Henderson gets four-year deal

Less than an hour away from the official start of free agency, fullback William Henderson and the Green Bay Packers agreed to a new four-year contract. The deal, combined with Ahman Green's contract extension last summer, keeps the Packers' starting backfield intact through 2005.<p>

Henderson is the first of Green Bay's crop of unrestricted free agents to agree to terms of a new deal. The Packers likely will be pursuing other free agents such as offensive tackle Mike Wahle, kick return specialist Allen Rossum, and wide receiver Corey Bradford in the next couple of days.

Green Bay's other unrestricted free agents include nose tackle Gilbert Brown, defensive tackle Jim Flanigan, long snapper Rob Davis, offensive linemen Earl Dotson and Barry Stokes, quarterback Doug Pederson, and wide receiver Bill Schroeder.

The Packers made Henderson one of their top priorities this off-season and didn't want to let the eighth-year pro enter the free agent market. So Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt and Henderson's agent, Butch Williams, spoke at length last night until both sides made a verbal commitment.

"William was a high priority," said Brandt. "Mike (Sherman) and I meet all the time on where we're going with these negotiations. He was one that we we really tried to get done before the deadline. It worked out with Butch Williams, who I've known for 15 years. That helped a lot. We got along and it never got personal. We'll see what happens with the rest of them."

Terms of Henderson's deal were not immediately disclosed. The Packers entered the start of free agency about $3 million under the salary cap of $71.1 million. It is likely that the first two years of Henderson's deal will be cap friendly, leaving plenty of room for the Packers to sign some of their own free agents or others. Since a numbers of talented players have been released in the last week, it is possible that Green Bay will be able to sign some players and make immediate upgrades in such positions as wide receiver and defensive line without over-paying players.

"What you've seen in the past week, it's been a blood bath," Brandt said. "I think teams have become over obligated through past spending. You may see a little bit more fiscal responsibility, a little bit less big free agent contracts. ... There have been a couple of teams, no names, that have proved that that hasn't been the way to go. The rest of the league is learning from those mistakes."

Henderson, who has just missed making the NFC Pro Bowl squad the last two seasons, is coming off a three-year deal that he signed in 1999. At that time, Henderson tested the free agent market, hoping to land a deal that averaged $2 million or more a season. But the market was soft for fullbacks and he wound up re-signing with the Packers for an average of $1.25 million per season.

"I think I'm a little bit older and wiser now," Henderson said. "This is a situation where I had a chance to continue with the team, a family that I have grown to appreciate. Moreso, it's been an opportunity for me to play for a team that has grown to appreciate my talents. I know where I fit in in the system. I don't have to go out and do all the footwork and legwork, and basically the relocation, all the other things that come into play. I don't have to be as concerned about it. I can continue the lifestyle that I have grown to appreciate."

The Packers will be leaning on Henderson not only for his ability to block for Green, but also in the locker room. The team in the past week released five veterans, including Bernardo Harris, Dorsey Levens, John Thierry and Santana Dotson.

"We brought William back because of what he does," said Sherman. "It has nothing to do with anybody else. What he contributes to the organization. There have been players in recent days that have contributed as well. You get to a point where you have to make decisions on which direction you want to go in. To go in the direction of William Henderson is a positive move for our organization."

Henderson has led the way for more 1,000-yard rushers (four) than any starting fullback in the National Football Conference since 1997 (Dorsey Levens in 1997 and 1999 and Ahman Green in 2000 and 2001).

Henderson was named as an alternate for the National Football Conference squad in the Pro Bowl.

Besides blocking, the 6-foot-1, 253-pounder from North Carolina caught 21 passes for 193 yards. He only carried the ball six times for 11 yards while playing in all 16 games. He also is a key player on many of the Packers' special teams units.

Henderson said he considered testing the free agent market again, but appreciates his role in Green Bay and has learned from the off-season of 1999.

"I realized I probably could have made a considerable amount of money more than I did with this contract," Henderson said. "But the bigger factor with me was being part of an organization that I truly could appreciate the personnel, the people behind the scenes as well as those in the big picture. Coach Mike (Sherman) has turned to me and asked a lot of me, but in the same fashion I've grown to appreciate him as a coach and a leader.

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