3-7-02, 9:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
A day after visiting Cincinnati, Dolphins left end Kenny Mixon agreed to a five-year, $17 million deal with the Vikings Saturday as the Bengals chose to bow out of heavy negotiations until later this week.
Minnesota, which had $14 million under the salary cap before the deal, had made Mixon the team's top priority in free agency. The Vikings have plenty of cap room to make a run at Bengals right defensive end Reinard Wilson, scheduled for a visit to Minnesota Monday.
The Bengals liked Mixon, a 270-pound run-stopper. But not at a price of a $3.4 million signing bonus. With starter Vaughn Booker and end/tackle Bernard Whittington already in the fold, the Bengals aren't prepared to drop a load on a defensive lineman when they need more immediate help at cornerback and tight end. Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, said Saturday they will start to deal after visits this coming week. Bears cornerback Walt Harris and Jaguars left end Renaldo Wynn are scheduled to visit Monday. Also coming in are a trio of tight ends in Washington's Stephen Alexander, the Colts' Ken Dilger, and San Diego's Freddie Jones.
"It hasn't matched up right yet. For us or the player," said Bengals President Mike Brown when asked why the club is playing the market slowly. "We haven't played it yet. I'm sure we will and will get some guys."
Will it be a big-money guy (Drew Bledsoe?) or a lot of medium-money guys (Harris, Wynn, Dilger?). Brown continues not to rule out a trade for a big salary (such as Bledsoe), but he also says there have been no talks.
Mixon, who lunched on a double cheeseburger with head coach Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach Tim, Krumrie in LeBeau's office Friday, said he's the kind of high-energy
player that would fit in on a high-energy line of Oliver Gibson, Tony Williams and Justin Smith.
"I'm very impressed with the facilities, the coaches, the staff, everything about this place," Mixon said. "And they seem very interested and that makes me feel good."
Mixon dropped about 15-20 pounds to get to 270 this past season and he thinks it helped him with his speed and made him a better pass rusher. He had 3.5 sacks and he wants to stay at 270 because he feels more comfortable, but his strength is still first and second down.
PELFREY STILL SEARCHING: Maybe Doug Pelfrey caught the irony when the Bengals invited his friend, Chiefs kicker Todd Peterson, for a visit earlier this week in their search for a kicker.
Both guys were born in 1970. Both guys kicked in the SEC with Pelfrey at Kentucky, Peterson at Georgia. Both racked up 80-percent field goal accuracy during their first six seasons in the NFL with not particularly long legs, but consistent ones. Both have been ranked in the accuracy all-timers' top 10. Both are involved in the spiritual side of sports and both are seen as tremendous guys inside and outside the locker room.
But that's where the similarities all end. Peterson is still working as the top kicker in the free-agent market. Like he has since the Bengals cut him just before the 2000 season, Pelfrey is still looking for a job.
On Thursday, Pelfrey re-surfaced in Bengaldom with the launch of the Corey Dillon Foundation that he helped form and reminded everyone what a valuable community asset he is. He didn't seem upset the Bengals are courting his clone and friend.
"I'm more frustrated with the rest of the league than I am with the Bengals," said Pelfrey of his job
prospects. "With the Bengals, there's a history there. The way I was cut and all that. I don't see them wanting me back for a lot of different reasons. But it's different with the rest of the league.
"I just don't understand it," Pelfrey said of the lack of interest. "When I was playing, guys were coming up to me all the time saying they'd love to have me. A lot of it is salary cap stuff, but if they wanted me badly enough, they could sign me."
But Pelfrey is still banging away and will continue to bang away until he gets the call. He said he's had interest from some teams, but doesn't want to be specific until something comes of it. Late last season he sent two of his kicking videotapes to each of the 32 teams.
"I'm going to keep at it," said Pelfrey, who continues to run his playlikethepros company. "We've got it set up that I can be in another town and still make the company work."
MOONING OVER MIAMI _ After attending the University of Miami's pro day in Florida Thursday, the Bengals could end up taking any of the Hurricanes with the 10th pick in next month's NFL Draft.
"It was probably the most impressive pro workout I've ever been to," said Duke Tobin, Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "If I could have put them all in my suitcase and brought them back to Cincinnati, I would have. We would have filled a lot of holes."
Yes, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, the man mocked to the Bengals in so many early draft exercises, looked terrific. Tobin can't reveal numbers, but national reports said Buchanon ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, did 15 reps on the weights, and vertically jumped out of the building. He backed up his words last weekend at the scouting combine when he said he felt he was one of the best athletes to ever come through Miami.
But he had plenty of company at positions the Bengals need. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie showed tremendous power for a big and quick man, safety Ed Reed showed all the instincts that gave him a school-record 21 interceptions, and tight end Jeremy Shockey just plain impressed.
"Shockey is as athletic as any tight end playing in the league right now," Tobin said. "Reed showed great ball skills and tremendous hands. Buchanon ran well and did all the things an athlete is supposed to do. He showed good balls skills as well."
The Bengals had plenty of people to take notes in Miami along with Tobin: head coach Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle, safeties coach Darren Perry, offensive line coach Paul Alexander and tight ends coach John Garrett.
HAWK SIGHTING:** Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins visited Seattle late last week and continues to draw some interest, but there is no word yet
if he has any offers on the table. The Bengals insist they want him back because they feel they have invested four years of development in a cornerback they feel is showing signs of turning his career around.
If Hawkins is looking for a starting job with starting pay, Seattle may not be the place. The club is thinking that Pro Bowler Shawn Springs and the second-round pick from last year, Ken Lucas, are their starters and that Willie Williams is going to compete with a free-agent veteran for the nickel-back job. Jeff Burris of the Colts is also on Seattle's list.