NFC urgency marks free agency in NFL

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2005

NFC teams were busy trying to catch up with the Philadelphia Eagles on the second day of free agency.

Two of the conference champions' divisional rivals made big moves Thursday.

Dallas added defensive tackle Jason Ferguson from the New York Jets and guard Marco Rivera from Green Bay on Thursday after signing cornerback Anthony Henry on Wednesday. The New York Giants signed middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who emerged as a top defender for Washington last season in his first year as a starter.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones called it ''the most expensive day in Cowboys history.'' The tab: $28 million in signing bonuses alone.

''I'll do what it takes to get us to the Super Bowl,'' Jones said. ''It's about winning.''

Carolina, the 2003 NFC champion, plunged into free agency like never before, signing guard Mike Wahle, cut by Green Bay for cap reasons, and former Seahawks cornerback Ken Lucas.

Pierce's departure to a division opponent smarted. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs had identified the 26-year-old linebacker as one of the ''core players'' he wanted to keep. But New York's offer of a six-year, $26 million deal was too much for the usually free-spending Redskins.

''We went as far as we could go, I felt like,'' Gibbs said. ''It's something that just didn't work out. I hate it. It's not going to happen very often to us, but there's times when it could happen.''

The Redskins did add one new player, agreeing to terms with free agent receiver David Patten, who caught 44 passes for 800 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

The Patriots got some help at cornerback, acquiring Duane Starks in a trade with Arizona. New England gave the Cardinals a third-round pick in April's draft.

It was a particularly bad day for Green Bay, which lost two starting guards and safety Bhawoh Jue, who signed a three-year contract with the San Diego Chargers.

The Eagles, meanwhile, kept one of their own, agreeing to a one-year deal with veteran defensive end Hugh Douglas.

While adding Pierce, the Giants cut former first-round pick Ike Hilliard, saying goodbye to the receiver after eight seasons.

San Francisco signed offensive lineman Jonas Jennings, formerly of the Buffalo Bills and regarded as the best left tackle available.

That position is normally at a premium, although Jennings isn't in the class of the NFL's best. Two of them, Orlando Pace of St. Louis and Walter Jones of Seattle, were kept off the market this year — Jones re-signed with the Seahawks and Pace was protected as the Rams' franchise player.

The Rams added their second linebacker in two days, signing Chris Claiborne away from the Vikings to go along with Dexter Coakley, signed away from Dallas.

Claiborne got a three-year, $10.5 million contract a day after Coakley signed a five-year, $14.5 million deal.

Oakland signed running back Lamont Jordan, who had been Curtis Martin's backup with the Jets. Jordan, whose 479 yards rushing were more than the Raiders' leading rusher last season, got $11 million guaranteed in a contract that will pay him $27.5 million over five years.

Reggie Hayward was rewarded for being able to do what Jennings is getting paid to prevent — rush the passer. He was introduced by Jacksonville after signing a five-year, $25 million deal.

Hayward led Denver last season with 10 1/2 sacks despite being only a part-time player at the start of the season. With Jacksonville, he will play alongside one of the NFL's best defensive tackle tandems: John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.

''He's an ascending player, and we believe his best football is ahead of him,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''With the presence we have inside with Marcus and Big John, we believe Reggie will help take our defense to another level.''

Houston signed linebacker Morlon Greenwood, who started for Miami, to a five year, $22.5 million deal, and re-signed defensive tackle Seth Payne, one of the players it chose in the expansion draft for its first season in 2002.

Denver re-signed guard Ben Hamilton and welcomed back linebacker Ian Gold, who played one season with Tampa Bay before returning to the Broncos as a free agent.

The agent for Pittsburgh receiver Plaxico Burress said he's had preliminary talks with the Minnesota Vikings about his client replacing Randy Moss.

''Plaxico's interested in being in Minnesota,'' Michael Harrison told The Associated Press. ''I think it is a good fit for both sides.''

Also on Thursday, free agent receiver Travis Taylor, a disappointment during his five seasons in Baltimore, visited the Vikings.

Kurt Warner made the Arizona Cardinals his first stop as a free agent and said he expects to win the starting quarterback job with whatever team signs him.

Warner, who lost his starting job with the New York Giants last season to rookie Eli Manning, also plans to visit the Chicago Bears on Friday and the Detroit Lions on Sunday. He expects to sign with one of those three teams.

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