Deal keeps center off market

The Detroit Lions have reached agreement with starting center Dominic Raiola, one of the significant elements to their offensive line improvement of the last few years, on a contract extension that will keep the pending unrestricted free agent off the market.

The deal, struck during negotiations at the predraft combine workouts, is for five years and is worth $17.5 million. It includes a $4.6 million signing bonus.

Retaining Raiola with a long-term contract was an offseason priority for the Lions, since starting right tackle Stockar McDougle recently reiterated his intention to go into the free agency market, and probably depart Detroit. The Lions, who have not made the playoffs since 1999, feel they have enough young veterans in place to contend for a postseason spot in 2005, and Raiola is a key.

The former Nebraska star and four-year veteran, a second-round choice in the '01 draft, has started all 16 games in each of the last three seasons. He has brought continuity and consistency to a position that leaguewide has grown in importance as more defenses switch to a 3-4 front.

While not as bulky or physical as most NFL centers, Raiola is very quick off the ball, and able to get to the second blocking level. He also rates as one of the league's best pass-blocking snappers and is particularly adept at sliding laterally to pick up blitzes.

For his career, Raiola has appeared in 64 games, started 48 of them, and never missed a contest to injury.

While at the combine, Detroit officials continued on Saturday to assess their options at quarterback, where the Lions are seeking to add some competition for incumbent starter Joey Harrington. The team met Saturday with free agent Jeff Garcia, released last week by Cleveland after only one year, and he took a physical exam.

Team officials noted, however, they will move slowly in determining which veteran they might sign.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.