Jones in the fold

7-25-02, 1:30 p.m. Updated:
7-25-02, 2:25 p.m. Updated:
7-25-02, 4:10 p.m. Updated:
7-25-02, 5:20 p.m. Updated:
7-25-02, 6:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ In a surprising day of negotiations, the Bengals closed huge gaps and agreed to terms with their top two draft picks who could be in the starting lineup some time this season.

Left tackle Levi Jones secured a five-year deal and free safety Lamont Thompson took home a four-year contract and will be here for Friday's first practice of training camp at Georgetown College.

It's believed Jones' total deal is worth about $11 million with nearly $7 million of it coming up front in the form of a cash-option bonus that is all but guaranteed through contract language. Even though Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn and agent Ken Zuckerman talked much of Tuesday and then until midnight Thursday and again Thursday morning, the quickness of the deal was surprising because the closest deals in the round that the sides could compare were at Nos. 3 and 20 and nowhere near Jones' spot at No. 10.

"The Bengals stepped up and I think this is a very fair deal," Zuckerman said. "Both sides worked real hard to get Levi into camp on time. That's what kept driving this."

Zuckerman wouldn't comment on specifics and Blackburn was driving to Georgetown Thursday evening and couldn't be reached. It's believed Jones' deal includes fairly easy to reach play-time incentives for a left tackle of the future, an element not in last year's contracts for the picks in Jones' area.

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said Jones will continue to back up incumbent Richmond Webb, but could also see time with the first unit at some junctures of camp.

"He's the left tackle of the future," Alexander said. "But he'll have to earn it. I don't want to make him feel like the job was given to him. When that will be, time will tell."

Thompson, a 6-1, 220-pounder from Washington State who is the Pac-10's all-time interception leader, will line up with the first group in Friday's drills as incumbent Cory Hall slides to strong safety.

The news wasn't all good as players started to check-in before Thursday 's 7 p.m. team meeting. Wide receiver Danny Farmer was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list with a hamstring injury and trainer Paul Sparling doesn't expect him to be ready until the third pre-season game on Aug. 24.

But the defensive coaches were thrilled to hear the news about

Thompson's quick signing, which came as unexpected after he missed all of May's on-field workouts in a dispute over injury protection.

The two sides were stalemated Wednesday night, but Bengals vice president Paul Brown and Sullivan pounded out a contract Thursday morning. It appears the club made a move to get him here on time with the expectation he'll contribute immediately.

"It doesn't mean anything right now who is working with the first group out there," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "He'll be out there with those guys, but we'll rotate guys through and Cory will get some snaps there, too. This is going to be an earned job. We won't give it to him. We have to see who is hitting and tackling and we'll have a better feel for that a week from Saturday."

The Bengals have high hopes for Farmer after he ended his second season last year with five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in the last two games that included the last-minute tying touchdown against Pittsburgh. But he's had trouble staying healthy every year. He missed two games last year with an ankle injury that knocked him out of two games. He also missed some time as a rookie with an ankle problem.

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