Bengals get pick of the litter

3-29-04, 6:30 p.m. Updated:
3-30-04, 6:25 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PALM BEACH, Fla. _ With speculation swirling here that the Bengals are going to meet with the Raiders to discuss trading running back Corey Dillon for a draft pick, their strategy may have changed Monday after the NFL rewarded them with the highest compensatory pick in the April 24-25 draft.

The Bengals received the last pick in the third round at No. 96, giving them two third-rounders for the first time since 1998 in a spot where the Steelers selected Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward.

As one of the 32 compensatory picks doled out Monday, it is the highest in their history, and they can probably thank Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes' Pro Bowl berth for that. A team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in a year is eligible to receive compensation via draft picks. They are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time, and post-season honors.

Spikes was Cincinnati's biggest free-agent loss in a pool including fullbacks Lorenzo Neal and Nicolas Luchey, quarterback Gus Frerotte, and safety Cory Hall. Their unrestricted free-agent signees were defensive tackle John Thornton, defensive end Carl Powell, linebacker Kevin Hardy, and tight end Reggie Kelly.

In '98, the Bengals drafted guard Mike Goff and linebacker Steve Foley in the third round. The extra pick came out of their trade with Washington for Dan Wilkinson.

There is speculation the Raiders are going to get around to offering the Bengals a third-round draft pick for Dillon, maybe here this week. When asked if he had spoken with Bengals President Mike Brown about Dillon, Oakland owner Al Davis said late Monday afternoon he hadn't spoken to Brown at these meetings.

How that may affect the potential trade talks remains to be seen. Word is Brown wants nothing less than a second-rounder for Dillon. But would he relent for a third knowing that would give him three in the third round, matching the Patriots for five picks on the first day of the draft?

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NO REACT:** Asked if he fears Hamilton County joining a lawsuit against the Bengals and the NFL over the club's stadium lease is going to spark more legal battles, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday he didn't know enough about the case to comment.

ART OF THE FAREWELL: In the end, their legacies are going to be that one of them took a sweet deal in Baltimore and the other one didn't. But Monday, on what amounted to the end of Art Modell's 43 years as a NFL owner in a run that began in a bitter dispute with the late Paul Brown, Modell and Mike Brown had only good things to say.

"I'm not going to get into any post-mortems on Paul, except that he was a giant in the field," said Modell, who fired Paul Brown as coach at the end of the 1962 season even though he had led Cleveland to 11 championship games. "He did things long before they became accepted factors. Even the time coaches spent on their craft. When I came into the league, the Detroit Lions' coaches were off for six months."

There is always irony with the Modell and Brown families. Modell is still getting scalded for moving the Browns out of Cleveland to Baltimore. Mike Brown actually had a chance to take that deal earlier than Modell in 1995 and move the Bengals out of Cincinnati with a much richer lease than the one he is getting skewered for signing in Hamilton County. Brown stayed and has been scalded for the stadium lease the club negotiated with the county.

On Monday, Brown saluted Modell's work and repeated what he said when the Ravens went to the Super Bowl three years ago: The hatchet has been buried.

"(The NFL) became his life. He left a mark on it that is significant," Brown said. "We had our battles with him as a family. In all honesty , a lot of good came out of that. My Dad came back into the NFL in a situation that was great. We have nothing to complain about there. We had a great rivalry with them in Cleveland. All that is good. I speak with him and have for years. What happened 40, 50 years go doesn't have to be re-fought."

Modell agreed, refusing to wonder if it was a clash of personalities that forced the most famous split in NFL history.

"I don't want to get into that. He's not here to give his version of things," Modell said. "I had tremendous regard for him then as I do now. He was a giant in our business."

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NEW VENTURES:** Cornerback Artrell Hawkins and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, released by the Bengals earlier this month, have found new homes in Carolina and Buffalo, respectively. The NFC champion Panthers upped the ante to get Hawkins away from the Steelers for about $1.5 million per year (figure $2 million to sign) while Gibson caught the eye of the man that originally drafted him out of Notre Dame in Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe.

"I've always liked his attitude and his toughness," said Donahoe, who drafted Gibson in the fourth round when he was with the Steelers in 1995. "He's a guy we see as a backup who is going to go into the rotation. A lot of times it takes guys a year to get over (a torn Achilles'), and our doctors said he looked good."

Carolina General Manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers knew they had to make a good offer to get Hawkins because the Steelers, with former Bengals coaches Dick LeBeau and Ray Horton, were on the chase.

"We like his ability to cover and we hear he's a tough kid with good character," Hurney said. "He's got good speed."

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