10-10-2001-UNKNOWN

10-10-01, 2:00 p.m.

Updated: 10-10-01, 4:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals continued the process of locking up their young linebackers for the long-term Wednesday when they extended the contract of left outside linebacker Steve Foley through 2005.

Foley, who along with middle linebacker Brian Simmons and right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes is in his fourth season, received about $3 million for the four-year extension that averages about $2 million per year and keeps him off the free-agent market this offseason.

Also Wednesday, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau announced Bernard Whittington will make his 80th NFL start Sunday against the Browns in place of injured defensive tackle Tony Williams and strong safety JoJuan Armour makes his first NFL start against Cleveland when Cory Hall moves to free safety.

By getting Foley and backup backer Ardian Ross in the fold with extensions this season, the Bengals think that gives them the flexibility to keep their linebacking corps in the confines of the salary cap. They are prepared to extend Spikes and middle Simmons, but since their contracts aren't up until after the 2002 those talks probably won't get going until this offseason.

"We've got an extraordinary group of linebackers and we want to take every opportunity to keep them here for their entire careers," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. "We think

signing Adrian and Steve rewards them for their play and it still permits us to pay Takeo and Brian as we go out into the future."

David Levine, who recently became Foley's agent, said his client will get $6 million in the next three years and could get $8 million for four if he makes some incentives. P>"The main attraction is getting $3 million up front," Levine said. "That pretty much sets you up for life. And Steve wanted to stay with those guys."

Because the Bengals did the Foley deal before mid-season, it allowed them to shove about $1 million into this year's salary cap and leaves them room if they want to extend other potential free agents. Levine also represents one of those in defensive end Reinard Wilson, a former first-round pick set to start his fourth straight games this week after hardly playing the previous two seasons.

"Katie and I said we'd wait until about mid-season to see how things are going with Reinard," Levine said. "We didn't say we'd talk contract, but we'll talk."

Foley, who forced two fumbles in the 21-10 victory over Baltimore and is fifth on the team with 27 tackles, is relieved.

"People don't realize it, but having something like that get done takes a load off," Foley said. "Not that it was affecting my play, but it was on my mind. Now everything is clear. No doubt the next thing is getting Brian and Takeo taken care of. That's one of the reasons I signed, so I could play with them."

After enduring their worst rush defensive effort since 1972 last Sunday when Pittsburgh rolled up 274 yards on the ground, the Bengals benched free safety Chris Carter, moved Hall from strong to free, and gave Armour his first pro start at strong safety.

"He's a physical guy who has a knack for making plays," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner.

The 5-11, 220-pound Armour, a converted linebacker from Miami of Ohio, is a third-year player who got his first steady dose of safety this past season in NFL Europe. Carter had a team-high 13 tackles against the Steelers, but Hall ended up making a lot of saving tackles coming from the middle of the field.

"I know what I'm supposed to do," Armour. "Knock people around. Just play safety. Fly around and make plays. I've waited a long time for this day."

Armour, a Toledo native, found irony in his first assignment.

"The Browns were the team I followed growing up," he said.

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