Akili agent:: QB signing leads to cut

5-30-03, 8:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Akili Smith's agent thinks his client's time in Cincinnati may have run its course.

With former Redskins quarterback Shane Matthews the latest quarterback to work out for the team on Thursday, McGuire anticipates a signing leading to Smith's release as early as Monday.

The Bengals remained mum on Smith as they headed into the NFL's magic date of post June 1, but everyone in the football world knows Monday is the first day of business in which the Bengals can jettison Smith and not take a hit on the salary cap.

With plenty of buzzing around the quarterback position at Paul Brown Stadium this week, McGuire just hopes the Bengals make a decision quickly.

Matthews, a 10-year veteran who worked with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in Washington last season, looks to have the most interest for a team that is apparently mulling a seasoned spot starter to back up starter Jon Kitna until they feel the draft's No. 1 overall pick, Carson Palmer, is comfortable enough with the offense.

A move to Matthews could mean they are content to make that next season after watching their last two quarterbacks of the future, Smith and David Klingler, struggle when they became the starter during their rookie seasons.

Smith agent Kennard McGuire said Friday if the Bengals sign one of the quarterbacks they've "targeted," like Matthews, he expects a quick release.

"Those are what my expectations are," McGuire said. "They haven't said anything to me, I'm only going on my intuition. They're bringing in guys to see if they're an

appropriate fit and if they find it, hopefully they'll let Akili go as quickly as possible so we can find him another opportunity."

The Bengals confirmed Matthews visited Cincinnati Thursday. The Bengals have made contact with former Jaguars and Rams quarterback Jamie Martin, but didn't bring him in for a visit. Outside sources have indicated the club has yet to express interest in other free-agent veteran quarterbacks seen at the top of the class, Ray Lucas and Kent Graham.

All indications point to Matthews, but his agent couldn't be reached Friday, opening up the possibility the Bengals are still grappling with the situation.

The Bengals also worked out this week Todd Husak, last year's All-World quarterback in NFL Europe, as well as former Vanderbilt and Tampa Bay rookie Greg Zolman, a local product from Miamisburg, Ohio. But neither have the experience of Matthews, a guy with 22 NFL starts and a .500 record. Martin has eight years of NFL experience, but just three starts.

McGuire said Friday the beehive of activity suggests the Bengals have some questions.

"Certainly the fact they're looking at others would seem to send a message," McGuire said. "It just looks like it might be the time to get him jump-started elsewhere."

McGuire said he is confident the Bengals won't keep Smith waiting and will give him a new lease on life, ending a four-year run in which he went from No. 3 in the 1999 NFL Draft to No. 3 on the depth chart the past two seasons.

"I don't see it being drawn out and that's good for Akili," McGuire said.

Lewis, last year's Redskins defensive coordinator, worked against Matthews every day in practice after he came over from the Bears and served Washington as a floating backup and starter in tying career highs with eight games and seven starts.

The 6-3, 195-pound Matthews threw nearly twice as many touchdown passes (11) as interceptions (six) for a 72.6 passer rating that came on 237 attempts and 124 completions for a 52.3 completion percentage.

Matthews, who spent six of his seasons becoming the Bears' third all-time leading passer, was NFC Offensive Player of the Week off last year's opener in a 327-yard effort against Arizona.

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