Mitchell returns

4-22-01, 12:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals quarterback derby is now a three-man race.

After sleeping on a possible spot in Pittsburgh Saturday night, quarterback Scott Mitchell decided Sunday to return to the Bengals.

Mitchell, who quarterbacked Cincinnati to a 2-2 finish last season, agreed to a one-year deal even though the club signed Jon Kitna last month to compete with Akili Smith.

Mitchell has said it would be very difficult to return under these circumstances, but he agreed to a contract that is probably in the same $800,000 range he played for last year.

"There is some trepidation, no question about it," said Tony Agnone, Mitchell's agent. "He feels like he can play and wanted to go back to Cincinnati earlier. He saw what was out there and I think it came down to his loyalty to Dick LeBeau. Dick gave him a chance last year."

LeBeau, the Bengals

head coach, kept in touch with Mitchell off and on during the offseason even after Kitna signed.

Mitchell was interested in Dallas, where his coach at Utah, Jack Reilly, is the offensive coordinator. But Cowboys head coach Dave Campo opted for youth behind Tony Banks.

Mitchell visited Pittsburgh last week and Agnone was set to sign a deal with the Steelers, but LeBeau won out in the end.

"Scott enjoyed visiting with Coach (Bill) Cowher and the city," Agnone said. "But Scott felt like he owed Dick LeBeau something. That they had been through a lot together and that was something that meant a lot to Scott."

Mitchell had a poorer passer's rating than Smith's AFC-low, but his backers say he played the last four games in miserable weather conditions with a sprained left knee that cost him one start.

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