And then there was one

7-17-01, 9:45 p.m.

Updated: 7-18-01, 2 p.m.

Updated: 7-18-01, 3:20 p.m.

Updated: 7-18-01, 4:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals zeroed in on signing all their draft picks before training camp when they agreed on a four-year deal with second-rounder Chad Johnson and three-year deals with third-rounder Sean Brewer and seventh-rounder T.J. Houshmandzadeh Wednesday.

That came on the heels of Tuesday's agreement with fourth-rounder Rudi Johnson, leaving first-rounder Justin Smith the lone unsigned draft choice before camp opens Friday at Georgetown College.

The early signing of Chad Johnson had been seen as a must because the Oregon State receiver is projected as a starter in the Bengals' new staple of three-receiver sets. The club avoided the mess of second-rounder Mark Roman's 17-day holdout last year when Bengals vice president Paul Brown agreed to a four-year contract with no voidable years even though the player drafted next to Chad Johnson had a voidable fifth year.

Sources put the signing bonus at about $1.4 million.

"I didn't want to happen what happened the last couple of years," said Brown, who dealt with second-round holdouts in Roman and Charles Fisher the past two training camps. "From what we saw at minicamp, this guy has all the makings of an impact player and we felt it was worth it to get him in here."

The Bengals had a setback Tuesday when they discovered defensive end Kevin Henry, a free-agent pickup from the Steelers, is expected to miss the pre-season opener after undergoing a surprise arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. Angelo Colosimo, the club's associate doctor, performed Tuesday what trainer Paul Sparling termed "light house keeping," in removing some bone chips.

Sparling said Henry, 33, should be out two to three weeks, but says it's not as serious as the bone chips that wiped out half a season for former Bengals guard Brian DeMarco two years ago. It's also not as serious as the shoulder injury that cut down defensive tackle Tom Barndt's effectiveness last year.

"He had the problem before we signed him, but it didn't bother him enough to cause a problem," Sparling said. "After (May's voluntary workouts), it bothered him and he went to get it checked and it didn't clear up. Once we found out, we got him in here and got it done and it was pretty routine."

Auburn running back Rudi Johnson received a three-year deal worth about $1 million. He came into the fold with a signing bonus that sources put

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at $327,500. It appears the Bengals jacked their bonus by about $3,000 in the eleventh hour to compensate for the $30,000 of incentives the Jets gave the player drafted behind Johnson. Peter Schaffer, Johnson's agent who began the negotiations during a golf game with Bengals vice president Paul Brown in Denver, wouldn't comment on numbers. But he kept the golf analogy going.

"Paul had a chance to hit a 30-foot putt and it didn't go in, Schaffer said. "But he got it close enough that I let him pick it up."

The negotiations at the top still seem as relaxed as a golf game. Smith's agent, Jim Steiner, said he continues to have daily, pleasant discussions with executive vice president Katie Blackburn. He admitted there are compromises in order as both sides grapple with a six-year ceiling on contracts.

"It will get done and it could get done in the next 72 hours, but it could not, too. I'm not sure of that, Steiner said. "The discussions have been done in a fine atmosphere and we're just going to keep talking. And we're talking tomorrow."

Brewer, the fourth pick in the third round, was in a curious spot because the only deal done around his draft position was at the eighth spot, where there was a $515,000 signing bonus. Sources say Brewer got $532,000 to sign, which apparently offset a "split," contract. Every contract in the third round so far has a "split," in which a player makes the minimum $209,000 only if he's on the 53-man roster. If he goes on any of the other lists besides the active roster, he makes $120,000.

"From what we understand, Sean is going to be playing a lot this year," said agent Bill Heck. "He'll be playing tight end, maybe some fullback, probably all the special teams. It was important to get him in on time and the Bengals worked with us to do that."

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