NFL still working on Pickens

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With just 15 days until training camp, the NFL and the NFL Players Association are still trying to hammer out an agreement that will decide the fate of unhappy Bengals receiver Carl Pickens. The league's management council informed Bengals President Mike Brown today a deal that allows the club to retain its franchise player tag when it releases Pickens isn't finalized.

"The matter is apparently one of many issues that have to be worked through the union," Brown said after his conversation with the NFL. "The question has to do with the language. Not only on this issue, but a number of others as well. I can't tell you how soon that will be worked through."

NFLPA officials are apparently out of the office until Monday. Brown reiterated if the issue isn't resolved by the time training camp opens July 21, Pickens is expected in Georgetown, Ky., and will be treated like any other player. The Bengals asked him not to report to April's minicamp because they thought the NFL's settlement with the NFLPA was imminent.

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Pickens' departure date is uncertain, but it's clear the Bengals can't squeeze Pickens' $3 million salary under the salary cap if Dillon agrees to a long-term deal.

"We're trying to get Corey Dillon done and we're trying to make an arrangement with Pickens. That ties not only with Dillon, but other things as well," Brown said. It's figuring heavily into their talks with former Steelers and Chargers tackle John Jackson. Richard Katz, his agent, spoke with the club today but it appeared no progress was made. The Bengals don't want to cut into their budgeted allotment for Dillon and apparently aren't looking to break into the big money neighborhood for Jackson, projected to back up left tackle Rod Jones.

If Pickens is released and Dillon makes good on his threat to sit out the first 10 games, the Bengals could make a run at extending the contracts of some players heading into the final year of their deals, such as center Rich Braham. Cornerback Artrell Hawkins, who becomes a restricted free agent after the season, and kicker Doug Pelfrey, who becomes an unrestricted free agent, will no doubt be monitored heavily during the season.

Contract talks with second-round pick Mark Roman probably won't begin until next week. Joel Segal, agent for the LSU cornerback, is headed to Las Vegas for Friday's meeting with Oakland Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen to talk about second-round pick Jerry Porter (chosen 13 spots behind Roman) and extensions for tight end Rickey Dudley and defensive end Lance Johnstone.

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