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Kicking tires

Antonio Bryant

Coming off a division championship and into a pool of limited and aging free agents, the Bengals were supposed to come out of the gate glacially in free agency, if at all, and they skated through Friday's first day like a lot of other teams kicking tires with no sales.

The Bengals didn't even order up a test drive as they went into the weekend with what appeared to be no visits lined up. They made a lot of phone calls Friday to the wide receivers, particularly a high-profile one to Terrell Owens agent Drew Rosenhaus, but it was pretty much just to check in.

They didn't appear to do much with their own free agents, either, although right guard Bobbie Williams sounded optimistic about re-upping in the near future.

"There's never a question that I want to come back," said Williams, 33, who has missed only three starts since he arrived in 2004 as a free agent. "I can say talks are definitely going in the right direction and we'll see how it goes. I hope to be there by the time we start workouts March 29."

A Williams re-signing would take off the radar Texans guard Chester Pitts, a player that reportedly has drawn interest from the Bengals.

But drawing interest from the Bengals on Friday merely meant a phone call to agents to take the temperature of a market that figures to be out of steam by the end of the weekend. At that point the Bengals look ready to entertain some of those wide receivers in their efforts to find a No. 2 opposite Chad Ochocinco once the most expensive deals of free agency are gone with the first weekend. The Bengals want a wideout, but at a price that allows them to do bigger internal deals.

The downsides to Owens are obvious. He turns 37 in December and has left scorched earth everywhere he's been. But there are upsides. He can still give cornerbacks problems with double moves. He's closing in on 15,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in his career, numbers that have to excite a pass offense that was near the bottom of the NFL in passing and downfield passing despite the presence of a big-time arm in quarterback Carson Palmer.

And Owens gets along with the other wideout as he and The Ocho now famously boasted at their Super Bowl party last month.

But it appears the Bengals have also made a call on Antonio Bryant, who has been on four teams since the Cowboys took him seven seasons ago in the second round of the 2002 draft. The 6-1, 192-pound Bryant struggled in Tampa Bay's horrendous offense this past season with 39 catches for 600 yards. But he's also just two years removed from his career-best season of 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns, also with Tampa Bay. Agent Lamont Smith had no comment.

Bryant turns 29 next week and that's about as young as you're going to get in this market, which bothers the Bengals. Their former player, Texans wide receiver Kevin Walter, is the youngest at 27 and they no doubt contacted David Dunn, also the agent of Palmer, Walter's friend. But Walter stayed in Houston with a deal early Friday evening.

In 2005 Walter played behind Nos. 3 and 4 receivers Chris Henry and Kelley Washington in Cincinnati before he moved on as a restricted free agent and he's coming off two big seasons in Houston as the No. 2 opposite Pro Bowler Andre Johnson. But the Texans have a more wide-open pass attack and it's unclear if Walter would be as effective in a scheme that had him pretty much relegated to the slot.

Walter was supposed to be headed to Baltimore on Friday, but the Ravens swung a trade for Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin on Friday evening. Also on the Bengals radar, as they say, is believed to be Buffalo's Josh Reed.

The Bengals are going light into free agency for a variety of reasons. They feel burned by doling out $10 million to wide receiver Laveranues Coles last year and then had to cut him Thursday because he came up virtually empty at age 31. They're more interested in extending their own players, such as cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, running back Cedric Benson, and center Kyle Cook. And if they sign an unrestricted free agent to any kind of a deal at all, they lose a chance to get a third- or fourth-round pick as compensation.

For instance, because Coles was cut last year before free agency, he doesn't count in free-agency compensation. Since the Bengals lost wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, right tackle Stacy Andrews and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last year in free agency, Coles doesn't count against that and they should emerge with an extra third-round pick and maybe a fourth as compensation. 

Dunn is also the agent for Bengals kicker Shayne Graham, but he couldn't be reached for comment about his client that is expected to leave for a new team. The Bengals have had more intense talks with Bobbie Williams, as well as defensive tackle Tank Johnson and safety Roy Williams but the closest looked to be Bobbie Williams.

Peter Schaffer, the agent for fullback Jeremi Johnson, couldn't be reached for comment about his client. The Bengals already have a fullback on the roster in last year's seventh-round pick Fui Vakapuna.

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