Deal believed to be for $13M

JACKSONVILLE -- Beating a cap-related deadline by several hours, ESPN.com has confirmed on Monday that the Jacksonville Jaguars signed fourth-year veteran Brad Meester to a five-year extension, making him one of the 10 highest-paid centers in the league.

The contract extension is believed to be worth $13 million, with a signing bonus of about $3.5 million -- dramatically increasing Meester's compensation for '03 and providing him with security for the future. Monday was the deadline for teams to sign players to new contracts or extensions and have the signing bonus count as 2003 base salary.

The bookkeeping maneuver permits teams to significantly soften the blow of future cap charges on extended deals. The Arizona Cardinals, for instance, signed five veterans to contract extensions on Saturday to beat the deadline. Most notable was standout offensive left tackle L.J. Shelton.

Without the extension, Meester would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of this season. The fourth-year veteran, a second-round pick in the 2000 draft, was in the final season of his initial NFL contract with a base salary of just $450,000.

His cap number for 2003 will rise from its current $668,000 but, for one of the few times in recent years, Jacksonville, which has struggled with the spending limit in the past, had sufficient wiggle room to cover it.

Meester, 26, is one of the young "nucleus" players around whom the organization plans to rebuild the franchise. Retaining him was a priority and contract discussions took place over the past month.

The former Northern Iowa standout has started all 56 games with Jacksonville during his NFL career. In his first three years, Meester started all 48 contests at left guard. He moved to center for the 2003 season.

Although a bit undersized, Meester is a solid technician and an excellent athlete.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com