Hovan, Bucs agree to five-year, $17.5M contract

Having spent the 2005 season resurrecting his career, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Chris Hovan can now spend some of his new earnings pumping up his checking account.

The six-year veteran, who signed with the Bucs for the minimum base salary of $540,000 in 2005 and who easily outplayed his contract, has agreed to a five-year extension worth $17.5 million. The deal, which cannot be officially signed until after the start of the new league year, will keep Hovan off the unrestricted free-agent market.

The deal culminates quite a career reversal for Hovan, a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings who was rescued by the Bucs from the NFL scrap heap last spring. In a terrific comeback season, Hovan started all 16 games at nose tackle, led all Tampa Bay defensive linemen with 64 tackles and anchored the interior of a unit that statistically ranked No. 1 in the league.

Hovan, 27, was especially effective against the run, and the Bucs were No. 6 in that category. Tampa Bay officials had said toward the end of the year that retaining Hovan was an offseason priority.

The 25th overall selection in the 2000 draft, Hovan was an immediate starter for the Vikings and played at a high level for the first three seasons of his career. But his production slipped, he fell out of favor with the Minnesota coaching staff his final two years with the club and his playing time was reduced. After netting 11½ sacks combined in 2001-02, Hovan totaled just 3½ the following two seasons.

Minnesota made no attempt to re-sign him as a free agent last year.

In his first season with the Bucs, however, Hovan made a big difference in the performance of the Tampa Bay defensive front. Several defensive teammates, including end Simeon Rice and linebacker Derrick Brooks, cited Hovan's presence as a factor in the improved performance of the front seven.

A former Boston College standout, Hovan has played in 93 games and started 86 of them. He has 307 tackles, 17 sacks, two forced fumbles and six recoveries.

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