3-19-03, 6 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Kevin Kaesviharn didn't exactly hit the lottery this offseason, but there has been some payoff.
First, he took the Bengals' inaugural pay-for-play title with a five-figure bonus. Second, he might have a chance to make even more next year if the Bengals follow through and give him a shot to play free safety.
When the Bengals signed Raiders cornerback Tory James earlier this month, head coach Marvin Lewis said it is now a possibility that the 6-1, 190-pound Kaesviharn could move to the spot vacated by Cory Hall's defection to the Falcons. At the very least, some defensive coaches think the James signing gives them 1.5 players because of the chance Kaesviharn might be able to be a swingman and move to safety on passing downs after being the third corner last year.
"It's like I told Coach (Kevin) Coyle the other day," Kaesviharn said of his secondary coach. "Whatever I can do to get on the field and contribute to the team. I feel like naturally and instinctively and down to the bone, that I'm a corner. But Coach said, 'We might need you to move. We're looking to put the best 11 on the field,' so I'm excited about whatever happens."
Kaesviharn is certainly excited about the check headed his way. Thanks to the first year of "play-for-pay," a league source outside the Bengals said he led the team with a $33,313 bonus.
"How much?" Kaesviharn asked Wednesday from South Dakota. Told the amount, he had the only response a former substitute teacher could have.
"Are you kidding? Anytime you get a sum of money like that, it helps," he said. "I knew I'd get something, but I didn't think it'd be that much."
The bonuses, which according to ESPN.com were doled out Tuesday, are a product of last year's extension of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association. The little extra is designed to compensate players who make close to minimum, or are making the minimum, and yet still take a lot of snaps. The amount is based solely on play time and not performance, and comes out of a formula taking into account play time and salary.
According to a league source outside the Bengals, Kaesviharn, rookie safety Marquand Manuel ($31,967), and rookie tight end Matt Schobel ($23,604) led the Bengals. According to ESPN.com, 49ers guard Eric Heitmann, a seventh-round pick, had the top bonus in the league with slightly more than $42,000.
Kaesviharn, who made $300,000 last year and is to make about $400,000 next year, tied for the team interception lead with cornerback Artrell Hawkins when each had two. Manuel, a sixth-round pick who made $225,000, started at two different spots in eight games. Schobel, a third-round pick who also made the rookie minimum of $225,000, had 27 catches in a No. 1 role.
Any player who takes a snap gets money, which is why running back Corey Dillon, the highest-paid player on the team, also got a $2,434 bonus. Each team paid out about $472,000 in the first year and it doesn't count against the salary cap because it comes out of the benefits package.
"A lot of these guys are making millions of dollars and we don't come close to that, so it's nice to get a little more," Kaesviharn said. "Obviously, I'd like to make more the longer I'm in the league. But I always think I'll be able to keep perspective on it and appreciate something like that."
It's easy for Kaesviharn because less than two years ago the Sioux Falls school district paid him $12,000 a year to sub before the Bengals called in October of 2001. He figures even if he got a full-time job there, it would have paid him less than his play-for-pay bonus. Maybe about $27,000.
"You can always use it," he said with his five-month-old son on his mind "We just moved into a new house, and I know he could use some more toys."
What is less certain is where Kaesviharn is going to end up playing in his second full season with the team. He is the kind of corner Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis likes. He's big and receivers don't run past him. But he also has the hands of a centerfielder. Despite just nine NFL starts, he has five interceptions.
Still, there are plenty of internal candidates to replace Hall at free safety. There are last year's draft picks, Manuel and Lamont Thompson, as well as Mark Roman.
"The biggest change would be becoming more vocal and becoming more of a leader because the safeties make most of the calls," Kaesviharn said. "I don't think that would be a problem. It's a matter of getting in there and learning the defense."