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Rams sign former Ravens center Brown to five-year, $37.5M deal

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams made Jason Brown the highest-paid center in the NFL on Saturday, signing the former Ravens lineman to a five-year, $37.5 million deal -- including $20 million guaranteed.

Brown promised to do his part to lead the Rams, 5-27 the last two seasons, back to prominence. He compared the Rams' situation to that of the Ravens, who made it to the AFC Championship game last season a year after going 5-11, and pledged to be the first to show up for work and the last to leave.

"There is the potential to do something special," Brown said after giving coach Steve Spagnuolo a hug and holding up a No. 60 jersey at an introductory news conference. "I'm telling you right now we're going to be better than a .500 team."

Brown and Giants safety James Butler both made visits to Rams Park on Friday, the first day of free agency. Butler left without a deal, although the team said talks were ongoing.

Talks also were continuing with Rams free agent cornerback Ron Bartell, who visited New Orleans on Friday.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Spagnuolo said. "Hopefully in the next few days we'll have some of that ironed out."

The Rams moved quickly to lock up the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Brown, who was considered the top interior lineman in free agency. Brown was impressed with the new regime headed by Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney and made the decision after his lone free agent visit.

"I can feel the energy and the radiance coming off them," Brown said. "That's exactly what a brand-new team needs in order to overcome all the adversity that we're going to face this year."

The offensive line has been a weak spot for St. Louis, and Brown fills the team's desire to add heft. He's 30 pounds heavier than Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg, the two centers the Rams had last year.

Brown was a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina in 2005 and moved to center last year after starting at left tackle and left guard the previous two seasons. The Ravens rushed for 2,376 yards last season, fourth-best in the NFL.

"There was no question he was going to be the guy we were going to focus on at that position," Spagnuolo said. "I'm just glad it all fell in place like it did. You never know how it's going to work out in free agency."

Typically, guards are higher paid than centers, although Brown said his deal reflects a shift in thinking. Browns' agent, Harold Lewis, said the Ravens dropped out of the bidding because they wanted to pay Brown "center money."

"To tell you the truth, I was hoping to stay at home with the Ravens," Brown said. "Unfortunately, there's a separation between business and the personal side of football and they had to make a business decision.

"I'm just so glad and fortunate that I'm welcomed into another family here with the Rams."

Lewis had no indication the Rams were interested until they called about 20 minutes after the beginning of the free agency period. He sold Brown on St. Louis, saying it would be perfect for a young family and to be in on the ground floor of a rebuilding effort.

"I said to Jason, 'I think in this market you've got to hit it fast and hit it hard,'" Lewis said. "You don't need to make a tour around the world. This is a win-win for everybody and I think it's a perfect spot for him."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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