Wahle goes to Carolina while Rivera signs with Dallas
One of the NFL's premier offensive line units of the past five years was instantly disintegrated on Thursday afternoon, when the Green Bay Packers lost both of their starting guards, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, in free agency.
Continuing their torrid free agent spending spree, the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday afternoon reached a contract agreement with Rivera. Wahle, as anticipated, signed with the Carolina Panthers, where he will move from guard to tackle.
The departures of the two interior mainstays were anticipated by the Packers, but that will not make their exits any easier to accept. Both players were simply too expensive for the cap-strapped Packers to retain. In fact, the release of Wahle on Tuesday afternoon saved Green Bay more than $11 million in salary cap space.
The addition of Rivera by the Cowboys, a team that came out of the chute quickly when the free agency signing period began on Wednesday morning, means that Dallas has now acquired three high-profile veterans in less than 48 hours. A three-time Pro Bowl player, Rivera joins defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and cornerback Anthony Henry as new Dallas starters.
Rivera, 32, signed a five-year, $20 million contract that includes a signing bonus of $9 million. The deal is worth $13.5 million over its first three seasons. The $9 million ties the NFL record for largest signing bonus awarded to a guard. Detroit paid $9 milion Damien Woody last year.
Owner Jerry Jones has now invested $30 million in guaranteed money to secure three veterans who should make a significant difference for a Cowboys team that finished just 6-10 in 2004.
The decision for Rivera, who arrived in Dallas on Wednesday evening and was heavily recruited by Jones and coach Bill Parcells, came down to the Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, who were also very aggressive in negotiations with agent Jimmy Sexton over the last two days.
A nine-year veteran, Rivera will probably start at right guard, as perennial Pro Bowl performer Larry Allen mans the left guard spot. Rivera has been named to each of the last three Pro Bowl games and has played in 125 games, with 111 starts. He certainly will help stabilize the right side of the Dallas line, a liability area in 2004.
Contract details on Wahle, arguably the most sought-after lineman in free agency and rated by ESPN.com as the second-most attractive unrestricted player overall, were not yet available. But given the degree of interest in Wahle leaguewide, and the Panthers' need for a big-time lineman, it is expected to get close to $5 million a year on a five-year contract, including a signing bonus of around $10 million.
Part of what made Wahle so attractive is that, despite playing most of his career at left guard, he is flexible enough to play tackle. Injuries forced him to move outside to left tackle in the playoffs last year and he performed well there. With Jordan Gross at left tackle, and Wahle now at right tackle, the Panthers suddenly have one of the best young tandems in the league.
Wahle, 27, is a seven-year veteran, has played in 97 games and started in 82 of them.
At 6-feet-6 and 304 pounds, he certainly looks more like a tackle than a guard, and has quick enough feet to make the transition.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. John Clayton contributed to this report.