Jags sign Graham

3-4-04, 6:30 p.m. Updated:
3-4-04, 7 p.m. Updated:
3-4-04, 11 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Just as the Bengals finished introducing their first two free-agent signings of the year, the Jaguars revealed they signed kicker Shayne Graham to an offer sheet, according to The Florida Times-Union.

That came against the backdrop of interest in right guard Mike Goff. Goff, reportedly off a visit to the Giants, is expected in San Diego Friday, and he's also drawn interest from Arizona.

Jacksonville didn't reveal details of the Graham deal, but the Bengals have a week to decide if they will match it and keep the kicker that delivered the most accurate field-goal percentage in club history in 2003 with 22 of 25. According to ESPN.com, the Jags have nearly twice the money under the salary cap as the Bengals with $12.5 million to $7.7 million.

Since the Bengals tendered Graham the lowest amount for a restricted free agent $628,000 and since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent, the Bengals won't get compensation if they don't match.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis couldn't be reached for comment after introducing Tampa Bay middle linebacker Nate Webster and Rams safety Kim Herring as starters.

Lewis also said that quarterback Jon Kitna isn't on the trading block and that he hadn't received any inquiries "at my desk."

"We want to do what's best for Jon Kitna and the Cincinnati Bengals," Lewis said. When asked if he had a desire to trade Kitna, Lewis said, "I desire to have the best football team we can have and right now that includes Jon Kitna."

Kitna said his agent plans to talk to the Bengals about a contract extension Friday in an effort to lower his cap number from $4.3 million, probably in exchange for some up-front money. He said he won't ask to be traded and that, "the idea is to go into it trying to get something done with the Bengals."

Graham and his agent, Rob Roche, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday night. The Bengals could have tendered him $1.3 million for this year to make his compensation a first-round pick. That would have made him the fifth highest paid kicker in the league in a top five that ranges from the $2 million of Adam Vinatieri in New England to the $1.3 million of Jeff Wilkins in St. Louis.

In his first full NFL season, Graham, 26, was automatic. He lost a tight training camp duel last year in Carolina with John Kasay and after the Bengals plucked him off the waiver wire six days before Opening Day, he responded with one of the finest kicking seasons in Bengals' history. He was 22 of 23 on field goals less than 50 yards in compiling an overall percentage of 88, bettering Doug Pelfrey's 84.8 of 1994.

Herring, 28, and Webster, 26, become the 10th and 11th players with playoff experience that Lewis has brought to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1990. They are the fourth and fifth who have played in a Super Bowl and the third and fourth who played on the winning team.

"We're adding guys who have been on great teams, not good teams, but great teams," Lewis said. "It raises our bar and it raises their level of what they expect. Their expectations are higher. They didn't come here to lose football games. They come here looking to uplift everyone in this building."

Herring, who played for Lewis' record-setting defense in Baltimore that beat the Giants three years ago, recalled that no one expected the Ravens to be there.

"Why not the Cincinnati Bengals?" Herring asked. "I would expect the most out of our club. I would expect everyone else would."

Webster recalled how in the Tampa Bay locker room before the Bucs beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl a year ago that some veterans wept, and how he would like to bring that experience here.

Lewis said Herring will do what he did in Baltimore, and that is playing both sides at strong and free. Lewis indicated the Bengals are still talking to their own free agent safeties, strong safety Rogers Beckett and free safety Mark Roman, and hinted they have room to take only one of them.

"First come, first served," said Lewis, who said Herring could start with either one.

Roman is visiting Green Bay this weekend. Beckett is expected to take a visit Thursday night and Friday in New York to see the Jets, according to The New York Daily News.

Lewis, who drafted and molded future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore, had high praise for Webster.

"You couldn't have told the difference. There wasn't much difference on tape," said Marvin Lewis of their careers at the University of Miami. "And how he played last year. Ray is a bigger man now. Ray is the same size (Webster) is now when he was at Miami."

The 5-11 Webster said the Bengals want him to play at 235, five pounds heavier than he was in Tampa Bay.

Lewis briefly left his recruiting visit with Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent to introduce Webster and Herring. He also confirmed a visit Wednesday from Colts cornerback Walt Harris, the second time in recent years they have pursued him. But indications from agents were the Bengals planned to focus on others, such as Vincent, Harris teammate David Macklin, the Jaguars' Fernando Bryant, and the Panthers' Reggie Howard. Howard and Macklin (who goes to Arizona first) are due in the next few days.

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