Copeland returns

5-24-01, 1:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After three conversations with head coach Dick LeBeau in the last 24 hours, defensive end John Copeland decided to re-sign with the Bengals Thursday.

The club had yet to confirm the deal, but Tim McGee, Copeland's agent, said his client will sign a two-year deal.

Copeland, 30, the club's No. 1 pick in 1993, had been pushed to a backup role when the Bengals chose Justin Smith with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. They cut Copeland two days after drafting Smith, but wanted him back at a rate lower than the $4.7 million he was scheduled to make for the next two years.

Copeland's total contract over the next two years is probably in the $1.2 million range, but McGee wouldn't divulge numbers.

"He probably could have

got more money some place else," McGee said. "But it was a rare case where a player wanted to stay in Cincinnati for less and John should be commended for that. I think his relationship with Dick has a great deal to do with it."

It's believed that Chargers defensive coordinator Joe Pascale, a former Bengals linebackers coach, had expressed interest in Copeland.

The Bengals were looking for an answer by Thursday from Copeland because the club needed to make plans on pursuing another defensive lineman.

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