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Bills sign free-agent OL Hangartner to four-year deal

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Shortly after signing with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner kidded by overstating his size.

"I'm 6-8, 420 pounds," Hangartner said with a wink.

He's not that big, but at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Hangartner's addition fills one of two gaping holes on a team intent on rebuilding its offensive line this offseason.

Hangartner, who's played both center and guard during his previous four years with the Carolina Panthers, will take over at center after signing a four-year deal with Buffalo. Financial terms were not announced.

The Bills elected not to re-sign starting center Duke Preston and backup Melvin Fowler.

Coming off their third straight 7-9 finish, the Bills are also seeking a starting left guard after releasing Derrick Dockery on Thursday. Buffalo is retooling a line that allowed 38 sacks last year, struggled in short-yardage situations and was part of an inconsistent offense that finished 25th in the NFL in yards gained.

Carolina's fifth-round draft pick from Texas A&M in 2005, Hangartner had eight starts in 16 games for a Panthers offense that set franchise records with 2,437 yards rushing and fewest sacks allowed (20) last season. Overall, he's appeared in 54 career games, including 27 starts.

Buffalo became Hangartner's first choice to visit during free agency, and he signed after spending most of Saturday meeting with team executives and coaches.

"I think this team has a chance to be really good, and I'm excited about it," Hangartner said.

And he's also aware of the challenges he'll face in an AFC East that features several dominant nose tackles, including New York Jets' Kris Jenkins, who previously played with Hangartner at Carolina.

"I know Kris," Hangartner said. "Playing in the division is going to be a challenge every week. But I really like that."

Hangartner was bothered by a nagging ankle injury for most of last season, and split time at right guard, filling in for injured starter Keydrick Vincent. His best season came in 2006 when he started 15 games at center.

Hangartner becomes the Bills' second addition in free agency after the team signed former Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick late Friday night.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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