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NFL Free Agent Signings and Rumors- Thursday, March 16

Free agency has picked up a nice second wind over the last two days, with Thursday bringing a couple of fairly notable signings and visits on the offensive side of the ball, as well as a big name on defense finding a new home. Let's dive into what changed in the NFL landscape over the last 24 hours:

Jared Cook signs two-year deal with Raiders worth up to $12.2 million- The visit we'd reported about in this space Wednesday turned into a signing Thursday, with Cook opting to bring his 303 career receptions to the West Coast.  Last season's top tight end duo in Oakland – Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera – combined to see 77 targets, 14 of which came in the red zone. By comparison, the receiving quartet of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes received a total 72 looks inside the 20 alone, providing a glimpse of how focused Derek Carr was on his wideouts near the goal line. Cook only has Walford presently standing between him and the top spot on the tight end depth chart, and as we highlighted yesterday, has something to prove in the regular season following modest 39-and-30-catch tallies the last two years in St. Louis and Green Bay, respectively. If he can maintain the considerable momentum he generated during last season's Packers postseason run, when he snared 18 of 32 targets for 229 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games, Carr will have yet another potent passing-game weapon at his disposal.

Darren McFadden re-signs with Cowboys on one-year deal- Some may have presumed the former Razorback was finished in Dallas following last season's injury-shortened campaign, but the Cowboys opted to bring back the talented veteran for at least 2017. McFadden proved to be a bargain signing by Dallas in 2015 when he broke the 1,000-yard mark for only the second time in his career and added 40 receptions as well. A broken elbow suffered before training camp last summer delayed his 2016 debut until Week 15, and he finished the campaign with just 87 yards on 24 carries. McFadden's signing coincides with two recent developments involving members of the Cowboys backfield– Lance Dunbar's Thursday signing with the Rams and the surfacing of a controversial video involving Ezekiel Elliott at a recent St. Patrick's Day parade that could presumably lead to some sort of league discipline, although that remains highly speculative for the moment. McFadden's return to the team, which may have admittedly already been in the works anyhow, likely at least partly influenced by the former and potentially, the latter.

Lance Dunbar signs one-year deal worth up to $3 million with Rams- Dunbar is the case of another free-agent visit culminating successfully, as he joins a Rams team that currently has a highly unproven backfield behind starter Todd Gurley. As we reported yesterday, Dunbar saw only 25 touches last season in Dallas upon his return from a serious knee injury suffered in 2015, but may have still been working back up to full strength. A pre-injury version of Dunbar would provide the Rams with an elusive and dangerous open-field weapon that would be a more explosive pass catcher than the departed Benny Cunningham, who hauled in 87 receptions in a passing-down type of role the previous three seasons. Todd Gurley did make strong strides as a receiver out of the backfield last season – which could potentially keep him around on third downs more often – but the Rams presumably have a defined role in mind for Dunbar as a speedy change-of-pace option.

Rumored Signings and Visits

EJ Manuel expected to sign with Raiders- The former first-round pick never got on solid ground over his four-season tenure in Buffalo, maxing out at 1,972 passing yards and 11 touchdowns back in his 2013 rookie year. Manuel lost his starting job to Tyrod Taylor in 2015 and has therefore only made 110 pass attempts over the last two seasons, amassing 692 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions over that span. In Oakland, he'd presumably vault over second-year man Connor Cook for the top backup spot behind Derek Carr, although that battle would play out over OTAs, training camp and preseason. Oakland is in the market for a more experienced option behind Carr with prior No. 2 Matt McGloin now an unrestricted free agent.

Tim Hightower visits with 49ers- Hightower may be continuing his career renaissance out west as part of new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan's aggressive offensive revamping. The veteran running back could make for an intriguing complement to Carlos Hyde after ripping off 923 yards and eight rushing touchdowns over 24 games with the Saints the last two seasons and adding 34 receptions for 329 yards and another score through the air over that span. At 30 years old, a part-time role the likes of what he enjoyed in New Orleans (229 carries the last two seasons) would likely serve as the ideal way to maximize Hightower's talents and extend his resurgent career.

Notable IDP Signings 

Dontari Poe signs one-year, $8 million contract with Falcons- Poe gave the Dolphins some consideration before landing with last year's Super Bowl runner-up, and he'll look to help shore up a defense that allowed 4.5 yards per rush last season, seventh-highest in the NFL. A 2012 first-round pick of the Chiefs, Poe amassed 201 tackles (156 solo), including nine for loss, 13 sacks, 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery over five seasons in Kansas City, but his main function once again will be to plug up the middle of the defense with his near-350-pound frame. Playing on a one-year deal, Poe will presumably have a little extra incentive to step things up a notch in an attempt to secure a lucrative long-term agreement next offseason, be it in Atlanta or elsewhere.

Connor Barwin signs one-year deal worth up to $6.5 million with Rams- The durable veteran arrives in Los Angeles after spending his previous four campaigns in Philadelphia, and he brings a resume that includes 320 tackles and 49.5 sacks over eight seasons. Barwin is a proverbial iron man, having played in all 16 games in all but one campaign of his career, and despite a down season in 2016 when he tallied just 34 stops, he should help a Rams squad that was 25th in the NFL last season with just 31 sacks.

Brandon Carr signs four-year deal with Ravens- The 10-year veteran lands in Baltimore after spending the last five years in Dallas, where he'd been a much-heralded free-agent signing back in 2012. True to the reputation he'd arrived in Big D with, Carr got his hands on plenty of passes in his first two seasons with the Cowboys, defending 23 passes successfully and notching six interceptions, with a pick-six in each of those campaigns. However, things were a lot quieter from 2014-16, as Carr failed to record an interception and knocked away a combined 22 passes over that span. That said, he should be a serviceable addition to a Ravens secondary that's impressively stocked everywhere else with the likes of Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle and  most recently, Tony Jefferson.

Al Woods signs with Colts- The run-stopping Woods will attempt to shore up a vulnerable Colts defensive front that allowed a second-worst 4.7 yards per rush and 120.4 yards per game on the ground in 2016. He carries 63 tackles (41 solo) and 3.5 sacks on his career resume, which spans 81 games over seven seasons with the Bucs, Steelers and Titans. Given those numbers, his IDP value figures to be minimal at best.

Additional IDP Quick Hits

Josh McNary signs with Jaguars- The reserve linebacker has 79 tackles (48 solo), a half-sack and a forced fumble over 49 games in his first four seasons, which were all spent with the Colts. McNary is also an above-average special teams player, where a bulk of his 2017 work will likely come.

Chris Carter signs with Redskins- Like McNary, Carter has seen minimal action over his first several seasons, collecting only 37 tackles (23 solo), two fumble recoveries and one pass defensed, in six seasons with the Steelers, Bengals, Colts and Ravens. He's also a solid special teams contributor, an area that will likely serve as his main source of playing time once again next season.

Marqueston Huff signs with Chiefs- Huff spent the first three seasons of his career with the Titans and Ravens, collecting 36 tackles (25 solo), one sack and four passes defensed. He seems destined for a reserve role and special teams work in his new locale.