BY GEOFF HOBSON
In a move that could result in the release of wide receiver Carl Pickens as soon as Thursday morning, the NFL Players Association said today there has been a settlement reached between the union and the club concerning the use of the Bengals' franchise player designation.
"There is a settlement agreed upon," said NFLPA director of communications Carl Francis. "But there have been some 11th hour conditions added by the Bengals that we don't agree with and we hope to have them resolved by tomorrow."
The Bengals said tonight they already have a signed document from the NFLPA in which the union's grievance against the team is dropped when Pickens is released and that the club will lose its franchise tag when free agency begins in February. They will be able to use a transition tag on one of their free agents before recouping their franchise tag after the 2001 season.
The only thing holding up the departure of their disgruntled all-time leading receiver is the nature of his release. The Bengals request a signed document from Pickens in which he pledges not to bring any grievances against them. Club president Mike Brown said tonight that the Bengals and Pickens agent Hadley Engelhard planned to talk Thursday morning to hammer out language.
"I'm not looking to make a federal case out of it. But there's been so much bad blood in this thing, we just want to make a clean break and walk away," Brown said. "We've been threatened by the union with everything in the last three weeks if we didn't release him, calling it things like punishment. We wanted to put these nebulous charges to bed once and for all and move on."
Brown said Engelhard told him late this afternoon a signed waiver was on the way after he checked with the union, but the document never came and Brown objects to the union characterizing the Bengals' actions as "11th hour conditions."...
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The settlement sets the stage for the release of Pickens and signals the end to a grueling battle over the franchise grievance that held up his status since April's minicamp. The Bengals excused Pickens from the minicamp when the NFL management council told them it had reached a global agreement with the NFLPA on a variety of issues in which one of the deals stipulated Cincinnati would retain its franchise tag if it released Pickens.
When the club learned late last week that the global agreement hadn't materialized, the Bengals prepared to keep Pickens on the roster and expected him at Friday's first day of training camp. That apparently set in motion the NFLPA's action today to carve out the franchise grievance in a separate settlement in which the Bengals get the transition tag, the Packers and 49ers keep their franchise tags and the NFLPA agrees not to appeal Arizona's victory in arbitration.
The franchise tag gives the team a window of exclusive negotiating rights, the ability to match another team's offer and the right to compensation if they choose not to match. The transition tag allows the club to match, but there is no compensation if an offer is matched or a period of exclusive negotiating rights.