Panthers sign DT Kemoeatu to 5-year, $27.5M deal

Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, one of the hottest players in the unrestricted market, on Saturday agreed to a five-year contract with the Carolina Panthers.

The four-year veteran, who had played his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, will earn $27.5 million over the course of the contract, which includes a $6 million signing bonus and $2 million in second-tier bonus. His base salary for 2006 is $1 million.

The Ravens responded quickly to their loss of Kemoeatu by agreeing to a four-year, $8 million agreement with Bills defensive tackle Justin Bannan. Bannan received a $3 million signing bonus in the deal.

Kemoeatu, 27, has developed over the past two seasons as one of the NFL's best young interior defenders against the run. At 350 pounds, the former Utah star absolutely eats up blockers and allows the linebackers to get to the football. He is the kind of anchor player most teams are now seeking for at least one of their defensive tackle spots.

In Carolina, he figures to be paired with standout tackle Kris Jenkins, who missed all but one game in 2005 because of a knee injury. It marked the second straight year that Jenkins, who played in just four games in 2004, missed most of the season because of injury. But if the two-time Pro Bowl tackle returns healthy for this season, the Panthers will have a formidable inside tandem.

The Panthers recently released veteran tackle Brentson Buckner and quickly pursued Kemoeatu, who was the No. 8 player in ESPN.com's free agent rankings, to replace him.

League personnel directors feel that Kemoeatu, who had started only five games prior to the '05 season, is just learning the finer points of the game. But on sheer power alone, and blessed with superior girth, he has already developed into a dominating force against the run.

A native of Tonga, he started all 16 games last season and finished with 70 tackles and one sack. In 61 career appearances, Kemoeatu has 178 tackles, four sacks and one fumble recovery. He is the brother of Pittsburgh Steelers second-year guard Chris Kemoeatu.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com's John Clayton was used in this report.