing yards last season to go along with a career-high 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.  He led a New Orleans team currently troubled by a bounty scandal to its only Super Bowl title in 2010 and figures to play an even bigger leadership role this year with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the season.
The Bears (16/1) finally took care of disgruntled running back Matt Forte after negotiating through the weekend to beat the deadline, signing him to a four-year deal worth $32 million early Monday.  Forte was on his way to a career year in 2011 before missing the final four games of the regular season due to a knee injury.  He still rushed for 997 yards on 203 carries (4.9 per carry) and made 52 catches for 490 yards.
The Ravens (18/1) followed suit a few hours later by signing RB Ray Rice to a five-year deal worth $40 million.  Rice proved to be one of the most valuable backs in the league last season with 1,364 rushing yards on 291 carries (4.7 per carry) and 704 receiving yards on 76 catches.  Both he and Forte were looking to get paid on a similar level to LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arian Foster of the Houston Texans, whose teams are both 12/1 to win the Super Bowl.  The contracts Rice and Forte signed are worth slightly below those of McCoy and Foster.
One of the favorites to win the Super Bowl who did not sign their franchise tagged player was the New England Patriots (13/2).  New England wide receiver Wes Welker was looking to get paid like one of the top players at his position but could not agree to a long-term deal with the Patriots, so he will be an unrestricted free agent after this year.  Welker has been an important player on two AFC champion teams that lost to the New York Giants (18/1) twice in the Super Bowl, including last season.

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