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Ex-Eagles take spotlight in NFL free agency

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The Philadelphia Eagles could find it a lot more difficult to defend the NFC East title next season.

The team lost two players Monday: linebacker Shawn Barber to Kansas City and Brian Mitchell to the New York Giants. The Eagles also stand to lose their top defensive end and pass rusher, Hugh Douglas, another unrestricted free agent, although they hope to re-sign him.

Barber, one of several sought-after linebackers available this year, signed with a team attempting to bolster what was the NFL's worst defense statistically last season.

Barber signed a seven-year deal with the Chiefs, who finished 8-8, excelling on offense but allowing the most yards in the league. Mitchell is expected to provide a major lift to the Giants' special teams.

, which have been dismal the past three seasons.

The Eagles tried to minimize the loss of Barber later Monday by acquiring reserve linebacker Mark Simoneau from Atlanta in exchange for a sixth-round draft choice this year and a fourth-round pick in 2004. Simoneau had just 10 tackles last season but blocked a punt that led to a touchdown in the Falcons' playoff victory at Green Bay.

Tennessee, meanwhile, re-signed guard Zach Piller, one of the better offensive linemen available; Atlanta signed former Cincinnati safety Cory Hall; Dallas signed punter Toby Gowin; and the New York Jets re-signed fullback Jerald Sowell, who probably will become their starter at that position.

Marty Mornhinweg, fired Jan. 27 as coach of the Detroit Lions, found a new job Monday as a senior assistant coach for the Eagles. Mornhinweg and Philadelphia coach Andy Reid worked together on Mike Holmgren's staff in Green Bay in the mid-1990s, and before that in college.

Both Barber and Mitchell are ex-Redskins once removed. Both began their careers with Washington, which dominated the free-agent market in the first three days. The team signed eight players, primarily offensive and defensive linemen, and traded for running back Trung Canidate.

The Redskins also acquired a fifth-round draft pick this year from New England for a seventh-round selection this year and a fourth-round selection next year. They also released guard Brendan Stai.

Washington's official additions Monday were guards Lennie Friedman and Tre Johnson, who both signed free agent contracts.

Mitchell, who'll be 35 next season, gives the Giants the kickoff and punt returner they've lacked since the days of Dave Meggett a decade ago. He averaged 12.3 yards on punt returns last year and 27 on kickoffs. His 21,987 combined yards is second only to Jerry Rice on the NFL's career list.

''It's a great opportunity for me,'' Mitchell said. ''I hope I can bring the same thing I've been doing. I hope I can bring my tenacity on the field and keep making right decisions.''

Piller's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the $21.2 million deal with Tennessee includes a $4 million signing bonus and $1.5 million in incentives.

''We felt strongly about Zach from the beginning,'' general manager Floyd Reese said. ''He's a little bit unique in that he has a chance to be a Pro Bowl-type player. We think he's got that kind of talent, and although he hasn't gotten there yet, we believe he can get there. It's hard to find those guys, whether they're yours or somebody else's.''

Hall spent the last four seasons with the Bengals. He had one interception and two sacks in 2002 before needing surgery on his left shoulder to repair torn cartilage.

Gowin is a former Cowboy (1997-99) who was with New Orleans since 2000. Last year, Gowin finished sixth in the NFC with a 41.9-yard gross average and a 36.9 net average.

His deal is worth nearly $4 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus.

San Diego re-signed long snapper David Binn to a one-year contract. Binn will be entering his 10th season with the Chargers.

Green Bay re-signed wide receiver Karsten Bailey to a multiyear deal.



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