- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2020

For sports fans, the last few days have been a nightmare. Leagues like the NBA, NHL and MLB came to a grinding halt. Worse: The NCAA canceled March Madness. All stoppages were due to concerns about the coronavirus amid a worldwide pandemic.

So for many, it was a welcome distraction Monday when the NFL opened its legal tampering window, allowing teams to agree to deals ahead of the start of free agency on Wednesday.

Finally, action. It may have been all contracts, extensions, trades and salary cap maneuvers, but still. Action.

Over the course of a wild few hours, the league saw two blockbuster trades, contracts worth millions of dollars agreed upon and additional rumors sure to fuel the coming days ahead.

The most noteworthy deals included former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins’ massive $66 million contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings and the Houston Texans’ trade of star wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.

Hopkins and a fourth-rounder were packaged in exchange for running back David Johnson and two draft picks. Hopkins is considered one of the NFL’s best wideouts, but reportedly clashed with coach and general manager Bill O’Brien — leading to a surprising divorce. Now the 27-year-old wideout, who’s had at least 1,000 yards in five of the last six seasons, will join quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.

The Redskins saw former offensive line starter Ereck Flowers leave for the Miami Dolphins, and watched as one possible free-agent acquistion, Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, landed instead with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns made Hooper, a 25-year-old coming off a career year, the highest-paid tight end in the league on a four-year, $44 million contract ($23 million guaranteed). Flowers, a former first-round bust who salvaged his career in Washington by switching from tackle to guard, accepted a three-year, $30 million offer from the Dolphins.

The Redskins, though, did get one of their priorities done — re-upping middle linebacker Jon Bostic for two years, $6.6 million.

To replace Flowers, the Redskins agreed to sign former Atlanta Falcons guard Wes Schweitzer to a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Schweitzer, 26, started 36 of 46 games for the Falcons.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco 49ers sent star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th overall pick. San Francisco made the Super Bowl last year in part due to the strength of its defensive line, but was unwilling to pay Buckner, who received a $21 million per year extension from the Colts.

Minnesota Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs also stirred trade rumors when he tweeted: “It’s time for a new beginning.”

Diggs’ tweet came hours after Minnesota announced its new extension for Cousins. The former University of Maryland wideout, known best for hauling in the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the 2017 playoffs, also seemed to confirm he wanted to be traded after a fan responded to Diggs that he has posted similar types of tweets before, only for no trade to actually be finalized.

“Nah this ain’t one of them times champ,” said Diggs, who had a career-high 1,130 yards in 2019. “Something’s going to happen.”

The posts captured the attention of Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who quote-tweeted Diggs with a looking emoji and a praying hands emoji.

Cornerback Byron Jones is leaving the Dallas Cowboys for the Miami Dolphins.

Despite the flurry of moves, the biggest transactions are still to come. Quarterback Tom Brady remains unsigned as oddsmakers pegged the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — not the New England Patriots — as the favorite to land him. This year features a robust quarterback market that includes Phillip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

Other quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are rumored to available via trade, with both linked to the Chicago Bears.

One signal-caller, however, did come off the board Monday as former Redskins starter Case Keenum agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal with the Browns. Keenum will back up starter Baker Mayfield.

For non-quarterbacks, the top free agents include wide receiver Amari Cooper, pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Cory Littleton.

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