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Free agent flurry - Redskins add Fletcher; 49ers ink Clements, Lewis

March 5th, 2007 11:21 am by Associated Press



The Washington Redskins were aggressive on the first day of free agency Friday, wooing and then signing London Fletcher to fill a big spot at middle linebacker.


As they've done in past years, Daniel Snyder and his underlings seemed ready to make a big early splash, albeit in a market in which teams have cash to spend but few - if any - impact players on which to spend it.


The San Francisco 49ers were the team that made the biggest news later in the day, signing cornerback Nate Clements to what's believed to be one of the richest contracts for a defensive back in NFL history. They also signed former Philadelphia safety Michael Lewis.


Clements agreed to an eight-year, $80 million contract, topping Champ Bailey's seven-year, $63 million deal with Denver in 2004. The six-year veteran was considered one of the top prizes in free agency, and the 49ers rewarded him accordingly.


Terms of the deal were confirmed by a person familiar with the negotiations.


Lewis, a safety from Philadelphia, will become an immediate starter in the 49ers' inconsistent defensive secondary alongside Clements, coach Mike Nolan said.


"Free agency is about adding good players with character to our team," Nolan said. "I am confident that Nate and Michael will help make us better."


Fletcher agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract with the Redskins, capping another busy day of free agency for one of the NFL's top-spending teams.


The agreement, which includes a $10.5 million signing bonus, came as Fletcher and cornerback Fred Smoot were treated to a Washington Wizards game, part of a courtship by a Redskins team that went 5-11 and needs to repair the worst defense in the NFC.


The Indianapolis Colts also made some big moves, releasing receiver Brandon Stokley and defensive tackle Montae Reagor - two players who, until they were hurt, were integral parts of the team that won the Super Bowl. Stokley ruptured his right Achilles' tendon in December and Reagor incurred facial injuries in an auto accident on the way to a game.


The cuts were for cap purposes: Stokley was due a roster bonus of $500,000 and Reagor $1 million.


"It's a business," said Rick Smith, the agent for Stokley, who in 2004 joined with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to become the first trio of receivers to each have 1,000 yards in catches in a single season.


"Is he happy? No. Will he be fine down the road? Sure. But what are you going to do? It's a business."


The Colts also face the loss of other key players from their championship team, including cornerback Nick Harper and running back Dominic Rhodes, who rushed for 113 yards in the Super Bowl. Rhodes reportedly spent Friday visiting the New York Giants, who are seeking a veteran to pair him with third-year-man Brandon Jacobs as they try to replace the retired Tiki Barber.


Another running back officially came on the market when New England released 32-year-old Corey Dillon at the same time the Patriots were re-signing fullback Heath Evans. Dillon, who split time last season with rookie Laurence Maroney, had said earlier this week that he would ask for his release.


Quarterback Jeff Garcia was contacted by Oakland, which would like him to return to the Bay Area, where he grew up and played with San Francisco.


"I think it's exciting to me in the sense that it allows me to return home," Garcia told ESPN. "It allows me to get back to a place where I'm very comfortable."


Jacksonville signed former Baltimore offensive tackle Tony Pashos and , who started for Baltimore last season. Pashos will start at right tackle for the Jaguars, while right tackle Maurice Williams will compete with Khalif Barnes on the right side. The Jaguars also re-signed kicker Josh Scobee.


Atlanta signed another former Raven, fullback Ovie Mughelli.


Linebacker Patrick Chukwurah left Denver and signed with Tampa Bay.


Cleveland agreed to contract terms with free- agent offensive lineman Eric Steinbach on a seven- year deal pending a physical, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The versatile Steinbach, who played the past four seasons for Cincinnati, will sign the contract once he passes a physical, said the person within the NFL who asked to remain anonymous because the signing hasn't been finalized.


As with the quarterbacks, the first day of free agency often was a feeling out day, in some cases with false rumors of signings. One involved tight end Daniel Graham, a former Patriot, going to Denver. "It's totally erroneous," said his agent, Jack Mills. "He still has visits with Oakland and Seattle." The Bills are seeking offers in a bid to trade Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes. If a trade can't be completed, Buffalo would consider releasing Spikes, a person familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press. Buffalo also completed a triple play, signing three offensive linemen, including guard Derrick Dockery. The Bills also signed tackle Langston Walker, who became a free agent after voiding his contract with Oakland, and journeyman lineman Jason Whittle.


Teams also continued to release players and re-sign their own.


The New York Jets released quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who was expendable behind Chad Pennington and second-year man Kellen Clemens.


Atlanta let go of linebackers Ike Reese and Edgerton Hartwell. Tampa Bay re-signed cornerback Philip Buchanon and Philadelphia re-signed defensive end Juqua Thomas.


The Tennessee Titans agreed to terms with three of their own players who had become unrestricted free agents: defensive tackle Rien Long, offensive tackle Seth Wand and linebacker LeVar Woods.


Detroit traded defensive end James Hall to St. Louis for a fifth-round draft pick.


The Lions and Broncos made official a deal disclosed Thursday that sent cornerback Dre' Bly to Denver for offensive tackle George Foster and running back Tatum Bell. Detroit got a fifth-round draft pick and gave Denver a sixth-rounder in the trade.


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