3-5-02, 3:05 p.m. Updated:
3-5-02, 7:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
While the doctors did "light housekeeping," on running back Corey Dillon's left knee, the Bengals performed some major surgery on the phones Tuesday in reaching out to several free agents.
The club has extended what is believed to be its first ever visit to one of the big name free-agent kickers with Todd Peterson of the Chiefs bringing his 80-percent career field-goal percentage to town Wednesday.
With Trent Dilfer and Elvis Grbac out of the quarterback picture, the Bengals are turning their attention to the NFL Draft's deep crop of prospects. Trading for Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots doesn't appear to be an option at the moment because his $5 million salary cap hit for 2002 would prevent the Bengals from signing any free agents and probably preclude an early run at extending the contract of either Takeo Spikes or Brian Simmons.
Bengals President Mike Brown can't discuss Bledsoe because he's under contract, but he said Tuesday his club is going to start signing players and not wait.
That could change if the price for Bledsoe drops to below a first-round draft pick and he re-structures his deal to soften the cap hit. But Brown sounded like he wasn't going to wait for a complicated deal that was going to cost him more free agents.
"We'll end up getting players who can help us at reasonable prices," Brown said. "We've got some to spend, but we're restricted."
The Bengals talked parameters with Dilfer that were in the four-year, $10 million range. Grbac's agent said that was one of the deals the Bengals offered his client, as well as a variety of shorter deals. National reports say they are about $8 million under the salary cap, but about $3.6 million of that goes to rookies.
Peterson, 32, who is still talking to the Chiefs and has a visit planned in Minnesota, is close with Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna from their days in Seattle. He kicks off a Paul Brown Stadium parade that continues Friday with Dolphins end Kenny Mixon. Mixon, who is represented by one of the most aggressive agents in the league when it comes to making deals in the Miami-based Drew Rosenhaus, comes here after leaving Minnesota Tuesday. On Monday, Jaguars defensive end Renaldo
Wynn, Colts tight end Ken Dilger, and Bears cornerback Walt Harris arrive. The next day, Redskins tight end Stephen Alexander is expected.
After eight seasons, Peterson is one of the NFL's most accurate field-goal kickers ever. He came into 2001 eighth at 80.3 and is now at 79.8 after making 27 of 35 this past season, which included 18-for-21 from inside 40 and 9-for-14 from beyond 40.
Peterson is seen as an average kick-off guy, but the Bengals are extremely impressed with his career field-goal percentage of 83 percent inside 50, 88.6 inside 40, and 67 percent from outside 40 yards. Peterson did miss some key short ones in '01, such as a 37-yarder in a 27-24 loss to the Raiders on Opening Day and a 28-yarder in a 28-26 loss in Oakland.
But his track record is impressive with Neil Rackers heading into his third season in Cincinnati kicking 71 percent within 40, 39 percent beyond 40, and 60 percent inside the 50-yard line.
"My whole approach is making those kicks inside 50 yards," Peterson said from Kansas City Tuesday. "That's how I contribute most to the team winning. I feel like if you're 85 percent inside 50, you're going to help the team with consistency and production. It also shows you can come back from a miss."
Kitna has lobbied Peterson hard on the Bengals and it helps that Peterson broke into the NFL in 1994 with Bengals special teams coach Al Roberts in Arizona and that he knows Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski from his Seattle days.
And then there is Peterson's neighbor.
"My wife's best friend comes from Wyoming," said Peterson of the Cincinnati suburb. "So we know a lot about it and it seems like a great place to live. Al and Bob are great guys. There just seem to be a lot of intriguing things about the Bengals that interest us.
" Jon told me, 'The Bengals get a bad rap.' He tells me they want to win, they're close to doing it, and they've got a great coach in Dick LeBeau. I'm at the point in my career where I want to win. I've been 9-7 only once."
Peterson and Kitna are both members of the Professional Athletes Outreach group and are involved in Athletes in Action, which has an active Cincinnati membership.
"We've got a special friendship," Peterson said. "He's such a great guy. Real humble. I like to think I am like that in the locker room and I can help a team in there, too."
The Bengals would also like to pursue their own free agents in cornerback Artrell Hawkins and defensive end Reinard Wilson, but there has been little dialogue the past few days.
Dillon, fresh off his third Pro Bowl, underwent arthroscopic surgery Monday to clean out his left knee that has bothered him off and on with fluid buildup. Trainer Paul Sparling said the doctors found nothing that is going to keep him out of the May 3-6 minicamp.
"He was already in here the morning after today riding the bike," Sparling said. "He's fine. If he wanted to, he could play basketball next week."