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Steelers' Faneca is on Jets' radar



Thursday, February 28th 2008, 4:00 AM

The Jets are known for their conservative approach to free agency, but with money to burn and plenty of holes to fill, they appear willing to spend big when the signing period opens after midnight Thursday. But will they spend crazily for one of the coveted prizes?

They figure to be suitors for two of the biggest names on the market, Steelers left guard Alan Faneca and Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, but it probably will take the richest contract in Jets history to land either one.

In terms of need, Faneca should be the No. 1 priority for the Jets. After waiving one-year bust Adrien Clarke Tuesday, they have a gaping hole at left guard. Faneca, 31, who has appeared in seven straight Pro Bowls, will command at least $19 million in guarantees (last year's market for free-agent guards), and there are indications the Jets are one of the favorites to sign Faneca.

That would be a stunning reversal for the Jets, who refused to give $1 million last year to keep Pete Kendall happy. But the offensive line was a mess in '07, and desperation sometimes controls the checkbook. They also could strike early by signing Raiders defensive end Tommy Kelly, 27, a second-tier player coming off knee surgery. Cards linebacker Calvin Pace, an emerging pass rusher, also is on their wish list, as is Lions guard Damien Woody.

Samuel, 27, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, is believed to be seeking a 10-year, $100 million deal, with $30 million guaranteed. The Jets would love to take a player from the rival Patriots, one already familiar with Eric Mangini (they spent three years together in New England), but it's probably dreamland.

"We can sign seven players or not sign any," GM Mike Tannenbaum said last week in a radio interview. "You just never know the vagaries of free agency, but we're prepared and we'll see what happens. We're working hard to put ourselves in a position to react to the market."

The Jets have an estimated $20 million in salary-cap space, and they could gain another $8.4 million by trading nose tackle Dewayne Robertson, who is being shopped. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma also is on the trading block, and he was in Detroit yesterday taking a physical for the Lions, a possible precursor to a trade. Lions nose tackle Shaun Rogers has been mentioned in those trade talks.

The Jets will need money to satisfy wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who wants a long-term deal, and they'd also like to lock up safety Kerry Rhodes (a restricted free agent in 2009). Talks are ongoing in both cases.

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