Blank to take over floundering Georgia Force

Atlanta Falcons: Hoping to resurrect another of the city's floundering football teams, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has agreed to buy the Georgia Force, a money-losing franchise in the Arena Football League.

Blank and current owner Virgil Williams, who brought the Force to suburban Atlanta three years ago, reached an understanding on the transaction Monday.

The deal, which Williams first broached to Blank more than a year ago, will require approval from the Arena Football League, but that is considered a formality. Williams will retain a small interest in the club, which has a 20-25 record since relocating to Atlanta from Nashville and is working on its third different head coach in three years.

The sales price is unknown.

What is known is that Blank hopes to turn around the Force, competitively as well as financially, in much the same manner he did the Falcons. That means an aggressive marketing approach and, toward that end, Falcons vice president of marketing Dick Sullivan will direct the operations of the Force.

The Falcons and Force will share resources in other ways as well. The Arena team will move its offices into the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch, Ga., and its players will train and practice there. Yet to be determined is if the Force will continue to play its games at The Arena at Gwinnett Center, a relatively new facility north of Atlanta. The Force moved to the smaller arena after struggling at Philips Arena in its first season.

Blank is the sixth NFL owner to purchase a stake in an Arena Football League team and four more NFL owners currently hold options to buy into the indoor game.

New England Patriots: Amid the talk that Troy Brown could be jettisoned, in favor of the young and energetic wide receiver corps assembled by New England, the Patriots have all but assured the 11-year veteran will be a part of the roster in 2004.

The team has quietly reworked Brown's contract, and extended it by a year through 2005, gaining cap room in the process.

The club guaranteed Brown's deal for '04, dropping his base salary from $2.25 million to $760,000, and essentially converting the $1.49 million difference into a signing bonus. The extension year includes a $2.5 million base salary and $2.5 million roster bonus. The maneuver allowed the Pats to create about $1 million in 2004 cap room.

There has been considerable speculation that Brown, who will turn 33 just before the start of training camp, might be released. New England has, in the past few years, developed a number of younger receivers such as Deion Branch, David Givens and Bethel Johnson.

Last season, Brown, slowed by injuries and overshadowed by some of the youngsters, started just 10 games, the fewest since 1999. He had 40 receptions for 472 yards and four touchdowns. For his career, the former Marshall star has 458 catches for 5,332 yards and 24 touchdowns, and has also been a standout punt returner.

Chicago Bears: The Bears have signed fourth-round draft pick Nathan Vasher, a cornerback from Texas, and the first of their two choices in the round. The 110th player selected overall, Vasher is the first of the team's eight choices to come to contract terms.

Complete financial details were not yet available, but it is known that the deal is for four years, with minimum base salaries of $230,000 (for 2004), $305,000 (2005), $380,000 (2006) and $460,000 (2007). The signing bonus is likely in the $400,000-$425,000 range.

Vasher, 22, started in 38 of his 47 appearances for the Longhorns, and had 152 tackles, 17 interceptions and 64 passes defensed. He also averaged 14.0 yards, and scored two touchdowns, on punt returns.

Buffalo Bills: Offensive lineman Dylan McFarland, the
first of Buffalo's two seventh-round draft picks, signed with the
Bills on Tuesday.

McFarland, selected 207th overall in last month's NFL Draft,
played both tackle and guard during his four seasons at Division
I-AA Montana. Last season, he helped Montana's offense -- which
averaged 31.5 points a game -- finish 18th in the nation.

McFarland is expected to compete for a backup spot on the Bills
line for next season. He becomes the second of Buffalo's six draft
picks to sign.

--The Associated Press

Around The League: The NFL announced Tuesday that former Goldman, Sachs & Company partner Eric Grubman has been hired as executive vice president of finance and strategic transactions.

Grubman, 46, will be responsible, according to a league press release, for in-depth analysis on major initiatives and for evaluating new business opportunities. He will focus on evaluating and structuring the core financial elements of key business transactions and the ongoing needs of league committees for in-depth financial analysis.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, with an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is former co-president of Constellation Energy Group and was with Goldman Sachs for 17 years.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.