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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Eagles sign Samuel, Jets trade twice

Asante Samuel, Isaac Bruce, Kris Jenkins and Jonathan Vilma were just a few of the big-name players to change teams on a busy first day of the NFL's free-agent period.

The Philadelphia Eagles made the biggest splash Friday by signing Samuel, the former Patriots cornerback who tied for the league lead in interceptions with 10 last season.

Samuel will be paid a reported $57 million over six years with $20 million of it guaranteed, comparable to the $80 million that cornerback Nate Clements got for eight years from San Francisco last year.

"We regarded Asante as the No. 1 available free agent in the NFL," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

Samuel was protected last season as the Patriots' franchise player, but was allowed to go this year. He was one of the defensive keys last season to New England's run to 18-0 before its Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

The Giants lost two key defensive players from their championship team: linebacker Kawika Mitchell and safety Gibril Wilson.

Mitchell signed with Buffalo after having a career season in his only year with the Giants. He finished with 3 1/2 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown and had two more sacks in the playoffs, including one in the Super Bowl. Oakland signed the playmaking Wilson to a $39 million, six-year deal.

Bruce agreed to a two-year deal with San Francisco, a day after St. Louis released one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history.

An NFL source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the contract hadn't been signed yet, said Bruce chose to stay in the NFC West with the 49ers after 14 seasons with the Rams. The deal is worth $6 million.

Bruce will be reunited with 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who ran the Rams' offense during the team's two most recent trips to the Super Bowl.

The New York Jets were particularly busy, acquiring Jenkins from Carolina and dealing Vilma to New Orleans. They also re-signed defensive tackle Sione Pouha to a three-year deal and fullback Stacy Tutt to an exclusive-rights contract.

New York also appeared to be one of the front-runners to sign Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca.

Vilma, who missed the final nine games of last season with a knee injury, had 118 tackles as a rookie after being the No. 12 overall draft pick in 2004. The linebacker led the NFL the following season with 187 tackles and made the Pro Bowl. That changed in 2006, when the Jets switched defenses and Vilma had just 116 tackles.

He played in seven games last season before injuring his knee and had 39 tackles. The Jets eventually gave him permission to shop for a new home and he found it Friday. New York will receive a fourth-round pick this year for Vilma, and, with incentives, that could be upgraded to a third- or possibly a second-rounder next year.

"This represents a new chapter in my football career and in my life," Vilma said. "I am truly excited and fortunate to be joining a team that just a little over a year ago was one win away from appearing in the Super Bowl."

Jenkins, whose play fell off the past two years, was obtained for third- and fifth-round draft picks. The 349-pounder is expected to move to nose tackle after signing a new five-year contract worth $35 million, including $20 million in guaranteed money.

"I think it will be somewhat of an adjustment," Jenkins said of playing in the Jets' 3-4 defense. "I mean, I am human. I can't just put on a red cape and fly away. I think it is something I can handle, and something I can excel at."

In another major trade, Detroit traded Shaun Rogers to Cleveland instead of dealing the defensive tackle to Cincinnati, a person familiar with the moves told The Associated Press.

The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Lions and Browns weren't commenting on the trade, said Detroit acquired cornerback Leigh Bodden and a third-round pick from Cleveland after the deal with Cincinnati fell through.

Detroit previously was set to get Cincinnati's third- and fifth-round picks, a deal still posted on the Bengals' team Web site late Friday night.

Meanwhile, two quarterbacks stayed put: Cleveland's Derek Anderson and Washington's Todd Collins.

Anderson, who came off the bench after the first game to lead Cleveland to a 10-6 record, signed a multiyear contract hours after he became a restricted free agent.

"This is where I want to be," Anderson said. "I told my agent, `Let's do the right things to get that taken care of.' In my heart, I knew I was going to get back."

The 36-year-old Collins, who took the Redskins to the playoffs after taking over for an injured Jason Campbell agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract to stay put. Coach Jim Zorn already has said Collins will remain Campbell's backup next season.

The Browns also acquired defensive tackle Corey Williams from Green Bay for a second-round draft pick and then signed him to a six-year deal.

In other deals Friday:

_Denver released wide receiver Javon Walker and linebacker Ian Gold.

_San Diego re-signed backup QB Billy Volek, who led the Chargers to a playoff win in Indianapolis in relief of the injured Philip Rivers.

_Minnesota signed safety Madieu Williams and fullback Thomas Tapeh.

_Jacksonville formally completed a trade with Minnesota for former first-round draft pick Troy Williamson and signed another wide receiver, former Raider Jerry Porter. The Jaguars also signed former Dolphin Cleo Lemon as their backup quarterback.

