Bengals begin rookie signings

7-19-04, 11:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With the clock starting to tick, it's believed the Bengals have been talking to all the agents for their draft choices with essentially 10 days until they have to report to training camp. The quickest to get in the fold are most likely going to be the second-day picks, and some could come as soon as Tuesday.

The first one of the 11 deals did come down Tuesday when sixth-rounder Greg Brooks reached a three-year contract. Brooks, a 5-11, 175-pound cornerback from Southern Mississippi, showed enough aggressiveness in man-to-man coverage during the spring camps that he figures to battle incumbents Reggie Myles and Terrell Roberts for a roster spot.

"Statistically and historically, most deals happen within the last week before camp," said Andy Simms Monday as the agent for third-rounder Landon Johnson confirmed he has had exchanges with the Bengals. "I don't think anyone sees this as a situation where we're going to have problems."

The Bengals have plenty of company. Only about 50 of last April's 255 draft picks are signed, which slows up what is pretty much a slotting process. But the two second-rounders signed Monday No. 61 Kris Wilson of Kansas City and No. 62 Keary Colbert of Carolina won't speed up the Bengals' situation with cornerback Keiwan Ratliff at No. 49 and safety Madieu Williams at No. 56.

Lightning quick deals don't usually happen for first- and second-rounders, but the agents for Ratliff and Williams said last week they don't expect hang-ups for the Bengals' second-rounders.

In fact, Drew Rosenhaus, Ratliff's agent, did another deal with the Bengals last week in brokering defensive end Duane Clemons' two-year extension. Mason Ashe, Williams' agent, said he doesn't foresee the same bumpy road that his negotiations with the club took several years ago.

Rosenhaus also represents one of the Bengals' three fourth-rounders in defensive tackle Matthias Askew, but he indicated last week there was no hurry on either side as he focused on the Clemons' deal with apparently little mention of the rookie negotiations.

The decision to extend Clemons two more years rather than give linebacker Jason Gildon the one-year $1.25 million deal he got in Buffalo cost the Bengals nearly $1 million more in total outlay for this year. They will also probably end up taking a bigger hit in salary cap count. With the Bengals needing $4.6 million to sign all 11 picks, it remains to be seen if they have to make more room under the salary cap.

Including the draft choices, they have the maximum 82 players on their roster that they can have in camp. That includes cornerback Dennis Weathersby, who has said he's not playing this year after suffering a severe head injury in a car accident. He could go into a category like the non-football injury reserve list for the season once the club reports to Georgetown, Ky.

Ashe had a tough negotiation for Bengals fourth-rounder Sam Shade, but that was way back in 1995 and that was a tough nut because Ki-Jana Carter took so much of Cincinnati's rookie pool as the No. 1 pick in the draft. The exercise was made even more difficult by the fact the Bengals didn't have much of a pool because they gave up their second-round pick for Carter.

But none of those elements are here now.

"We've already spoken and I can tell that things are different. Maybe we've both just learned more, I don't know," said Ashe of his talks with the club. "I expect things are going to pick up the two weeks or so before camp."

Brooks, 23, a three-year starter at Southern Miss, had a school-record 47 passes defensed as well as nine interceptions in a career that included first-team All-Conference USA honors as a junior and a senior.

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