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Bills off to fast start in free-agent derby

The Buffalo Bills dived into the free-agent market Saturday by signing defensive tackle Larry Tripplett from Indianapolis and tight end Robert Royal from Washington.

Tripplett, 27, helps fill the gaping void the Bills have at defensive tackle and was targeted to fit the Bills' new defensive scheme. Royal, who will be 27 in May, could be considered an "under-the-radar" find. The Bills consider him a top blocker, and he figures to enter spring practice as the starter at tight end.

Tripplett signed a five-year, $18 million deal with a $5.5 million signing bonus. Royal signed a five-year contract that a source close to him said was worth a total of $10 million, with a signing bonus of $2.5 million. That's starter money, and it's a substantial deal for a player who last year caught 18 passes for 131 yards, a 7.9-yard average.

Adding to the defensive line was critical for the Bills, who ranked 29th on defense last year and recently cut defensive tackle Sam Adams.

Tripplett is a smaller, quicker, penetrating lineman suited to the one-gap style used by Colts coach Tony Dungy. That's precisely the defense the Bills are adopting under new head coach Dick Jauron and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

"No. 1, he has played and played well in the style of defense we are going to be implementing here," said Bills General Manager Marv Levy. "That was a big factor. He has a great motor. He keeps going, and that's going to be the essence of our defensive approach. He plays every down."

Tripplett is 6-foot-2 and played at 280 to 285 pounds for the Colts.

"I'm real excited to be coached by coach Jauron and my D-line coach," Tripplett said, referring to the Bills' Bill Kollar. "Both see me playing the type of football I like to play. I like to run to the ball, attack, swarm."

Tripplett is a four-year veteran who is coming off his best season with the Colts. He was Indianapolis' No. 3 defensive tackle, playing behind starters Corey Simon and Montae Reagor. He posted four sacks, plus another in the Colts' playoff game.

"I played quite a bit because we rotated in a lot," Tripplett said. "Although I didn't start many games, there wasn't many games where I didn't have as many snaps as the people who did, and sometimes I had even more."

It was a busy first day of free-agent shopping for the Bills. Tripplett signed three hours after Royal inked his deal.

The Bills have a young tight end in Kevin Everett, a third-round pick last year. Everett is a receiving tight end who has yet to hit the field due to a knee injury. If Everett develops, the Bills could have a very effective two tight-end formation.

"One of the areas where we felt we had to perform better is in the offensive line," Levy said. "I don't know if there's a better blocking tight end than Robert Royal. Now at the same time you might say, 'Gee, he didn't catch many balls.' No. But they didn't utilize him that way. We have reason to believe from having studied him and having background on him that he will be a receiving weapon as well. We're delighted with what we're able to get there. I know the Redskins wanted very much to retain his services."

Royal spent his first two years on injured reserve. He started 14 games last year in the Redskins' two-tight-end set.

Royal has prototypical size at 6-4 and 255 pounds. He was a fifth-round pick out of Louisiana State in 2002. The Bills' new tight ends coach, Charlie Coiner, was LSU's special teams coach when Royal was a sophomore. Royal has excellent hands, but his numbers suggest he's not going to stretch the field.

"I'm excited," Royal said. "I've got a lot in the tank. I'm very young. . . . I'm more than just a blocking tight end. I'm glad I've got the opportunity to try to show people."

Also visiting the Bills was speed receiver Andre' Davis, who spent three years with Cleveland then saw limited duty last season with New England.

Meanwhile, Levy reiterated that he still wants to retain receiver Eric Moulds.

"We'd like to retain Eric and we're proceeding on that basis right now," Levy said. "I think he's got a lot left in him. We hope we can keep him."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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