Sacks of presents?

12-24-01, 7:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Defensive end Reinard Wilson is a sack away from becoming the first Bengal with double-digit sacks since Alfred Williams in 1992 as he heads into free agency.

And the least surprised guy is Bengals President Mike Brown, who has been saying for years that Wilson would be a 10-sack guy if he played on a winning team and got more opportunities to play teams forced to pass.

Now Wilson isn't even playing for a winning team (the Bengals have had the lead for a little more than 60 minutes in the 420 minutes of the seven-game losing streak) or full-time (he's playing only in the nickel package), but his three sacks on Sunday against the Ravens gave him the team lead with nine.

That's tied for sixth in the AFC and one behind such sack artists as Tennessee's Jevon Kearse, Pittsburgh's Jason Gildon and Jacksonville's Tony Brackens.

"We've used Reinard well this year and he's been very effective for us," Brown said. "We hope he comes back. In free agency, you do lose people but we'll try to get him back."

David Levine, Wilson's agent, said Monday, the ball is in the Bengals' court. There have been no specific figures discussed and Levine won't talk publicly about what he

wants. Levine's decision to wait to see how Wilson played later in the season instead of signing an extension earlier turned out to be the thing to do.

Levine says the nine sacks have put Wilson into an elite group and he has observed in the past that the Giants gave Kenny Holmes $5 million to sign a $4.3 million per year deal this past offseason after getting eight sacks for the Titans.

"I think you'd have to make Reinard the No. 2 pass rusher on the market behind Joe Johnson," said Levine of the Saints end who has also has nine sacks. "He'd like to stay in Cincinnati. There's no negativism on his part when it comes to that. But it's going to come down to the financial package."'

Whether the Bengals will meet that package is a big question. The agent for Brian Simmons, as well as Takeo Spikes himself (free agents after the '02 season), have said they'd like to at least start talking and hopefully get a deal before next season to avoid distractions.

"You're asking me to juggle the salary cap," Brown said. "We can and we will, but we don't have to do it right now."

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