Muhammad's deal can be worth as much as $30M
For wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, released Friday afternoon by the Carolina Panthers, the stay in the NFL unemployment line was a brief one.
Less than 12 hours after the Panthers terminated Muhammad's contract, rather than pay him a $10 million roster bonus, the veteran wide receiver and the Chicago Bears reached an agreement in principle on a multi-year deal. The contract was officially signed late Saturday afternoon.
The six-year contract can be worth as much as $30 million. It includes $12 million in total guarantees, and the first three seasons are worth $16 million.
"I don't think there is one person that's a Superman in this sport that can totally revolutionize or change a team," he said. "But I have a lot of experience at what I do and I'm going to bring that experience to Chicago. I'm going to bring my leadership skills and hopefully I influence enough people to make the team better."
The agreement came in the early hours of Saturday morning, around 3 a.m, after a long night of negotiations between agent Joel Segal and Bears officials. The Bears were one of the first teams to contact Segal when his client's availability became official on Friday. Several other franchises checked in with Segal as well but Chicago, which has made the upgrade of its wide receiver corps and offseason priority, moved very aggressively to close a deal.
"I think it says that we're serious about improving our team and making a serious run," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We've identified some places where we thought we needed some more players. A receiver was one of those. To be able to get a receiver like this will definitely help you get some momentum going into the rest of free agency and, of course the draft coming up."
There has been plenty of speculation here, where teams have gathered for the annual combine workouts, that the Bears would address their wide receiver need in the draft, perhaps by choosing University of Michigan star Braylon Edwards with the fourth pick in the first round. How the acquisition of Muhammad affects the Bears' draft plans remains to be seen.
"He's a guy who makes plays," Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake said on the team's Web site. "He just brings a lot of experience and savvy and a lot of intangibles to the organization that you just can't coach.
"I'm excited about him coming in at this point in time being involved in a new offense, and getting himself established and helping us reach the goals that we want to reach as a team."
Adding the nine-year veteran Muhammad provides young quarterback Rex Grossman, who will go to training camp as the starter, a proven and dependable target.
"The timing was good because everybody's under one roof here," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "His agent was here and we were able to visit with him. We met through the night and got it done."
Chicago wide receivers combined for just 111 catches, 1,561 yards and three touchdowns in 2004. The leading wideout, David Terrell, posted 42 receptions for 699 yards and one touchdown. The consensus, even before the Muhammad deal, was that Terrell, a first-round choice in the 2001 draft, would be cut in the offseason.
A former Michigan State standout, Muhammad, 31, is coming off the finest all-around season of his career. He registered 93 catches for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns, and was on the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Most impressive about Muhammad's 2004 performance was that it came without fellow receiver Steve Smith on the field.
Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg in the first game of the year, taking away the Panthers' premier deep-ball threat. But despite facing weekly double-team coverage in Smith's absence, Muhammad flourished and he led the NFL in receiving yards.
For his career, Muhammad has 578 receptions for 7,751 yards and 44 touchdowns. He has five seasons of 60-plus catches and three years with 1,000 or more receiving yards. Muhammad, who will turn 32 in May, appeared in 125 games, and started in 113 of them.
Carolina on Friday made the difficult decision to terminate Muhammad's contract because it simply was prohibitive for the Panthers. With the $10 million roster bonus, a base salary of $650,000 and some prorated charges, Muhammad carried a salary cap charge of $12.5 million for 2005.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here . The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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