Sione Pouha never wanted to leave the Jets, preferring to remain with the only professional team he's ever played for rather than hit the free-agent market.

His wish has been granted.

Barely 24 hours before the start of the NFL's free-agency frenzy, the Jets reached an agreement with Pouha on a three-year deal, locking up one of the key pieces of their defense. Financial terms of the seven-year veteran nose tackle's new pact weren't immediately available.

"I'm ecstatic, excited," Pouha said Monday on a conference call. "This is something that I've always wanted. I'm going to be a Jet for life."

Pouha, 33, has been a mainstay on the defensive line, particularly over the past three seasons. He filled in more than adequately when Kris Jenkins suffered season-ending injuries in 2009 and 2010, and thrived last season, posting 58 tackles -- the second-highest total of his career. He also recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and had a sack.

He's been extremely durable, too. Including the playoffs, Pouha has played in each of the Jets' 86 games since 2007, and started in all but four of the 54 games since Rex Ryan took over in 2009.

The Jets needed to re-sign Pouha, who's considered one of the league's top run-stuffers, because of his production and veteran leadership. Plus, last year's third-round pick Kenrick Ellis, who faces a May jury trial for a malicious wounding charge stemming from an incident during his time at Hampton University, isn't ready for a heavy role yet after appearing in only five games as a rookie.

So after weeks of uncertainty, Pouha is pleased to have his contract resolved and get down to work once organized team activities (OTAs) begin next month.

"When you are at the screen door of free agency," Pouha said, "there's a lot of things that can happen. There's a lot of ifs, and ands, and what can happen. At the end of the day, I'm just glad that today came and that I'll be here for another three years."

Pouha's signing comes three days after the Jets gave quarterback Mark Sanchez a three-year extension. Sanchez's new deal, plus the restructuring of tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson's contract, helped the Jets clear cap space, allowing them to start free agency reportedly around $15 million below the $120.6-million salary-cap figure for 2012.

"Mark has always been a guy that I have looked up to, even though I'm a little bit older than he is," Pouha said. "I've always respected the way he works, the way he prepares and the guy who I love to call a teammate and a close friend and brother of mine.

"So I was ecstatic and real excited for him when I learned he got the extension. Then, I was way more excited when I found out that I'll be playing with him for the next three years."

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