Agents and executives around the league continue to wait anxiously for the details of quarterback Tom Brady's pending contract extension with the New England Patriots.
An agreement appears to be close. The deal likely will make Brady one of the league's highest-paid players but probably will not contain a signing bonus approaching the record $34.5 million that quarterback Peyton Manning received as part of his seven-year, $98 million contract extension from the Indianapolis Colts last year.
The upper end of the quarterback market was set by the Manning deal and the contract extension that Michael Vick signed with the Atlanta Falcons in December -- a 10-year, $130 million deal that includes bonuses totaling $37 million (a $7.5 million signing bonus and roster bonuses of $22.5 million this month and $7 million in March 2006).
Brady, with three Super Bowl triumphs at age 27, almost certainly could get a deal matching or even exceeding those. But he has said he wants to sign a contract that will give the Patriots the financial flexibility to continue to field a powerful team around him. So the Patriots will be getting him at a discount.
Still, Brady and his agent, Don Yee, have an obligation to other players to avoid signing for too much below market value. The second-highest signing bonus ever for a quarterback is the $20 million that Donovan McNabb received from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002. Eli Manning got $20 million in bonuses from the New York Giants as part of his rookie contract signed last summer, but only $3 million of that was the signing bonus. There has been one significant quarterback signing so far this offseason: Matt Hasselbeck signed a six-year, $47 million contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks that included a $16 million signing bonus.
Brady's current contract runs through the 2006 season. He has won two Super Bowls since signing his last deal -- a five-year, $26 million pact -- in August 2002. The former sixth-round draft choice out of the University of Michigan reached his second career Pro Bowl this year. His new contract likely will create a significant short-term salary-cap savings for the Patriots.
Yee did not return a telephone message seeking comment . . . .
New England's acquisition of cornerback Duane Starks from Arizona became official Thursday night when the Cardinals announced the trade. Arizona receives a third-round selection in next month's draft, and the two clubs exchange draft slots in the fifth round. Starks agreed to a reworked contract to complete the trade.
Carter Could Make Choice Soon
Defensive lineman Kevin Carter, an unrestricted free agent after being released by Tennessee during its salary-cap purge, could agree to a contract with Miami or Tennessee soon, perhaps today.
The Dolphins want Carter badly, but his first choice apparently is to re-sign with the Titans. Tennessee would like to re-sign him to a cheaper contract. He was to have a $6.75 million salary with the Titans next season under the terms of his previous contract, and he would have counted $13.97 million against the $85.5 million salary cap. The Titans saved $3.5 million in salary cap space by releasing him. The charge for his previous contract will continue to count against the Titans' salary cap even if they re-sign him to a more cap-friendly deal . . . .
The Dolphins appear close to agreeing to a restructured contract with Junior Seau to keep the veteran linebacker with the team.
Trotter Stays With Eagles
Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter remained with the Eagles by agreeing today to a five-year, $15 million contract that includes a $4 million signing bonus.
Trotter, an unrestricted free agent, visited Kansas City on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Chiefs attempted to sign him before he left town. His free-agent tour also could have included stops in Atlanta and Seattle. But, ultimately, he didn't want to make the same mistake that he made when he left the Eagles in a bitter contract dispute following the 2001 season, and spent two miserable, injury-filled seasons in Washington that nearly ruined his career. He returned to the Eagles for a backup job and a minimum-salary contract this past season and ended up reviving his career and helping them to reach last month's Super Bowl, solidifying the club's run defense after being inserted into the lineup in a midseason shakeup by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson . . . .
The Chiefs also opened contract discussions with linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and cornerback Samari Rolle, the other two prominent defensive free agents who visited Kansas City on Thursday, but signed neither. Linebacker Kendrell Bell and safety Dwight Smith arrived Thursday night for free-agent visits with the Chiefs that will continue today. Bell was scheduled to go to Philadelphia later today for a visit with the Eagles, but the re-signing of Trotter could result in that visit being canceled . . . .
Cornerback Ty Law could visit the Chiefs next week. Law still is recovering from surgery on the foot injury that caused him to miss the second half of the Patriots' season, but apparently wants to get started on his free-agent visits before all the available jobs -- and money -- are handed out.
Giants, McKenzie Agree
The Giants landed free-agent right tackle Kareem McKenzie, formerly of the New York Jets, by agreeing today to a seven-year, $37.5 million deal that includes a $12.5 million signing bonus . . . .
Jacksonville gave agent Tom Condon permission to seek a trade for safety Donovin Darius, the Jaguars' disgruntled franchise player. Darius signed the Jaguars' franchise-player tender for a one-year, $4.968 million contract . . . .
Houston gave Jamie Sharper permission to seek a trade after signing fellow linebacker Morlon Greenwood on Thursday to a five-year, $22.5 million contract that included a $7 million signing bonus . . . .
Cleveland and free-agent quarterback Kelly Holcomb are about $500,000 per season apart as they try to agree to a four-year contract. The Browns are offering about $2 million per season, and Holcomb wants about $2.5 million annually.
