While he may never recover financially from the bizarre decision to buy his way out of his contract with the Cleveland Browns last year, veteran offensive lineman Ross Verba has at least recouped some of his losses with the deal that he signed with the Detroit Lions earlier this week.
According to league salary documents, the contract will pay Verba, who did not play at all in 2005 after the Browns released him, $4 million for this season. If the Lions decide to exercise an option next spring, the contract would become five years in length and could be worth as much as $20 million, were Verba to play the entire term of the deal.
Not a bad comeback for a veteran many observers felt would never play in the league again.
Verba, 32, started all 16 games for Cleveland at left tackle in 2004, but then was publicly critical of the organization last summer, insisting the franchise had reneged on a promise to extend his contract. In part, Verba talked himself off the team, but his freedom also had a price. The Browns forced him to repay a $465,000 roster bonus that Verba had received earlier in the offseason before granting him his release.
Although he garnered interest from a few teams after his release, none of them offered Verba a contract he felt approximated his value, and so he sat out the entire year.
Had the eight-year veteran stayed in Cleveland, and played under the terms of his contract there, he would have earned a base salary of $2.975 million in 2005 and would have been scheduled for the same salary in 2006. Including salaries and bonuses, Verba was to have earned about $7.2 million in 2005-2006. Instead, he made no money last season and will earn $4 million with the Lions this year.
Despite the fact Verba is coming off a year of idleness, the Lions rewarded him with a $2.2 signing bonus on Wednesday, and his base salary for 2006 is $1.8 million.
To trigger the subsequent four years of the contract, the Lions must pay Verba a $2.5 million option bonus next spring. His base salaries over the final four seasons would then be $1.5 million (2007), $2.6 million (2008), $3 million (2009) and $3.6 million (2010). There are roster bonuses of $1 million each in 2009 and 2010 and offseason workouts bonuses of $200,000 each for 2007-2010.
In announcing the acquisition of Verba on Wednesday, the Lions said he had signed a one-year contract with the club holding options on additional seasons, but offered no further details.
In four seasons with the Packers (1997-2000), who selected him in the first round of the '97 draft, and four more with the Browns (2001-2004), the former University of Iowa standout appeared in 106 games, with 100 starts. He started all 16 games in five different seasons, but missed all of 2003 with a torn biceps.
Veteran assistant Larry Beightol, who is in his first season as the Detroit offensive line coach, was Verba's position coach in Green Bay in 1999-2000. It is believed Beightol played a key role in recruiting Verba to the Lions. There had been reports earlier in the spring that Verba had gotten himself back in shape after sitting out the 2005 campaign, and was ready to resume his football career.
"The front office found him," said Lions first-year coach Rod Marinelli. "We just kept searching and looking. ... There were three or four other teams involved, and we just used our charm to get him here."
Verba has started at tackle and guard and, at this week's Detroit minicamp, he lined up at left guard with the No. 1 offensive line as Beightol began to reshape the unit.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.