The Buffalo Bills are aggressively trying to complete a rare player-for-player trade that would send disgruntled running back Travis Henry to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for young veteran left tackle L.J. Shelton.
A deal could be struck at the NFL's Scouting Combine, which starts today in Indianapolis.
"There's a lot of activity on it, is all I can say," said Arizona-based Eric Metz, one of Shelton's agents.
The deal is extremely pleasing for the Bills on several fronts and will affect how they proceed in free agency, which starts a week from today.
Shelton, the Cardinals' 1999 first-round draft pick who fell into disfavor with new coach Dennis Green last season, is under contract through 2008 at $3 million per season, a very affordable salary for a starting NFL tackle.
Were the Bills to inherit that deal, they could pass on negotiating with Jonas Jennings, their starting left tackle the past four seasons who becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 1.
Jennings is expected to command a signing bonus of more than $10 million alone. In recent days, huge deals have been struck with Seattle's Walter Jones (seven years, $52 million) and Indianapolis' Ryan Diem (seven years, $36 million) by their own teams to keep them in the fold.
Obtaining Shelton would give Buffalo the ability to retain defensive tackle Pat Williams, their other key unrestricted free agent and a crucial part of their No. 2-ranked defense. The Bills did not place the franchise or transition designations on Jennings or Williams by Tuesday's deadline, prompting Williams' agent, Angelo Wright, to declare the Bills "on the clock."
With 474 tackles and 13 sacks since 1997, few interior defensive linemen have been as productive as Williams. Corey Simon was given the franchise tag by Philadelphia, taking away Williams' biggest competition on the market.
"If he gets this deal done with Shelton, he'll turn and make a run at Pat, if he wants him," Wright said of Bills general manager Tom Donahoe. "But by the end of Week 1 of free agency, Pat Williams will have a deal somewhere."
Buffalo is projected to have around $9 million in salary cap space after 2005 base salary raises are factored in.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Shelton, 28, lost his starting left tackle job to Leonard Davis last season after falling into Green's doghouse, but did start nine games at right tackle.
The Cardinals desperately need a running back, meanwhile, after Emmitt Smith's retirement. Marcel Shipp, coming off a broken leg, is the only back on their roster with experience.
Henry, who topped 1,300 yards two years in a row, lost his starting job to Willis McGahee last season and has voiced his displeasure with playing in cold weather. In addition to obtaining Henry, it was believed Green was also asking for a draft pick from Buffalo for Shelton but he has since backed off. Part of consummating the deal is Henry's agents working out a new contract for their client. He has one year left at $1.25 million.
"Henry for Shelton is definitely a win-win trade for the clubs and the players," Metz said. "(For the Bills), you can do it for pennies on the dollar. You have to consider the cap considerations as real important, too. It's a great player acquisition, but the cap considerations make it more appealing."
Shelton was given permission by Green to seek a trade; Shelton visited the Bills late last week and took a physical. Tampa Bay, Chicago and St. Louis have also made overtures.
On Tuesday, the start of the NFL's waiver system and the first day players under contract could be released, the Bills officially let go quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a decision announced last week.
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