Bengals feel a draft

4-8-03, 10:25 p.m.


Agent Tom Condon, who has represented two quarterbacks taken with the first pick in the NFL Draft, thinks the Bengals will get a chance in the next two weeks to trade the No. 1 pick.

"If they want to, I think they might be able to do it," Condon said Tuesday, the day client Byron Leftwich visited the Bengals. "There are going to be teams that want to get one of the two quarterbacks or (Michigan State wide receiver) Charlie Rogers, and the only way to do it is to get up there."

One of the quarterbacks is Condon's own Leftwich, the 6-5, 242-pound Marshall product who winged his way into the mix with more than 12,000 collegiate passing yards. The other is USC's Carson Palmer, the odds-on-favorite to become the Bengals' third franchise quarterback in 11 years. Sources outside the Bengals say Palmer and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman are expected to visit during Marvin Lewis' first minicamp this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium.

Lewis confirmed Tuesday's visit, calling it a typical pre-draft appointment. That usually consists of a physical and interviews. College prospects aren't allowed to work out for a team in a NFL facility before the draft.

The Bengals made one transaction Wednesday when they re-signed free-agent wide receiver Kwazeon Leverette. Leverette signed as a college free agent last season out of Syracuse and was waived after three pre-season games.

Trades are certainly on the mind, but the Bengals and Buccaneers spent Tuesday denying a published report that the clubs have talked about dealing the No. 1 pick to Tampa Bay for Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "The Orlando Sentinel," chronicled this exchange between Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden and the local media Tuesday as his club came off the field from its first full-scale offseason workout as Super Bowl champions.

"Warren Sapp is being traded to Cincinnati?'' Gruden asked. "You want me to fuel that fire? Everybody knows how I feel about Warren Sapp. Everyone on this football team has almost the exact opinion. You mean some guy wrote an article about that? First I heard of it."

The most palatable trade buzz appears to involve the Texans at No. 3 and the Bengals. Published reports have indicated Houston covets Rogers and the Lions at No. 2 are supposedly wondering if they should swap with Cincinnati to make sure they get the local favorite.

But Condon, the agent for Peyton Manning in 1998 and Tim Couch in 1999, knows the air at the top. And, as he noted Tuesday night, the Bengals appear not to have made a decision because his sense is they haven't opened negotiations with any of the favorites.

David Ware, the agent for Newman, also says he hasn't talked contract with the Bengals, but he isn't expecting to yet.

"With this being Marvin's first draft and this being the top pick, this is a very important decision for this franchise," said Ware, who is also the agent for Bengals running back Brandon Bennett. "This is a team that isn't far off and they've got a lot to consider."

With Newman's ability to play right away on Opening Day and his experience playing some receiver on offense and returning punts, Ware and some inside the Bengals think he's the best player in the draft. Ware thinks the Bengals have legitimate interest and that they wouldn't be looking for a bargain by taking a non-quarterback.

"The rookie pool is the rookie pool and they've already got a number allocated for the top pick," Ware said. "The No. 1 player is worth what the No. 1 player is worth. I don't think they're looking at him to get something for less. He's a fit for them."

Leftwich is riding some momentum off a solid workout Monday in Florida. The April 2 draft conducted by the highly-regarded Ourlads' Scouting Services matched Leftwich's top rating (9.38) to the Bengals' needs and ticketed him No. 1. Palmer (9.35) went to Chicago at No. 4 with Rogers going No. 2 to the hometown Lions.

And Condon learned Tuesday night that the NFL wants Leftwich in New York for the April 26 opening of the two-day draft, meaning the league is now pretty confident he is going to go early after showing scouts Monday he has recovered from his broken leg.

"I think people wanted to see him move around and he had no problems doing it," Condon said. "Palmer seems to be the leader and I don't mean by the teams, but by the media. But it's hard not to take this guy. He's big, he can throw, he's smart and he's a leader. He brings plenty to the table."

Not only did the Bengals' coaches see his strengths Monday, but so did two of their receivers. Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans caught some of Leftwich's 70 throws. Warrick particularly liked the way Leftwich throws on the run.

"There was one roll-out pass where he hit me on a come-back route, and the ball was right on the money. Right there," Warrick said. "His best pattern was the come-back. . .(but) I caught the last long ball he threw and it was a touchdown, right there in the back of the end zone. Oh yeah, he'll be a real good quarterback in this league."

The Bengals might make a trade, but Gruden and Lewis both said Tuesday they've had no discussions about the one reported. Reminded that Super Bowl champs are always targets for hot stove buzz, Gruden said, "So are 0-16 and 1-15s. We're all fair game, but I'm going to answer the questions I can comment on. I'm not going to stir the stew. Hell, I don't have time for that, man."

The Bengals do have time for free-agent center Gennaro DiNapoli, formerly of the Titans because of salary-cap reasons. Both teams have interest and the Bengals have made an offer. But Howard Shatsky, DiNapoli's agent, said the sides didn't talk Tuesday.

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