No. 1 talks still brew

4-16-03, 3:30 a.m. Updated:
4-17-03, 6:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals continued their talks with the three potential No. 1 picks in the NFL Draft Wednesday and are expected to do the same Thursday. David Ware, the agent for Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman, said he believes the team is still viewing all the candidates equally.

The impression continues that the Bengals are zeroing in on a deal with USC quarterback Carson Palmer, but they are also reportedly talking to another quarterback, Marshall's Byron Leftwich.

"We had good talks. The Bengals have been up front about what they're doing," Ware said. "They have a lot of things to consider. If they take Terence, they're getting a guy that makes an impact for them right away. But the quarterbacks might have you thinking three or four years from now why you didn't take one of them."

Ware said it's his impression the Bengals are not looking only for a good deal, but that they are looking to fit the right value with the right player.

According to various sources outside the Bengals as well as one major web site, the club apparently began the process Tuesday of negotiating a contract with the NFL's No. 1 pick in general discussions involving at least three candidates.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, the club's lone spokesman, has steadfastly refused to comment on a process that looks more and more like it will conclude in advance of the April 26-27 draft.

One league source outside the club said Tuesday that the Bengals are digging in to get a deal with the player of their choice this week.

ESPN.com reported Tuesday night that none of the discussions, led by Cincinnati executive vice president Katie Blackburn and business director Troy Blackburn, were believed to be substantive in nature.

ESPN.com said the Blackburns explained the franchise's philosophy for dealing with the top pick, spoke about potential models and structures for the contract, and tried to discern the possible financial parameters of a deal. But the team apparently wants to work off the contract signed by Carr. tithe first choice in the 2002 draft.

The magic number is the seven-year, $58 million contract hauled down by last year's No. 1 pick, Texans quarterback David Carr if he reaches all his bells and whistles, with a possible sticking point that the league's rookie pool has remained relatively the same compared to 2002. Houston handled Carr's $14 million bonus by breaking it into an option bonus, which gave him $10.9 million right away and $3.08 million this past month.

After hosting Leftwich last week, the Bengals invited Palmer and Newman to Sunday's final workout of Lewis' first minicamp. A defensive back hasn't been taken with the first overall pick since two years before Lewis was born (Colorado A&M's Gary Glick to the Steelers in 1956), yet Lewis' Ravens took back-to-back cornerbacks in the top 10 in the 1998 and 1999 drafts, and Newman would also perk up the struggling special teams as a returned and cover man.

Still, it's no secret that the Bengals, who turn to Jon Kina as their fifth Opening Day quarterback in the last seven seasons, are seeking stability at a position that boasts big-time college players in Palmer and Leftwich.

Palmer, the Pac-10's all-time leading passer, has been compared physically to Drew Bledsoe and Troy Aikman after a senior season he scorched a schedule of 10 bowl teams with 33 touchdown passes. Leftwich, who had the MAC's first two 4,000-yard passing seasons, has been compared to a young Dan Marino.

Ironically, some of the cast in these events are direct from the days leading up to the 1999 draft, when the Cleveland Browns had quarterbacks Tim Couch and Akili Smith in their mix for the No. 1 pick until agent Tom Condon secured a deal for Couch. David Dunn, then working with Leigh Steinberg, was part of the team that got a deal with Smith with the Bengals at No. 3. Condon now represents Leftwich and Dunn is working for Palmer.

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