The A-Train will keep running for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rather than test his worth as a restricted free agent at the end of this season, Mike Alstott became the NFL's highest-paid fullback Monday when he signed a five-year contract extension worth up to $32 million.
The deal, which includes a $4 million signing bonus and roster bonuses totaling about $8 million, also contains escalator clauses that could make Alstott's annual salary comparable to elite running backs.
"His value to them was the issue from day one. We all knew it was great," agent Jim Steiner said.
"If he continues in the role he's in he'll be paid, obviously, extremely well. And if something was to occur and he became the feature back -- whether it be by injury or by choice, however that might occur, he's got the upside protection."
Alstott, 24, rushed for 665 yards and scored a team-high 10 touchdowns last season when he was the leading Pro Bowl vote-getter among NFC fullbacks. As a rookie, he ran for 377 yards and led the Bucs with 65 receptions.
The new agreement, which also replaces the final year of the three-year deal he signed as a second-round draft pick, will keep him in a Bucs uniform through the 2003 season.
"I'm relieved. I'm glad to have it behind me. But at the same time, I didn't worry about it or think about it too much. That's what my agents were for," said Alstott, who practiced Monday for the first time after missing the first four weeks of training camp because of a sprained left hip.
"That's what makes it so special, too," he added. "Being a part of what I'm supposed to be part of. Not out there watching and trying to help other players. I'm out there trying to get better as an individual and get better as a team."
Alstott is scheduled to earn about $650,000 this year when the Bucs are also planning to use him to spell Warrick Dunn, a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie last season, at running back.
"We view Mike as a special player, not just a fullback," Bucs general manager Rich McKay said.
"This concludes an off-season in which we had one principal goal, and thawas to improve our football team in the draft and extend the players we could extend to long-term contracts."
In the past year, the Bucs have extended the contracts of nine key players, including five -- Alstott, Trent Dilfer, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch -- who were in the Pro Bowl last season.
In all, the team has committed $23.875 million in signing bonuses and $20.450 million in guaranteed money to those players. The total worth of their agreements is $130.289 million.
McKay said Alstott's deal was another example of ownership's commitment to pour revenue generated from a new stadium back into the football team.
"They've done that," McKay said. "I thank them for that."
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