BY GEOFF HOBSON
PHILADELPHIA _ The Bengals made sure their best free-agent signing ever won't become a free agent.
Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, whose original three-year contract was up after next season, has signed a four-year extension keeping him in the middle of the defense into the middle of the decade.
Gibson wasn't happy with Sunday's 16-7 loss here to the Eagles. But the man who loves to play for Dick LeBeau was pleased with the future.
"I'm more than happy," Gibson said. "Try ecstatic."
Gibson, 28, the only defensive lineman to start every game this season, shared the team sack lead with outside linebacker Steve Foley and strong safety Cory Hall with four.
"We think he's one of the best interior linemen in the conference and we've paid him as such," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, who wouldn't divulge numbers.
"We want to reward players who produce and Oliver has been very solid and very productive for us and he fits us well."
Gibson came to the Bengals before the 1999 season from Pittsburgh when he signed a three-year, $3.6 million package. As the Steelers defensive coordinator, LeBeau took Gibson in the fourth round out of Notre Dame in the 1995 NFL Draft and then pursued him in free agency when he was the Bengals defensive coordinator.
After never starting in 60 games at Pittsburgh, Gibson has started all of his 32 games in Cincinnati. This season he leads the line in the coaches' stats with 48 tackles after finishing second last year with 41.
Since the Bengals reached the deal with Gibson before the end of the season, they were able make some of the money count under the 2000 salary cap.
According to various sources, the Bengals have less room under the cap than three playoff teams and are 12th in the league with an average salary of $1.15 million. **
POPE RECORDS RECORD: ** Daniel Pope broke the record no one wants. He punted five times Sunday, giving him 94 for the season and breaking Pat McInally's record of 91 in 1978.
Pope, a second-year man, had a solid year and shored up a spot that caused the Bengals mega problems last year. He came into the game with a 40.3 average and got off a 37.4 average that included one inside the 20 and one touchback.
But he wasn't happy with his most important kick of the day, an on-side try after the Bengals cut the Eagles lead to 13-7 with 3:12 left in the game.
Pope punched the ball a couple yards shy of the necessary 10 yards needed to be able to recover the ball.
"I didn't give us a chance," Pope said. "I just didn't hit it hard enough."
INJURY UPDATE: RT Willie Anderson had to leave the game in the second quarter with a thigh bruise. . . DT John Copeland started, but couldn't finish the game with the calf he strained last week. . .MLB Armegis Spearman had to leave his terrific game in the second half after 10 tackles and a sack. He had turf toe and negative X-Rays on a sore wrist. With MLBs Brian Simmons and Adrian Ross already out, and Spearman's backup, Billy Granville leaving the game with a sprained knee, OLB Canute Curtis had to move to the middle.
The Bengals fear Granville may have torn ligaments.