3-10-03, 11:55 a.m.
3-10-03, 4:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' 2003 facelift in the image of Marvin Lewis continued Monday when they opted not to retain disgruntled linebacker Takeo Spikes.
It was an anticlimactic move after the club spent about $9 million in salary cap room once they saw the offer sheet Spikes signed in Buffalo late Friday afternoon. Lewis responded to the six-year, $32 million contract that pays Spikes more than $11 million in guaranteed money with three signings of projected defensive starters in Cowboys linebacker Kevin Hardy, defensive tackle John Thornton, and Raiders cornerback Tory James.
On Monday, the Bengals' locker room mulled the loss of its emotional leader and thought it could be overcome simply because everything changes in the NFL.
"It works out for both parties," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "It's only fair after Takeo has said he doesn't want to be here to let him try to make a name for himself somewhere else. It was a pretty fair deal because we get three really good players in spots we need.
"I think it can be overcome," Hawkins said. "It's obvious that he was a big presence with the fans and players inside and outside the locker room. He was a superstar on a not so great team and now we have to adjust and move on."
Lewis kept talking to Spikes right up until the end, including twice Monday. But after Lewis released a short statement, he took no questions about him because, "You can't talk about somebody else's player."
"Takeo has been a good player for the Bengals and in the community, and I wish him good luck with his career in Buffalo," Lewis said in the release. "Today is the beginning of a new day in the Bengal organization, and in the shaping of the football team under my direction."
For his part, Spikes admitted he's relieved not to be coming back to Cincinnati and that he never felt, "there was a commitment from top to bottom to winning."
Asked why Lewis wasn't able to convince him about his new regime, Spikes said, "This wasn't about Marvin Lewis. This
was about Takeo Spikes and what I've gone through the past five years. When you've been through it, you don't believe it until you see it. I don't have three, four, five years to wait,"
Lewis, who has been preaching "a new day," has made the moves revolving around Spikes the defining moment of his 55-day tenure. He has basically traded one very solid but unhappy player for three highly sought after players on the free-agent market who are seen around the league as solid veteran starters.
All told, that's in the $11 million range of upfront money, pretty much matching Spikes' guaranteed total. That seemed to be the Bengals' plan after Lewis realized in his many conversations with Spikes that he no longer wanted to play in Cincinnati despite Lewis' hiring.
"I think I've got a realistic chance now," said Spikes of reaching his goals of reaching the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. "We'll be on national TV more this year in Buffalo than the entire five years in Cincinnati. There's more exposure."
But Lewis feels he has found a worthy replacement in Hardy, a former Pro Bowler in Jacksonville, as well as an effective combination with Hardy and Brian Simmons. The plan is to move Simmons from the middle to Spikes' spot at right outside, and put the 6-4, 250-pound Hardy in the middle.
"I would assume both sides are happy," Simmons said. "I talked to Mr. Spikes. I know he's happy. I'm happy for him. And we signed three guys that can play football and that's hopefully going to help our team out. If they do put me outside, it's something I'm gladly looking forward to. I think I can go to the outside and do my thing out there. For five years, it's been kind of like playing a running back in a fullback spot."
Hardy arrived Monday and was promptly given Spikes' No. 51 jersey that he wore while leading the team in tackles in four of the past five seasons. Hardy joked that Simmons, "must be a better athlete because they're putting him outside," but it's no joke that Hardy has been to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl. Hardy is also going to move into Spikes' locker, next to Simmons.
"I'm going to need to ask him some advice," Hardy said. "I don't know if I'm going to make people forget about Takeo Spikes, but I certainly do want to help win some games."
"Simmons figures he'll be asking Hardy for advice because "he's been over the water (to the Pro Bowl). I'll be asking him."
Spikes sent a message to Hardy about No. 51.
"I'm going to turn some fans on to him," Spikes said. "They might be wondering when they see this tall lean guy and not the short, compact guy wearing 51. Tell him to take good care of it."
As for his teammates, it was time to count past 51.
"Takeo expressed he didn't want to be here. He got his wish, we move on," said right guard Mike Goff. "One guy doesn't make a team. Takeo was a great football player and I think he'll do really well in Buffalo and I wish him the best of luck. But now he's gone, and we move on. It's as simple as that."