|Saturday, March 2
Updated: March 3, 6:00 PM ET
Duncan deal means Rams won't re-sign Fletcher
By Len Pasquarelli
INDIANAPOLIS -- Frustrated by the pace of negotiations aimed at re-signing unrestricted free agent London Fletcher, the St. Louis Rams late Saturday night closed the door on the return of their standout middle linebacker, reaching an agreement with Jamie Duncan to replace him, ESPN.com has learned.
Duncan was an unrestricted free agent, a four-year veteran who had played his entire career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and who has a style similar to that of Fletcher. While details of the contract were not yet available, it is believed to be a four- or five-year deal that averages about $2.2 million annually.
Rams officials acknowledged that the acquisition of Duncan will preclude the NFC champions from continuing their pursuit of Fletcher. The team clearly wanted Fletcher to return and officials had been negotiating with him, but found it difficult at times to reach his agent. One official said the club simply had no concept of what Fletcher was seeking in a deal.
The mighty mite Fletcher, one of the smallest but hardest hitting middle linebackers in the NFL, had been the team's starter the past three seasons. A onetime undrafted free agent, he was a fan favorite and his energy could be difficult to replace.
St. Louis feels, however, that Duncan will fit in nicely. Duncan played for defensive coordinator Lovie Smith while he was the linebackers coach in Tampa Bay, and the former Vanderbilt star is familiar with the "cover two" scheme the Rams employ. It is basically the same defense that he played with the Bucs.
Duncan, 26, was Tampa Bay's third-round choice in the 1998 draft and he became the starter in 2000 when Hardy Nickerson departed in free agency.
He has appeared in 59 games and started 36 of them, with 30 of those starts coming in the last two seasons. Duncan has 187 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
In a related matter, free agent wide receiver Cris Carter is tentatively scheduled to visit with the Rams coaches and front-office personnel next Wednesday in St. Louis.
Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.