Len Pasquarelli

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Wednesday, March 6
Bills get Fletcher to fill void of Cowart's departure

By Len Pasquarelli

Rebuffed in their attempt to retain middle linebacker Sam Cowart on Wednesday afternoon, the Buffalo Bills recovered quickly, ESPN.com learning the team has completed a five-year contract agreement with former St. Louis Rams starter London Fletcher.

London Fletcher

Fletcher signed the deal on Thursday. The deal with Fletcher was struck only hours after Cowart departed the Bills to sign a six-year contract with the New York Jets. The Bills negotiated with Cowart until Wednesday evening, offering a proposal superior in many ways to the one that he signed in New York, then turned their attentions to Fletcher.

Cowart will play the weakside linebacker spot for the Jets.

The contract for Fletcher is worth $17.125 million and includes a signing bonus of $4 million.

"We got a heck of a football player and a really good, solid person," Buffalo general manager Tom Donahoe said. "We liked Sam a lot, no doubt about it, and we did everything we could to keep him. But we're very excited to have London Fletcher coming here. He's going to bring us a lot of excitement and leadership."

Fletcher, 26, is a remarkable success story, a former basketball player who signed with St. Louis as an undrafted college free agent from tiny John Carroll University in 1998. He spent his rookie campaign playhing primarily on special teams, moved into the starting lineup in 1999 and hasn't missed a game since.

The Rams wanted to re-sign Fletcher but, after growing impatient with he and his agent, turned instead to Tampa Bay free agent Jamie Duncan, and signed him late Friday night to a five-year contract worth $11 million.

A four-year veteran, Fletcher is an every-down player who doesn't come off the field even in the passing situations, and he has a huge motor. He had a tremendous 2001 season following a 2000 year in which he missed too many tackles. Fletcher bounced back in '01 to register 189 tackles, and he also had 4 sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defensed.

"I was a leader in St. Louis," he said. "I considered myself a leader from the moment I stepped into the locker room. I was captain of the special teams as a rookie. You don't have many guys who come in and be a captain as a rookie. I don't have a problem with being the leader."

For his career, Fletcher has played in 64 games and started 48 of them. He has 322 tackles, 13 sacks, six interceptions and 23 passes defensed.

Fletcher had been scheduled to visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, but obviously he canceled that trip, and the Detroit Lions were also ardently pursuing him.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from SportsTicker was used in this report.

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