5-13-02, 4:00 p.m.
5-13-02, 5:10 p.m. Updated:
5-13-02, 7:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Sixth-round pick Marquand Manuel became the second Bengals' draft choice to sign Monday when he agreed to a three-year deal and joined third-rounder Matt Schobel in the fold.
The 6-0, 205-pound Manuel, a safety out of Florida who was one of minicamp's biggest surprises, figures to take home a signing bonus in the $70,000 range with minimum salaries that give the deal about a $325,500 average per year. Maybe because he felt he should have been drafted much higher, or maybe because he is one of his father's 18 children, Manuel is appreciative but not awed by the deal.
"It's not anything to retire on, but it's more money than I've ever had," said Manuel, a Miami, Fla., product. "I'd like to help out the family as much as I can, but I also have to worry about playing football."
Meanwhile, it is doubtful second-rounder Lamont Thompson reports May 16 to begin voluntary workouts because the club and his agent remain at odds over injury protection after the size of the signing bonus nixed a four-year contract back on Friday.
On Monday, Bengals President Mike Brown, speaking from an owners' meeting in Houston, called for the league and the NFL Players Association to settle the injury-protection problem instead of teams dealing with it on an individual basis.
Manuel, the 181st pick in last month's draft, is starting to look like one of those late-round bargains that seemed to elude the Bengals until they took wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the 2001 seventh round.
With the Bengals looking for a starting free safety and doing some juggling at strong safety, Manuel put himself into the mix to at least
become a candidate to some day start at either spot. One club official predicted last week he would be starting by Thanksgiving.
"We're thrilled he's as fast and as healthy and as intelligent as he looked when he was here," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel who negotiated both the Manuel and Schobel deals.
"We haven't even seen what we know are his strengths, which are tackling and playing on the line of scrimmage," Lippincott said. "But when he was here, we saw how fluid he is and how far along he is in coverage skills."
Manuel, who started 36 games at strong safety for the Gators, took the time in minicamp to show the Bengals what they are getting. A four-year member of the SEC honor roll, Manuel ran 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and recorded a 36 out of 36 on the team's five-minute aptitude test that has 60 questions.
He has chalked up his late draft position to a knee injury at the Senior Bowl that turned out to be a bone bruise more than anything else. He had no problem passing the team's physical two weekends ago.
"There was never anything seriously wrong with my knee," said Manuel, who ran a slow 4.5 seconds in the 40 for the Bengals and other teams soon after the Senior Bowl. "But then I ran a 4.3 the second time around and they saw me run the third one so I don't think speed is a question and they know that, too."
That third time was on the notoriously slow Astroturf field at Paul Brown Stadium on the first day of minicamp. With Thompson, the projected free safety starter, wrapped up in a contractual wrangle with the club, and the release of 10-year veteran Darryl Williams, Manuel figures to get a look at free safety as well as strong in the next three weeks of voluntary workouts. The spots are virtually interchangeable in the Bengals' defense.
"The big thing up there was picking up the defense," Manuel said. "I pretty much know what I have to do, but you have to know what the other guys are doing. To be able to run around out there with those guys and realize it's the same game was a big thing for me."
Manuel is pleased to have the contract done, but it also reminded him about who got the bigger money. When he returns to PBS for voluntary workouts Thursday, he'll start thinking about posting that list in his locker of the names of the 20 safeties drafted before him.
"It's like everything else," Manuel said of the contract. "I'm going to use it for motivation."
The Bengals indicated Monday that they are close in their negotiations with Michael Sullivan, Thompson's agent, because the sides are OK on the rookie pool number and the length of the deal. Sullivan isn't so sure they are that close.
With the rookie pool allocation the same this year as last, Brown wants to pay Thompson last year's deal at his spot.
The Bengals did give a slight boost to Schobel, the second pick in the third round. ESPN.com reported Schobel's per-year average is roughly seven percent higher than that of Adrian Wilson, the second choice in the third round of the 2001 draft. Wilson signed only a three-year contract.
What apparently can't be negotiated is Sullivan's request for the same injury protection letter the Bengals gave first-rounder Levi Jones, which guarantees the club bargains in good faith. That would most likely give Jones what his draft slot demands even if he gets hurt.
Brown argues the NFL's collective bargaining agreement already stipulates that the team has to pay the player a $225,000 tender offer, as well as bargain in good faith.
"They want a piece of paper. We've told them we'll bargain in good faith," Brown said. "When you have an agreement with a union, are you supposed to give more than what has already been collectively bargained?"
He said the club won't buy insurance on players because it would count against the salary cap and he would prefer to spend that money on contracts.
Sullivan has argued that his other rookie clients have injury protection agreements with 10 other teams.
Asked if he'll give any injury-protection agreements next year, Brown said, "I hope the league and the union resolve it by then."
The Bengals, who have nothing hot on the free-agency radar, look to be waiting for the post June 1 cuts. They first made contact with the agent for Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams several weeks ago, but have been told by Eugene Parker that he is crafting proposals for several interested teams. Cincinnati isn't holding its breath on Adams or willing to offer him a mega deal, but a reduced rate would get them interested in the superb run stuffer who turns only 29 next month.