3-16-04, 7 p.m.
3-16-04, 7:30 p.m. Updated:
3-16-04, 11:20 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Imagine Chad Johnson and Warren Sapp jockeying for sound bites in the same locker room.
The Bengals raised that possibility Tuesday night when SI.com reported their four-year offer around $4 million per year to Sapp, Tampa Bay's future Hall of Fame defensive tackle and current Hollywood personality.
Before the report surfaced Tuesday, Sapp agent Drew Rosenhaus had no comment when asked if the Bengals had an interest in Sapp since they had just lost a big ticket to Buffalo in cornerback Troy Vincent. Then, Rosenhaus and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't comment on the report Tuesday night.
The Bengals rocked the NFL with their pursuit of the 31-year-old Sapp, a Pro Bowler that hasn't stirred much interest around the NFL since his six-year, $36 million contract with the Bucs expired two weeks ago. That is, until Cincinnati's offer got run up the flagpole for all to see.
The Bengals also got back into the derby for Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor Tuesday, but it's going to have to be one or the other given the Bengals' squeeze under the salary cap. If they are going to fit Sapp, they are going to have to cut at least one player with at least a $1 million cap count, and maybe two, according to figures from ESPN.com.
It seems the Bengals aren't going to get any room from a contract extension with quarterback Jon Kitna any time soon, with all indications the team didn't like his proposal enough to sign and use the room in free agency.
The Bengals' now very public offer to Sapp may or may not hike bidding among other teams interested in
Sapp, such as Kansas City, Baltimore, Oakland, and Chicago. But the SI report speculates that the Bengals' offer is more than many in the league thought he would command, and that Baltimore and Oakland would only pay him $2 million per year.
Sapp is close to one of the newest Bengals, former Bucs backup middle linebacker Nate Webster, a fellow University of Miami Hurricane. But another Hurricane from Sapp's era, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, openly recruited Sapp during last month's Pro Bowl. But he doesn't seem to fit Baltimore's 3-4 schemes.
It was the seventh straight Pro Bowl for Sapp, and while he may not be the consistently explosive player he once was, his big-time spurts can only help a Bengals' defense that finished 25th against the run last season. He hasn't had a double-digit sack season since his monster 16.5 in 2000 and his five last season are his fewest since his rookie season of 1995. But an offensive line still has to be wary of him, and he would be the fifth player with a Super Bowl ring Lewis has recruited.
One thing is for sure. The Bengals will know soon because Rosenhaus is one of the most decisive and quickest agents in the game, and he has said he wants Sapp's situation resolved by Friday.
Taylor, an eight-year veteran of the Eagles, is the only big-name cornerback left in free agency and he's also in talks with Seattle as he prepares to leave Thursday for a trip to Washington. Jason Medlock, Taylor's agent who said Monday talks with the Bengals were all but dead, said they are back on.
"We talked again today and it was a positive conversation," Medlock said. "We'll keep at it. I'm also taking to (Seahawks president) Bob Whitsitt and those talks have heated up."
With Vincent off their plate and in Buffalo, it's believed the Bengals have enough money under the salary cap to sign a relatively big-money guy like Sapp or Taylor, or a couple of other players for smaller deals. Guards Bobbie Williams and Ruben Brown still expressed an interest in Cincinnati, but had not heard from the club Tuesday.
The raises for two re-signed starters _ center Rich Braham and kicker Shayne Graham – as well as deals with Webster and safety Kim Herring have left the Bengals with $5.5 million under the cap, according to ESPN.com.
That's a number that doesn't include the '04 draft picks (about $3 million) or quarterback Carson Palmer's escalators (about $2 million) as the Bengals look to fill spots at right guard, defensive line, safety, and possibly wide receiver.
On a conference call with the Buffalo media Tuesday, Vincent indicated one of the reasons he chose the Bills over the Bengals is because he may have felt there would be more around him on the NFL's No. 2 defense. He recalled the advice he gave to his former Eagles teammate, Jaguars defensive end Hugh Douglas, about not going some place where you have to be the difference.
"Because if the team doesn't have success which they didn't last year in Jacksonville you become the fall guy," Vincent said. "When I made this decision, I looked at London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Nate Clements, Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds, Sam Adams. I looked at the roster. I know there's talent here. I know we can win. I believe I can be one of the components bringing things together. I have experience. I've made plays in the past. I expect to make plays in the future to help this organization get back to where they once were."
Vincent said he got lobbied pretty hard by some players, and he was impressed with new Bills coach Mike Mularkey.
"I must say Takeo Spikes reached out to me. Fletcher reached out to me to see if there was any questions they could answer. I greatly appreciate that," Vincent said. "But at this point in time, management, head coach, organization was very important to me. The head coach would tell it all."
The structure of the front-loaded contact and the fact the Bills sent him to Buffalo on a private jet on the first day of free agency also probably had as much to do with it. The Trenton Times reported that $11.3 million of the six-year, $21 million deal comes in the first three years, with $6 million in the first year and $8.5 million in the second.
On other fronts, the agent for Bengals running back Corey Dillon continued to have no comment on his client's status. But Steve Feldman did say he planned to attend the NFL's annual league meeting later this month. That would be in case a trade that was once thought to be imminent hasn't been completed by the time the meetings start in two weeks.
The decision to send wide receiver Terrell Owens from the 49ers and Ravens to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick and defensive end Brandon Whiting probably won't help the Bengals in their bid to get a second-round pick for Dillon.