Agent: No conflict

1-8-03, 6:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The agent for Tom Coughlin disputed a published report Wednesday that said his client and Bengals President Mike Brown are at odds over control issues in the club's search for a head coach.

But Gary O'Hagan also indicated the process hasn't gone much farther than Friday's interview in Cincinnati. That would seem to suggest that the Bengals are still waiting for the situation of Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to clear up after Saturday's playoff game in Tennessee as they continue to gather information on the group of three outside candidates that includes Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

"I don't think there has been any problems between the sides," O'Hagan said. "Everyone agreed that it was a great preliminary meeting and we're hoping that it can move on from there."

PALMER REPORTEDLY PICKS AGENT: At least the Bengals will be on familiar ground if they take USC quarterback Carson Palmer with the first pick April 26 in the NFL Draft. He is reportedly to be represented by the southern California firm of Athletes First, the agency that negotiated running back Corey Dillon's team-record five-year, $25 million deal with the club.

David Dunn and Joby Branion also represent Bengals quarterback Akili Smith and wide receiver Danny Farmer. The Bengals may not take Palmer, or even keep the first pick. But since 1992, Dunn has been involved in four of the Bengals' first-round draft picks when he worked with Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moorad.

This could be his first since Dunn and Branion left Steinberg in an ugly split that is still in court and could impact whether they end up representing Palmer, or anyone else.

Branion had no comment on the Palmer signing, but he did react to the internet rumors urging the Raiders to pull a Ricky Williams-like trade for Dillon in order to give the NFL's No. 1 passing attack help with a running game that finished 18th in the league, three spots ahead of the Bengals.

It's highly unlikely the Bengals would trade Dillon just two years into a contract that

gave him a $10.5 million signing bonus. If they traded him, the Bengals would absorb a $6.3 million cap hit for 2003 and that's a number that scares away a team that may have to put a $5 million free-agent designation on linebacker Takeo Spikes.

In March of 2002, the Saints traded Williams to the Dolphins for a first-round pick in '02 and a conditional pick in the third round this year. Plus, the clubs swapped positions in the fourth round last year.

But Dillon's cap hit would almost have to preclude trading him for another big-name player and the Raiders' first-round pick probably won't be higher than 27 and it could be as low as the last pick if they win the Super Bowl.

Even though he registered his third straight 1,300-yard-season (1,311) and had five 100-yard games, Dillon rushed for 60 yards or less seven times and gave off vibes that he was far from pleased with his lot in Cincinnati.

"I think everyone was unhappy with the way it went last year," Branion said. "He desperately wants to win. Everyone is anxious to see what kind of improvements are going to be made."

Palmer also has to be quite interested in the Bengals' announcement of a new head coach after he joined an agency that also represents quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe, Kerry Collins, Joey Harrington, and Matt Hasselbeck. Branion wouldn't say if his group now represents Palmer or what Palmer's take is on the Bengals.

But he did say he felt his firm had "a good relationship," with the Bengals. When they were with Steinberg, the two first-round quarterbacks Smith and David Klingler endured what have been characterized as career-killing holdouts that wiped out virtually all of training camp.

But when Dillon urged Dunn and Branion to strike a deal with the Bengals in a week in May of 2001, the agents and the team responded in a relatively smooth three-day negotiation that yielded the eight-figure signing bonus, just the fifth ever given to a running back.

Last November, a Los Angeles jury levied a $44.66 million verdict against Dunn when it ruled he broke a contract with Steinberg when Dunn started Athletes First with 50 clients first signed by the company of Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn. The firm could also face disciplinary action from the NFL Players Association.

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