Bryson declines free agency, stays with Lions

Recruited hard in recent days by first-year head coach Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, veteran tailback Shawn Bryson opted Thursday to eschew the unrestricted free agent market and remain with the Detroit Lions, ESPN.com has learned.

One of the NFL's most effective third-down tailbacks, and likely to get more overall "touches" in the Martz-designed offense, Bryson reached agreement on a new three-year contract worth $4.5 million. The deal includes a $1.5 million signing bonus.

Bryson, 29, would likely have generated solid interest in free agency had he decided to test the market. But the new Lions staff convinced him he will play a key role in 2006 as Martz attempts to correct the problems of a unit that statistically ranked No. 20 in 2005.

The former University of Tennessee standout enjoyed one of his best NFL seasons in 2006, as he totaled 590 yards from scrimmage as the backup to starter Kevin Jones and the Lions' third-down back. Appearing in all 16 games for the third straight season, following a long stretch of injuries earlier in his career, Bryson carried 64 times for 306 yards and one touchdown and had 37 catches for 284 yards.

His role almost certainly will not change in 2006 but his playing time could actually be expanded.

A third-round choice of the Buffalo Bills in 1998, Bryson missed his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury. That began a star-crossed stretch in which Bryson, who has fullback size (6-feet-1, 230 pounds) but tailback running skills, appeared in just 37 games in a four-year stretch.

Since signing with Detroit as a free agent in 2003, though, Bryson has not missed a game and has been a productive and dependable No. 2 tailback. His best season came in '03, when he started 13 contests and rushed for 606 yards, while adding 54 catches for 340 yards.

For his career, Bryson has 526 carries for 2,143 yards and six touchdowns and 177 catches for 1,285 yards and two touchdowns. He has appeared in 85 games and started 26 of them.

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