Bengals add Clemons to mix

5-14-03, 12:15 a.m. Updated:
5-14-03, 10:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The re-shaping of the Bengals across the defense continues.

The club announced Wednesday it had signed former Viking and Chief Duane Clemons to a two-year deal in stepping up the intensity at defensive end. It makes Clemons the third down linemen to sign up with Marvin Lewis' new regime via free agency and fifth defensive free agent.

"We're excited to add Duane to our defensive line," Lewis said. "He's been a starter in the NFL, and he's been productive."

The Bengals have been looking at Clemons since free agency began in March and tied up the deal with agent Drew Rosenhaus Tuesday.

"We're thrilled about the move," said the Miami-based Rosenhaus. "He feels like he's getting an excellent opportunity with a fine coaching staff. Marvin and (defensive coordinator) Leslie Frazier really did a nice job trying to get this done. They wanted him."

The 6-5, 280-pound Clemons, who turns 29 in nine days, has been regarded as the best defensive end left on the market. He becomes the Bengals' career sack leader with 35 in his seven seasons, 4.5 ahead of another defensive free-agent pickup, middle linebacker Kevin Hardy.

Clemons, a No. 1 pick by the Vikings out of California in 1996, has spent the bulk of his career as a pass-rush end. But with Justin Smith firmly entrenched as the right end and Lewis talking about rehabbing Reinard Wilson's career, it's believed the Bengals are looking to use Clemons mainly as a left end, but anywhere in passing situations. Former Redskin Carl Powell, another free

agent, has been penciled in as the starter at left end but they figure to use a rotation. Although Clemons has made 59 career starts, 31 of them in the last two seasons, Rosenhaus said he is simply looking to contribute consistently to a good team.

"It's amazing how one guy can turn things around," Rosenhaus said of Lewis Monday. "You can't have too many defensive ends and this is a club that's appealing to Duane.

"He's a long-time starter who has been a very good pass rusher down through the years," Rosenhaus said. "He's a versatile guy who can help a team in a lot of ways."

Not only is Lewis overseeing a transition on defense, but he's also watching a Bengals' salary cap that has never been this low so early in the season if the numbers computed by ESPN.com are correct.

According to ESPN.com's salary cap survey of all 32 teams, the Bengals are now down to about $1.4 million under. Only about seven teams have less under the cap.

ESPN.com reported Clemons' cap figure for 2003 at nearly $1 million with a $622,500 signing bonus and base salaries of $655,000 for 2003 and $900,000 for 2004. If he maxes out his sack incentives in '03, he'll earn an extra $1 million next year.

Although he had just two sacks last season, Clemons has had seven or more sacks in four of the last six seasons. That's a significant stat for a team that has had seven sacks by a player in just two of the last six seasons. Wilson and Justin Smith had more than seven in 2001 and linebacker Gerald Dixon had 8.5 in 1997.

Now the competition at end has clearly stepped up.

Wilson, who went from nine sacks to none last year, is getting looked at both end spots. Eric Ogbogu, who played in 12 games last year, has been working behind Smith. The other two ends are rookies in seventh-round pick Elton Patterson out of Central Florida and college free agent Ja'Waren Blair from East Carolina.

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