7-30-04, 6 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made another statement Friday, this one on the eve of training camp. He let it be known Friday as his rookie draft picks trickled into training camp that 100 percent means 100 percent.
"Why would we want anything less?" Lewis asked of the club's 100 percent off-season participation clause that made some agents pause before taking the rookie deals. "I have to be here 100 percent of the time."
He must have been pretty persuasive, because the six draft picks the Bengals signed Friday all have the clause.
Agents claim that while other teams ask their rookies to sign clauses that require them to pay back some of their signing bonus for missing any time in the 14 weeks, the Bengals are the only team requiring 100 percent participation because the rest vary between 80 and 90 percent.
The NFL Players Association may file a grievance because it insists they are only "voluntary," workouts. Still, only first-rounder Chris Perry and second-rounder Keiwan Ratliff are the only unsigned of the 11 draft picks as the Bengals prepped for Saturday's first camp practice at 8:45 a.m.
Lewis, through the club's negotiators, made it clear that emergencies and special situation would be handled with discretion by the head coach. He also said the unrestricted free agents the club has signed have similar language. The language apparently has some flexibility, allowing the player to set up a schedule with the club.
One agent said he opted to agree when the team pointed to a specific player allowed to make up a workout as late as Friday.
"I thought it was standard. I didn't think too much about it," said Madieu Williams, the second-rounder. "I just figured when you're progressing every year as a team, everybody needs to be there. It wasn't really a problem as far as contract negotiations go."
Rich Moran, the agent for one of the three fourth-rounders, Stacy Andrews, said he signed the deal after making sure there was language that workouts could be made up because of extenuating circumstances.
"Once we were clear on that, the 100 percent didn't bother me," Moran said. "We encourage all clients to be there all the time."
Lewis said the club adopted the language for rookie deals this season after watching other teams do it through the years.
"The question was put to me do we want to put it at 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent," Lewis said. "I said 100 percent because it is still up to me if we have a guy who has a legitimate issue or problem to allow him to do what he has to do to complete that. If it's 80 percent and the guy has the same problems, you still have to make a judgment and it's easier for me to make a judgment on 100 percent than 80 percent.
"If a guy has an issue, he has one stop. He comes to me and it's easy and that's kept it very, very clean," Lewis said.
Lewis clearly had an edge with the agents who know his work. One agent said when Williams, represented by Mason Ashe, and third-rounder Caleb Miller, represented by the office of Kyle Rote Jr., and Jimmy Sexton, agreed to it, the fourth-rounders (Andrews, Robert Geathers, Matthias Askew) had little choice because they are long-time respected agents.
"I don't think it's as Draconian as some are making it out to be," Rote said. "I have faith that Marvin is going to administer the program fairly. If it had been a different head coach, it might be another story, but I trust him."
Landon Johnson, the third-round linebacker from Purdue, had some reservations, as did his agent, Andy Simms. Johnson said Simms spoke to Lewis and he felt better about it.
"I'd rather not have the 100 percent in writing," Johnson said. "But I have faith in my coaches and Coach Lewis would work with me if something were to happen. I know they would do that. Things happen. Emergencies happen. But they told us they're going to work with us instead of against us."
Simms said he thinks the NFL should file a grievance, yet he also has faith in Lewis.
"But the language is such that it gives so much power to the team that I think any agent would be hesitant about signing it," Simms said. "But after yelling about it for weeks, they made clear they weren't going to change it."
Agents argue that the voluntary workouts are not only becoming more mandatory as time goes on throughout the NFL, but the signing bonus should be guaranteed and not exposed.
Lewis argues the rookies are also getting paid ($100 per day), as well as the bonus.
"I expect 100 percent from them all the time, right?" Lewis asked. "Not for 80 and 90 percent, but for 100 percent. That's up to my discretion. All our other unrestricted free agents have signed a contract with workout clauses. That's what we expect.
"It's a new step for us," Lewis said. "It's a good thing. A positive."
Of the six players inked Friday all but Williams had three-year deals The cornerback-safety from Maryland is in for four years.