2-26-03, 4:10 p.m.
Updated: 2-26-03, 9:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
More evidence the Bengals are going to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft?
The Steelers have cut Kordell Stewart, the Broncos have put Brian Griese on the block, and the Cardinals are poised to let Jake Plummer fly. But Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis indicated Wednesday that the club has no plans at the moment to chase a veteran quarterback.
Indeed, with free agency less than 48 hours away, Lewis appears more interested in cornerbacks, wide receivers, and fullbacks than quarterbacks.
Word out of Miami is that wide receiver/punt returner Jermaine Lewis is headed to Cincinnati next week after he meets the Dolphins this Wednesday and Thursday in what could be the first free-agent visit of the Marvin Lewis era.
It's also believed the Bengals are interested in pursuing former Broncos cornerback Denard Walker and could be trying to set up a visit after Denver released him as part of an effort to cut down from $20 million over the salary cap.
"He plays corner and he's been successful in the NFL," is all Lewis would say of Walker Wednesday, an indication the interest is quite real.
While purging their roster, the Broncos are also shopping Griese. Lewis watched Stewart star for the Steelers while both were with Pittsburgh in the mid-90s. But neither looks to be on the radar for the Bengals.
"I think we're kind of happy where we are," Lewis said of his own quarterbacks. "We're anxious to see our guys get better."
But the 6-1, 190-pound Walker is a free-agent that sounds like he might fit their plans. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier likes big corners who can play man-to-man and Walker fits both bills. He spent his first four years in Tennessee, where he had an interception and 18 passes defensed for the 1999 AFC champions. In his last two seasons in Denver, he played all but one game and had an interception this past season. In 2001, he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Patriots.
With the projected free-agent list of cornerbacks containing names of only three players who had more than eight starts last season, Walker's 87 NFL starts are suddenly a premium.
Neal's experience is also an issue. Is 32 years old too old to give a Pro Bowler $1 million after what his peers thought was his best season? Neal has said he believes he belongs in that second tier of fullbacks making in the $1 million per year range.
Steve Feldman, Neal's agent said Tuesday night he has talked with the Bengals and plans to talk to them again Wednesday. He said Friday wasn't a drop-dead date to get a deal done in Cincinnati.
Asked if Neal could re-sign before free agency, Feldman said, "Never say never."
It's doubtful Nicolas Luchey, the other fullback, is going to sign by Friday. But indications are he is keeping the Bengals' in mind when he goes on the market because Lewis is impressed with his versatility.
It does look like there is an effort afoot to get safety Cory Hall signed before Friday. He has been named one of 25 "sleeper," free agents by ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli on a list of players seen as possible upgrades at bargain prices.
Agent Peter Schaffer called Wednesday's conversation with the club, "a solid opening dialogue in which the Bengals expressed a desire to keep him, and Cory has the same thoughts. If the Bengals step up, Cory won't go on the market."
The Bengals have had apparently similar talks with Jermaine Lewis' people and the 28-year-old is headed here next week. The 5-7 Lewis has been a feared punt and kick returner, but it's not an easy issue for the Bengals. They already have five young receivers and 2000 No. 1 pick Peter Warrick plays his slot position. But the Bengals could also go with six receivers if they decide Lewis is that important on special teams.