A couple of accomplished NFL pass rushers suddenly became available when DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers were released to create room under the salary cap in two of the biggest moves at Tuesday's start of the free-agency signing period.
The Bears cut ties with Peppers, who has 118½ sacks in 12 seasons, as part of a series of moves aimed at improving their defense, including a five-year contract with former Raiders end Lamarr Houston.
The Cowboys let Ware and his 117 sacks go.
"A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring."
With the cap rising $10 million to a record $133 million, a crop of players quickly found new homes as soon as the market officially opened Tuesday afternoon — and safeties and offensive linemen were popular commodities.
About 5½ hours after free agency began, one of the top players available, three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, agreed to terms with the Saints, part of a merry-go-round of moves at his position. Other safeties swapping clubs: Michael Jenkins, from Saints to Eagles; Donte Whitner from 49ers to Browns; Antoine Bethea from Colts to 49ers; T.J. Ward from Browns to Broncos; Mike Mitchell from Panthers to Steelers; Ryan Mundy from Giants to Bears.
In addition to jettisoning Peppers and adding Houston and Mundy, Chicago agreed to one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.
Two of the most sought-after cornerbacks also were on the move. Alterraun Verner, who had five interceptions for Tennessee last season, agreed to a four-year contract with Tampa Bay and Aqib Talib left New England for a six-year deal with Denver.
Verner, 25, could wind up being a replacement for Darrelle Revis, who might be traded or cut to create more salary-cap room for the Buccaneers.
Deals for offensive linemen were highlighted by Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert's five-year contract with the Dolphins. Albert left Kansas City to take over the position played at the start of last season by Jonathan Martin, whose exit from Miami in October led to an NFL inquiry into bullying on the team.
Late Tuesday, Martin was traded by the Dolphins to the 49ers.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer and the Cardinals agreed to a five-year contract worth up to $35 million. Veldheer left the Raiders, who replaced him by giving former Rams lineman Rodger Saffold a five-year deal. Another left tackle, Eugene Monroe, agreed to a five-year contract to stay with the Ravens.
Former Jets right tackle Austin Howard agreed to a five-year, $30 million contract, with $15 million guaranteed after starting every game the last two seasons in New York.
Guards switching teams: Zane Beadles was joining the Jaguars from the Broncos, pending a physical; the Falcons agreed to terms with Jon Asamoah, who left the Chiefs; the Redskins struck a deal with Shawn Lauvao, who left the Browns. The Redskins also agreed to terms with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts and special teams standout Adam Hayward and scheduled a visit with cornerback Corey Graham.
The Jaguars also were busy, including a trade that sent quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, an agreement with former Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, and re-signing cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year deal.
Kick returner and receiver Dexter McCluster went to the Titans from the Chiefs; defensive end Arthur Jones joined the Colts from the Ravens; defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai joined the Falcons; and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell left the Texans for the Dolphins.
Amid it all, the Ware and Peppers departures might have been the most significant developments.
The 31-year-old Ware, who went to seven Pro Bowls while in Dallas, was set to count $16 million against the salary cap. By releasing him now, the Cowboys, who were right up against the cap, saved more than $7 million. Ware had a career-low six sacks last season, his ninth in Dallas. He missed time with a thigh injury, then had offseason elbow surgery.
Others released included Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb (who failed a physical), Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, Eagles safety Patrick Chung, and Bengals center Kyle Cook.
Among players staying put:
—RB Darren McFadden was given a $4 million, one-year contract by the Raiders.
—KR-WR Brandon Tate re-signed with the Bengals.
—PK Adam Vinatieri, the 41-year-old with four Super Bowl rings, agreed to a two-year contract with the Colts. Other PKs getting new contracts: Nick Folk (Jets), Phil Dawson (49ers), Dan Carpenter (Bills).
—CB Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts.
—RB Joique Bell is now signed with the Lions for $9.3 million over three years, with $4.3 million guaranteed.
—LB Perry Riley and WR Santana Moss re-signed with the Redskins.
—DT Jonathan Babineaux got a three-year contract from the Falcons.
—TE Anthony McCoy got a one-year deal from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks after he missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
—WR Andre Caldwell got a two-year contract from the Broncos.
Chiefs' free agents find big deals elsewhere
DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — As the first hour of free agency came to a close Tuesday, the flood of players headed out of Arrowhead Stadium for big-money deals had finally slowed to a stop.
Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was a Dolphin. Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster was a Titan. Defensive tackle Tyson Jackson and guard Jon Asamoah were headed for the Falcons, while fellow guard Geoff Schwartz appeared on his way to the Giants.
All of them were significant contributors to last year's dramatic turnaround, when Kansas City went from two wins in 2012 to an 11-5 record and the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the only move Kansas City made Tuesday was to re-sign defensive back and special teams star Husain Abdullah. The Chiefs had earlier brought back linebacker Frank Zombo.
None of that was surprising for the cash-strapped Chiefs, who turned over about half of their roster after the arrival of general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid last season. They only have about $9.6 million available under the salary cap this year, and roughly $5 million of that will be used to sign their own draft picks.
So, while a handful of their former players agreed to deals elsewhere worth more than $100 million, the Chiefs were forced to start considering the second tier of free agents.
Those deals may develop in the coming days and weeks. The Chiefs need help at several spots, including wide receiver, free safety and offensive guard.
Perhaps the least surprising move Tuesday was the Dolphins agreeing to terms with Albert on a $46 million, five-year deal. Kansas City franchised Albert last season before nearly working out a trade to Miami. Negotiations eventually fell through, and Albert played well enough — when he was healthy — to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs at least have options to replace him on the roster. Right tackle Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in last year's draft, could swing to the left side, or up-and-coming backup Donald Stephenson could step into the void.
The departures of Jackson, Asamoah, McCluster and Schwartz are more troublesome. The Chiefs already lacked depth at defensive end, wide receiver and the interior of the offensive line.
There was some interest from the Chiefs in bringing back McCluster, who flourished as a slot receiver and punt returner last season. But the two sides never appeared close to a deal, and the dynamic return man ultimately signed a $12 million, three-year deal with Tennessee.
The Titans had no immediate comment on the contract, but McCluster wrote on Twitter, "Very excited to join the @TennesseeTitans."
Jackson and Asamoah landing in Atlanta was hardly a surprise. Both players were drafted by former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, who has since joined the Atlanta front office.
"They are good football players and solid in many ways," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a conference call. "They add to the toughness, the size and the grittiness of our team. That was a goal we had set out at the beginning of the offseason to accomplish."
It may have made the Falcons tougher, but it also weakened the Chiefs, who were unable to be much of a player given the amount of money that was being tossed toward their former players.