Bengals court Stubblefield

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Even though they signed defensive tackle Tony Williams Tuesday, the Bengals made a run Wednesday at signing former Washington Redskins' run stuffer Dana Stubblefield.

Meanwhile, the Bengals continued to talk late into Wednesday afternoon with the agents for quarterbacks Gus Frerotte and Jon Kitna. They indicated no interest in the oft-injured Troy Aikman after the Cowboys cut him.

But the Bengals did secure a Friday free-agent visit from Aikman's main man in the Cowboys' 23-6 win over Cincinnati last season. James McKnight, who had eight catches for 164 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals, is the first receiver to take the Paul Brown Stadium tour

Stubblefield, 30, seemed genuinely impressed by his hometown team and the Bengals were sketching out a possible defensive line of Stubblefield at left end, Williams and Oliver Gibson in the middle and Vaughn Booker at right end.

But a Stubblefield signing would preclude a deal with a pass-rushing end such as Tennessee's Kenny Holmes, due Wednesday night for a visit.

"It's the dream of any NFL player to come back home and play," said Stubblefield, who grew up in Cincinnati's English Woods and played at Taylor High School in Cleves, Ohio.

Asked his thoughts of possibly playing for a struggling franchise, Stubblefield praised the Bengals' efforts during a visit spearheaded by defensive line coach Tim Krumrie.

Stubblefield recalled the days he visited relatives who lived across from the Bengals' training-camp field at Wilmington College. He would sit on the fence and watch.

"I told Tim I grew up watching him play up at Wilmington," Stubblefield said. "It was an honor for me to meet him and just to get to see what direction this team is going."

The Bengals are focused on signing Frerotte or Kitna, but they are open to other options. They've had a conversation with the agent for former Bills quarterback Doug Flutie and Kristen Kuliga said the club responded with interest. She said her client had a positive visit in San Diego, but the 38-year-old Flutie is also keeping his options alive and Cincinnati fits his desire as a place where he can start.

"Doug thinks he can play four more years," Kuliga said, "so we aren't looking for just a short-term deal."

The Bengals' big push to sign Pro Bowl quarterback Elvis Grbac ended Monday night, but his agent didn't stop pushing until Tuesday.

While Jim Steiner urged the Bengals to get back into negotiations, Cincinnati spent the day focused on Frerotte.

After the Bengals pulled out of the escalating Grbac negotiations with the Ravens, Steiner called the club Monday night and Tuesday morning in an attempt to revive their interest.

But the Bengals stuck to the belief they couldn't go any higher and still get several more quality free agents. So they watched Grbac sign a five-year, $30 million deal in Baltimore Tuesday afternoon even though Steiner said the Bengals had "millions" more on the table in the first two years of the contract.

Grbac is assured of making $7 million if he plays in the first two years in Baltimore. After the second year, the Ravens must give him the $6 million of the $11 million signing bonus in order to trigger the final three years of the contract.

Steiner acknowledged the Bengals' proposal dwarfed the Ravens' bid in the first two years.

"That's where the biggest impact in Cincinnati's offer was. The first two years," Steiner said. "But once the contract stretched out, it became pretty similar."

"I think the Bengals thought they were being used for leverage, but they were in serious consideration and under serious consideration by Elvis," Steiner said.

"They know they had to make a much stronger offer (than Baltimore) and they

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did. The Bengals were professional about the whole thing. They were straight forward. Their best chance to shock the world and give legitimacy to their program right away was to sign Elvis Grbac. They did all the right things, but it just wasn't enough to pass up being with a team that had won the Super Bowl."

Bengals director of business development Troy Blackburn, the club's negotiator for a quarterback, wouldn't divulge numbers of negotiations that bubbled Monday after Steiner's visit to Paul Brown Stadium Sunday.

"Elvis is a fine player and we put a high value on him," Blackburn said. "But (Monday night), at that point, we decided a deal with Elvis would prevent us from getting more quality players."

Blackburn dined Tuesday night with Carl Lopez, the agent for Kitna, but Kitna went home without a deal as the sides promised to keep talking.

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