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Broncos hurting, Panthers healing in early free agency
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NEW YORK (AP) — Brock Osweiler left Denver. Doug Martin remained in Tampa.

Alex Mack left Cleveland and DeMarco Murray was traded to Tennessee. Mike Tolbert remained in Carolina.

In a flurry of shuffling and staying put, NFL free agency began Wednesday.

And the Super Bowl winner lost its second quarterback in less than a week, while the loser of the big game held on to two key performers.

With Peyton Manning retired, his supposed successor Brock Osweiler headed to Houston. Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson went to Jacksonville, and linebacker Danny Trevathan is now in Chicago. Denver clearly has been weakened.

At least Super Bowl MVP Von Miller has been franchise tagged and won’t be going anywhere.

“We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team of players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here. That’s been a successful approach for us,” general manager John Elway said.

“While we did offer a very competitive and fair long-term contract to Brock, we ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships.”

Osweiler appeared in eight games with seven starts last season for the Broncos. He started the last seven games of the regular season, but was benched in favor of Manning for the postseason.

But the 6-foot-7, 240-pound quarterback showed enough in that short stint after spending his first three pro seasons on the bench behind Manning that the Texans went all-in.

“It was very difficult,” Osweiler said about leaving Denver. “I’d be lying to you if I said anything else. I had a tremendous four seasons there in Denver and those are four years that I’ll always hold close to my heart. But bottom line coming to Houston was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

Carolina, which fell 24-10 to Denver in the Super Bowl, meanwhile retained All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert and re-signed defensive end Charles Johnson to a lower salary Wednesday.

All-Pro running back Martin re-signed with the Buccaneers for five years. Center Mack chose Atlanta over Cleveland in other major moves.

Murray, the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year with Dallas, spent a fruitless season in Philadelphia and was traded Wednesday to the Titans. The teams swapped fourth-rounders, but the Eagles cleared Murray’s hefty contract from the books.

Johnson, cut last week, received a one-year contract worth $3 million to return to the NFC champions, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. He said Johnson turned down an offer in excess of $6 million from another team.

Johnson, 29, would have cost the Panthers $15 million in 2016 under the cap before he was cut.

“My heart was in Carolina,” he said. “Once you put all that energy into it, I feel like I would have been wasting all that work had I gone somewhere else for some dollars. I’d rather be happy doing what I’m doing around people that I know, and I’m comfortable with. I can’t wait to get back to work.”

Johnson has played nine seasons with Carolina and his 63½ sacks are second most in franchise history, behind Julius Peppers’ 81.

Tolbert also said he accepted fewer bucks to return to Carolina.

The top player at his position on the market, Martin will get more than $35 million, with $15 million guaranteed, from the Buccaneers. Martin, 27, has had two outstanding seasons with the Buccaneers and two injury-filled years. In 2015, he rushed for 1,402 yards, second in the NFL, and six touchdowns. His 4.87-yard average was the highest in team history.

“I’ve always saw myself as a Buc. I didn’t think I was going anywhere else,” Martin said.

Indianapolis released veteran receiver Andre Johnson.

Johnson was a mainstay in Houston for 12 years, making two All-Pro teams. But he was a disappointment with the Colts in his only season in Indy with 41 catches for 503 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 1,053 passes for 14,100 yards and 68 touchdowns, often as the only true receiving option for the Texans.

Mack, 30, opted out of his deal with the Browns and gets five years from the Falcons, who have had instability at center since longtime starter Todd McClure retired following the 2012 season.

“Competition is the central theme of the program and the way he plays, man, does he represent that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Headed to Miami was DE Mario Williams, and his signing after being released by Buffalo led to the Dolphins removing the transition tag from Olivier Vernon, who then agreed to terms with the Giants. The transition tag was for $12.734 million; Williams got $17 million over two years from Miami.

The 2006 No. 1 overall pick struggled last season in Rex Ryan’s defense with the Bills, and even criticized how he was used.

“You have bumpy roads,” said Williams 31. “We all do. There’s nobody that can go out there and have a smooth path that is perfect. But I can honestly say that road is still going. We haven’t hit the end in the road, and that’s what gives me so much excitement.”

The Dolphins released cornerback Brent Grimes and finalized a trade to acquire cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso from the Eagles. Philly sends the 13th overall choice in April’s draft and gets the eighth overall selection.


uStar tight end Antonio Gates is remaining in San Diego with a two-year deal that will allow him to retire as a Charger. He’ll get $12 million, with $6 million guaranteed, to keep his terrific combination with quarterback Philip Rivers going. The 2016 season will be Gates’ 14th with the Chargers. He signed as a rookie free agent in 2003 after starring in basketball at Kent State. He turns 36 on June 18.

San Diego also agreed to terms with Seattle DT Brandon Mebane, S Dwight Lowery and WR-KR Travis Benjamin.

uLinebacker Rolando McClain is returning for a third season in Dallas. The 26-year-old McClain got one year at $5 million. He also has been with Oakland and Baltimore.

uTight end Benjamin Watson, coming off a productive season in New Orleans, joined Baltimore.

uThe Giants significantly strengthened their porous defense by adding DT Damon Harrison from the Jets and CB Janoris Jenkins from the Rams.

uJacksonville agreed to terms with Cleveland safety Tashaun Gipson and Jets running back Chris Ivory.