New deal comes in at $36 million

Titans general manager Floyd Reese capped a mad scramble to fall in line with the NFL's spending limit by cutting a new deal with veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck, one of the league's emerging young defensive stars.

The Titans have reached agreement with Bulluck on a five-year contract extension, ESPN.com confirmed. When it is officially signed and forwarded to the NFL, the Titans will save more than $1 million on Bulluck's cap charge for 2004. He had earned a so-called "escalator" that would have increased his 2004 salary.

The resultant six-year deal, negotiated over the last few days by agent Gary Wichard, is worth $36.035 million; the combination of the signing bonus and a second-tier option bonus is $12.5 million.

Bulluck, 26, was entering the final season of the original contract he signed with the Titans in 2000, when the former Syracuse star was the team's first-round draft pick.

"I finally feel like, for once in my life, all my hard work paid off for me," Bulluck told ESPN.com. "Most of my life, things were pretty insecure, kind of unstable. But this means that I know where I'm going to be playing for a long time and that my financial [status] is secure. I always said I would earn [the big money] on the field and that's just what I've done."

Regarded as one of the game's premier linebackers, Bulluck said it felt good to be among the top players financially as well.

In terms of contracts signed by linebackers in the past three years, his contract rates as second-richest over a six-year span. Only Ray Lewis of Baltimore, whose contract averages $7 million in its first six years, is higher. Bulluck will make $25.4 million in the first four years.

Bulluck is a superb defender against the pass and run and has lined up at all three linebacker positions at various times. He was named to his first Pro Bowl team last season. Beyond his on-field exploits, he has also blossomed into a strong locker room presence.

Bulluck has started every game the past two seasons and posted more than 125 tackles in each. He had a career-best 137 tackles in 2003, to go along with three sacks, two interceptions and six passes defensed. He has 63 appearances and 34 career starts, with 326 tackles, five sacks, six interceptions and 19 passes defensed.

Meanwhile, the Titans were closing in Tuesday on a long-term contract for tight end Erron Kinney to him off the free agent market.

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