2-26-00 BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The Bengals have agreed in principle to a three-year deal with cornerback Rodney Heath and are expected to finalize it Tuesday after the club returns from the NFL scouting combine.
The deal culminates a remarkable journey for Heath that began with the Minnesota Monsters of indoor football fame and ends with what figures to be average salaries near the $500,000 range and a bonus that probably comes close to $50,000.
Heath and the club wouldn't discuss the terms, but whatever they are, they are clearly heady numbers for Cincinnati's own Western Hills High School product who didn't get drafted after finishing his career at the University of Minnesota following the 1996 season.
Since he went into this season as an exclusive rights free agent, he figured the Bengals would pay him the $389,000 one-year tender.
"To tell you the truth, I was surprised, but I'm grateful," Heath said. "It shows what they thought of me and that I'm in their plans."
After sending the Bengals a tape, Heath, 26, wangled a two-year deal and came off the street as a free agent in 1999 to lead the team in interceptions with three. The 5-10, 175-pound Heath started 10 games at right cornerback in 2000 when new head coach Dick LeBeau made his first major move by benching Artrell Hawkins.
Heath, who compensates for his lack of size with brains and grit, missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. But he's fine now and is spending lunch hours with Hawkins and new cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle going over technique.
"Now what I'm trying to do is get more consistency and make sure my body is ready for 20 games," Heath said. "I've got to get more interceptions. The big thing is getting the respect of your teammates. Once you can do that, you can go out there and feel confident playing."
Heath had no interceptions last year, but he still has three of the team's 21 over the past two seasons.
The Bengals feel Heath's size makes him more of a nickel back and hope they get good enough play from their bigger rookies so they can start Mark Roman and Robert Bean. But Heath is a leading candidate to start.
"Every year it's the same," he said. "You go into training camp to win a job."
MONDAY SERVICE:** Visitation and the funeral service for Ben-Gal Michele Noah are set for Monday night at Craver-Riggs Funeral Home, 529 Main St., Milford. Visitation is from 5:30-8 p.m. with the service to follow.
Noah, who died Friday, finished the season cheering for the squad despite being diagnosed with melanoma in October and after having all her lymph glands removed.
"As a coach, she was everything you could ask for," said Charlotte Jacobs, the squad's coordinator. "She was talented and committed and she's very much missed."