3-3-04, 4 p.m.
Updated: 3-3-04, 5:45 p.m.
3-3-04, 6:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
As expected, the Bengals went out into the free-agent market looking for defense and immediately set up visits with a host of starting cornerbacks and a strong safety.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that former Rams safety Kim Herring arrived in Cincinnati Wednesday, the club's first free-agent visit of the year.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won't confirm visits until they have been completed and reported to the NFL, but the agent for Eagles' five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent said her client is headed to Cincinnati Thursday. Pat Dye, the agent for Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman, said the Bengals called him and they were trying to work out a visit.
Herring's agent, Neil Cornrich, wouldn't confirm a visit. But said he expected both sides to explore the possibility of a reunion given that Lewis coached Herring on the Ravens' Super Bowl championship team.
But the Bengals also made several calls to interior offensive linemen, and they will trade visits with the Giants. Chris Bober, 27, a transplanted tackle who made 16 starts at center in New York this past season, is expected in Cincinnati Thursday and Friday said Bober's agent, Robb Nelson. Rich Braham, who has made 115 starts for the Bengals, is headed to New York Friday.
(New Giants coach) Tom Coughlin likes him from the days he played against him when he was coaching Jacksonville," said Vern Sharbaugh, Braham's agent.
Vincent, visiting Buffalo today and expected in Cincinnati Thursday according to agent Linda Bodley, also has strong ties to the Bengals through defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, his position coach in Philadelphia. That could also mean there is interest in the man who played opposite Vincent with the Eagles in Bobby Taylor.
Also headed to PBS possibly at some point are cornerbacks Fernando Bryant of the Jaguars and Reggie Howard of the NFC champion Panthers, a source outside the Bengals said. It can't be confirmed if the club made contact with the upper-tier corner market in Antoine Winfield, Ahmed
Plummer, and Shawn Springs. It probably did, but indications around the league are Springs and Winfield are going to be gone quickly in mega-money deals that the Bengals may be shying away from in order to sign a group of players.
In fact, Springs apparently has an agreement with Washington for an undisclosed amount. Winfield is in heavy negotiations with the Jets (the word is more than $10 million in signing bonus), and he also may visit Minnesota.
Plummer, a Cincinnati product from Wyoming High School who expressed interest in playing in Cincinnati last season, is apparently also in the big-money sweepstakes on visits to Detroit and New Orleans, according to sources outside the Bengals.
A survey of agents in the first hours of free agency revealed that the Bengals aren't looking to drop all their money on one position, but they appear to be trying to break it up across a defense that finished 28th in the NFL last season.
The 6-2, 295-pound Coleman is known as more of a pass rusher, and his 11 sacks in 2002 led all NFL defensive tackles as he helped the Raiders get to the Super Bowl. He had 5.5 this season during a year the Bengals' John Thornton finished second among AFC tackles with six. The Bengals released backup tackle Oliver Gibson on Monday, but any lineman signed this early figures to play heavily with Thornton and Tony Williams.
The 6-1, 200-pound Vincent turns 33 in June, but there are those who think he has plenty left and he has gone to the last five Pro Bowls. The Bengals may be thinking he's the perfect mentor for second-year cornerback Dennis Weathersby as a guy with 42 career interceptions.
He's also a personification of the strong locker room leadership Lewis seeks. For his intense community involvement, Vincent is the only NFL player to ever receive in the same year the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the NFL Players Association's Byron "Whizzer," White Humanitarian Award, and the top spot on The Sporting News' list of 100 Good Guys in Sports during 2002 and 2003.
"He's looking for a place to become involved in the community and where he can retire," Bodley said.
Which is, of course, ironic because up until 90 minutes before the 1992 NFL Draft, Vincent was supposed to start his career in Cincinnati. But the Bengals switched gears at the last instant and drafted Houston quarterback David Klingler with the sixth pick. Miami took Vincent with the next choice, but he still almost became a Bengal again four years later when his free-agent decision narrowed Cincinnati as one of his options until he chose Philadelphia.
The 5-10, 174-pound Bryant, who turns 27 later this month, is a first-round pick of the Jags from 1999 and is seen as a solid cover guy who has started 71 games since he came into the league. He had just one interception this year, but he helped the Jags to a No. 6 defensive ranking in the NFL. The 6-foot, 190-pound Howard, who turns 27 in May, played well for the league's No. 8 defense that went to the Super Bowl.