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Browns and Vikings race into free agency

After a delay because of labor negotiations, the NFL free agency period took off yesterday, with no teams busier than the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings.

The Browns signed prized free agent center LeCharles Bentley, receiver Joe Jurevicius, and offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer. The Vikings made a splash by getting running back Chester Taylor, kicker Ryan Longwell, and linebacker Ben Leber. Bentley and Jurevicius, who both grew up in Cleveland rooting for the city's beleaguered NFL team, were thrilled to join the Browns.

''I can die happy now," said Bentley, who wore a Browns jersey under his sports coat. ''This has been my dream."

Bentley, who played the past four seasons for New Orleans, got a six-year deal reportedly worth $36 million that includes $12.5 million in guarantees. Jurevicius, who got a four-year deal, has played in three Super Bowls, including last season's for the Seattle Seahawks.

Shaffer will replace L.J. Shelton as a starter. Shelton became a free agent when he couldn't reach agreement with the club on an extension this winter.

The Vikings, also armed with plenty of space under the salary cap, may have had an even busier day, signing Taylor, Longwell, and Leber, and retaining receiver Koren Robinson and safety Willie Offord.

Taylor, the backup in Baltimore to Jamal Lewis, signed a four-year, $14.1 million contract that includes $5.6 million in bonuses.

Green Bay's all-time leading scorer, Longwell posted career lows in several categories last season, making only 74 percent of his field goals (20 for 27). Leber started for San Diego at outside linebacker since his rookie year in 2002, losing his job to star rookie Shawne Merriman last October.

The Vikings did lose two starters from their secondary they weren't expected to pursue, cornerback Brian Williams (to Jacksonville) and strong safety Corey Chavous (to St. Louis).

Foster re-signs
DeShaun Foster agreed to a three-year, $14.5 million contract with the Carolina Panthers that finally makes him their star running back. Foster, who spent most of the last three seasons playing in the shadow of Stephen Davis, agreed to the deal late Friday night. The Panthers also agreed to terms with defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who spent the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and re-signed backup quarterback Chris Weinke to a three-year extension . . . Defensive tackle Larry Tripplett and tight end Robert Royal signed with the Buffalo Bills. Royal, who spent the past four seasons with Washington, agreed to a reported five-year, $10 million contract, while Tripplett, who spent the last four seasons with Indianapolis, signed a five-year, $18 million deal . . . The Houston Texans reached an agreement with defensive end Anthony Weaver, an unrestricted free agent who had played his entire four-year career with Baltimore. The Ravens quickly reacted to Weaver's departure by signing former Broncos lineman Trevor Pryce, a four-time Pro Bowl performer released last week for salary cap reasons, to a five-year contract.

Emulating Tillman
A former college teammate of Pat Tillman is following in his footsteps, leaving a career in professional football to join the military. Pfc. Jeremy Staat, 29, a former defensive lineman who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Rams, said enlisting ''is probably one of the best decisions I've made in my life." Tillman, who played defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, was killed near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in April 2004. The Defense Department is investigating allegations of a cover-up, including the failure to tell Tillman's family for several weeks that he had been killed by friendly fire, not enemy fire . . . Defensive end Gerard Warren re-signed with Denver, agreeing to a six-year deal. Warren joined the Broncos last season and had 44 tackles . . . The 49ers traded receiver Brandon Lloyd to Washington for the Redskins' third-round pick this year and fourth-round choice in 2007.

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