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Gardener free to sign

6-2-04, 8:45 p.m.


The wait is now officially on to see if the Bengals finish off that four-year, $9 million deal with defensive tackle Daryl Gardener that was reported back in mid-April.

Hours after the Broncos cut Gardener Wednesday, agent Neil Schwartz wouldn't confirm if a visit has been scheduled to Cincinnati or if there is a deal in principle.

But, as he has since late February when the Broncos gave his client permission to talk to other teams, Schwartz confirmed Gardener's desire in re-joining Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

Before Gardener was released on Wednesday, Lewis said reports of a deal weren't accurate

and he's right in the sense that any contract is pending a physical in Cincinnati and a signature. The Bengals couldn't execute either one until the Broncos cut Gardener for salary cap reasons after June 1.

Gardener, a No. 1 draft pick out of Baylor in 1996 via Miami's 20th pick, would become the tenth first-rounder on the roster and the third from '96. Linebacker Kevin Hardy went No. 2 to Jacksonville and right tackle Willie Anderson went No. 10 to Cincinnati.

Other first-rounders are running back Chris Perry (2004), quarterback Carson Palmer (2003), left tackle Levi Jones (2002), defensive end Justin Smith (2001), wide receiver Peter Warrick and cornerback Deltha O'Neal (2000), and linebacker Brian Simmons in 1998.

His reported arrival has had the Bengals' locker room buzzing, and on Wednesday a few asked, "Where's Daryl?" O'Neal, who played with Gardener last year in Denver, is ready to welcome him.

"He's exactly what you need up front," O'Neal said. "The guy is huge on that line making plays."

Defensive end Carl Powell, who played next to Gardener in Washington in 2002, checked in earlier in the week.

"If he comes here, he'll make our team much better. I loved playing with him. He loves to play. He'll be in here at 5:30 a.m. ready and lathered," Powell said.

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