Parcells wanted to retain Coakley

Less than 24 hours after his eight-year tenure with the Dallas Cowboys ended, linebacker Dexter Coakley has a new home. The former Pro Bowl player on Wednesday afternoon reached a contract agreement with the St. Louis Rams.

Coakley will sign a five-year, $14.5 million contract. The deal includes a $3 million signing bonus. Between the signing bonus and base salary, Coakley's compensation for 2005 will be $4 million, or $200,000 more than he was scheduled to earn in Dallas for the coming season.

The Cowboys terminated Coakley's contract on Tuesday afternoon to avoid paying him a $502,000 roster bonus. In a Tuesday morning meeting, coach Bill Parcells told Coakley that the Cowboys would like to retain him, even if it meant releasing him then re-signing him, but that his role would be reduced as Dallas moved to a 3-4 defense.

Had he opted to remain with the Cowboys, it is likely that Coakley would have played a "nickel" linebacker role, but the Rams project him as a starter. St. Louis is rebuilding its linebacker corps and is seeking to add another veteran, possibly unrestricted free agent Chris Claiborne of Minnesota, in coming days.

The Rams two weeks ago moved onetime starting outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to free safety as part of a defensive shakeup.

Coakley, 32, had been a fixture at the weakside linebacker spot in Dallas, appearing in 127 games. He registered 687 tackles, 10 interceptions, seven sacks and four forced fumbles. He earned Pro Bowl honors three times. An undersized defender, the 5-feet-10, 231-pound Coakley has always been noted for his quickness to the ball and his tackling skills.

The former Appalachian State standout joined the Cowboys as a third-round choice in the 1997 draft. He immediately earned a job with the first unit, starting all 16 games in his debut campaign. Coakley, a model of durability and consistency has missed just one game in his career.

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