Bills bolster offensive line with Vikings' veteran Whittle

Updated: March 3, 2007, 10:00 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Buffalo Bills: Ninth-year vet Jason Whittle, who appeared in 16 games for the Vikings with two starts in 2006, has signed a one-year contract with the Bills, agent Joe Linta said early Friday.

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The deal includes a base salary of $720,000, and Whittle received a $40,000 signing bonus. The Vikings also discussed re-signing the 31-year-old Whittle, who could compete for a starting job in Buffalo, where the Bills on Thursday released 11-year veteran Chris Villarrial.

Despite all the talk of high-profile players landing big-money deals in the opening minutes of the unrestricted free agency period, the journeyman offensive lineman with a blue-collar background was the first veteran to change teams.

The versatile Whittle, who is joining his fourth franchise, has spent time at all five offensive line spots during his career. His résumé includes 125 regular-season appearances with 42 starts. Whittle started 14 games in 2002 and 16 games in 2004.

The former Southwest Missouri State standout has served stints with the Giants (1998-2002, 2004-2005), Tampa Bay (2003) and Minnesota (2006). He entered the league as an undrafted college free agent.

-- ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers decided not to pursue a free agent running back to complement Willie Parker, choosing instead to re-sign Najeh Davenport to a $2 million, two-year contract.

Davenport joined the Steelers a game into last season, after Green Bay released him, and eventually became Parker's backup. The 6-foot-1, 247-pound Davenport gained 221 yards on 60 carries. Parker was the NFL's sixth-leading rusher last season with 1,494 yards. He had 337 of the Steelers' 469 rushing attempts.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said recently he preferred using a two-back system like many other teams are employing, creating speculation the Steelers might look elsewhere for Parker's backup.

Davenport, who would have been a free agent if the Steelers had not re-signed him, receives a $405,000 signing bonus and a 2007 salary of $595,000. He will make $1 million in 2008.

-- The Associated Press

St. Louis Rams: The Rams, looking to improve their strength at defensive end, acquired defensive end James Hall from the Detroit Lions in exchange for a fifth-round choice.

The Lions shopped Hall the past two weeks and had to make a decision about his future Friday because of a roster bonus. The plan for the Rams is to play Hall on the other side of Leonard Little, who was re-signed last season to a three-year, $19.5 million deal.

Hall, 30, spent seven seasons with the Lions and was a starter for five years. His best season was 2004 when he had 11 sacks and one interception.

-- ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs reached agreement with unrestricted free agent linebacker Patrick Chukwurah, a six-year veteran, on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million. Chukwurah played the last three seasons with the Denver Broncos.

In Tampa Bay, he will be reunited with former Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, who is now the Bucs' linebackers coach. It is believed that the Bucs will use Chuckwurah as an outside pass rusher, a role at which he has shown considerable improvement in recent years. Chuckwurah is coming off a 2006 season in which he registered a career-best 4½ sacks.

A former University of Wyoming standout, Chukwurah has appeared in 69 games and has eight career sacks and four forced fumbles.

The Bucs also re-signed cornerbacks Torrie Cox and Phillip Buchanon on Friday.

-- ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli

San Diego Chargers: Wide receiver Greg Camarillo and offensive tackle Cory Lekkerkerker, both exclusive-rights free agents, signed one-year contract tenders with the San Diego Chargers.

Both are entering their third seasons. Lekkerkerker played in 15 games last season, mostly on special teams and as an extra tight end in goal-line situations.

Camarillo played on special teams in four games last year.

-- The Associated Press

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers re-signed linebacker Na'il Diggs to a one-year contract on Friday.

Diggs started 10 games at outside linebacker and had 68 tackles last season, his first with Carolina after spending the first six years of his career with Green Bay.

The move means Carolina is set to return 21 of 22 starters from last year's team that went 8-8. Only safety Shaun Williams, who like Diggs became an unrestricted free agent Friday, is unsigned.

The Panthers on Friday also released safety Kevin McCadam, who played mostly on special teams last season.

-- The Associated Press

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals re-signed running back Kenny Watson to a three-year contract.

Watson led the Bengals' running backs with 213 yards receiving while tying for the lead with 23 receptions. He played in every Bengals game last season as their third-down back, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with one touchdown.

Watson originally was signed by the Bengals as a free agent in September 2003. He began his NFL career in Washington in 2001.

-- The Associated Press

New England Patriots: The Patriots announced Friday they had re-signed unrestricted free agent running back Heath Evans and re-signed restricted free agent guard Billy Yates. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

-- ESPN.com news services

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