5-1-02, 4:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
For the second time in a week Wednesday, the Bengals released the dean of one of their units so they can pump new blood into positions where they seek more big plays.
This time it was free safety Darryl Williams, whose 95 games out of a possible 96 in six seasons was the most by a Bengal defender. The move came six days after the club released tight end Tony McGee and his team-high 136 games in nine years in a Cincinnati uniform.
The active leader in games played for the Bengals is now wide receiver Darnay Scott with 109, and with Williams' departure the defensive dean is 25-year-old right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes with 63 games in his four years as a Bengal.
Williams, 32, a 10-year veteran who turned down a pay cut several months ago, was scheduled to make $1.2 million this season. The Bengals have picked up about $2.5 million under this season's salary cap by cutting McGee and Williams, which they will use to find a veteran quarterback and to start planning to extend the contracts of Spikes and fellow linebacker Brian Simmons that end after the upcoming season. Indications are the move wasn't made to clear cap room in the pursuit quarterback Gus Frerotte.
"We have a full complement of people at safety and they're all young," said Bengals President Mike Brown Wednesday. "They all need practice time. We think they all would end up in
front of Darryl at this stage of his career. It's just time to make the move. He has been a solid player in two tours here and he's good people and a good guy. It's just time to go with young guys at that spot."
Williams, highly regarded by management and teammates for his stoic and reliable play, quietly disagreed with the coaches' decision last year to remove him from the starting lineup. But he continued to play with vigor and without complaint, and fought back from a serious foot injury in training camp to be ready for Opening Day. When the Bengals approached him about a pay cut last year, he turned them down.
"He took it in stride," said agent David Levine of the release. "He's always said, 'It's their team and they can do whatever they want,' and that's what he's saying now. But I can tell you he still thinks he's one of the four best safeties on that team and his mindset is he'd like to play another year for someone."
The selection of Washington State free safety Lamont Thompson in the second round in last week's NFL Draft and the switch of starting free safety Cory Hall to strong safety allowed the Bengals to let go Williams.
But they are trying to replace his 156 NFL games with none. Thompson has been installed as the starter and converted cornerback Mark Roman is backing him up.
After a four-year hiatus in Seattle, where he racked up 20 of his 31 career interceptions, Williams returned to Cincinnati two years ago and recorded an interception in each of the last two seasons. One of them he took 36 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee in a 2000 game at Paul Brown Stadium.
He is the last vestige of the 1992 Draft Day deal with Washington that brought the Bengals two first-round picks that turned out to be Williams and quarterback David Klingler.
Left end Vaughn Booker, left cornerback Jeff Burris, and backup lineman Bernard Whittington are the most seasoned players on defense as they each head into their ninth NFL season, but none has played more than 23 games for the Bengals.
Brown knows he lost a lot of experience in the last six days, but he figures you have to give up something to get something.
"You have to lose somebody and it's either the young ones or the old ones," Brown said. "The young ones need the practice time. If the older players are getting that time, it sets the younger guys back. We have other people here who we think will be starting ahead of them if they were here."
Levine said Williams' foot is fine and he's prepared to play at least another season. Durability is his hallmark. He has missed just four of 160 possible games.
"They're going younger and looking to the future and I can understand that," Williams said. "I'm not going to cry over spilt milk, but I still think I'm good enough that I should still be playing. I've got no regrets. I'm looking to play another year for somebody and hopefully I can contribute to a team that's winning either starting or the role I had last year."