Clause-Free agents

By GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals seek loyalty

Call it "The Carl Pickens Clause."

After Pickens ripped management and Coach Bruce Coslet at the end of last season, the Bengals are working on contract language that discourages players from publicly criticizing the club. The Bengals are trying to craft a clause in the signing bonus portion of a contract in which a player could forfeit his bonus if he is critical of the team.

"An employee should be loyal to his employer. That's all we're asking," said Bengals President Mike Brown today. "I would be interested to see what would happen to someone at Procter & Gamble if they started criticizing management or employees. We don't want that type of behavior here. We had some of it last year. This is an attempt to head off other such occurrences."

The attempt raised some eyebrows among some agents negotiating deals with the club who fear the clause is too open-ended. Right tackle Willie Anderson's recent contract extension includes it, but he has some concerns.

"I think they've got to sit down with us at the beginning of the season and let us know exactly what is criticism and what isn't," Anderson said. "I mean, I'm not going to criticize Bruce or a play call. It was brought to my attention last year after one game when I said we had some players in key positions who weren't NFL caliber. Management thought that was aimed at them and it wasn't. There might be guys who are vocal leaders who might say things like, 'This position has to step it up,' or, 'that position has to play better.' I hope they don't take my money over that."

Brown understands where Anderson is coming from and says the club will gladly address it with concerned players. But Brown has always had a high threshold and he doesn't expect to invoke the clause unless under extreme circumstances.

If the outspoken Boomer Esiason didn't have to worry, guys like Anderson don't have to worry. Esiason never shied away from taking on management, but Brown said today, "Boomer never said anything that bothered me that much. It depends how you say it, how you do it. Believe me, it's going to be pretty obvious."

Brown said the only two incidents that would have made him invoke the clause were when Pickens called a virtual press conference to announce his dissatisfaction with management and Coslet, and when Brown interpreted punter Lee Johnson's post-game comments in 1998 to mean he was suggesting fans don't buy tickets. Johnson was released the next day.

Brown would probably even cut Corey Dillon some slack for his scathing comments on Seattle radio. Dillon isn't under contract, but Brown agreed he has been known to excuse players when it comes to the emotions of tough negotiations.

"It's something that's been in our fine schedule for so many years I can't remember for how long," Brown said. "All this does is incorporate it into the bonus, which brings it to the player's attention more forcefully. We've been as open as any team in the NFL with the media, but that doesn't mean a player should say things that harm what we're about."

WAIVER WIRE:There are some big names out there on the waiver wire, but the only name the Bengals are looking at now is Corey Dillon. If the Bengals can't lock up Dillon in the days beyond June 12, they will consider signing some veteran free agents. Start looking at cornerbacks first and guards second and not much after that with former Giants cornerback Phillippi Sparks, 31, leading the list. Other available cornerbacks include Terrell Buckley, 29, and Mark McMillian, 30, but the Bengals are putting a premium on running. Kevin Donnalley, who turns 32 on Saturday and isn't expected to re-sign in Miami, is the leading guard candidate. He visited his native St. Louis this week.

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