5-31-01, 3:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
After a month of studying their offensive tackles, the Bengals were satisfied enough to release three-time Opening Day left tackle Rod Jones.
The Bengals didn't allow Thursday's final voluntary practice before training camp to slide by without a major move. But the least surprised guy may have been Jones.
During the offseason, he saw the club sign Richmond Webb and extend the contract of John Jackson, both former Pro Bowl tackles.
"The writing was on the wall," Jones said after head coach Dick LeBeau broke the news. "I've got no hard feelings. You have to look at everything for what it is. You
can't try to imagine falsehoods. You have to look at the facts and go from there."
The facts Jones sees are Webb and Jackson, moves that made him the third-string left tackle after a season he lost his job to Jackson. Jones also sees the $30 million extension right tackle Willie Anderson got last offseason and the re-signings of center Rich Braham and left guard Matt O'Dwyer this offseason.
"They're happy with Richmond Webb and John
Jackson," Jones said. "And they re-signed Matt, Richie and Willie. They're stacked."
At 27, and a veteran of 34 NFL starts at left tackle, Jones figures to get good play on the free-agent market despite a nightmarish season last year during which he allowed numerous blind-side quarterback sacks.
The Bengals could be rolling the dice with the 34-year-old Webb and 36-year-old Jackson, but their track records and how they looked this month are good enough for the club.
There has been some concern about Webb's quickness, but he says once he loses 15 to 20 pounds and reports July 20 at 320-325 pounds, he'll be fine.
"It's usually what happens to me," said Webb the seven-time Pro Bowler who was at every workout since he signed the week minicamp started. "I've got seven weeks and just before camp starts I trim about 15 pounds off and you feel quicker and lighter. When the bell goes off, I'll be there."
Last year, Jones came into the season with a new three-year, $9 million contract, as well as 30 extra pounds. LeBeau benched him six games into the season when he couldn't cope in pass protection and Jackson responded by playing well in three of the Bengals' four victories.
Jones, a seventh round draft pick out of Kansas in 1996, slimmed down to 317 pounds from 350 at the start of this month's workouts and was back to about 330. But he looked decent at left guard and right tackle. Yet he's no longer a starter, Jamain Stephens has shown the ability to back up at right tackle and right guard, and keeping five tackles is a luxury.
"We respect Rod for the professionalism he brings to his job," LeBeau said. "This gives him the best opportunity to see what's best for Rod Jones. He now has the freedom to move about the league. We think we have good depth on the offensive line at this time."
By releasing Jones before June 1, the Bengals absorb two-thirds of his $2.5 million pro-rated signing bonus under this year's salary cap.