In a key move toward converting the Houston Texans' defense to a 4-3 front, the team on Saturday reached an agreement with highly regarded defensive end Anthony Weaver, an unrestricted free agent who had played his entire four-year career with the Baltimore Ravens.
Contract details of the multi-year deal were not immediately available. But league sources said Weaver, a player clearly targeted by the Texans for an early free agency strike, could sign a deal that averages in the $5 million range and includes an eight-figure signing bonus.
For the first four seasons of their existence, the Texans played a 3-4 defense under coach Dom Capers and coordinator Vic Fangio, but that will change in 2006. First-year head coach Gary Kubiak prefers a 4-3 front and new coordinator Richard Smith will begin the overhaul in minicamps.
The addition of Weaver, a more traditional 4-3 left end than anyone else on the Houston roster, is basically a starting point for the defensive makeover. The former Notre Dame star is a stout player versus the run, but has more mobility than the bulkier ends the Texans required in the 3-4 defense. Some of those ends will likely move inside and become tackles in the new alignment.
Houston plans to shift two young defenders, Antwan Peek and Justin Babin, to the right end. Both played as linebackers in the 3-4 alignment. But to use either Peek or Babin at right end, the Texans required a bigger left end as a complement, and Weaver (6-foott-3, 280 pounds) fills the bill.
Losing the talented Weaver, who was ESPN.com's No. 15 player among the top unrestricted veterans, is a setback for the Ravens, who had hoped to re-sign him. The Ravens quickly reacted to Weaver's departure by signing former Denver Broncos lineman Trevor Pryce, a four-time Pro Bowl performer released last week for salary cap reasons, to a five-year contract.
Weaver, 25, is considered an emerging defender who seems ready to elevate his game. He is better against the run than the pass but has improved his pass-rush skills. He played in just 10 games, with eight starts, in 2005 because of back and toe injuries. But Weaver, who has missed just one game in his first three NFL seasons, was healthy by the end of the season, and is health is not a concern to Houston officials. Weaver finished with 46 tackles and two sacks in 2005.
For his career, Weaver, a second-round choice in 2002, has 237 tackles, 14½ sacks, six forced fumbles and four recoveries. He has appeared in 57 games and started in 54 of them.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.