3-18-02, 8:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORLANDO, Fla. _With cornerback Artrell Hawkins in the fold, the Bengals prefer to secure two or three more free agents instead of luring one big-ticket player.
They made an offer to Chargers tight end Freddie Jones Monday and continue to monitor the status of Jaguars defensive end Renaldo Wynn. They refuse to talk about Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, but he is the big-ticket guy that several published reports have lumped the Bengals with teams that could trade for him.
On Monday, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said the club can go "three or four ways," and one of them includes re-signing sack leader Reinard Wilson. And with the Colts re-evaluating their free-agency status, the Bengals could have a window at getting something done with Wilson. His agent, David Levine, is expected to make the drive over from Miami Tuesday here to the NFL meetings.
"We like (Wilson) as a ballplayer, but Tony and I have to sit down and take a look at where we are," said Colts general manager Bill Polian of his new head coach, Tony Dungy. "We're at the stage where we kind of prioritize what we're going to do. With the signing of Qadry (Ismail) today we're there. Now we have to back next week and re-think where we are."
Polian said the Colts didn't
give Wilson an offer after he worked in Indy last week. But with the club a little strapped under the salary cap after Ismail's three-year, $4 million deal, it's probably not going to be a big one if one is coming.
Still, Dungy likes the speed Wilson brings to the table and Polian says he can be a three-down player in Indianapolis' new system, while the Bengals see him as a pure pass-rush end. Wilson, who has mainly been a right end, would most likely be on the left side because Chad Bratzke is usually on the right end.
"I liked both (Wilson) and Peter Boulware coming out of Florida State," Dungy said. "I thought they were both going to be big impact players and (Wilson) started to do that this year. I liked his work ethic coming out and we're building this defense on speed and aggressiveness on the artificial turf. He would fit that."
Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner is lobbying for Wilson's return because he knows his nine sacks last season are going to be difficult to replace. If the price is right, the Bengals could sign both Wilson and a cornerback. Jeff Burris of the Colts visits Paul Brown Stadium Friday and while some personnel people in the league question his speed, there are those who believe he still athletic enough despite turning 30 before the season.
"Dick LeBeau will know how to protect him and get use of him in that scheme," said one AFC GM.
With Walt Harris (three years younger than Burris) signing with the Colts last week, Dungy said there is no room for Burris back in Indy.
"Jeff's a good player and I think he had a good year," Dungy said. "He's going to do a good job for somebody this year, but we've got no room."
THIS AND THAT: Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, who is gearing up to defend the NFL head coaches' golf title Tuesday, got his peers riled Monday at the annual head coaches' picture. LeBeau showed up after some prime shots were taken and the guy had to re-shoot when LeBeau bolted into the picture, kneeling on one knee next to Super Bowl champion head coach Bill Belichick at the end of the front row.
When a reporter asked LeBeau if he talked to Belichick about trading for New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe, LeBeau said
"I talked to him about what it's like to win." . . .
By the way, Belichick had nothing to say to the press about Bledsoe, as did Bledsoe agent David Dunn. But Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe told newspapers in Buffalo and Boston that his club is interested in pursuing a trade for Bledsoe and that he has discussions with New England. He wouldn't be specific about the price, but Belichick indicated he wouldn't be averse to trading within the AFC East.
"Our scouts like him," Donahoe said. "We feel like he's got a lot of football left."
After cutting Rob Johnson because of money and performance, the Bills' starter is Alex Van Pelt. Former Bengal Jeff Blake has also been mentioned as a possibility. Donahoe said he doesn't expect to draft a quarterback with the fourth pick and has indicated they'll go with an offensive lineman, perhaps Texas tackle Mike Williams.