Bengals regroup on corner

3-15-04, 6:25 p.m. Updated:
3-15-04, 10:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals pursuit of a veteran cornerback in free agency hit a wall Monday when Eagles Pro Bowler Troy Vincent opted for Buffalo, while teammate Bobby Taylor left Paul Brown Stadium without a deal and headed to Dan Snyder's checkbook in Washington.

With the veteran corner market all but dried up, the Bengals may get their starter opposite right cornerback Tory James at No. 17 in the first round of next month's NFL Draft. It would make a suddenly young corner corps younger after 18 years of NFL experience got jettisoned this past week with the releases of Artrell Hawkins and Jeff Burris. James (37), Kevin Kaesviharn (10), a transplanted safety, and Alvin Porter (5), are the corners on the roster with NFL starts.

But Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who informed a WLW-AM radio audience of the Vincent signing Monday afternoon, remained upbeat about his young, emerging corners such as Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts, and the possibility of adding other defensive free agents around them.

Plus, he said the Bengals did the best they could to sign a player who has been to the last five Pro Bowls.

Lewis even went the extra yard of bringing Vincent and his wife into town over the weekend after Vincent had already visited the week before. Although Vincent also visited the Chiefs, it's believed the choice came down to Cincinnati and Buffalo.

"Our people did the best they could to get the deal done," Lewis said. "Troy did what he had to do.

Troy did what he felt was in the best interest of him and his family. And, at some point, you have to respect that, and we do. We wish him the best. We move on. We did whatever we could, it didn't work out, and sometimes that happens."

Linda Bodley's Vincent's agent, said he was torn even after the decision.

"No matter where he went, it was going to be a win-win situation for him," Bodley said. "He was impressed with all the coaches, all of management, it was just a very difficult decision. It was so close."

Ironically, Vincent's teammate in Philadelphia the past eight seasons, Taylor, became the Bengals' next target during his visit Monday. After Taylor's people countered the Bengals' proposal, he got on a plane back to Houston to mull a visit to the Cowboys. But then Snyder, the Redskins owner, called to set up a visit for Thursday.

Jason Medlock, Taylor's Houston-based agent, said Taylor and the Bengals are at a standstill and he doesn't see how a deal can be struck.

"But you never know," he said.

Medlock said the Bengals told him they are under a salary-cap crunch and would have to move at least a couple of players to make room for Taylor.

"He's the last big name player out there in free agency and it would be nice if they could step up and get him," Medlock said. "But they hardly have any room. I'm looking at the (NFL Players Association cap figures) and they have close to zero. They're trying, but Bobby Taylor isn't going to play for $2.5 million per year."

The Bengals probably have more room than that, but they do have some pricey things over their head for 2004. Such as $2 million in quarterback Carson Palmer's escalators and $3 million in draft picks. They are still in the hunt for a starting right guard in the Eagles' Bobbie Williams, Dolphins safety Brock Marion, and Redskins speed wide receiver Patrick Johnson. They also may be able to retain their own strong safety, Rogers Beckett.

Lewis confirmed Monday that former Ravens defensive tackle Lional Dalton also visited.

Apparently, the Bengals' offer was similar enough to Buffalo's that they thought they had a good chance to get Vincent because of his ties to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, his secondary coach in Philadelphia for four seasons.

Unconfirmed reports of Vincent's deal from at least one newspaper reported it as six years, $20 million with a $3.6 million signing bonus, and Medlock said, "No way are we taking less than Troy."

The Bengals most certainly didn't offer Vincent a six-year deal. For a veteran like Vincent turning 33 on June 8, they usually offer three years.

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