Ross extends deal

8-29-01, 11:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Backup linebacker Adrian Ross signed a three-year contract extension Wednesday evening and then warned his position group he's not starting, "yet."

Ross, a four-year veteran working on a one-year deal worth $512,000, confirmed the extension Wednesday night while also confirming he'll play Thursday even though he's questionable with an ankle sprain.

Bengals vice president Paul Brown and Ross' agent, Michael Sullivan, finished off negotiations Wednesday that went off and on for three months.

NFL sources said Ross got $900,000 to sign a deal that runs through 2004 for a total of $4.3 million.

Not bad for a free-agent out of Colorado State who

has 15 starts in 43 career games. It's also not bad for the Bengals because they wrap up a guy who has

started at all three linebacker spots, can play special teams, and keeps the locker room loose as the team comedian.

But it wasn't an easy decision for Ross. He came into the league that same 1998 season as middle linebacker Brian Simmons, weak-side backer Takeo Spikes and strong-side backer Steve Foley, all solid draft choices who have been starting at least three seasons.

Ross thinks he can start on a lot of teams. But he was also wondering what kind of free-agent deal would be out there for a backup.

"I know the market isn't good for backup linebackers if that's what I am at the end of the year," Ross said. "Plus, I like my teammates here and I like the scheme. I think we've got something going."

Ross is one of the more recognizable Bengals with his orange stripes streaked through his black hair. His comfort zone with Mark Duffner, the long-time linebackers coach who is in his first year as the defensive coordinator, was also another big factor he re-upped.

"Duff was a big reason I signed here back when I was a free agent coming out," Ross said. "That and all the good young players that were going to be at my position. They're not running the 3-4 any more, but I still like this scheme."

The Bengals are also trying to extend Foley before he becomes a free agent next season.

Then they will be faced with re-signing their defensive cornerstones in Spikes and Simmons before they become free agents after the 2002 season.

Whether the Ross signing means they can choose between one or the other remains to be seen. They would like to keep both if the salary cap allows it for two linebackers.

Ross wasn't asked about all that. But he thinks he can end up starting around here.

"I don't know where," Ross said. "I know there are things I have to work on and improve. But I plan on starting somewhere at some time."

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