3-27-02, 4:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Reinard Wilson story should be written Thursday, with the ending somewhere in the Midwest: Cincinnati, Chicago, or Indianapolis.
David Levine, Wilson's agent, said Wednesday he's looking to close a deal in the next 24 hours or so for the Bengals leading sacker in 2001. It's believed Wilson is mulling an offer from the Bengals and Levine said he has let Cincinnati know that he has talked contract parameters with the Bears. Wilson worked out for the Colts a few weeks ago and Levine planned to talk to them Thursday.
If the Bengals can re-sign Wilson and his nine sacks, that will probably be their last move before the April 20-21 draft. After Wednesday's agreement with cornerback Jeff Burris figured to set the Bengals back $1 million under the salary cap for this season, Cincinnati appears to have a little less than $3 million to play with in free agency, according to national reports. About $3.5 million of their available money is ticketed for the rookie pool.
One player rooting for Wilson's re-signing is defensive captain Takeo Spikes, the right outside linebacker who is making no bones about the fact he is concerned the Bengals have signed just one player from another team while AFC North rivals Pittsburgh (kicker Todd Peterson) and Cleveland (right tackle Ryan Tucker) have filled some key spots.
"I'd like to see us sign a guy coming off a big year instead of signing a guy for what he did two or three years ago," said Spikes Wednesday from Georgia. "That's
why I'd like to see us get Reinard back. We know what he can do and he's coming off his best season. I think we're a couple of players away from being a dominant defense and those are probably another pass rusher (with Justin Smith) and a cornerback. If Burris is the guy, that's great. And if we get Reinard back, there's the other rusher."
Spikes thinks the Bengals are "real close," and that, "we're just a couple of pieces away, but how big is the puzzle?" He's not lobbying for a massive trade for a quarterback, but he knows the offense has to be better.
"Sometimes you worry about those big-name quarterbacks because they go places and don't deliver," Spikes said. "We do need more production at quarterback whether we stay inside or outside, and the receivers know they have to play better. I think we've got the guys there and they'd be the first to tell you they didn't reach their potential."
The Steelers added Peterson and re-signed outside linebacker Jason Gildon, and the Browns added safety Robert Griffith along with Tucker. But the Bengals don't see anybody running away with the division title via free agency after they signed Burris and re-signed their other starting cornerback, Artrell Hawkins.
"Artrell was free to sign elsewhere and he chose us, so you have to say that we signed two starting cornerbacks. That's pretty good," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "I think we're right there with what other teams are doing. That's moving forward, not standing still, and we've still got things we're trying to do.
" I give Artrell credit," Brown said. "In this day and age, you spend four years training a guy and they think nothing of leaving you. Now we seem ready to reap the rewards of sticking with Artrell and I admire the way he handled it."
Spikes, as well as fellow defensive leader Brian Simmons, are heading into the last year of their deals. But he's paying no attention to the shrinking cap room.
"The contract is going to take care of itself," Spikes said. "I'm not going to worry about that. What will be will be. I just have to worry about playing"
Spikes, 25, comes into his fifth season in his prime. He's coming off a year that included a AFC Defensive Player of the Week outing and his third team tackling title in four seasons.
"I'm working on my explosion," Spikes said. "I'm working on my anticipation. I want to be more aggressive with my reads this season."