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BILLS REACH FIVE-YEAR DEAL WITH JONES

The Buffalo Bills and veteran strong safety Henry Jones today reached an agreement on a new contract, The Buffalo News has learned.

The deal covers five years and will pay Jones an average of about $2 million per season.

Jones, who had been an unrestricted free agent, averaged $652,000 annually from his previous contract. He becomes the Bills' third free agent to re-sign with the club. The others are reserve defensive lineman Mark Pike and backup quarterback Rick Strom.

The Bills had designated Jones a transition free agent, meaning they could have retained him by matching any contract offer he received from another team. Jones was not given any offers. He received little action in the free agent market beyond making visits to the New York Jets and Giants.

Jones, 27, is entering his fifth NFL season. He joined the Bills in 1991 as a first-round draft pick from the University of Illinois, and has been their starting strong safety since 1992. Jones made an immediate impact as a starter. His eight interceptions gave him a share of the NFL lead in '92, and he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

In each of the last two seasons, however, Jones has had just two interceptions and has not returned to the Pro Bowl.

He was part of the many struggles the Bills' secondary experienced last year, but still ranked as the best player in the unit. He also continued to lend good support to Buffalo's improved run defense.

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