Elvis retires Bengals from QB search

3-4-02, 5:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _The Bengals are out of the quarterback market in the wake of Elvis Grbac's retirement Monday.

After ESPN. com broke the story on the last day of the NFL scouting combine here at the RCA Dome, the Bengals grappled with the second major surprise in 48 hours in a most curious quarterback search. Now with Grbac gone and Trent Dilfer back in Seattle, Cincinnati is looking to sign defensive backs, defensive ends and tight ends.

Troy Blackburn, the Bengals director of business development, negotiated with Grbac agent Jim Steiner much of the day Saturday, but both sides agreed to re-visit the talks after Grbac had time to think about his release from the Ravens. On Monday, Steiner reiterated Grbac's first choice was Cincinnati and he termed the Bengals' offer over the weekend as "generous."

Signing with the Bengals would have put Grbac four hours from his Cleveland home, but Steiner said other issues went into the retirement.

"Elvis and his wife decided they didn't want to make another move with their kids," Steiner said from his St. Louis office. "This is a decision that had nothing to do with the Bengals. It came down to stability. The Bengals were his first choice because of the convenience to Cleveland and their team is getting better. They gave him a generous offer last year and they just made another generous offer. He decided to go to the team that won the Super Bowl and it just didn't work out for him and he went through a lot of things in Baltimore last year."

The Bengals continue to talk to their own free agents, cornerback Artrell Hawkins and defensive end Reinard Wilson, and they have scheduled a visit with Bears cornerback Walt Harris next Monday. Dolphins defensive end Kenny Mixon is on his way to Minnesota for a visit, but his agent has fielded interest from the Bengals and Drew Rosenhaus is prepared to get his client on a plane to Cincinnati for an appointment at Paul Brown Stadium.

After hearing the Grbac report, Bengals President Mike Brown again wouldn't rule out a trade, but he doubted it and there has been no action regarding Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

"We aren't thinking that we are going to pursue the others that are out there," Brown said of the free-agent quarterbacks. "We're going to move

on and get some good players at spots where we need them."

That would be tight end, as well as defensive end and cornerback if Wilson and Hawkins leave.

"Nothing has changed for us," Blackburn said. "We're looking to add two or three quality players regardless of position."

Asked if the Bengals would re-consider Grbac if he came out of retirement, Blackburn said, "He'd be like any other player. If he's a quality player, which he is, we'll look at him."

Grbac, 32, very nearly signed with the Bengals a year ago when they offered him $16 million in the first two years of a contract. Defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore offered $13 million in the first two years, but chose not to exercise a $6 million option last week after Grbac made $5.5 million last season.

"I wouldn't have foreseen his retirement in the prime of a solid career because of some contractual dealings," Brown said. "Only he can speak to that."

Brown reiterated there is a chance the Bengals will start training camp with the current depth chart at quarterback of Jon Kitna, Akili Smith and Scott Covington.

Chris Chandler and Rob Johnson are free-agent quarterbacks the Bengals are currently not going to seek. Former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake looks headed to replace Johnson in Buffalo.

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