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Tuesday, March 4
Updated: March 24, 3:55 PM ET
McCleon signs five-year deal

By Len Pasquarelli

A Kansas City Chiefs defense that statistically ranked last in the league in 2002 is getting better, as the team added another key veteran in free agency on Tuesday evening.

ESPN.com has learned the Chiefs signed cornerback Dexter McCleon, a former St. Louis starter released by the Rams last week for cap reasons, and arguably the best player still available at his position.

McCleon signed a five-year contract worth $11.155 million. It includes a $2 million signing bonus and also a $500,000 option bonus due next spring.

"It's great to be reunited with Coach (Dick) Vermeil," said McCleon, who is the second major acquisition by the Chiefs in two days. "I feel right at home with him. He knows me and he knows I'll give him everything I've got."

Vermeil, of course, was head coach of the Rams during part of McCleon's tenure with the team. The Kansas City secondary coach, Peter Giunta, held the same position at one time in St. Louis and helped to develop McCleon.

The addition of McCleon comes on the heels of the signing of weak-side linebacker Shawn Barber to a seven-year, $30 million contract on Monday. The Chiefs still plan to ardently pursue free agent defensive end Hugh Douglas, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, and inarguably the best player available at his position in free agency.

Douglas was visiting the Chiefs on Tuesday and both Barber and McCleon have vowed to help recruit him. General manager Carl Peterson has promised to improve the Chiefs defense and he is off to an impressive start.

"This defense," said Barber, "is going to get better real fast."

McCleon, 29, started 47 of a possible 48 games between 1999-2001, and was a starter in the Rams victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. But he lost his starting job in 2002 and had just three starts. McCleon played primarily at safety in 2002 but agent Kevin Jurskinsi was assured by Chiefs officials that they signed his client to start at cornerback.

Over the past four years, McCleon had the second-most interceptions and the third-most passes defensed of any of the 2003 free-agent cornerbacks.

The former Clemson star was a second-round choice in the 1997 draft. He has 20 interceptions and 63 passes defensed in six seasons, while appearing in 91 games and starting 57 of them.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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