Return specialist bolts for Atlanta

Allen Rossum, who often sparked the Green Bay Packers' punt return unit when healthy, signed a three-year contract Monday with the Atlanta Falcons. Rossum is hoping to receive more playing time at cornerback.<p>

"That was the deciding factor," Hadley Engelhard, Rossum's agent told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Engelhard said the Packers made a push to sign Rossum, but the fifth-year pro accepted Atlanta's offer of $3 million, including a $1 million signing bonus. The Falcons offered Rossum a chance to be their "nickel" back (fifth defensive back), which means he would be playing about 50% of the downs on defense.

The 5-foot, 178-pound Rossum will team with kickoff return specialist Darrick Vaughn, one of the top performers in the NFL last year. But Vaughn had trouble playing as the team's third cornerback last year, so Atlanta went after Rossum.

This marks the second free-agent loss for the Packers in as many days. Wide receiver Corey Bradford signed a three-year, $5.25 million deal Sunday with Houston.

Rossum, 26, spent the past two seasons with the Packers after starting his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Packers traded for Rossum a week before the 2000 season began. When healthy, Rossum was effective for the Packers. But he missed nearly 11 full games last year with leg injuries.

In 2000, Rossum averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return and 8.6 yards per punt return. Last season, Rossum was limited to six regular-season games because of injuries and averaged 18.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.9 yards per punt return.

Rossum, a former Notre Dame standout, has 49 tackles, one sack, seven fumble recoveries and seven passes defensed in his pro career.

The Packers likely will have to draft a defensive back who also can return punts and kickoffs. Robert Ferguson, the team's second round draft pick last year, returned punts in one game last season, but Ferguson is expected to get a chance to start at wide receiver this season.

Mike McKenzie and Tyrone Williams are Green Bay's starting cornerbacks. They are backed up by Tod McBride and Bhawoh Jue.

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