Clemons extends through '06

7-15-04, 1:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

According to sources outside the Bengals, the club reached a new contract Thursday with one of their sack leaders from last season in starting left defensive end Duane Clemons.

The Bengals later confirmed the agreement that extends him two years past the original that was set to expire after this season. The move looks like it is going to take the Bengals out of the Jason Gildon derby, which may end as soon as Thursday with the Steelers all-time sack leader going to Buffalo. Peter Schaffer, Gildon's agent, indicated he'll get an answer later from his client. But it appears the Bengals have decided to put their money on Clemons, a player younger and more experienced in a 4-3 defense than Gildon.

The Bengals have been talking to Schaffer for nearly a month, but they were apparently anxious enough to shore up one of their line spots for the next few years and shifted their focus to Clemons in securing him through 2006.

During his first season in Cincinnati, Clemons, 30, had six sacks in 2003 as a three-down defensive end. Clemons shared the team sack title with tackle John Thornton in a season he had four more sacks than what he had in Kansas City the year before. Clemons is one of head coach Marvin Lewis' playoff-tested imports who signed a two-year deal last May and brought the daily professionalism the new coach sought for his locker room.

Gildon, two years older than Clemons, is also coming off a six-sack season and is an esteemed pro. That is his fewest sacks in five years and he would probably be looking at making some kind of transition from 3-4 linebacker to end as a situational player on passing downs in Cincinnati.

The Clemons' extension also indicates the Bengals probably don't have interest in the recently released Darrell Russell, the Tampa Bay defensive tackle cut even before he took a snap for the Buccaneers.

The Bengals haven't hidden the fact they are trying to beef up their tackle depth. They nearly had Warren Sapp, but lost out to the Raiders in the 11th hour. They had Darryl Gardener, but the paper didn't get signed when his bad back reportedly flared up and now has him mulling retirement.

Russell, 28, a Pro Bowler in 1998 and 1999, has had off-field problems. According to ESPN.com, he tested positive for the designer drug Ecstasy in 2001, and he began that season serving a four-game suspension that was extended to an indefinite suspension. While under suspension, Russell was charged with drugging a woman and videotaping two friends allegedly raping her. All counts in that case were dropped in September, 2002 for lack of evidence.

ESPN.com reported Clemons' deal as a $1.3 million signing bonus with salaries of $700,000, $1.25 million, and $1.35 million. That means Clemons takes home $2 million this year instead of his $9000,000 original salary, and the Bengals get him for two more years while taking only about an extra $500,000 salary cap hit for 2004. Still, that puts them close to the $4.6 million they have to spend on their 11 draft picks. ESPN.com says if he gets eight sacks in any season, he'll make an extra $100,000.

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