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Bills add Edwards to D-line <br> Ex-Raven signs four-year deal

Free agent defensive tackle Dwan Edwards was at the Buffalo airport Tuesday night following a visit with the Bills, preparing for a flight back home to Baltimore when he got a call from his agent.

"Maybe you should wait for the next plane," he was told because his agent and the Bills were talking contract for the five-year veteran.

As Edwards got ready to take a later flight his cell phone rang again.

"Well, maybe you better stay the night in town," his agent said. It was sound advice.

Shortly afterward, Edwards' agent called him with the news that a deal was done.

So the long evening had a happy ending as Edwards agreed to a four-year contract worth a reported $18 million.

"They talked me off the plane going back to Baltimore [Tuesday]," Edwards said after signing the deal Wednesday. "And between then and working out the details of the contract, I stayed the night and flew my wife and kids up this morning and it was a done deal. That's pretty much it. [The Bills] showed a lot of interest in me and that's what I was looking for."

The signing ended a frustrating two weeks for Edwards, who didn't expect to linger on the free agent market very long. Seattle and Denver were the only other teams he met with, but neither offered him a contract. Even the Baltimore Ravens, the team that drafted him in 2004, didn't make much of an effort to bring him back.

The lack of interest was due to Edwards' medical history. He hurt his neck in a preseason game in 2008 and missed the rest of the year after having spinal fusion surgery. During the procedure, he had a disk removed and one from a cadaver inserted. His C3 and C4 vertebrae were then fused together.

But he didn't miss a game last season and started from Week Six on as the Ravens reached the second round of the playoffs.

The Bills didn't have any concerns about Edwards' health after he was examined by Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, whose cutting-edge treatment played a key role in the miraculous recovery of Kevin Everett when the former Bills tight end suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury in the 2007 season opener.

"I had the surgery in '08, came back and played and didn't have any issues with it so I honestly didn't think it was going to be an issue, but I understand the business of it," Edwards said. "I'm very thankful that they gave me an opportunity and I think they'll be pleasantly surprised with what they're getting."

Edwards, 28, believes the Bills are getting a player who is just reaching his peak. He was a classic late bloomer in Baltimore, which drafted him in the second round out of Oregon State. After appearing in only 24 games with one start in his first three seasons in Baltimore, he started 13 games in 2007 on a defense that ranked second in the NFL against the run and sixth in total yards allowed.

Edwards bounced back after neck surgery to have a productive 2009 campaign, recording 47 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. He added nine more tackles in two playoff games, and had one sack and returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Ravens' 33-14 first-round win over the New England Patriots.

"Didn't play much early in my career and when I did I felt like I played well," he said. "It was kind of an opportunity thing. And when I did I took it and ran with it and felt like I got better every year I was with the Ravens. Yeah, I'm a pretty good player but I feel like I've got some room to grow and I think that I'm going to be a great player for the Bills."

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Edwards was targeted by the Bills because of his extensive experience in the 3-4 defense they will use next season. Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson were the only players on the roster that fit the mold of a 3-4 defensive end, which is more of a run defender than pass rusher.

Edwards expects stiff competition for playing time, but he made it clear he's not coming to Buffalo to be a backup.

"I definitely want to be a starter," he said. "You don't play in this league to be a backup. I've worked extremely hard going back every year that I was with the Ravens to try to be that starter. I worked my way up and here I am, so I feel like I'll definitely be worthy of a starting job not just by title. I'll come in here and prove it as well through offseason workouts as well as training camp."

Unlike in the Ravens' locker room, Edwards plans to take a larger leadership role with the Bills. After watching Ravens greats Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Edwards knows what that entails.

"I've played with some great players in Baltimore who taught me a lot about the game and leadership and how to go about being a professional in the league," he said. "I think I'll be able to bring that and translate it to the Bills. Being a Raven, we've got so many leaders, it's kind of tough to follow a guy like Ray Lewis, but I definitely think I'll bring a work ethic that's unmatched, and I'm looking forward to getting started."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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