3-7-03, 9:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
In moves that indicate the Bengals won't match the Bills' offer to Takeo Spikes, the agents for Cowboys linebacker Kevin Hardy and Titans defensive tackle John Thornton said Friday night thier clients has agreed in principle. Hardy agreed on a four-year deal and it is believed Thornton has agreed to six years.
The Bengals did not officially confirm the agreements. "The Fort Worth Star Telegram" reported Hardy told the paper he was going to play middle linebacker for the Bengals, where head coach Marvin Lewis had envisioned playing Spikes. Harold Lewis, the agent for Thornton, said his client had an agreement.
"We got the sense early that Marvin was looking for guys that wanted to be there and Kevin wants to be there," said Eric Metz, one of Hardy's agents who had the impression the Bengals won't match Spikes.
"We got criticized for sending players to Philadelphia five years ago and Green Bay 10 years ago and we think Marvin is on the right path in Cincinnati," Metz said. "Kevin has been in the league seven years and been with Jacksonville and Dallas, and he was very impressed with the staff there in Marvin and the rest of the defensive coaches."
As Lewis re-shapes the Bengals defense, middle backer Brian Simmons will
now apparently move to the right outside and take Spikes' spot, but Lewis wasn't available to confirm the signing.
Lewis kept working on what now looks to be a post-Spikes defense deep into Friday night. The agents for defensive tackles John Thornton and Sam Adams said the Bengals had been speaking with them throughout the day.
The 6-4, 250-pound Hardy, who turns 30 the week training camp opens, has never played the middle. But he led the Jaguars in tackles from both outside spots in earning a Pro Bowl berth. During his one year in Dallas last year, the Cowboys also lined him up at the end of the line some times on passing downs.
Metz, his partner, Ethan Locke, and Troy Blackburn, the club's director of business development, pounded out the key details in the last 24 hours, ever since Hardy sat down to talk to Lewis Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium.
"When Marvin made it clear that he wanted Kevin, Troy went and got it done," Metz said. "Kevin's very happy to be going there."
The deal is believed to be close to $4 million per year with $5 million in the first year between salary and bonuses.
The 6-2, 300-pounnd Thornton, 26, is seen as an up-and-coming player who has been on the front line of Tennessee's recent playoff runs. With tackle Oliver Gibson coming off Achilles' surgery, the Bengals are looking to reinforce the front line.
ESPN.com reported his contract as a six-year deal at $22.5 million with a $5 million signing bonus.