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Thursday, February 28, 2008
Kelly signs seven-year, $50.5 million contract with Raiders

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The Oakland Raiders stepped forward Thursday on the eve of free agency and signed Tommy Kelly to the largest contract ever given to a defensive tackle.

Tommy Kelly

Kelly

Kelly, a defensive end scheduled to move to defensive tackle this season, signed a seven-year, $50.5 million contract Thursday that has $18.125 million in guarantees. In the first three years of the deal, he will make $25.125 million.

The Raiders' plan is for the 300-pound Kelly to replace the retiring Warren Sapp as the three-technique defensive tackle in the Raiders' 4-3 defense. The move is similar to the one made last year by the Detroit Lions' Cory Redding, a franchise player who signed a seven-year, $47.5 million deal last summer, the highest among defensive tackles at the time.

Like Kelly, Redding was an effective run-stopping end with some pass-rush ability so the Lions believed he could move to tackle, work next to Shaun Rogers and create a solid 1-2 interior defensive tackle punch. The Raiders believe Kelly can emerge as one of the league's best interior defenders.

Kelly gained the confidence of Raiders coaches by averaging five tackles a game as a starter at defensive end. He's had 13 career sacks, and the Raiders believe he can be a pass-rushing force at defensive tackle because of his quickness.

First, though, Kelly has to get healthy. He's coming off a torn ACL that limited him to seven games last year. He had 30 tackles and a sack in those games. Kelly was going to be a highly coveted defender in free agency because he could play defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4.

He came to the Raiders in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.