Pickens retires at 31

5-30-01, 12:05 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Carl Pickens, the Bengals' all-time leading receiver who caught winning or tying touchdown passes on Cincinnati's final offensive play of regulation from four different quarterbacks, retired Tuesday as a Dallas Cowboy.

Steve Zucker, his agent, said Pickens' 31-year-old hamstring just couldn't recover from the severe tear that helped limit his one-season stint in Tennessee to 10 catches last year.

"He tried. He didn't want to quit," Zucker said. "But it just didn't bounce back for him. Dr. (James) Andrews told him he'd done all that he could. Carl has asked me to get the papers in order."

Despite his franchise-re cord 530 catches, 6,887 yards, and 63 touchdowns, the only thing Pickens left in Cincinnati after eight seasons was a contract clause. But the Bengals went out of their way to praise him when they heard the news.

Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, recalled a line from his boss, Pete Brown, the club's director of player personnel.

"Pete always says you know you're dealing with quality when your brain is happy because it enjoys what it's watching and that's the way it was with Carl," Lippincott said. "He was fun to watch. I don't know how many times we ran 'The Dancer,' route and you just knew every time we threw it up there he was going to come down with it. He was a great competitor. I don't think I saw anyone compete for a ball like Carl did when the ball was in the air."

But Pickens is probably best remembered for blasting the Bengals' decision to bring back head coach Bruce Coslet for the 2000 season with a game left in '99. The Bengals had no choice but to cut Pickens even though they just gave him a five-year, $23.2 million deal with a $3.5 million signing bonus at the beginning of the season.

But not before the Bengals crafted, "The Carl Pickens Clause," which has since been upheld by an arbitrator. The club basically took loyalty language from the standard player contract and attached it to the signing bonus, meaning any player who let loose with a Pickens-like barrage to force a release would have to give back at least some of the bonus.

Many players privately agreed with Pickens that Coslet's time was done and that he was proven right when Coslet resigned three games into the 2000 season.

Others felt Pickens poisoned the locker room with his open disregard for the coaches and their rules, and his habit of keeping people guessing if he was with them or conning them.

But on Tuesday, the Bengals were reluctant to take away what Pickens had accomplished in Cincinnati.

"I think football was important to him. I know competing was important to him," Lippincott said. "I remember him being hurt with a hamstring or a groin (pull) and I'd walk by him when he was riding the bike and he'd say, 'I'm going to answer the bell,' and he would."

By the way, Pickens caught a tying touchdown pass from Boomer Esiason (1992 against Chicago) and winning touchdown passes from Jeff Blake (against Jacksonville in 1995 and Arizona in 1997), Neil O'Donnell (1998 against Pittsburgh) and Akili Smith (1999 against Cleveland), on the Bengals' last offensive play of regulation.

JONES STILL HERE: Left tackle Rod Jones is supposed to be gone before or after June 1, but there are no signs he's going anywhere soon. The time to cut him would be before June 1, when the club could save about $600,000 under this year's salary cap.

But with less than $2 million to spare under their salary cap after they sign their draft picks, the Bengals don't appear to be ready to lop anyone (Reinard Wilson?) before June 1.

Besides, Lippincott said, "Rod has done what he was supposed to do. He's quicker and lighter on his feet."

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