Pre-camp deals the goal

7-5-02, 9:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With the first practice of training camp three weeks from Friday, the Bengals are hunkering down for a series of contract negotiations they hope can be concluded by the time the team convenes at Georgetown College.

Not only are first-round draft pick Levi Jones and second-rounder Lamont Thompson high on the radar, but veteran middle linebacker Brian Simmons seeks his contract extension before camp opens.

There were no player moves on the Monday after the Fourth of July holiday, but that could change as soon as Tuesday when wide receiver Michael Westbrook comes to Paul Brown Stadium to sign his three-year contract. Once Westbrook officially gets in the fold, that opens the door to release eight-year veteran receiver Darnay Scott, but the Bengals are still mulling options.

Jerrold Colton, Simmons' agent, said last Friday he doesn't plan to negotiate once camp starts in order to prevent his client from becoming distracted. But he also said there is time to conclude negotiations that began a few weeks ago in an effort to wrap up Simmons before he becomes a free agent after this season.

"Time is running out, but if both sides want to get a deal, then a deal can get done," Colton said. "I just

think it's best for both parties not to let it slide into the season. We don't have a lot of time, but we have had some talks and I'm sure we'll have some more."

The Bengals have taken the approach that they will keep trying to get extensions for both Simmons and fellow linebacker Takeo Spikes at any point before their contracts expire in March. They would prefer to do both before camp, but have indicated they are prepared to be flexible on a timetable if deals can't be consummated by then.

"We're not going to put any deadlines on anything," said Bengals President Mike Brown Friday. "Maybe with this date out there, it will make both sides get right down to it and maybe it won't. Certainly we also would like to get it done before camp, so we've got that in common."

The New Jersey-based Colton was Boomer Esiason's agent when he chose the Monday Night Football TV booth after the 1997 season instead of an extension with the Bengals. But Colton has remained on good terms with the front office and calls the current talks "cordial."

The first order of business Monday appears to be discussing the status of veteran wide receiver Darnay Scott. Scott's eight-year Bengals' career, which put him fourth on the club's all-time receiving list, looks to be in its final hours with Michael Westbrook expected to take his place in the starting lineup and on the roster. But first Bengals officials and coaches want to talk about it before making a final call.

The Bengals already have signed two of their six draft picks in third-rounder Matt Schobel and sixth-rounder Marquand Manuel. Jones, Thompson, fourth-rounder Travis Dorsch and seventh-rounder Joey Evans are the unsigned rookies.

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