10-10-01, 2:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals continued the process of locking up their young linebackers for the long-term Wednesday when they extended the contract of left outside linebacker Steve Foley through 2005.
Foley, who along with middle linebacker Brian Simmons and right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes is in his fourth season, received about $3 million for the four-year extension that averages about $2 million per year and keeps him off the free-agent market this offseason.
Also Wednesday, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau announced Bernard Whittington will make his 80th NFL start Sunday against the Browns in place of injured defensive tackle Tony Williams. There could also be a change at free safety, but the club is monitoring the progress of backup Darryl Williams' foot injury.
By getting Foley and backup backer Ardian Ross in the fold with extensions this season, the Bengals think that gives them the flexibility to keep their linebacking corps in the confines of the salary cap. They are prepared to extend Spikes and Simmons, but since their contracts aren't up until after the 2002 season those talks probably won't get going until this offseason.
"We've got an extraordinary group of linebackers and we want to take every opportunity to keep them here for their entire careers," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. "We think
signing Adrian and Steve rewards them for their play and it still permits us to pay Takeo and Brian as we go out into the future."
David Levine, who recently became Foley's agent, said his client will get $6 million in the next three years and could get $8 million for four if he makes some incentives. P>"The main attraction is getting $3 million up front," Levine said. "That pretty much sets you up for life. And Steve wanted to stay with those guys."
Because the Bengals did the Foley deal before mid-season, it allowed them to shove about $1 million into this year's salary cap and leaves them room if they want to extend other potential free agents. Levine also represents one of those in defensive end Reinard Wilson, a former first-round pick set to start his fourth straight game this week after hardly playing the previous two seasons.
"Katie and I said we'd wait until about mid-season to see how things are going with Reinard," Levine said. "We didn't say we'd talk contract, but we'll talk."