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Four draft picks sign with Bucs

Nebraska guard Russ Hochstein wanted time before training camp to get acclimated to the heat of Tampa Bay.

He found the negotiating climate with the Bucs just right Monday, agreeing to a three-year contract expected to be worth $1.7-million, including a $111,000 signing bonus.

Hochstein, the team's fifth-round choice, was among four rookies who reached agreements with the team. He will join sixth- round picks Jameel Cook and Ellis Wyms and seventh-rounder Than Merrill as the first of nine rookies expected to sign with team before the July 29 reporting date.

Terms were not officially released but all four players will sign three-year deals.

Cook, a fullback, is expected to make $970,000, including a $72,000 signing bonus. Wyms, a defensive end, is expected to make $958,000, with a $62,000 signing bonus. And Merrill, a safety, is expected to agree to a $926,500 deal, with a $31,000 signing bonus.

The Bucs expect all but first-round pick Kenyatta Walker to be signed by the end of the week.

"It was a long and excruciating negotiation. I think it lasted all of 12 minutes," said agent Joe Linta, who represents Hochstein and Merrill. "This day and age, the late-round picks are pretty much slotted (in the rookie salary pool)."

Third-round pick Dwight Smith, a cornerback from Akron, is likely to strike a deal with the Bucs today. His agent, Gene Burrough, will meet with Bucs director of football administration John Idzik in Tampa today.

Hochstein, who had minor foot surgery and missed part of the off-season program, is not expected to miss training camp. "He wants to come down there and do some running in the heat," Linta said.

The Bucs have an unusually large rookie class of nine players this season, nearly twice as many as last year's class.

Also expected to reach agreements with the team sometime this week are a pair of seventh-round picks: tight end Dauntae Finger and defensive end Joe Tafoya.

The agent for fourth-round pick John Howell, a safety from Colorado State, said no agreement was imminent.

"We had numerous discussions and an open exchange of ideas," agent Peter Shaffer said. "And we have an honest disagreement as to value."

Walker, the 14th overall pick from Florida, is probably the only rookie who will be counted on as a starter. He will play left tackle. Smith could play a vital role as the team's fifth defensive back.

Last season, all five of the Bucs' picks were signed before camp.

KICKER APOLOGIZES: Bears kicker Paul Edinger, charged with DUI Saturday after police said he mowed down three mailboxes and smashed his car into a rock, returned to the Punta Gorda Isles neighborhood to apologize.

Edinger, 23, a Lakeland native, returned Sunday with his checkbook and his father. Edinger apologized to homeowner Len Krauss, whose mailbox he plowed over, and gave him $100 for the damage. Krauss, 62, said he was not impressed with the gesture. "You're lucky you did not kill anyone," Krauss said he told Edinger.

BEARS: Bryan Robinson signed a one-year transition tender offer, which is equal to the average of the top 10 salaries at defensive end.

CARDINALS: Cornerback Michael Stone agreed to a four-year deal.

CHIEFS: Free-agent cornerback Corey Harris agreed to terms on a two-year contract.

LIONS: Receiver Scotty Anderson, a fifth-round draft pick from Grambling State, signed. Safety Donald Malloy was released.

SAINTS: Receiver Onome Ojo agreed to a three-year contract. The team also agreed to a one-year deal with linebacker DeShone Myles.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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