With 19 players set to become unrestricted free agents after 1998, Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf set out to overpay one if necessary to show the rest he intends to keep a championship-caliber team intact.
He couldn't have made a better choice than Pro Bowl tight end Mark Chmura, who wasn't going anywhere anyway.
"I had no intention of going anywhere else, although I could never say it," Chmura said, glancing at Wolf with a mischievous grin Friday after signing a five-year extension believed to be worth between $13.5 million and $15 million.
But it was Wolf whose smile loomed larger.
By signing Chmura, the Packers fired the first salvo designed to get public sentiment on their side and to get the attention of their remaining 24 players who'll be eligible for some form of free agency after this season.
"I think when they look at that, they will see, this is a heck of a deal, moreso probably for him (Chmura) than it is for the Green Bay Packers," Wolf said. "I'm hoping we can send a message to the rest of the guys, say, `Hey, c'mon let's get something going here.' We have a good thing going, let's get some more guys signed. We've got some bucks, let's go do it."
Signing Chmura, his first draft pick to make the Pro Bowl and a good friend of quarterback Brett Favre, is one thing, but how realistic is this scheme?
"I'm hoping we can get off our butts and get some things done," Wolf said. "We know who our good players are. It's important, it's imperative, that we sign these players."
The intendetargets include starters Antonio Freeman, Santana Dotson, George Koonce, William Henderson and Adam Timmerman.
"I'm happy for Mark. It couldn't have happened to a better guy, a harder-working guy. And it doesn't change my situation one bit," Freeman said.
Chmura said that while he got no assurances that coach Mike Holmgren would return next season, "I do know who is going to be here next year. And that's two of my best friends, Brett Favre and Frank Winters."
The Three Amigos will be back.
"I think it's great," Favre said. "I never really thought he'd go anywhere else anyway. I figured he'd be here. So, I'm happy for him and I'm happy for this team.
"It's good that the Packers went ahead and did something like that," Favre added. "It says a lot about both sides that they wanted to keep him and he wanted to stay so badly."
Freeman said he can see why Chmura wanted to stay in Green Bay with Favre.
"I'd love to play the rest of my career with Brett Favre, too, no doubt," Freeman said. "At the same time, I've got a life I've got to live, too. I can't be a follower. But if things could work out that I stay here with Brett, that would be the ideal situation."
In keeping with team policy, terms of the agreement weren't disclosed. Chmura's agent, Ethan Lock, didn't return phone messages.
But it's believed that Chmura, completing a three-year, $3.9 million deal this season, at least matched Carolina Panthers tight end Wesley Walls, who is averaging $2.7 million a year.
Chmura said it was important to be at the top pay level for tight ends.
"Yeah, that's always nice," he said. "But I just wanted it to be fair. I could have sat out and waited for free agency and tried to break the bank or whatever, but I mean, you put a price on things, I would have come back here for less. That's no secret. I think a lot of players would."
That's just what Wolf wanted to hear.
"Being here in Green Bay, you know you're going to be in it every year," Chmura said. "You know, I don't care how much money you make, if you're going 0-16 or 2-14 every year, it's not fun. I mean, we're having fun here."
It's been a remarkable ride for Chmura, who once went into Holmgren's office to announce his retirement because of a bad back, was talked out of it and ended up a two-time Pro Bowler.
"It's hard for me to imagine, I came here seven years ago as a sixth-round draft pick with a bad back. And to be where I'm at today, I felt like I owed a lot of people," Chmura said. "People talk about loyalty in today's game. You know, I felt there was a sense of loyalty because Green Bay gave me my start and gave me a chance to really get my career going."
Wolf is hoping that allegiance rubs off of some of his teammates.
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