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Thursday, July 13, 2006
Lions sign standout OT Backus to six-year contract

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Battling against a Friday 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Detroit Lions have signed standout offensive tackle Jeff Backus to a new six-year contract, ESPN.com has learned.

Jeff Backus
Backus

The contract, negotiated by agent Pat Dye Jr., is worth nearly $40 million and includes about $16 million in bonuses. The deal makes Backus -- who had been designated a franchise player at the outset of the free agency period -- the sixth-highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. He also becomes the highest-paid lineman who has never appeared in a Pro Bowl game.

In mid-May, Backus signed the one-year qualifying offer for a franchise offensive lineman, which carried a base salary of $6.983 million for 2006. But almost as important, the Lions stipulated as part of that contract that they could not use the franchise marker on Backus again next spring. The stipulation, which was in writing, meant that without a long-term extension, Backus would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.

The contract signed on Thursday replaces the one-year deal and was negotiated against the backdrop of the deadline. According to the interpretation of the NFL Management Council, any contract completed with Backus after the close of business on Friday afternoon would have attached the franchise designation to him for the entire length of the deal. The Lions now gain back the franchise marker and, if necessary, can use it on another player in the future.

"Certainly, Jeff could have gone into free agency after this season, and tested the market, and perhaps gotten an even better deal," Dye said Thursday evening. "But at the end of the day, we're talking about a guy who played at Michigan, who really wanted to stay with the Lions and be a part of rebuilding that team, and who knows now where he's going to be playing for the next six seasons. And credit Lions officials, too, for showing extraordinary commitment to get this done."

Dye said part of his client's motivation, as well, was the strong impression that first-year head coach Rod Marinelli, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Larry Beightol have already made on him in a short time.

Backus celebrated the new contract by closing on a new home Thursday afternoon.

It is believed that had Backus gone into the open market next spring, he would have been among the most coveted veterans in the 2007 unrestricted free-agent pool. Lions officials clearly felt that the tradeoff, along with the potential to still strike a long-term contract before Backus became a free agent, was worth it to get the former first-round draft choice involved in the team's offseason program under Marinelli.

The two sides agreed at the time to continue working toward a long-term extension, and the talks accelerated this week.

The team's first-round choice in the 2001 draft, Backus has never missed a game, and the former University of Michigan standout has started in all 80 contests in which he's appeared. Backus played the final 11 games of the 2005 season with an ankle sprain so severe that it required offseason surgery to clean out some bone fragments.

Backus, 28, is regarded as one of the NFL's top pass protectors and is a key to a unit that is being revamped under Beightol.

There were only three veterans designated as franchise players this spring. Defensive end John Abraham was traded from the New York Jets to Atlanta and signed a six-year, $45 million contract with the Falcons to facilitate the swap. Cornerback Nate Clements signed the one-year qualifying offer with the Buffalo Bills, prompted by the club's promise that it won't use the franchise tag on him again next spring.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.