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NFL teams scramble to catch K.C. as free agency begins -- but the Chiefs aren't standing still

Calvin Ridley is heading to the Tennessee Titans, the highlight of the official start of free agency Wednesday when teams began reshaping their rosters in a quest to unseat the two-time defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Ridley — who had been expected to re-sign with the Jaguars — and the Titans agreed on a four-year, $92 million contract with $50 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the terms told The Associated Press.

Ridley gives young Titans quarterback Will Levis another playmaker. He started all 17 games for the Jaguars last season and finished with 76 receptions for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns. Ridley, however, hasn't always been so reliable. He missed most of the previous two years because of a broken foot, a mental health break and a yearlong gambling suspension.

The Titans also added a veteran quarterback, agreeing with Mason Rudolph on a one-year contract, another person familiar with the decision told the AP.

Also Wednesday, the Washington Commanders continued rebuilding their defense by luring six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner from Seattle, and Joe Flacco is headed to the Colts to help mentor Anthony Richardson on a one-year deal after helping the Browns reach the playoffs and winning the AP Comeback Player of the Year award.

Many of the top available free agents — including quarterback Kirk Cousins and running backs Saquon Barkley and Derrick Henry — agreed to deals during the two-day negotiating period leading up to the start of the league's new year.

Their deals set in motion a major reshuffling of backfields in 2024 with a dozen seasoned QBs and more than a dozen veteran running backs switching teams.

And the Houston Texans continued their remarkably rapid rise from cellar to stellar by luring perennial Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter from the Vikings to play opposite AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson on Houston’s defensive line.

Hunter had a career-best 16 1/2 sacks last year. His deal is a $49 million, two-year contract with all but $1 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the deal told the AP.

The Texans went from worst to first in winning the AFC South last season, advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

After losing the AFC championship at home to the Chiefs, Baltimore made a splash in free agency by luring Henry away from the Titans.

The two-time NFL rushing champ joins a Baltimore team that annually produces one of the league’s leading ground games, and he'll partner with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Henry will be running behind a reworked Baltimore offensive line. The Ravens agreed to trade tackle Morgan Moses and a fourth-round draft pick to the Jets on Wednesday for New York's pick earlier in the fourth round and a sixth-round selection. Baltimore had already lost guard John Simpson to the Jets in free agency.

How much have the Ravens, Texans and others really closed the gap with the Chiefs, who have won three titles in the six seasons Patrick Mahomes has been their starter?

The champs didn't stand pat during the free-agency frenzy this week as general manager Brett Veach once again bucked the time-honored trend of champions losing core veterans to other teams.

Veach kept All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones from leaving Kansas City with a five-year, $158.75 million contract. The deal was structured so that it only cost $7.35 million against the cap this year.

Chiefs backup linebacker Drue Tranquill also signed a three-year, $19 million deal to return before Wednesday’s official start to free agency, and defensive tackle Mike Pennel returned to the Chiefs on a one-year deal after playing well in their Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

Also, Mahomes agreed to restructure his contract to free up salary cap space.

The additional flexibility could mean that cornerback L’Jarius Sneed remains in Kansas City. The Chiefs used the franchise tag on him, which would equate to a one-year, $19.8 million deal, but many expected them to ultimately trade Sneed for draft compensation and cap relief.

Now, the Chiefs could keep him at the tag number or use their newfound wiggle room to sign him to a long-term deal.

“There isn’t much of a recruiting pitch that needs to be made with Kansas City,” Tranquill said Wednesday. “You have incredible leadership, top to bottom. You have a culture that’s a winning culture, that is not about egos or self or guys getting paid; we all want our guys to get paid, but everything at the Chiefs and in our organization is about winning, and it’s about hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.”

Wagner, who turns 34 this summer, led the NFL with 183 tackles last season. He becomes the centerpiece of the Commanders' defense under Dan Quinn and is another player the new coach is plenty familiar with. Wagner played two seasons for Quinn with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and ’14, winning a Super Bowl together in the process.

“Seattle, we’ve done this before,” Wagner posted on social media, referencing leaving the Seahawks in 2022 for one season with the Los Angeles Rams before returning in 2023. “You know what it is. It’s always love. Until we meet again. I’m around.”

Signing Wagner is one of many changes Washington's new general manager Adam Peters made after going into free agency with the most salary cap space in the league. Also coming are running back Austin Ekeler, veteran backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, tight end Zach Ertz and several others.

Among other deals Wednesday, the Eagles held onto kicker Jake Elliott, the Browns kept punter Corey Bojorquez and the Broncos re-signed fullback Michael Burton.

Teams needed to be under the $255.4 million salary cap Wednesday, leading to numerous restructures. One notable cap casualty was receiver Mike Williams, who was released by the Chargers in a move that freed up $20 million.

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AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL