BY GEOFF HOBSON
All indications today point to the Bengals releasing all-time receiver Carl Pickens before 4 p.m. Thursday in an attempt to clear room under the salary cap for the next two seasons.
Pickens' release has been pending an agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association that settles a number of other league issues, including the NFLPA's grievance against the Bengals regarding their franchise player tag.
"We would like to get it behind us," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "It's in the best interest for Pickens and best for the Bengals. That way we can both go about our plans for the future."
The NFLPA is apparently ready to drop the grievance and allow the Bengals use of their franchise tag, but the entire settlement may not be resolved until next month. Yet the Bengals are confident they can win the grievance even if the settlement talks fall through. It appears they are preparing to cut Pickens in the next 48 hours so they can count his signing bonus in this year's salary cap.
If they release him before 4 p.m. Thursday, he counts $2.8 million this year. If it's after June 1, he counts $700,000 this year and $2.1 million in 2001. Cutting Pickens now actually saves the Bengals $900,000 for this season because his cap count is $3.7 million.
Earlier this year, the NFLPA filed a grievance against Cincinnati, Arizona, Green Bay and San Francisco over the way those teams signed their franchise free agents last season. They signed them to the one-year tender and then days later signed them to multi-year deals. If a franchise free agent agrees to a multi-year deal before signing the tender, the team loses the franchise tag for the duration of the player's long-term deal.
But Arizona won its case, and the grievance cases against the Packers and 49ers are part of the overall settlement currently in negotiation. The Bengals signed Pickens to the one-year tender Sept. 9, before he agreed to a five-year, $22.3 million contract Sept. 11. The club feels it can argue there were still key issues that needed to be resolved after the 9th and before the 11th, and that it's not a deal until all points are agreed upon.
Not only do the Bengals want a resolution in the next 48 hours, but so do Pickens and Steve Zucker, his agent. The Jets have been the team linked most frequently with Pickens when he finally would get on the market, but Denver showed some pre-draft interest. Zucker isn't saying much until he gets official word.
"We're hoping something is done before the first," Zucker said.
The release of the disgruntled Pickens has been ticketed for months. During the last week of the '99 season, he publicly ripped management and coach Bruce Coslet after the decision to keep Coslet for this season. Then in last month's draft, the club took Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in the first and third rounds, respectively. The Florida State wide receivers both play Pickens' spot at split end opposite flanker Darnay Scott. With a positive resolution of the NFLPA grievance looming, the Bengals told Pickens not to report to minicamp.