Lions' back gets two-year extension

Four-year veteran tailback Paul Smith has avoided unrestricted free agency, signing a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Lions, a deal worth $1.235 million.

Smith, 26, received a $160,000 signing bonus and will earn base salaries of $535,000 for 2004 and $540,000 for 2005, the minimums for a veteran with his league tenure. The deal means he will not enter the unrestricted market when free agency begins in early March.

The former Texas-El Paso standout, whose career progress has been stymied by a series of injuries, appeared in seven games for the Lions in 2003. In that short period, he was one of Detroit's best special teams performers, and also saw spot duty at tailback. Smith carried twice for five yards and had five receptions for 45 yards.

Lions coaches made it a point to emphasize to Smith when the '03 season concluded that they wanted him to return to the team in 2004. His role, as a utility player and performer on all of the kicking game units, is not likely to change. But he is a player who can do a lot of things, all of them above average, and coach Steve Mariucci likes him.

Smith was originally chosen by San Francisco in the fifth round of the 2000 draft. But every time it seemed he was ready to establish himself with the 49ers, an injury would intervene, and the club finally released him after the 2002 campaign. Smith then spent a few months rehabilitating and signed with Detroit at mid-season of 2003.

In addition to Mariucci, running backs coach Tom Rathman also feels Smith is a solid player and wanted to retain him.

In four seasons, Smith has appeared in 43 games, none as a starter. He has 42 carries for 194 yards and a touchdown and 12 receptions for 133 yards.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.