Names probably won't drop

1-3-02, 6:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

In 19 days, the Bengals have to give up five players from their active roster who aren't punters or kickers for next month's expansion draft that helps stock the new Houston Texans.

The Bengals won't divulge their five, but all indications are they are constructing their list much like they did three years ago for the Cleveland Browns' draft. Which means, don't expect them to drop any big names when the Texans select players Feb. 18 (ESPN, 2 p.m.) in Houston.

In 1999, the Bengals lost wide receiver Damon Gibson and defensive tackle Mike Thompson, players on the fringe of the depth chart. The Bengals also exposed long snapper Greg Truitt, inside linebacker Tom Tumulty, a starter on injured reserve, and another starter in left outside linebacker James Francis. Those three players never played another snap for the Bengals because Tumulty retired, Truitt got hurt the next preseason, and Francis was cut at the end of the next training camp.

So don't look for high-profile names (quarterback Akili Smith), or promising young players (running back Curtis Keaton?) or good players stuck behind better players (linebacker Armegis Spearman?) to surface on the Bengals' list.

Smith is pretty much the only lock not to go after the club turned to him late this season before his season-ending hamstring injury. It remains to be seen what happens with players like Keaton and Spearman, but they don't fit what happened in '99.

Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, won't divulge names. But he did talk strategy.

"You don't want to do them any favors," Lippincott said. "The trick is to put guys on the list who probably won't get taken, but you want them back. For the most part, I think the league (exposes) guys because they are making

more (money) than their production, or because of their age, or because they're at the bottom of their position groups."

Each team can expose one player who was put on IR after the start of the season, such as Tumulty in '99, and one player who has more than 10 years experience. Francis had nine seasons, but he had a big salary, was past his prime, and the Bengals had just drafted Steve Foley to replace him.

Still, when the Browns drafted Gibson with the fourth pick, the Bengals could pull back one player and chose Francis. Just like this year, a team can call back its remaining two players if they lose a second player. Thompson was the third-to-last player taken with the 35th pick.

Naming the '02 candidates is purely guesswork. Using the '99 list, players who have been deactivated at times on game day are probably potential names, such as veteran defensive tackle Jevon Langford, rookie defensive tackle Mario Monds, and rookie linebacker Riall Johnson.

An expansion team probably won't use a pick in the veteran draft on a pure long snapper, so the injured Brad St. Louis might be a candidate a la Truitt. Plus, the Bengals haven't had any major problems with Randy Chevrier, St. Louis' replacement.

Players with 10 years plus? The Bengals have only have three under contract for next year and all are valuable in left tackles Richmond Webb and John Jackson and free safety Darryl Williams.

The Texans have to assume the salary cap hit of the players they choose. They have to take between 30 and 42 players, but could take less as long as the total 2002 salaries count at least 38 percent under next year's cap.

The NFL is also stocking Houston with an extra draft pick in each of the next two drafts. This year, the Texans get the first pick in each round and another selection in rounds two through seven after all teams who finished below. 500. They also get the last pick in the draft.

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