6-10-02, 5:05 p.m.
Updated: 6-10-02, 10:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Even before the negotiations started Monday, the Bengals and free-agent wide receiver Michael Westbrook agreed it was a good fit.
If it can't be Darnay Scott, the Bengals are seeking a healthy veteran big play receiver. Westbrook, the fourth pick in the 1995 NFL Draft who led the NFL in yards per catch four years later, is looking for a team that plays on grass and needs help in the passing game. And it doesn't hurt that his native Detroit is just a four-hour drive from the Paul Brown Stadium grass.
Westbrook and the Bengals liked each other on a first-impression Monday, but it's going to take some time in the fitting room if a deal gets done.
"I think money might be a problem initially," said Steve Zucker, Westbrook's agent, after he opened talks with the club Monday afternoon. "Just because he's been on the market for three months and it's June doesn't mean he's going to come in at a low number.
"But he did like his visit, he's impressed with the Bengals, and, we're going to work at it," Zucker said.
Some of the issues the sides have to attack are the recent deals of Keenan McCardell ($2.5 million per year) and Derrick Alexander ($1.7 million per) and where Westbrook fits. The one thing the Bengals do know is that those deals show how pricey the $3 million is that is due Scott this year in salary and signing bonus.
Still, Westbrook was upbeat about a future with the Bengals.
"I think I'll be seeing you again, probably," said a smiling Westbrook as Bengals rookie quarterback Gavin Hoffman left the building.
Hoffman threw about 10 passes to Westbrook during Monday's workout before he jumped on a plane back to Detroit. But the Bengals didn't need to see any of them to convince themselves to start talking to Zucker about a contract.
All they needed was about 4.35 seconds, which is what one of the stopwatches said Westbrook ran the 40-yard dash on the quicksand of the PBS Astroturf field.
"Can I put the rumors to rest that I've lost a step?" Westbrook asked.
Zucker and Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, had preliminary discussions after the workout in which they talked about a contract "in general terms."
"I think he's waiting to talk to Michael and then he's going to put something together for us to take a look at," Tobin said. "We're both working on it."
The 6-3, 220-pound Westbrook, a workout warrior with a karate black belt, cut an imposing figure and the
fact he ran so quickly on the reconstructed knee he tore up in the second game of the 2000 season answered the biggest questions about his health.
With new coach Marty Schottenheimer looking to make No. 1 draft pick Rod Gardner the No. 1 receiver last season, Westbrook led the Redskins with 57 catches, and each had four touchdowns. After the season, Westbrook turned down a chance to return to Washington for what was believed to be a deal near the minimum.
Another reason it's a fit in Cincinnati is that receivers coach Steve Mooshagian barely had to explain any of the routes or splits while conducting the workout.
"This is very similar to what he had with Norv Turner in Washington through the '99 season," Mooshagian said. "He could come in and pick up the offense faster than somebody else who hasn't been in this system. He's an impressive guy."
If his legs answered the questions about his health, Westbrook's maturity patiently answered the questions about his temperament. Even though the Redskins beat reporters have found him to be delightful and cooperative as he got older, his temperament has been a topic ever since his celebrated practice fight with running back Stephen Davis five seasons ago. Westbrook took offense to what observers thought was an off-hand remark, and he not only punched Davis, but continued to flail away on top of him on the ground.
"(The fight) might have had its reasons, but you have to have some type of sense about you," Westbrook said. "Knowing the repercussions of your actions and having an understanding about that, which I didn't. I was doing things my way, but I figured it out. Even if in my mind I had a valid reason to do what I did, it doesn't make it right. I was young."
During his first four years in the NFL, Westbrook's quarterback in Washington was old friend Gus Frerotte. Frerotte came to the Bengals a month ago and the possible reunion intrigues both men.
In three full seasons with Frerotte from '95-97, Westbrook caught 102 balls and five touchdowns for 15.5 yards per catch.
"I'm looking forward to playing with Gus again, We did pretty well as young guys at the Redskins," Westbrook said. "I'm not with them yet officially, but the prospect of playing with Gus again is kind of exciting. He liked to throw me the ball."
Frerotte has no problems remembering why
"The guy's a great athlete. He will go up and get the ball, I'll tell you that," Frerotte said. "He'd be a good fit here because he can get the ball down the field."
Both men admitted not seeing eye to eye all the time when they were younger, but the last time they played together for any length of time was 1997.
"Young guys not fully understanding the game, not understanding the political side of it," Westbrook said. "As we got older, you decide not to fight about everything and you just want to get the job done."
Frerotte, a rookie in 1994, knows he was young, too.
"I heard he's matured a lot and I guess everyone does," Frerotte said. "Michael is a good dude and it would be nice to have him here because he is a good player."
Bengals President Mike Brown and head coach Dick LeBeau said it's not a foregone conclusion that Scott would be cut if the Bengals sign Westbrook.
"Having another veteran receiver gives us options we didn't have before," Brown said.
But Scott making $3 million this year if he stays is a high number on a market in which McCardell and Alexander just consummated deals. Westbrook said other teams have called him, but the Bengals are his top priority at the moment and he has put a trip to Jacksonville on hold.
"That's down near the water somewhere and this is up near my family (in Detroit)," Westbrook said. "It's a better fit for me."
In seven seasons, Westbrook has 277 catches, 4,260 yards, a 15.3 average, and 24 touchdowns. In seven seasons, Scott has 386 catches, 5,975 yards, 15.5 average, and 36 touchdowns.
And just for kicks, they have the same birthday from the Watergate Summer: July 7, 1972.