BY GEOFF HOBSON
In an effort to gain a roster spot, the Bengals today reached an injury settlement with star-crossed cornerback Ric Mathias and released him.
In the first hour of his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery, Mathias ripped up his other knee in the first workout of minicamp last Saturday. He faces another reconstructive surgery May 30 and is out again this season.
"By the way he looked in the drills we were going through, it was obvious he was one of our top three corners,'' said Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel. "We'll miss him because it's pretty obvious he's a hard worker to come back the way he did. But we need some roster room. Even after this, we're two players over if all our draft picks come in and sign."
Mathias, 24, signed as a free agent out of Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse in 1998, said He would give the Bengals another shot if they think he's ready. He could play for any team this season but the Bengals, yet Mathias said he wouldn't get on the field again until next season at the earliest. **
FREE AGENT FACTS:
Mathias was one of 12 college free agents (CFAs) who survived long enough to make it to at least a second training camp last season. The Bengals signed 15 CFAs last month, paying out the NFL's 11th highest amount in total bonuses with $57,000. Their average bonus of $3,800 is 14th in the league and their high of $10,000 was 12th. The 49ers signed 41 and the Broncos three, but the Broncos average bonus of $13,000 is the league high. The Ravens' 888 is the league-low. Fourteen of the Bengal CFAs got some type of money up front, ranging from $10,000 to $1,000.
The Bengals took out the golf clubs to wrap up the first week of voluntary workouts with a closest-to-the-hole contest. Punter Brad Costello won it by nudging it within six feet. Cornerback Ty Howard was a close second, just a few inches outside Costello's ball. They were firing from about 100 yards away, shooting across Spinney Field's artificial surface.