Houston, Bryant among franchised players to sign big deals

Justin Houston, Dontari Poe
FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2014, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) celebrates a sacking of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers with Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (92) looking on during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo. A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that the Chiefs and All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston have agreed to a six-year, $101 million contract that includes $52.5 million in guarantees. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday, July 15, 2015, because the deal has not been announced. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Big names. Huge playmakers. And, now, enormous paydays.

Four of five NFL players who had franchise tags assigned to them signed long-term contracts shortly before the deadline for deals Wednesday.

That includes Kansas City’s Justin Houston, who became the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history, Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, however, didn’t get a long-term deal after he injured his right hand in a July 4 fireworks accident.

Teams can designate a player before free agency in March for the franchise tag, which allows that team to retain the rights to a scheduled unrestricted free agent.

Here’s a look at the five franchised players who made headlines Wednesday:

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JUSTIN HOUSTON

The Chiefs’ standout pass rusher agreed to a six-year, $101 million contract just hours before the deadline for a long-term deal, the culmination of long negotiation that made the All-Pro the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history.

The deal includes $52.5 million guaranteed, a person familiar with the terms told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because terms were not disclosed by the team.

“I just had to make sure I took care of what I needed on the field,” said Houston, who left the negotiations in the hands of his agent, Joel Segal.

Houston broke Derrick Thomas’s franchise record with 22 sacks. He had four alone in a dynamic season-ending game against San Diego, leaving him a half-sack short of the NFL’s single-season record set by the Giants’ Michael Strahan. Those gaudy totals sent Houston to his third consecutive Pro Bowl and earned him first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his four-year career.

Houston’s contract is also the richest in franchise history. The only defensive player to sign a larger deal is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who agreed to a six-year, $114 million pact with the Miami Dolphins earlier this year.

DEZ BRYANT

The Cowboys’ All-Pro receiver signed a five-year, $70 million deal after months of posturing from both sides and less than an hour before a deadline that would have required him to play under a one-year agreement.

A person close to the negotiations provided contract terms to The Associated Press because they weren’t announced. The deal includes $45 million in guaranteed money.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that we wanted a long-term deal with Dez,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We just had to get the pot right.”

The 26-year-old Bryant, who led the NFL with 16 touchdowns receiving last season, had threatened to skip training camp and regular-season games without a contract to replace the $12.8 million offer for one year he had under the franchise tag.

“I smiled the whole way over here. I couldn’t even say nothing but just smile and laugh, because I couldn’t believe it,” Bryant said in a story on the team’s website. “All I could just think about is that it’s a dream — a dream come true. I think the only thing that’s missing is a Super Bowl.”

DEMARYIUS THOMAS

The Broncos’ star wide receiver signed a five-year, $70 million contract just before the deadline. It’s the richest contract in franchise history and includes $43.5 million guaranteed.

Had the sides not hammered out a deal, Thomas would have played this season under the $12,823,000 franchise tag.

“Thrilled to reach a long-term deal with Demaryius,” general manager John Elway tweeted. “He is one of the NFL’s top WRs & will continue to be a big part of the Broncos’ success!!”

That was a far different tone than the last time Elway spoke publicly about Peyton Manning’s top target. It was just before the draft and Elway was asked about Thomas boycotting the team’s offseason program, his only perceived leverage under the franchise tag designation. Wanting Thomas on hand as new coach Gary Kubiak installed his offense, Elway fumed then, “there’s zero value in him not being here.” That was about as unpleasant as things got, however.

STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI

The 31-year-old Gostkowski was closing in on a long-term deal before the deadline that could make him the highest-paid kicker in the NFL.

ESPN reported, according to sources, that Gostkowski was signing a four-year, $17.2 million contract that replaced his one-year, $4.5 million franchise tender.

Gostkowski went 35 for 37 on field-goal attempts last season, and has led the NFL in field goals in each of the last two years.

JASON PIERRE-PAUL

A person close to the negotiations told the AP that Pierre-Paul didn’t get a new long-term contract deal — no surprise since his playing status has been uncertain since he was hurt in the fireworks accident.

The person spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss Pierre Paul’s contract situation. The person said the team has not rescinded its $14.8 million franchise tag offer. If the Giants rescind the contract tender offer, the 26-year-old would become an unrestricted free agent.

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AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Schuyler Dixon, Dave Skretta and Arnie Stapleton contributed.

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