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Dolphins, Holliday agree on four-year contract

The Miami Dolphins on Wednesday reached agreement with defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday on a four-year, $20 million contract extension that will keep the nine-year veteran off the unrestricted free-agent market.

Without the extension, which will pay Holliday about $7 million in 2007 between his signing bonus and base salary, he would have been eligible to sign elsewhere when the free-agency period commences on March 2. The Dolphins in recent days made it a priority to re-sign Holliday, who was arguably the most prominent of the Miami veterans eligible to become a free agent.

"Not only has he been a major part of one of the league's top
defensive units the last two years, but he also has been one of the
key veteran leaders in the locker room," Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron said in a
statement on the team's Web site. "In addition, it addresses one of our top offseason
priorities, which is to retain our own players who have been
productive."

Holliday, 31, will officially sign the contract later this week.

Signings are expected to increase leaguewide in coming days as the free-agency period approaches. In general, teams have sufficient salary cap room to try to retain most of their own best players, and the unrestricted pool could end up being a very shallow one. The 2007 salary cap ceiling is set at a record $109 million.

The versatile Holliday, who plays primarily at end but can move inside to tackle on passing downs, started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2006 and posted 66 tackles, seven sacks, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery. His flexibility permitted Miami to incorporate some 3-4 schemes into its repertoire, but that may change under Cameron.

Despite his nine-year tenure in the league, Holliday is regarded as a player who figures to have several more productive seasons. The Miami defensive line is an older group and the organization will need to begin developing some of its younger prospects. Holliday is considered a steady influence on and off the field, and the club definitely wanted to retain him.

Had he gone into free agency, Holliday likely would have had multiple suitors for his services.

In 123 career appearances, including 114 starts, Holliday has 475 tackles, 49½ sacks, six forced fumbles and nine recoveries.

The former North Carolina standout was a first-round choice of the Green Bay Packers in the 1998 draft. He played five seasons (1998-2002) in Green Bay and then signed with Kansas City as an unrestricted free agent in 2003 before joining the Dolphins in 2005.

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