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Texans opt for Williams

Bush bypassed as No. 1 overall pick

The Houston Texans' decision last night to snub Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and sign defensive end Mario Williams as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft has cut a slack-jawed swath across the NFL.

But general manager Charley Casserly said the move shouldn't be that surprising.

''Once we brought [Williams] in here our statements never changed that we were seriously considering him for the first pick in the draft and I understand that people didn't believe it, but we always said it and we believed it," Casserly said.

Houston started negotiating with both Williams and Bush this week. While many expected the Southern Cal star to be the Texans' choice to open today's draft, instead they went for Williams, a 6-foot-7-inch, 295-pound junior who set a school record last season with 14 1/2 sacks. Williams signed a six-year, $54 million contract, with $26.5 million guaranteed.

''This is a decision that took a lot of time to make, but at the end of the day we felt this was the best player for our football team," Casserly said. ''We made the decision to go with defense."

Bush has been embroiled in some controversy this week concerning who paid the rent for a home his parents lived in, and whether an agent was involved -- which would be an NCAA rules violation. But Casserly said that did not influence their decision.

''Absolutely not," he said. ''We asked him and his attorney the different allegations and both of the denied them. Both of them said that Reggie didn't do anything wrong so we obviously took him at his word."

The Texans' decision left the New Orleans Saints with the opportunity to take Bush at No. 2. The New York Daily News has reported that the Jets, who pick fourth, are interested in trading up two spots to select Bush.

Williams becomes the first defensive end taken No. 1 overall since Courtney Brown went to the Cleveland Browns in 2000.

Williams saw his stock soar after his amazing performance at the NFL combine in February, running the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds, and doing 35 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press. He surely will help a defense that ranked 31st total defense last season; 32d against the rush and 24th against the pass.

Agent denies claims
The agent under investigation by the NFL Players Association for his role in the housing arrangement of Bush's family says he has had nothing to do with the running back. David Caravantes told the Associated Press yesterday that he is unaware of the investigation, adding: ''I have had no involvement with Reggie Bush. The truth will come out."

NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw confirmed that the probe of Caravantes has begun.

The NFL, meanwhile, has alerted some teams about a potential extortion of Bush's family after the Heisman Trophy winner didn't sign with marketing company New Era Sports & Entertainment LLC tied to Caravantes.

According to newspaper reports, Bush's parents didn't pay $54,000 in rent during the year they lived in the house owned by a sports marketing agency investor who wanted to represent the football star. The landlord, Michael Michaels, said that Bush's mother and stepfather agreed to pay $4,500 in monthly rent, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported yesterday.

They didn't pay for the first few months, but promised to pay after Bush turned pro, said Michaels. Michaels's attorney, Brian Watkins, claimed Bush also promised to repay the debt after turning pro, according to yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

Bills bolster backfield
The Bills signed free agent running back Anthony Thomas to an undisclosed contract, reuniting the ex-Bear with former Chicago coach Dick Jauron. Thomas, a five-year veteran, rushed for only 92 yards on 43 carries last season when he split time in Dallas and New Orleans . . . St. Louis receiver Kevin Curtis, coming off a career year with 60 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns, agreed to a one-year contract with the Rams. Receiver Shaun McDonald, defensive end Brandon Green, and cornerback DeJuan Groce also agreed to one-year deals to stay with the Rams . . . The Jaguars signed linebacker Nick Greisen to a two-year contract. Greisen, an unrestricted free agent, started 12 games for the Giants last season.

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