4-21-01, 12:46 p.m.
Updated: 4-21-01, 3:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals made a bid for two starters at positions that have hindered them for years in the first hour of Saturday's NFL Draft.
But they couldn't strike a deal with former Tampa Bay veteran defensive end Chidi Ahanatou after he was cut Friday. So the club with AFC's fewest sacks turned to a college sackmaster in rush end Justin Smith of Missouri with the fourth pick after a Thursday War Room debate centered on Smith and Florida right tackle Kenyatta Walker.
"We go through a lot of different game planning about who may be there when we go to pick and who might trade up with us," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "This was the scenario that seemed likely to happen. We need both (a pass rusher and left tackle). We weighed it and then we did it because
he's the kind of guy who can help us get off the field on third down. We could only fill one need here. With what was available, we thought that was the way to go."
Negotiations went late Friday night and into Saturday morning with Ahanatou, and the talks with agent Eugene Parker perked up again until about 90 minutes before the draft got underway Saturday at noon.
The idea was to sign Ahanatou and take a left tackle with the fourth pick. But Ahanatou was out of the picture. And they would have taken Texas left tackle Leonard Davis, but an arrow went through the heart of Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander when the Cardinals didn't trade down and took Davis at No. 2.
Even though mock drafts from ESPN, CNN, CBS Sportsline (even Bengals.com) had the Bengals taking Davis or Walker, Smith was never far from the Bengals' thoughts.
The Bengals had the Davis-to-Arizona script sketched out early in the week and made some forays with teams on Friday about trading down.
Cincinnati toyed with trading to around the bottom of the top ten so it could get an extra second-round pick. But the Bengals had no takers. They got one call on the clock Saturday before they picked, but there were no offers for this year's draft.
When it came down to Walker-Smith, Smith had more upside. Walker only played three years and had never played left tackle. Smith will be playing the same "elephant," end he played at Missouri and the Bengals were won over by the intensity he brought to every snap.
"We need more guys like that," Brown said.
The Bengals admire Ahanatou's experience and production. He's 30, played eight years, and is coming off a 3.5-sack season for one of the NFL's top defenses. But they probably aren't willing to give him $3 million per year.