_Kick returner Allen Rossum signed with San Francisco, his fifth NFL team.

_Miami signed former Jacksonville wide receiver Ernest Wilford and former Jets tight end Sean Ryan, and traded for Dallas nose tackle Jason Ferguson. The Dolphins also added journeyman Josh McCown to compete for the quarterback job.

_Atlanta re-signed quarterback Chris Redman.

_Houston re-signed receiver and return man Andre' Davis, who returned three kickoffs for TDs last season.

_St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins announced his retirement, leaving the Rams with just three players from their Super Bowl winner in 2000. The Rams signed Seattle kicker Josh Brown to a five-year deal.

• Tampa Bay signed free-agent center Jeff Faine and linebacker Antoine Cash.

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Shaq, LeBron, Dwight Howard All-Star Dance-Off

A High Hard One

Hill panel asks Justice Dept. to probe Clemens.

Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly-Getty Images

The FBI is expected to make the initial call on whether to open a criminal investigation into whether legendary pitcher Roger Clemens lied about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs when he testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier this month.

In a letter sent to the Justice Department today, the chairman and the ranking Republican on the committee, Reps. Henry Waxman and Tom Davis, formally requested that the department "investigate whether … Clemens committed perjury and made knowingly false statements" during the committee's Feb. 13 hearing.

In their letter the two noted that Congress "cannot perform its oversight function if witnesses who appear before its committees do not provide truthful testimony." However, they also pointed out that the committee itself is "not in a position to reach a definitive judgment as to whether Mr. Clemens lied to the Committee. Our only conclusion is that significant questions have been raised about Mr. Clemens's truthfulness and that further investigation by the Department of Justice is warranted. We ask that you initiate such an investigation."

In a statement, Clemens' attorney Rusty Hardin said, "The committee's decision is unwarranted and not supported by the facts. Fortunately, we now move from the court of public opinion, where there are no rules, to the court of law where the rules very specifically level the playing field. Whether it is in a criminal investigation or the upcoming civil trial, what has been a frenzied rush to judgment will be replaced by a careful and unbiased review of all of the evidence. ... Roger will continue to fight these false allegations with every ounce of strength he has."

A senior law enforcement official, who asked for anonymity when discussing investigative matters, said that the congressional request will likely bypass Justice Department headquarters and be sent directly to the FBI and a local federal prosecutor's office. There are two leading candidates: the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, which has been conducting a sweeping investigation of performance-enhancing drug use by professional and amateur athletes—and has brought criminal charges against slugger Barry Bonds, among others. Another possibility: the U.S. Attorney's office in the District of Columbia.

The official said that the FBI is likely to make the initial decision as to whether the information supplied by Congress about Clemens's conduct merits a preliminary criminal investigation. Such an inquiry can, if the subsequent investigation so merits, be a prelude to the bureau's and federal prosecutors' deciding to launch a full-blown criminal probe.

The FBI's Washington field office is already conducting a preliminary investigation into whether the Houston Astros' star shortstop, Miguel Tejada, misinformed the committee when it interviewed him two years ago about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, the official said—adding that he did not know how far the FBI has gotten in its preliminary investigation of Tejada.

During Waxman's hearing, members of the Oversight Committee split along largely partisan lines: Waxman and most members of the committee's Democratic majority expressed skepticism about Clemens's emphatic denials of drug use. Many Republicans aggressively questioned the credibility of Clemens's former trainer, Brian McNamee, who told the committee (as well as investigators for Major League Baseball) that he had injected Clemens on numerous occasions with steroids and human growth hormone.

Republican members questioned McNamee so aggressively that his lawyers publicly wondered whether Clemens had used Republican Party clout to somehow influence committee members in his favor; they pointed out that the star pitcher has a long-standing personal friendship with former president George H.W. Bush. Clemens's lawyer denied he had any particular sway within the GOP; the office of former president Bush denied that he had tried to influence anyone on Clemens's behalf.

The partisan cast to the questioning led some to wonder whether Republicans would back the Democrats' request for a Justice Department investigation of Clemens. But Republicans on the committee were eventually persuaded that Clemens should be subjected to further scrutiny because of the damning testimony of the pitcher's longtime friend and former teammate, Andy Pettitte, a GOP source on Capitol Hill said. Pettitte's deposition to the committee at least partially corroborated some of McNamee's accusations against Clemens; in confessing his own use of HGH, Pettitte also said that he and Clemens discussed the use of the drug on two occasions. Clemens has denied the accuracy of Pettitte's account, saying his friend must have "misheard."

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