Bubba's back

Tight end signs seven-year, $28 million contract

With their corp of tight ends hurting, the Green Bay Packers welcomed Bubba Franks back to Green Bay today. Upon Franks' arrival, the Packers handed him what he has been seeking this entire off-season - a multi-year contract that makes him one of the top-paid tight ends in the league.

Franks reportedly signed a seven-year deal that is worth $28 million. With an average of $4 million per season, Franks is among the top five highest paid tight ends in the National Football League. Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez is the league's highest-paid tight end with an average salary of $4.8 million per season. Baltimore's Todd Heap averages $4.6 million per season, Atlanta's Alge Crumpler $4.4 million, and San Diego's Antonio Gates recently signed a six-year extension worth $24 million.

"This is the kind of player that you want to have in your locker room, that you want to have on your team, that you want to have going forward," said Packers general manager Ted Thompson.

Franks has proven to be a big, reliable target for quarterback Brett Favre since he was selected in the first round (14th overall) of the 2000 NFL draft by the Packers. He has 188 catches and 31 touchdowns in the last five seasons. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad three straight seasons and named an alternate last year. Perhaps Franks' biggest asset is his durability. He has not missed a game in five seasons, playing in 80 straight contests (86 including playoffs). What's more, including an All-America college career with the Hurricanes, he has played in 122 consecutive contests.

Only Gonzalez (39) has more touchdown receptions than Franks (28) among league tight ends. With 25 TD catches from Favre, only Antonio Freeman (57), Sterling Sharpe (41) and Robert Brooks (32) have caught more from the future Hall of Famer.

The fact that the Packers have been reeling at the tight end positions lately probably expedited Franks' deal. Backup David Martin has missed a number of practices with a groin injury and will not play in the Packers' exhibition Friday against New England at Lambeau Field. Ben Steele injured his back and neck against the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game last Saturday, but has returned to practice and will play against the Patriots. At one point earlier in the week, free agent Sean McHugh was lining up with the first team offense.

Earlier this month, the Packers reportedly had offered Franks an average of $2.5 million per season. Franks, whose original five-year, $6.45 million deal expired at the end of last season, ultimately received what he had requested. The Packers had named Franks as a "transition" player, but he never signed the one-year tender that would have paid him just over $2 million for this season.

"It was just a matter of time before it got done, you know," Franks said. "That kind of helped me through this process. I just kind of left all of the negotiation and the tough talk up to my agent (Gene Mato). That is kind of why I hired him."

Franks said he had every intention of reporting to the Packers before the first regular season game. He watched the first two preseason games on television from his home in Miami and admitted he was anxious to get into camp.

"I watched all the games," Franks said. "I became a fan fanatic. It was kind of amazing sitting there watching your team play without you. It was a little frustrating being away from it, but I'm excited now and glad to be back. I kind of had a long summer. It gave me a chance to get that rookie hunger back."

Franks also said he is anxious to hook up on the field with Favre again.

"He's looked pretty good over these last two preseason games," Franks said. "I kind of miss the little guy."

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