Bengals sign Braham, offer Verba

3-12-01 BY GEOFF HOBSON

While they interviewed Packers left tackle Ross Verba Monday, the Bengals made sure they at least kept last year's offensive line intact when they re-signed center Rich Braham.

Braham said Monday afternoon he had agreed to a two-year deal with the team for which he has started 67 games since the Bengals picked him up on waivers late in the 1994 season.

The Bengals have now come to terms with the free-agent left side of their line in re-upping Braham, left guard Matt O'Dwyer and left tackle John Jackson. The Bengals briefly pursued the Ravens' Jeff Mitchell, the market's top center. But they were concerned about dropping major money on Mitchell after an off-season knee procedure, opting to run at Braham for continuity and court Verba with big money.

The Bengals made Verba an offer Monday, but he's talking to several clubs and visited Arizona and Cleveland. The lures in Cincinnati are his position coach and one of his best friends at the University of Iowa in tight ends coach Frank Verducci and Mike Goff, respectively. The Bengals are also one of the only teams talking to him about playing his favorite position, left tackle.

Verba, the only rookie to ever start at left tackle in a Super Bowl, played the spot for three years. Then the Packers moved him to left guard last season in an attempt to shore up their middle against the NFC Central's dominating defensive tackles.

Braham, 30, is coming off a tough season with knee problems that plagued him at the beginning of the year. But after having his bursa sack removed from his knee, he recovered to start the last seven games. The Bengals rushed for nearly 130 yards per game in that stretch, including a combined 501 in back-to-back games against the Steelers and Cardinals.

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