Cornerbacks Getting Big Money
The cornerback market is now open for business. And the numbers between the dollar sign and the decimal point, not surprisingly, are big.
Anthony Henry and Ken Lucas became the first of the coveted cornerbacks on the NFL's unrestricted free agent market to sign contracts. Henry left the Browns to sign a five-year, $25 million contract with Dallas that includes $11 million in bonus money. Lucas, formerly of the Seahawks, did even better, agreeing Thursday to a six-year, $36 million deal with Carolina believed to include a signing bonus of approximately $13 million.
Executives around the league predicted before the free-agent market opened Wednesday that the contracts for the top available cornerbacks would be eye-catching. There was a run on free-agent cornerbacks last offseason, and there simply aren't enough good players at the position to go around -- especially now that a spot that already had been difficult to play was made next to impossible, with the league's crack-down this past season on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by pass defenders. When the position-by-position salary figures for franchise players were released during Super Bowl week, cornerback (at $8.816 million) had surpassed even quarterback (at $8.078 million) at the top of the heap.
The contracts should only get heftier in the coming days, as any team still needing a top coverage cornerback becomes ever more desperate to land one. Law, Rolle, Fred Smoot, Gary Baxter and Andre Dyson remain available . . . .
The Baltimore Ravens continued negotiations with Baxter on Thursday but were unable to re-sign him . . . .
The Panthers immediately penciled in Lucas as a starter, leaving Ricky Manning Jr. and Chris Gamble to compete for the other starting job . . . .
Carolina agreed to about $61 million-worth of contracts Thursday by signing Lucas and free-agent guard Mike Wahle. Wahle, cut by Green Bay, agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal . . . .
Denver officially completed its re-signing of guard Ben Hamilton to a five-year contract worth about $17 million, including $5.5 million in bonuses . . . .
The Cowboys have handed out $31 million-worth of bonus money to their four free-agent additions -- quarterback Drew Bledsoe, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, Henry and guard Marco Rivera. On Wednesday and Thursday alone, the Cowboys agreed to deals with Ferguson, Henry and Rivera containing $29 million in bonuses . . . .
Rivera, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in Green Bay, agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract that includes a $9 million signing bonus. The Packers not only lost both of their starting guards, in Wahle and Rivera, they also lost free-agent safety Bhawoh Jue, who agreed to a three-year, $4.5 million contract with San Diego that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus . . . .
Quarterback Drew Brees today signed his one-year franchise-player contract with the Chargers. It's worth $8.078 million. The Chargers also re-signed center David Brandt, a restricted free agent, and safety Jerry Wilson, an unrestricted free agent . . .
San Diego was unable to complete a deal Thursday with free agent Allen Rossum, the Falcons' Pro Bowl kick returner, but the Chargers intend to keep trying to sign him . . . .
Linebacker Ian Gold not only got his wish by returning to the Broncos with a five-year, $22.5 million contract that includes an $8.5 million signing bonus; he doesn't have to pay any agent fees for the deal, either. Gold, after firing his agents, negotiated the contract himself, with the aid of an attorney. He left Denver last year by signing with Tampa Bay via free agency, but was released by the Buccaneers this week . . . .
The Buccaneers retained Greg Spires by agreeing to a reworked deal that extended the defensive end's contract, which had one season remaining, by four years. There had been reports that agent Drew Rosenhaus had an agreement with the Buccaneers that Spires would be released if the two sides couldn't agree to an extension. The new deal contains $5.35 million in bonuses and was completed as Rosenhaus and Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen attended the University of Miami's pro-day workout Thursday for its draft-eligible players . . . .
Free-agent tailback Derrick Blaylock left the Chiefs by agreeing to a five-year, $11.1 contract with the Jets. The deal contains a $3.2 million signing bonus. Blaylock, who was stuck behind Priest Holmes in Kansas City, replaces LaMont Jordan as the backup and successor-in-waiting to Curtis Martin with the Jets. Jordan signed with the Raiders as a free agent . . . .
Linebacker Chris Claiborne left Minnesota by agreeing to a three-year, $10.5 million deal with St. Louis . . . .
The Giants released wide receiver Ike Hilliard . . . . The Raiders released guard Ron Stone and linebacker DeLawrence Grant . . . . The Jaguars released cornerbacks Juran Bolden and Dewayne Washington and fullback Marc Edwards.
QB Moves Coming
Kurt Warner visited the Cardinals on Thursday and headed to Chicago for a visit with the Bears today. The free-agent quarterback is to be in Detroit over the weekend. He could pick a team by early next week and put the quarterback carousel in motion. An executive with one club predicted that Warner would end up in Chicago, Brad Johnson in Arizona, Jeff Garcia in Detroit and Jay Fiedler with the Giants.
"But one guy going to a different place than you expect could put everyone else in a different place," said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be viewed as prying into other clubs' business. "All the teams that need a quarterback are looking at the same group of guys. It's musical chairs. It's just a matter of which guy gets what chair. It's not going to make much of a difference, really. They're all about the same at this point in their careers."