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Mush mouth signs with Chicago

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Muhammad likely to get $10 million in guarantees

By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- 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, ESPN.com has learned. There remains some work to be done on contract language and distribution of funds, sources said, but the two sides are in accord on all key parameters of the deal.

Because some details remain, specifics of the contract were not yet available. But it is assumed that Muhammad will receive in the area of $10 million in total guarantees and will earn an average of between $5 million-$6 million in the first three seasons.

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.

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.

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.

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 Insider.

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