Germaine move first for '03

12-12-02, 2:35 p.m. Updated:
12-12-02, 8:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The activation of quarterback Joe Germaine from the practice squad to the Bengals' 53-man roster Thursday could very well end up being much ado about nothing.

Backup quarterbacks Gus Frerotte and Akili Smith blasted the move, with Smith accusing the team of sitting him down two years ago because of his incentive and predicting they will use Germaine to deny starter Jon Kitna his play-time trigger of 80 percent of the snaps for $1.65 million.

But Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau indicated it is a longshot that Germaine, 27, the former Ohio State quarterback who arrived two months ago via the Rams and Chiefs, would play in the final three games of the season. He said the move was done with next year in mind because Germaine signed a three-year deal to take the spot opened by Lamont Thompson's knee injury.

Plus, there is an excellent possibility he'll be inactive for Sunday's game against Jacksonville because LeBeau said the order of quarterbacks is still Kitna No. 1, the miffed Frerotte No. 2, and the upset Smith No. 3.

The move clearly signals

Frerotte's departure from the team now that the other three are under contract for at least two more years.

"I doubt they could give me one reason why I should stay," said Frerotte, who went from savior to scrub in the first 10 quarters of the season.

LeBeau said Thursday he has never said that Kitna is not his quarterback.

"There's plenty of room to have four," LeBeau said. "It's a position on into the future that you can never have too many players. We like the way he's approached this. He's an intelligent guy. He's worked at this like he s going to start the next game since he came here. We think the guy's got a future. It's a good time to do it. We've got the space."

But Germaine won't start this week and all indications are he won't even play this year. Still, Smith, the erstwhile franchise quarterback, knowing that Kitna is on pace to take 79.7 percent of the snaps, predicts the Bengals won't let Kitna get it.

"That's why they signed him, period," Smith said of Germaine. "Everybody knows that is what's going on.

"They tried to do the same thing and it's happening all over again. And that's bad business."

When Smith was benched for good in the 2000 season, he was 348 yards shy of 1,601 passing yards, which would have triggered a multi-million dollar package over the next five years. At the time it was reported that would have triggered a $1.7 million salary for 2001 and $4 million in salary over the next four years. Later that year, he said he believed LeBeau when he said money had nothing to do with the move.

"I said that then because I wanted to keep everything all right," Smith said. "But I don't believe that."

Smith was the lowest-rated passer in the league when he got sat down with his 4.6 yards per pass smaller than Corey Dillon's 4.8 yards per rush at the time.

Smith argues the Bengals tried to do the same thing to Kitna last year when they gave Smith the job in Game 13, when Kitna had a bad finger. Smith only played a half against the Jets before he tore a season-ending hamstring and Kitna finished the year by taking more than 80 percent of the snaps to earn an extra $1 million this year.

The Bengals have disputed that incentives influence the coaches on who to play and point to what happened in last season's finale, when Kitna, wide receiver Peter Warrick, and defensive end Justin Smith all hit their incentives.

Club insiders also suggest they will save money if Kitna makes the $1.65 million. If he doesn't get it, they say, the Bengals will pursue a free-agent that is going to get a bonus on top of the $1.65 million. They argue that the salary cap dictates they're going have to spend that $1.65 million in 2003, it just depends on who gets it.

If it sounds like Smith wants out of Cincinnati, he does. He said he wants a chance to start and with Kitna playing so well, he figures he's expendable.

"I've said it before," Smith said. "Let Jon finish it out."

But no matter what Smith says, the fact is the minicamp roster is virtually set with Kitna, Smith, and Germaine, and most likely a drafted rookie anywhere from rounds one through seven.

After taking just about 10 snaps from scrimmage since he signed with the Bengals' practice squad two months ago, Germaine admitted he would have a difficult crash course to get ready to play. He took three more snaps Wednesday, and envisioned the problems of having no chemistry with his receivers.

"I feel comfortable with the offense," Germaine said. "But to be able to draw it up on paper is different than going on the field and getting the timing with everybody, which I haven't had the opportunity."

Germaine, who threw all of his 16 NFL passes in 1999 when the Rams took him in the fourth round, had a 54.2 passer rating in NFL Europe for Barcelona this past spring. But he came highly recommended to the Bengals from their personnel consultant, John Cooper, Germaine's college head coach.

LeBeau hasn't given any inkling he wants to sit Kitna and his 91 passer rating since he took over nine games ago. And Germaine understands.

"I'm one of 53 guys on this team that thinks Jon has done a great job this year," Germaine said. "He deserves to take all the snaps. Everyone talks about his bonus. He deserves it. He's played tremendously well, and I'm not trying to come in and distract him or this team."

When the Bengals made the move that induced Germaine, a free-agent after the season, to sign a three-year contract believed to be at minimum salaries. Since he'll be active for the last three games, he'll be able to get a minimum salary next year of $530,000 instead of $450,000 based on service time. So Frerotte kidded him about his Christmas bonus. Instead of making $4,000 per week on the practice squad, he'll get nearly $80,000 for the last three games because players are paid for 17 weeks.

Kitna looked to be a mix of serenity and bemusement as the media gathered before practice.

"I think it's awesome for Joe. He's going to make some extra money the last few weeks of the season," Kitna said. "If God wants me to be the quarterback the rest of the season, I'm going to regardless what they want to do upstairs."

Frerotte, all but gone with three quarterbacks now under contract, shook his head.

"We've got other issues here besides quarterback," Frerotte said. "I would say that's not one of them right now. We've only got three healthy receivers, four quarterbacks, and five tight ends. I don't understand it. If they're not going to play him, why activate him?"

Frerotte is still wondering why he got such a short leash during the regular season after he split the pre-season and training-camp snaps with Kitna and Smith when he signed a one-year deal May 1.

"I don't know what the thinking is," Frerotte said. "But I've never run a team and I'm not in the front office."

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