QBs take

4-25-02, 11:20 p.m.

Updated: 4-26-02, 10:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

In their bid to sign quarterback Gus Frerotte by next weekend's minicamp, the Bengals have offered to structure a contract in a variety of ways.

After making a multi-year offer to agent Marvin Demoff late Friday afternoon, Bengals executive Troy Blackburn said Cincinnati is the place for Frerotte if he wants to be a starting quarterback again in the NFL. Blackburn, the club's director of business development, said the Bengals are prepared to meet Frerotte's needs if he wants a short-term deal, or a longer contract that escalates if he hits certain milestones.

"If Gus wants to go back to Denver as a backup quarterback (to Brian Griese), that's fine," Blackburn said. "But if he wants to play again, we're going to give him the chance on the field and we'll pay him if he plays like a starting NFL quarterback."

Frerotte, a 1996 Pro Bowler who hasn't been a starter since the late '90s, has been offered an opportunity by Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau to win the job. The Bengals aren't certain if Frerotte is content with going back to the Broncos' familiar system that puts him behind Griese for sure, or if he would relish the chance to win a job even though he isn't the clear-cut No. 1.

"Dick told him that he would have a fair chance at becoming the starter when we went to camp," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "Whether that's what he wanted to hear or he wanted to hear something more is what we're waiting to hear back on."

With Thursday's release of tight end Tony McGee, the Bengals picked up $1.3 million in salary cap room. The Bengals probably already had that possibility computed, but waited to pull the trigger until they got one of

the tight ends they wanted in the draft and that turned out to be TCU's Matt Schobel. While the relief won't be a huge windfall, it will help some things.

Brown said it gives them room to pursue Frerotte and maybe another player or, "look at some things internally," which no doubt means the beginning of negotiations for extensions for linebackers Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes.

McGee's departure presents the Bengals quarterbacks with an extremely inexperienced corps of tight ends, led by a second-year rookie in Sean Brewer and Schobel, and neither has played a game in the NFL. Nick Williams, who figures to be the No. 3 tight end as well as the backup fullback, has played all of four games as a "move," tight end.

No. 1 quarterback Jon Kitna is going to miss McGee's professionalism and experience, but he also likes the athleticism and speed of the three tight ends projected to make it.

"Tony is a good player, but he pretty much missed the last six games in my first year, so it's not exactly like Brett Favre losing Mark Chmura," Kitna said. "When we lost Tony and the other guys, we struggled because tight end is such an important position. You need that guy to open up the middle of the field."

The Bengals have received virtually nothing out of their tight ends since McGee had a career year in 1995 with 55 catches. Last year it was injury, while a combination of McGee's inconsistent catching and quarterback play doomed the other seasons.

"I spent some time with Brewer last year and I think he's a guy who wants to do well and is going to be itching after a year off," Kitna said. "Everybody I talk to says the kid from TCU is fast and can catch it. Nick is just flat out a football player. I'm excited about what these guys can do."

Kitna isn't concerned about the youth simply because of how his offense is constituted with a Pro Bowl running back in Corey Dillon, fast outside receivers in Darnay Scott, Chad Johnson, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, as well as playmakers in the middle like Peter Warrick, Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans.

"With what we've got, all our tight ends have to do is be effective and I think these guys can do that," Kitna said. "All they have to do is catch the ball. That's it. They're going to be one-on-one. They open up the outside and throw in what Pete can do inside, and it's just very exciting what we can do."

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