Signing bonus of $15.75M largest in 'Skins history

ASHBURN, Va. -- A week of tough negotiations, including several tenuous moments Tuesday night when the deal nearly fell apart, has concluded in the Washington Redskins reaching a contract extension agreement with left offensive tackle Chris Samuels.

Chris Samuels Samuels

The five-year veteran, who has been a starter since his rookie season, agreed late Tuesday to a new seven-year contract worth $46.5 million. It includes a $15.75 million signing bonus, the largest in franchise history, and total guarantees of $19 million. Samuels will earn about $23 million in the first three years of the contract. The Redskins, who also re-upped with defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to formally announce the Samuels signing.

The team also got an early start on other team's free agents, reaching agreement with center Casey Rabach.

Rabach, an unrestricted free agent widely regarded as the top center in the veteran pool, agreed to a multi-year contract early Wednesday morning, only a few hours after the start of the 2005 signing period. It marked the third year in a row that Redskins owner Dan Snyder signed at least one player on the opening day of free agency.

He found a willing partner in agent Tony Agnone, who also has a reputation for striking quickly in the market.

Rabach, who should help stabilize the middle of the Washington offensive line, agreed to a five-year, $13.75 million, ESPN.com's John Clayton reported and was scheduled to be a Redskins Park on Wednesday afternoon to have a physical exam and officially sign the contract. In past years, Snyder has dispatched his private jet all over the country to ferry in prospective veterans signees. With Rabach, he actually saved some money, since the four-year veteran can make the easy drive from Baltimore.

Rabach's contract has a void for the fifth season and also includes a $2.5 million signing bonus and a $2 million roster, which will be guaranteed, according to Clayton.

Washington officials had cited the center position as one of their top priorities going into the offseason and Rabach represents a considerable upgrade. The Redskins used Lennie Friedman and Cory Raymer at center in 2004 and neither played well. The Redskins, like many teams, had targeted Rabach in recent weeks.

Samuels' deal, negotiated by agent Jimmy Sexton over the past week, continues the upward spiral of contracts for offensive tackles. The signing bonus is the third-largest ever paid an offensive linemen, trailing on the $18 million in upfront money received by Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens two years ago and the $16 million signing bonus awarded Seattle's Walter Jones last week.

In terms of per-year average in the first three seasons of the contract, it is believed that Samuels is the second highest-paid lineman in league history.

Even though it seemed certain over the last few days that an agreement would be struck that would grant the Redskins salary cap relief before the beginning of free agency on Wednesday, there were some tense moments Tuesday evening as the two sides haggled over contract language and dollar distribution. By signing Samuels to the extension, the Redskins will recoup $3 million-$5 million in cap room.

Samuels, 27, was entering the final year of the contract he signed with Washington as one of the club's two first-round choices in the 2000 draft. He was due $6.5 million between base salary and bonuses in 2005 and carried a cap charge of $9.5 million. Team officials had been attempting to restructure Samuels' contract for more than a year.

Last week, it appeared that reaching a new deal with Samuels would be necessary, since the Redskins needed cap room in the event they traded wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Even though trade negotiations continued on Tuesday with the New York Jets, the talks did not result in a trade and likely won't now.

Roosevelt Barnes, the agent for Coles, told ESPN.com late Tuesday that it was "highly unlikely" that Washington will trade his client.

Still, by completing the Samuels contract, the Redskins will be well under the league ceiling of $85.5 million with which each NFL team must be in compliance Wednesday morning. And the cap savings will provide the Redskins with some wiggle room in the event they pursue some veteran free agents.

A former University of Alabama star, Samuels was the third prospect chosen overall in the 2000 draft. He has appeared in 76 games, all starts, in five seasons.

Salave'a played in 15 games and started nine for the Redskins last season. He had 30 tackles and two sacks for the third-ranked defense in the league. He previously played for the Tennessee Titans (1998-2002) and the San Diego Chargers (2003).

ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.