Bengals match Spearman

3-16-03, 5:50 a.m. Updated:
3-17-03, 9:50 a.m. Updated:
3-17-03, 4 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

As expected Monday, the Bengals matched the Packers' three-year offer for backup linebacker Armegis Spearman despite his effort to convince the Bengals to let him go to Green Bay as a starter.

"It's very positive for Armegis to have someone else pursue his services, but we think it's in our best interest to match the offer and retain him," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "I've scouted him as an opposing coach, and I think he's got a very bright future."

After talking to Lewis Saturday, Spearman still has no plans to attend the club's voluntary workouts if it matches the Packers' offer and will go back to classes at the University of Mississippi.

The Bengals' linebacking spot, once considered the team's strongest position, appears to be undergoing heavy scrutiny by Lewis' new regime. Spearman said he has been informed that the Bengals shopped fellow backup Adrian Ross to the Packers for a trade, and on Sunday the agent for Panthers linebacker Brad Jackson confirmed he would try to get a deal with the Bengals during his client's visit to Cincinnati Monday.

"Marvin knows Brad and he's the kind of guy he wants," said Jim Sims, who is also one of Spearman's agents. "He's an athletic guy who can run and play all three spots and he's a big factor on special teams. I would think if they sign both, Armegis and Brad aren't going to have to worry."

If the Bengals sign both Spearman and Jackson, that makes them top heavy with backers on a roster that includes starters Brian Simmons, Kevin Hardy, and Steve Foley, as well as Ross, Canute Curtis, Riall Johnson, Tito Rodriguez , and Dwayne Levels.

"Going back to school is a higher priority for me than going to voluntary workouts in a situation where I'm a backup," Spearman said Saturday.

Asked if he bought Lewis' argument he would be in competition for a starting job, Spearman asked, "Would you?"

The Packers have a new linebackers coach in Green Bay, former Bengals defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mark Duffner, and Spearman is comfortable with the idea they have told him he is gong to start for them. He started several games at middle linebacker as a rookie in 2000 and became the only undrafted player to make "The Football News," All-Rookie team.

He has played just seven games since because of injury, but the Packers gave him a contract potentially worth $3 million for three years. A league source contradicted reported contract figures, saying that Spearman actually got $550,000 to sign with a $375,000 salary this year, $500,000 with a $250,000 roster bonus in 2004, and play-time incentives and escalators reaching $300,000 in the first two years. Then he is to make $1 million in 2005.

Spearman is trying to emphasize that his situation isn't about a disgruntled player trying to bolt the Bengals.

"I've got nothing against the Bengals. It's the place that gave me a start and I've got nothing against Coach Lewis," Spearman said. "I want to see if he's true to his word that he only wants players who want to be there. Green Bay is a better situation for me because I've got a chance to start."

Spearman is convinced he'll have no chance to start here behind players making nearly $4 million per year in middle linebacker Kevin Hardy and right outside linebacker Brian Simmons. Especially since just hours after right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes signed in Buffalo, the Bengals gave Spearman no indication he could start by going out and signing Hardy.

On Saturday, Spearman and Lewis talked about his participation in the team's voluntary workouts that begin March 24 and includes two voluntary on-field camps bracketing the April 26-27 draft. He does plan to attend June's three-day mandatory camp.

"Coach Lewis told me he's all for me getting my degree and that it's important," Spearman said. "He also said I can go back and get it any time and that it would be a good idea to be here learning the defense. But I feel so strongly about this, I feel like this is something I have to do."

The 6-foot, 230-pound Jackson, 28. is athletic enough to have 11 games for the University of Cincinnati basketball team on his resume during a career he switched from wide receiver to linebacker before becoming the Bearcats' third all-time tackler.

He played for Lewis in Baltimore for three seasons before moving to Carolina in 2002. During the Ravens' Super Bowl season in 2000, Jackson received the special teams game ball in back-to-back games against the Bengals and Titans, and made a big play against the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV when he fell on Jermaine Lewis' fumbled punt at the Ravens 28 in the first quarter.

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